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."

A few recent events have motivated me to address some of the statements about science and scientific findings made by YEC Christians. I do this not to be antagonistic or abrasive but to pursue the truth. Jesus was the embodiment of truth and claimed to be "the truth" for all people for all times. As Christians we should be passionate about discovering and pursuing truth since we serve a God of all truth. In my search for truth about spiritual and physical matters I have had to change my mind as I uncovered and understood new and different evidence. So if you are a person who believes that the universe is young, or not, but you are willing to follow a discussion that attempts to find and pursue truth, then maybe you will be willing to go along this important journey with me. My goal is to try to educate and dialogue, not to indoctrinate and argue. Our goal, as Christians, should always be to pursue truth and thus better understand the God of all truth.

One event that motivated this discussion was the comment sent by a reader of this blog, made in the comments section of this page. The reader wrote, "In your book, I noticed that you did not respond to the supposed problems with the Big Bang. And these problems are acknowledged by many non-Christians as well. Problems include: the Horizon Problem, Missing Antimatter, Missing Magnetic Monopoles, the Flatness Problem, Population III Stars, and the starting and stopping of supposed Inflation." The reader goes on to say,"Within Cosmology as well, 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." Now I don't know the reader's motivation for these statements/questions, but I was directed to view three videos by prominent YEC Christians who brought up these same points in order to cast doubt on the current scientific theories about the formation of the universe, stars, and planets.

My response was to ask the reader to first try to investigate the answer to these questions individually. I wrote, "Have you searched for the current scientific answers to these questions on the internet or only consulted young earth creation resources? I would suggest first consulting the internet for answers and see (1) how many have actual scientific answers (2) which are unsolved problems but with reasonable proposals as to the answer (3) how many are real scientific problems without reasonable proposed explanations, and finally (4) what do you find objectionable about the proposed solution to any of these that are actually outstanding problems?" Unfortunately, I did not get any further response from the reader so I don't know if the questions posed were a genuine search for truth or simply parroting what had been discussed in these videos, maybe with the (false) assumption that I didn't already know about these supposed "problems" and that their revelation would present insurmountable challenges to my belief in the big bang and subsequent development of the universe.

Since I am passionate about discovering and disseminating truth, I'd like to spend the rest of this blog post and a few in the future addressing these questions raised by the reader and discussing, in general, some of the types of arguments that attempt to cast doubts on current scientific theories that are presented by my Christian brothers and sisters who believe the universe is only a few thousand years old. Let me again emphasize that I am not trying to degrade or denounce any individual but, instead, follow Paul's command to "test everything; hold fast to what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). I would hope that my fellow Christians (and non-believers as well) would be as passionate about discovering truth as I am and will carefully consider and investigate what I will present.

Finally, let me outline three major categories or strategies the are sometimes used by young earth creationists when they make claims that certain scientific discoveries can not be trusted or actually point to a universe that is young.

1) The one-sided equation: Many observations in science consist of a multitude of processes that contribute to a certain phenomena. If only one side of the equation is considered then any extrapolation based simply on that partial solution is invalid. For instance, it is often claimed that salt and minerals are being deposited in the ocean at such a rate that if the earth were billions of years old the oceans would be much more salty than they are. Of course, there are many processes that remove salt from the ocean including tectonic activity that balance out the rate at which minerals are carried to the ocean. Neither the rate of mineral deposit nor the rate of mineral removal are thought to be constant over the history of the earth nor are they actually very well measured, but they do approximately balance each other out. When both sides of the equation are considered the evidence favors an ancient universe.

2) The unexplained phenomena: There are some aspects of nature that we just don't understand yet. Because we don't fully understand them does not mean that a future proper understanding will contradict the current paradigm or that our lack of understanding indicates current theories are necessarily wrong. In many cases very plausible hypotheses have been proposed for these phenomena that we can't yet fully explain. One such example is the instability of Saturn's rings. The dynamics of Saturn's rings are very complex and we have had very few opportunities to observe them up-close. However, some calculations indicate that Saturn's rings should only be stable for about 10 to 100 million years (which is of course much longer than that allowed by a young earth creation paradigm, but much less than the supposed age of Saturn). This is a mystery with at least two very plausible explanations. Either (1) we don't yet understand what stabilizes the rings of Saturn, or (2) the rings themselves could be much younger than a much older planet. Just because our current understanding of the dynamics of Saturn's rings doesn't allow them to be older than a few tens of millions of years really doesn't tell us anything about the age of Saturn or of the universe, only about the possible age of the rings themselves.

3) Incorrect or outdated information: Unfortunately some of the claimed evidence against a universe and earth that are billions of years old is simply incorrect, misrepresented, or outdated. For instance, often when an unexplained phenomena is finally understood, the supposed evidence for a young universe may remain in the public discourse for decades. In other cases something is continually reported that is known to be wrong. For decades there was a claim made that dust falling from outer space should create a thick layer of dust on the moon that would be many feet deep and that NASA was even concerned about this when sending astronauts to the moon. This claim was based on a measurement of dust falling on the earth from a high mountain that was very soon shown to be completely invalid. The claim that there should be many feet of dust on the moon was never based on good science yet it remained for literally decades as a supposed evidence for a young universe. When a proper understanding of the amount of dust falling from outer space is used, then if the moon is somewhat over 4 billion years old there should be about one-half to one inch of dust on the moon, which is exactly what pictures of the astronaut's footprints show. (It should be noted that many YEC organizations are finally removing the moon dust argument from their list of reasons for a young universe. But it should have never gained any traction in the first place since the paper on which it was based was very quickly shown to be invalid, and I still encounter this argument from YEC believers frequently when I give public talks.)

Let me again emphasize (for at least the third time in this post) that I'm not trying to criticize or degrade any individual. Instead I want to pursue God's truth as revealed in Scripture and in nature. All Christians should want to do that. (Some of the scriptural evidence for an old universe can be found here, here, and here.) In the next post I will begin to address some of the actual "problems" with the big bang, solar development, and others that were mentioned in the comments made by the reader of this blog and we will explore current scientific explanations and proposals dealing with some of those issues.

6 comments:

  1. I am not a believer in YEC, and do not contest the idea that the universe is billions of years old. I am also not scientifically inclined, and I struggle to understand the concepts about creation put forth in your work and that of others who believe as you do. One thing that bothers me is the use by Christians of the term Big Bang as God's method of creation. I have read Hugh Ross's "The Creator and the Cosmos," as well as other material on the topic, and I understand that those ideas are not the same as the atheistic concept of the big bang. What bothers me is that you, Ross, and others use the term at all. I wonder if too many Christians who are not knowledgeable in creation science are not confused by our using the same term as atheists? I wish there was another term that would be potentially less confusing to the uninitiated. I realize that this is not a significant issue; it's probably something that no one else even thinks about. I guess I'm just expressing something that my non-scientific mind puzzles over. I enjoy seeing your videos and writings on Facebook, and I appreciate the work that you do. It's challenging for my 70 year old mind.

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    1. Thanks for your comments. We are using the term big bang in the same sense as the atheist does. This is what is really amazing. Scientific discoveries have shown that the universe had a beginning in what is called the big bang. Both old earth creationists and secular scientists agree on God's method of creation. The secular scientist just refuses to see God in the plain facts and continue to insist that either (1) the universe didn't have a real beginning or (2) it had a beginning but God didn't do it. Isn't it remarkable that science has stumbled upon the same truth as in the Bible, that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth? To be precise, there are two ways that scientist use the term big bang as described here https://www.michaelgstrauss.com/2017/01/should-big-bang-be-disdained.html. Both are compatible with how old earth creationists use it but we usually mean the second definition given in the above blog post meaning the actual beginning of the universe.

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    2. This is completely Off Topic (But I've never let a little thing like being off topic stop me :-))

      a small simple question I've been asking on You Tube in regards to the big bang is "How do You Get something From Nothing?" Lately an answer I've gotten from secular materialists "we don't know what happened before the big bang." So I'm looking for an answer/counterpoint to this. Simpler the better...I'm not that bright....Feel free to disagree with the last statement :-)

      I thank you in advance.

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    3. Well the short answer is that of course we don't know what happened before the big bang. BUT, all the observational and theoretical evidence indicates that the universe had an actual beginning. Any speculation that it didn't have a beginning has no actual scientific basis. If this universe had a beginning then it must have had a transcendent cause (outside of the universe) that certainly looks a lot like God. So the evidence from science agrees with and supports what theists have been saying for millennia. I also agree with you that there is no precedent within the naturalistic mechanistic worldview to get something from nothing.

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    4. What gets me is so many of these people (secular materialists) Apparently don't, 1. Know any Christians/people of faith,(enough to have a real conversation) 2. What we really believe (We're not 6 year olds).
      That said, many times we are our own worst enemy.

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  2. The claim that quantum fluctuations of energy of some form most commonly referred to as vacuum energy kicked off the universe. But the darting in and out of the observable by identifiable particles seems to be no answer as to where such exchanges originated. If the conservation principles applied the energy at the BB was beyond phenomenal as it was I suppose over time converted into the equally phenomenal mass. There is no natural explanation for the creation of the universe rather only an agency outside our time and space acting as Genesis 1 declares.

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