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.

Over and over the speaker on the video lumped all those who believe in the big bang together with titles like "secularists." He presented a false dichotomy that one either believes in a young universe or is a secularist. The speaker did not acknowledge that the vast majority of Christian scientists do believe that God used the big bang to create the universe. This sets up a false dichotomy. Either you believe in a young universe or you are a secularist. Already, any thinking person should be skeptical of what the speaker is saying. If the speaker were confident of his position, he would not have to ignore a large proportion of people who do not fit his false dichotomy. If he were confident he had the truth he could acknowledge that there are many believers who are not "secularists" who believe in a 14 billion year old universe and have strong biblical and scientific reasons to support that belief. If someone sets up a false dichotomy it is usually because they have something to hide and are afraid of the alternatives that they refuse to acknowledge exist.

Another thing the speaker does many times throughout the video is to claim that if no one observed a certain phenomena and if no one has ever observed exactly the same phenomena, then we can't be sure the phenomena occurred. This is a common tactic used by young earth creationists, stating that if something hasn't been observed and can't be repeated then you can't trust its validity. If this were so, then no event that happened only once in history can be accepted as being valid. With this definition of validity, the resurrection of Jesus is not an event that we can know occurred since no one saw it and it can't be repeated. Although young earth creationists claim the Grand Canyon was carved by the flood waters of a global flood, using their own criteria that would be an invalid conclusion since no one observed it and it isn't repeatable. In reality, the proposal that something that no one has observed and isn't repeatable can't be true beyond an reasonable doubt is such a flimsy statement that I can't believe anyone accepts it. As soon as the speaker made this statement, everyone in the audience should have stood up and objected, saying that is a horrible criteria for accepting something as true because then we could not even accept the resurrection of Jesus as true. Instead, everyone in the audience seems to be sitting there, nodding their heads in approval. You can't claim that Jesus rose from the dead or that the Grand Canyon was carved by flood waters and then claim that if no one has observed the event then it can't be shown to be true beyond a reasonable doubt. Those two claims contradict each other. If we can know the resurrection occurred then we can know things are true that no one has observed. Instead, many, many things leave plenty of evidence that they really happened even if no one has observed them.

Next the speaker lists six statements about the big bang and formation of the universe that he claims no one has observed so we don't know they occurred. Not only is this logic terribly flawed as stated, but the speaker is totally misrepresenting what we know about the six things. Let's look at those things:

       1. The entire universe is contained in one point.
Of course no one was there when the universe started. But we know the universe is expanding and we can see about 13 billion years of the history of the universe since light travels at a finite speed and takes time to reach us. We understand the physics of the universe and can run computer models using only known (reproducible) physics and show that the universe was nearly a point one trillionth of a second after the big bang. If the speaker were truthful he would say that we don't know it was truly a point but we do know that if we just use what is known and reproducible and extrapolate back in time using only what we know and observe, then the whole visible universe is very nearly a point 14 billion years ago, one trillionth of a second after the big bang.

       2. This point rapidly expands like a balloon.
We know the universe is expanding now. The speaker even says that seems to be true. If we extrapolated the known reproducible laws of physic back in time we would find that the "point" did expand. Of course no one existed during the first 13.7 billion years of the universe, but the universe is expanding now and all observations and known laws of physics tell us that if the universe is that old then we totally understand its original expansion "like a balloon." As an illustration, suppose I lived next to a large wilderness with nothing west of me for a hundred miles except a mountain pass about 30 miles to my west. Suppose that a train passes by me coming from the west right now traveling about 60 miles/hour. If my friend said that the train likely went through the pass about 30 minutes ago that would seem reasonable. If I were to reply that I don't believe the train went through the pass 30 minutes ago even though the "laws" of the train motion were reasonable to extrapolate backward in time, because "no one was there to observe it" you would rightfully say that my conclusion was ridiculous since there is no reason not to extrapolate the train's motion back in time. In the same way, the statement that the universe did not expand originally is indefensible, given its current expansion and the laws of physics.

       3. Energy becomes matter - hydrogen and helium
The speaker agrees that energy does become matter. In fact we make hydrogen nuclei all of the time in the particle colliders where I do my research. Then the speaker tries to cast doubt on this statement by saying just because some matter is made from energy doesn't mean all hydrogen and helium is made that way. Of course technically he is correct. But that seems like a pretty weak argument. We know that hydrogen and helium are made from energy and that is reproducible. We know that the laws of physics extrapolated back in time give all the hydrogen and helium we see. In fact, using big bang cosmology and the known laws of physics we can predict the amount of hydrogen and helium we should see to an accuracy of one part in ten thousand. It is truly ludicrous for the speaker to try to cast doubt on this given all the evidence since all the laws of physics and precision calculations point to the same conclusion.

       4. The matter condenses into stars and galaxies.
I have already dealt with this in a previous blog post here. Of course we haven't seen a star actually form because it takes millions of years to happen and it finally "turns on" very quickly. But as stated in the previous post, if you watched humanity for only a few minutes you'd probably never see a baby being born, but you could certainly infer their birth by observing humans in so many different stages of life.

       5. Stars make heavier elements which become dust.
Throughout the universe we see many stars that appear to have exploded in the past with dust and debris coming from those explosions full of heavy elements. Like the previous point, this explosion occurs quickly so we don't usually expect to see it actually occur, but we do see stars in all stages of development including having just exploded. In addition, once again our understanding of physics predicts this should happen. We know that reproducible nuclear physics can produce heavy elements. We can even do this in nuclear reactors, producing heavier elements and we can see this in real time. Just because we can't see it in the moment stars die since that occurs for such a brief period of time, it is very very misleading to say this doesn't happen since the process can be observed even now. The video above is a time-lapsed video taken over four years from the Hubble telescope showing a star that was very dim and actually exploded with its debris cloud full of heavy elements. Of course we don't know for certain that the heavy elements were actually formed in the explosion, though all the known physics indicates they were. Given all these observations and calculations I don't understand how the speaker can say such things don't occur.

       6. Dust condenses to form planets.
This is the same argument as number 4 and discussed in the same blog post.

As I recently stated in an interview at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, "You don't have to exaggerate, brow-beat, or demean if what you're talking about is the true." So why does the speaker in these videos have to distort what we can observe from nature? Why does he have to create a false dichotomy?  Why does he set up a false scenario in which something is only valid if someone were there to observe it or if it is reproducible even though the resurrection, which he believes is true, fails those criteria? I believe that if what he is presenting were actually true, none of these exaggerations or distortions would be necessary.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, when logic fails, scream, yell demonize the opponent.

    ReplyDelete