Thursday, April 11, 2019

Is the Evidence for the Big Bang Really Weak?

When I was a teenager and young adult I read a few books by Christians who wrote about the subject of science and Christianity. All of those books promoted a young earth that was only a few thousand years old and questioned the validity of scientific discoveries and ideas that led scientists to believe the universe and earth were billions of years old. As a young adult I did not really have the knowledge or resources to ascertain the strength or validity of their arguments. However, when I was working on my Ph.D. in particle physics I decided that if I were to eventually be a scientist, as well as a Christian, then I should do my own independent study of what the Bible says about science and the evidence from nature, and consider the strength of the arguments I had been presented. By that time in my life I had taken formal science, theology, and logic classes and had the tools to personally investigate the truth about this subject.

Every once in a while something will come up that reminds me of my journey as a young adult to find the truth and prompts me to share my findings with others. As I have stated in my last few posts, a reader of my blog directed me to a few videos by young earth creationists and reiterated some of the arguments they made about the scientific evidence regarding the age of the universe. As I watched those videos and read the questions posed, I was taken back to my days when I was first investigating these subjects. Though the subject and context are different, the statements made on the videos that tried to cast doubt on the scientific discoveries about the age of the universe follow the exact same pattern used by proponents of a young universe decades ago. If you are a Christian or non-Christian, young earth creationist or old earth creationists, and you want to know what is the truth, not simply be indoctrinated, then it is worthwhile to consider these kinds of videos and the validity of their arguments. As a Christian, I follow and worship the God of all truth, so I have no concerns about investigating the truth and seeing where it leads. Only someone who is so indoctrinated in their beliefs that they don't care about the truth would be reluctant to critique the evidence for their beliefs to see if it stands up to facts and reasons. So let's investigate some of the details and tactics used by speakers in these videos to promote a young universe in an attempt to understand both truth and the God of all truth.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Big Bang: Are We Missing Crucial Pieces?

In the last three blog posts I have discussed some of the details still being investigated about the big bang and subsequent development of the universe and our solar system. Some of these issues are used by young earth creationists who claim the universe is only a few thousand years old in an attempt to discredit the big bang. I have addressed (1) poor strategies used to cast doubt on certain scientific discoveries, (2) issues with the formation of our solar system, and (3) fine tuning observations that are addressed by cosmic inflation. These particular subjects were brought up by a reader of this blog who asked about them and directed me to a few videos by young earth creationists. The list of questions asked by this reader have all been answered except for two: what about the missing antimatter, and what about the missing population III stars? Let's try to determine whether these are truly missing and, if so, what does their absence say about our understanding of the origin of the universe.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Some "Problems" with the Big Bang

In 1936 Albert Einstein wrote, "One may say 'the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.' ...The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle."1 This remark is often paraphrased as, "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible." Of course I agree with this statement made by one of the smartest human beings who ever lived. Like Einstein, I find it quite remarkable that our universe is comprehensible and that we can discover and explain how it works and then precisely describe its workings using the language of mathematics. One of the most amazing facts that has been discovered by observing the universe has to do with its very origin and subsequent development. It is unlikely that any scientist who lived when Einstein was born in 1879 would have predicted that our universe would provide unambiguous insight about its history almost all the way back to its very beginning. Yet that is exactly what has occurred. From Edwin Hubble's 1929 discovery that all galaxies are moving apart from each other with a relative speed that is linearly dependent on their separation distance, to Arno Penzias' and Robert Wilson's 1964 discovery of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation which is the residual heat from the infancy of our universe, to the accurate measurements of the CMB spectrum made by the Planck satellite in 2010, the universe has provided an amazing, accurate, and remarkable story of its beginning. All of the observational evidence and theoretical calculations tell a consistent story about the big bang origin of our universe: that all of space, time, matter, and energy came into existence nearly 14 billion years ago.

Over the decades starting in the early twentieth century, the scientific evidence that supports the big bang origin has become stronger and stronger. As described in a previous post, scientists were reluctant to accept the big bang partially because of its philosophical implications. If our universe had a beginning then it may have had a beginner. But because of the overwhelming evidence, scientists now agree about the origin of the universe and its development from about a trillionth of a second after its origin until now, although there is much discussion about what may have happened before that time since we have little observational evidence concerning the first trillionth of a second of our universe.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Formation of the Sun and Solar System

We as scientists do not fully understand all the details about the history of the universe or how the universe works. I don't think that statement would surprise anyone. Yet, some Christians will portray certain scientific proposals as being completely untrustworthy because there are certain processes and details we can't fully explain. Its as if I were to try to explain how an internal combustion engine works but because there are some details I don't understand you were to claim that my entire explanation is false.

In my previous post I quoted a reader who stated, "You did not address the supposed problems with Star Formation and Planet Formation and Moon Formation. Problems include: the Angular Momentum of our sun, the Accretion of gas clouds, and the Accretion of planets and moons. In line with this is the distant mature galaxies." This reader then directed me to a video on the web where a Christian who believes the universe is only a few thousand years old (a young earth creationist) brought up these and other supposed problems in an attempt to discredit the current scientific understanding of how stars, planets, and our solar system formed. The lecturer was implying that since there were some unsolved problems with our understanding of the formation of these objects, then the entire scientific proposal of star and solar system formation was unreliable. I disagree with the lecturer and the premise of the question. From my perspective it is possible that the overall big picture about a scientific process could be completely reliable and substantiated even if some of the details are not yet understood. I would think that most reasonable people would agree with me.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Addressing Challenges to the Ancient Universe

As a scientist who is also a Christian I am sometimes criticized by both scientists and Christians for my beliefs and statements. Some of my scientific colleagues think I am deluded or crazy because I believe in a personal God while some of my Christian brothers and sisters think I am a heretic or blinded because I believe in the big bang. In this blog, in my speaking, and in my writing I try to show that belief in the biblical God, the Bible itself, and the science of the big bang are not only based on abundant evidence, but are completely compatible with each other.

Within the Christian community, particularly in the United States and a few other countries, there are a significant fraction of people who have a firm belief that the Bible teaches the universe is only a few thousand years old and that all of the science that seems to point to a much older universe is a misrepresentation or misunderstanding of the facts of nature. In previous posts (such as here and here and other places) I have mentioned this belief in young earth creationism (YEC) that is held by some Christians including certain Christian leaders I have great respect for. There are true followers of Jesus with diverse views about the age of the universe and how God created the universe and created humans. The views are so widely varied that I would estimate something like two-thirds of Christians will some day find out that they were wrong in their beliefs about how God created the universe and humans and in what time frame. Furthermore, the issue of the age of the universe and God's method of creation is a "non-essential" issue, one that does not affect a person's eternal destiny. In such issues Christians need to follow the advice of Marco Antonio de Dominis who was the first to write, "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, diversity; in all things, charity."

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Why The Universe? Critiquing Sean Carroll


When answering the question of why something exists one can certainly first appeal to the mechanism or cause for its existence. A painting exists because a brush applied paint to the canvas. By carefully observing how the paint is applied to the canvas we can learn quite a bit about technique and why the painting looks the way it does. Using radiation we can probe what lies underneath the paint to see rough sketches and changes to any underlying pigments. To some scientists, the mechanism of how the paint is applied to produce the finished product is the limit of what observations from science can tell us since science deals with laws and mechanism. But of course, there is much more to the story of a painting because there is an artist behind the brush strokes who created the painting with purpose, the real "reason."

When cosmologist Sean Carroll discusses "Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing" he claims, "The best we can ask is whether we can imagine laws of nature that fully account for how the universe behaves, even at the earliest moments."1 As pointed out in my previous post Carroll's search for the cause of the existence of our universe has certain constraints and presuppositions that will restrict any conclusions. These include (1) his answer will be limited to mechanisms and cannot include reasons, (2) he is incorrect in assuming that finding a mechanism eliminates the need for a creator (3) he makes the false assumption that laws and mechanisms have the causal ability to implement, (4) he constrains all answers to the natural realm thus eliminating any supernatural creator, a priori. Despite these problems, I find Carroll's writings to be thoughtful and insightful and worth reading and critiquing. I also find that his ultimate answer requires a transcendent creator despite his insistence that it does not.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

If you search on the internet for the phrase, "Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing?" you will find a host of articles, many by philosophers but some by scientists, that discuss this profound question. The book by Lawrence Krauss, A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something From Nothing, which I have discussed in a previous post will probably appear near the top of your search engine. Last June, the cosmologist Sean Carroll added his name to the list of those writing about this subject with the article "Why Is There Something, Rather Than Nothing?"1 and a reader of my blog asked me to comment on Dr. Carroll's article.

In general, although Sean Carroll is an atheist, I find his writings to be quite reasonable and thoughtful, unlike some other atheist scientists whose writings and lectures indicate that they have done little research regarding the vast history of dialogue among deep thinkers in regards to these important philosophical and theological questions. In a previous post I highlighted one of Dr. Carroll's talks in which he honestly pointed out that almost all hypothetical ideas about the origin of our universe do not solve the problem of the initial low entropy state at the big bang, except for a small class of models that he favors. He objectively shows that most of the proposals that attempt to remove God from the origin of our universe flatly fail because they do not give the correct initial conditions.

At the beginning of the recent article Carroll points out that there are at least two ways to interpret the question of "Why there is something rather than nothing?" That question could be asking either for the mechanism or for the reason for our universe. On the web site philosophytalk.org a similar idea is developed when the author writes, "To get us started thinking about it, let’s distinguish between reasons and causes. When we ask why something is the case, depending on our purposes and what kind of explanation we seek, we might be asking for a reason, or we might be asking for a cause."2