Three items appear below:
1 Regarding Biblical Pseudoscience K DeMyer #106 2 Biblical Pseudoscience—To DeMyer K Straughen #107 3 Age of The Universe and The Earth J H Williams #107
REGARDING BIBLICAL PSEUDOSCIENCE
(Investigator 106, 2006 January)
Mr Straughen (Investigator 63, 1998 November) promises his readers that he will demonstrate the Bible has scientific errors. I don’t believe that he delivered on his promise.
For example, Straughen calls the Levitical prohibition of lying with menstruating women "plain nonsense" but cites no real medical support. In a publication called Investigator Magazine he owes it to his readers to cite medical authorities/evidence showing the aforementioned Biblical prohibition to be plain nonsense.
I suggest Staughen examine the following article which cites a published medical article and a medical historian regarding the Biblical prohibition against lying with menstruating women:
Another example of poor commentary is when Straughen stated, "According to the Bible, the Universe was brought into existence in six days. Science has discovered that cosmic evolution encompasses a time-span of billions of years."
Has science discovered this? I cite the following regarding Straughen’s alleged "cosmic evolution":
Planets and our solar system"... most every prediction by theorists about planetary formation has been wrong." Scott Tremaine, as quoted by Richard A. Kerr, "Jupiters Like Our Own Await Planet Hunters," Science, Vol. 295, 25 January 2002, p. 605.Earth’s moon
"To sum up, I think that all suggested accounts of the origin of the Solar System are subject to serious objections. The conclusion in the present state of the subject would be that the system cannot exist." Harold Jeffreys, The Earth: Its Origin, History, and Physical Constitution, 6th edition (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1976), p. 3
"Talk about a major embarrassment for planetary scientists. There, blazing away in the late evening sky, are Jupiter and Saturn—the gas giants that account for 93% of the solar system’s planetary mass—and no one has a satisfying explanation of how they were made." Richard A. Kerr, "A Quickie Birth for Jupiters and Saturns," Science, Vol. 298, 29 November 2002, p. 1698.
"In the best simulations of the process [of evolving Uranus and Neptune], cores for Uranus and Neptune fail to form at their present positions in even 4.5 billion years, [what evolutionists believe is] the lifetime of the solar system. ‘Things just grow too slowly’ in the outermost solar system, says Weidenschilling. ‘We’ve tried to form Uranus and Neptune at their present locations and failed miserably.’ " Stuart Weidenschilling, as quoted by Richard A. Kerr, "Shaking Up a Nursery of Giant Planets," Science, Vol. 286, 10 December 1999, p. 2054.
"It turns out to be surprisingly difficult for planetesimals to accrete mass during even the most gentle collisions." Erik Asphaug, "The Small Planets," Scientific American, Vol. 282, May 2000, p. 54.
"‘We came to the conclusion,’ says Lissauer, ‘that if you accrete planets from a uniform disk of planetesimals, [the observed] prograde rotation just can’t be explained.’ The simulated bombardment leaves a growing planet spinning once a week at most, not once a day." Richard A. Kerr, "Theoreticians Are Putting a New Spin on the Planets," Science, Vol. 258, 23 October 1992, p. 548.
"Building Jupiter has long been a problem to theorists." George W. Wetherill, "How Special Is Jupiter?" Nature, Vol. 373, 9 February 1995, p. 470.
"Understanding these problems caused one expert to joke, "The best explanation [for the Moon] was observational error—the Moon does not exist." (Jack J. Lissauer, "It’s Not Easy to Make the Moon," Nature, Vol. 389, 25 September 1997, pp. 327–328).The Stars"The universe we see when we look out to its furthest horizons contains a hundred billion galaxies. Each of these galaxies contains another hundred billion stars. That’s 1022 stars all told. The silent embarrassment of modern astrophysics is that we do not know how even a single one of these stars managed to form." Martin Harwit, Book Reviews, Science, Vol. 231, 7 March 1986, pp. 1201–1202.The rest of Straughen’s commentary was no better. The aforementioned Bible scientific foreknowledge article also has a Bible scientific accuracy section located after the main article.
"The origin of stars represents one of the most fundamental unsolved problems of contemporary astrophysics." Charles J. Lada and Frank H. Shu, "The Formation of Sunlike Stars," Science, Vol. 248, 4 May 1990, p. 564.
"In fact, given our current understanding of how stars form and the properties of the galactic center, it’s [stellar evolution near the galactic center is] not allowed to happen." Andrea M. Gaze, as quoted by Ron Cowen, "Mystery in the Middle," Science News, Vol. 163, 21 June 2003, p. 394.
"For example, no one can explain how the stars—which are 15 times heftier than our sun—got there [near the center of our galaxy]. According to most astronomical models, they are too big to have formed in the chaos of the galactic center but appear to be too young to have moved there from farther out." Robert Irion, "The Milky Way’s Dark, Starving Pit," Science, Vol. 300, 30 May 2003, p. 1356.
"The bizarre question of the hour is what the young stars are doing there at all. Clouds of gas need a calm and cold setting to collapse into a ball dense enough to ignite nuclear fusion. Yet gravitational tidal forces — from the black hole and from stars in the galaxy’s nucleus — make the galactic center the antithesis of such a [stellar] nursery."
Science, Vol. 300, 30 May 2003, p. 1357.
"Little is known about the origins of globular clusters, which contain hundreds of thousands of stars in a volume only a few light years across. Radiation pressure and winds from luminous young stars should disperse the star-forming gas and disrupt the formation of the cluster." J. L. Turner et al., "An Extragalactic Supernebula," Nature, Vol. 423, 5 June 2003, p. 621.
Nobody really understands how star formation proceeds. It’s really remarkable." Rogier A. Windhorst, as quoted by Corey S. Powell, "A Matter of Timing," Scientific American, Vol. 267, October 1992, p. 30.
"We don’t understand how a single star forms, yet we want to understand how 10 billion stars form." Carlos Frenk, as quoted by Robert Irion, "Surveys Scour the Cosmic Deep," Science, Vol. 303, 19 March 2004, p. 1750.
"We cannot even show convincingly how galaxies, stars, planets, and life arose in the present universe." Michael Rowan-Robinson, "Review of the Accidental Universe," New Scientist, Vol. 97, 20 January 1983, p. 186.
A Response to DeMyer
(Investigator 107, 2006 March)
I have read Mr. DeMeyer’s article (Investigator No. 106, p. 21) and although I respect his right to hold the opinions outlined therein, I am unable to agree with him.
With regard to sex with menstruating women: I quoted Leviticus 15:19-21, which basically says that anything a woman touches becomes unclean, and I commented on the fact that this belief is nonsense (I never mentioned anything about sexual intercourse) because of its underlying irrationality:"Things that were sacred, like those that were impure, contained in themselves a frightening supernatural force. This force affected everything and everyone with which it came into contact and such contact had to be ritually removed ...Therefore, if a menstruating woman touches a chair with her hand, the chair becomes unclean, and if someone else touches that chair, then they become unclean. This belief is clearly irrational.
Accordingly, both uncleanness and holiness resulted from contact: holiness from contact with some aspect of the holiness of God, the "Holy of Holies." Uncleanness might also be an inherent quality, something irrational or daemonic." (Page 497 in Cornfield, Gaalyahu, Ed. Pictorial Biblical Encyclopedia, Hamikra Baolam Publishing House Ltd., Tel Aviv, 1964)
I did peruse the website Mr. DeMeyer mentioned in his article, and thank him for passing the information on. However, with all due respect, I can’t see any new data that refutes the thrust of my central argument concerning the above.
The website Mr. DeMeyer mentions contains information purporting to show the Bible is scientifically accurate. Some of the claims, if taken at face value, seem plausible, however, others are clearly nonsense. For example, this is what has been written concerning the Book of Job and dinosaurs:The book of Job is considered to be the oldest book of the Bible by many scholars.Dinosaurs went extinct millions of years ago, well before there were any humans who could have written the Book of Job (For further information see Dinosaur Extinction Page
The book of Job describes a large creature called behemoth who has a tail like a cedar and leviathan, which is said to be a sea monster. There are sound reasons to identify behemoth with a Sauropod dinosaur and leviathan with the Kronosaurus.
Most Biblical scholars identify behemoth with the hippopotamus, and leviathan with the crocodile, their attributes greatly exaggerated for lyrical purposes (See The Jerome Bible Commentary, Cassell & Collier Macmillian Publishers Ltd., London, 1976 for further information on Job).
I invite my readers to examine the relevant passages (Job 40:15-24 & 41:1-34) so they can fully appreciate the nonsense of believing these animals to be dinosaurs. The creatures are simply used with poetic license to contrast the power of God with Man’s insignificance.
Fundamentalists, obsessed with literalism as they are, can sometimes miss the fact that much of the Bible is not literally true — it is like one of the parables ascribed to Jesus (the parable of the prodigal son, for example) — a work of fiction used by the author to illustrate an ethical or theological view, and this is the case with the Book of Job.
I shall now examine the central theme of Mr. DeMeyer’s article, which seems to be an attempt to support his own beliefs by criticizing scientific theories concerning the formation of the universe. Mr. DeMeyer’s underlying assumption appears to be that if science is wrong in this regard, then a supernatural explanation is correct by default. This, of course is fallacious — it is like an ancient Greek believing in Zeus because he does not understand the natural phenomenon of lightning. Similarly, if problems were to be found with current theories concerning the cause of lightning, would this automatically prove Zeus existed and was responsible for thunderbolts?
Let me make it clear that science does not have all the answers (nor will it ever). Science does not concern itself with ultimate truths; rather it is a search for truth using the techniques of observation and experiment, and peer group review to arrive at the most likely explanations derived from facts known at the time.
Therefore, scientific theories are subject to change or perhaps even rejection in the light of new and compelling evidence. Has Mr. DeMeyer presented any such evidence to support a supernatural origin for the Universe? In my opinion he has not. Indeed, all he has done is question the validity of certain scientific explanations, which, of course, he has every right to do. This, however, is not the same as proving his opinions are correct.
Indeed, any attempt to prove that the Universe had a supernatural origin would need to start with a definite proof of God’s existence, and the consensus of opinion among philosophers who have examined arguments that purport such proof is that they do not succeed:"It is now generally admitted, at any rate by philosophers, that the existence of a being having the attributes which define the god of any non-animistic religion cannot be demonstratively proved. To see this is so, we have only to ask ourselves what are the premises from which the existence of such a god could be deduced. If the conclusion that a god exists is to be demonstratively certain, then these premises must be certain; for, as the conclusion of a deductive argument is already contained in the premises, any uncertainty there may be about the truth of the premises is necessarily shared by it. But we know that no empirical proposition can ever be anything more than probable. It is only a priori propositions that are logically certain. But we cannot deduce the existence of a god from an a priori proposition. For we know that the reason why a priori propositions are certain is that they are tautologies. And from a set of tautologies nothing but a further tautology can be validly deduced. It follows that there is no possibility of demonstrating the existence of god." (Pages 114-115 in Ayer, Alfred Jules: Language Truth & Logic, Victor Gollancz Ltd., London, 1964.)It is also clear that although we don’t know everything we still have sufficient knowledge to show that Genesis cannot be used to deduce an accurate account of cosmic origins. Indeed, it is mythological in character, and any attempt to derive a sound cosmology from Scripture is most unwise.
For example:"In his Six Orations on the Creation of the World, Severians, the Bishop of Gabala (fl. Late fourth century — d. after A.D. 408), would brook no world system other than that of Genesis. Nevertheless, he adds his own interpretation [based on Gen. 1:6, Gen. 19:23 & Eccles. 1:5], according to which on the first day of Creation the heaven was created — not one we see but one above it. The whole forms a building with two stories, with a roof in the middle and the waters above it. The lower heaven, the one we see, was created on the second day; it is full of congealed water able to resist the flame of the sun, moon, and stars." (Page 65 in Tauber, Gerald E. Man’s View of the Universe, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1979).Genesis opens with a very broad declaration: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). This is a simple statement of faith — no evidence is presented for its veracity, no detailed scientific explanations are given. Rather, it is an affirmation of an ancient people’s belief from which no empirical deductions concerning origins can be made, as Severians’ mistakes clearly show.
Least it be thought this mistake is merely an aberration simply due to Severians writing in an age of limited knowledge, I draw my readers attention to a 20th century fundamentalist group called The Christian Apostolic Church in Zion, who believe the earth is flat, and base this idea on a literal interpretation of scripture:"According to Voliva [their leader], a huge wall of snow and ice prevents ships from sailing off the edge [of the world] and falling into Hades. Below Hades is a subbasement where live the spirits of a race that flourished on earth before the time of Adam. The stars are much smaller than the earth and rotate around it. The moon is self luminous." (Page 17 in Gardner, Martin: Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1957.)Interestingly, both views share similarities with ancient Hebrew cosmology, which was as follows:"Heaven represents a gigantic bell-shaped dome inverted over the earth; above it are the waters of heaven and the heavenly palace of the deity, below it the stars and constellations move about. The earth is a flat surface with four comers or, on account of the horizon, a round disc; it rests on posts or pillars. The latter are fixed in the waters of the abyss under the earth; this water feeds the springs and watercourses of the earth, until it possibly returns once more to the abyss. Within or beneath the abyss ties the realm of the dead, which is usually thought of as belonging to the third portion of the world." (Page 180 in Fohrer, George: History of Israelite Religion, S.P.C.K.,London, 1975.)The ancient Hebrews wrote Scripture, and it is a reflection of their beliefs. The authors of Genesis tried to explain the origins of the world using the limited knowledge of the time, and the fact they made mistakes is understandable for this reason alone. We have advanced beyond their understanding (thanks to scientific inquiries), just as the people of the 23rd century will have advanced beyond ours.
Concerning the other questions Mr. DeMeyer has raised: For the sake of brevity, the interested reader is referred to the following websites that deal with the issues under consideration. I hope this information will assist people in deciding for themselves the merits of our respective positions.
Sex During Menstruation
Formation of Stars & Solar Systems
(Note: use the "search this site" function to find information on the above.)
Age of Universe
Age of Earth
Formation of Earth's Moon
THE UNIVERSE AND THE EARTH:
6,010 YEARS OLD OR BILLIONS OF YEARS?
John H Williams
(Investigator 107, 2006 March)"…beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." II Peter 3:8 (KJB)I refer to Ken DeMyer’s attempted rebuttal of Straughen in Investigator 106. The evolution of scientific knowledge and technology has given the age of the Universe and of the Earth as 13.7 billion and 4.6 billion years, +/-1%. The literal and myopic attachment to just over six millennia is as wrong as persisting with believing in a flat Earth or a geocentric solar system.
"An evening is like a thousand years in the mind of a geologist." Richard Dawkins
SEVENTEEN QUOTES ISN’T AN ARGUMENT
DeMyer’s piece consists of seventeen quotations about the universe, the Moon and the stars, and as such is not an argument for a young Earth/universe. He’s trawled several journals to extract opinions of presumably reputable scientists to underline that a great deal is unknown and that what is believed should be doubted.
Creationists like to show up the errors made by scientists, emphasise the unknowns, cast doubt, and in doing so, imply that the answer lies only in the allegorical text of the first eleven chapters of Genesis, which was redacted (edited) together around 440 BC.
FIRST HUMANS HERE 36,000 YEARS BEFORE 4004BC
There’s nothing wrong with questioning scientific estimates of the Earth’s age, unless it’s to undermine science, because most have been, in error as late as the 1940s, when it was estimated to be two billion years (at least this was heading in the right direction!).
In 1897 Lord Kelvin, a physicist and the pre-eminent scientist of his time, estimated 20-40 million years based on his expected rate of the Earth’s cooling, but he’d not allowed for the heat created by the radioactive disintegration of minerals (radioactivity was unknown to him then) in the mantle and crust. (He was uncharitable enough, having made a gross underestimate, to declare that Darwinian evolution by natural selection thus didn’t have sufficient time to occur!).
This evolution of dating is analogous to estimates of the time Aboriginal peoples have occupied Australia: a century ago it was a few thousand years, and currently the evidence favours a conservative 43-45 thousand years, with two Northern Territory sites suggesting that it is as much as 56,000 +/- 4,000 years. So, even using the most conservative archaeological dating, our earliest Asian visitors were island-hopping southwards during the last of the Pleistocene glacial stages, called the Wurm or Winconsin, over 36,000 years before 4004BC. Also, the Pleistocene lasted over two million years, plus of course the glacial periods in the Precambrian (3), Devonian and Permo-Carboniferous. How could such demonstrably slow and thus lengthy processes fit within the biblical time frame?
SELECT EARTHLY HAPPENINGS (million yrs)
Formation of homogenous solid by planetismal accretion (4,600) Melting due to radioactive and gravitational heating, leading to a differentiated interior, also outgassing of water, methane, ammonia, nitrogen, hydrogen and CO2 (4,300) Bombardment by planetisimals ends (4,000) Oldest rock found (3,960) Condensation of atmospheric water to form oceans (3,800) Prokaryotic cells, bacteria with no organised nucleus and a few strands of DNA, develop (3,500-2,800) Photosynthesis by cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) releases oxygen Oxygen molecules released to strengthen ozone layer (3,500-2,800) Rise of multicellular organisms (1500-600) Tillite rocks of 940, 770 and 615 evidence of ancient glaciations. Ediacaran organisms (580-545) Rise of fish, the first vertebrates (500-450) First land animals were millipedes (420) Rise of primitive sharks (375) Rise of reptiles (300-200) Pangaea begins to break apart (200) The Appalachians formed by tectonic collision of African, North American and European plates (200) Cockroaches and termites evolve (230) Mammals appear (200) Archaeopteryx emerges (145) Primitive kangaroos (136) Rabbits/hares evolve (55) Primitive monkeys evolve (50) Koalas evolve (28) First hominids, Australopithecus, Homo habilis, H erectus, Archaic H sapiens develop (3-0.5) Neanderthal Man (H sapiens neanderthalis) (0.23-0.03) Modern man (H sapiens sapiens) develops (0.1) Current ‘post-glacial’ Quaternary period begins (c 0.01)(Source: various texts and websites)
AGES OF METEORITES AND MOON SIGNIFICANT
Naturally, the above figures, especially the oldest, are approximations, and are liable to be updated as new evidence emerges. The precise evolution of the genus Homo is the subject of intense debate, and new finds often cause revisions.
The timeline is based primarily on palaeontology and other earth sciences, in correlation with the key process of the known rates which particular minerals break down (radiometric decay) to form new minerals, discovered about a hundred years ago. This has enabled dating of the most primitive meteorites at 4.6 billion years (the youngest are around 4.3 billion) and Moon rocks obtained by six Apollo missions, 1969-1972, at 4.0 – 4.6 billion years, therefore our solar system is at least 4.6 billion years old. (The current theory of the Moon’s formation is that the Earth was hit a glancing blow by a planetary body the size of Mars, and the Moon’s chemical composition is compatible with this).
HALF LIVES ACCURATELY SPELL OUT DEEP TIME
Over time, a parent mineral such as radioactive 238Uranium will break down to a radiogenic daughter mineral, 206Pb (Lead), and the time taken for half of the parent mineral to decay is 4.5 billion years, known as its half life. From there it will take another 4.5 billion years for the parent % to become 25% and so on, allowing for a sophisticated calibration of time.
Other useful parent/daughter pairings are:
235U/207Pb; 232Thorium (a close relative of uranium)/208Pb; The common, widely distributed 40K(Potassium)/40Argon; 87Rubidium/87Strontium; Radiocarbon dating.
Radioactive14Carbon, which combines with oxygen to form CO2, is absorbed by living organisms. A constant ratio of 14C and non-radioactive 12C is established in each organism during its life. After death no more CO2 is absorbed and 14C decays steadily reducing to half its original quantity every 5,570 years, and the age of organic remains can be estimated by comparing the ratio of 14C and 12C in them. Big differences in the length of half lives means that different minerals are best suited for different periods, and radiocarbon decay is the one best suited for the Earth’s most recent history. For brevity, I’ve simplified the nature of radiometric decay, but the principle is ‘rock solid’, and correlates with data from other earth sciences.
BELIEFS OF SOME PH.Ds BEGGAR BELIEF
Regarding (dis)belief, I have difficulty in comprehending the arguments of creationists who have Ph.Ds in Geology, particularly those specialising in Palaeontology. It’s unimaginable to me, as someone who spent much of his youth exploring a ‘geologically-enhanced backyard’, Wales and its English borderlands, from the Pre-Cambrian in Shropshire to the Triassic of the Glamorgan coastline and the local ‘smothering’ of Pleistocene till south of the Brecon Beacons, how these people, who presumably underwent the equivalent comprehensive fieldwork and collection of fossil assemblages, are so different in their time perspectives.
One can’t expect much from Dawkins’ "know-nothings" but, it seems, creationist "know-alls" only offer a more sophisticated version of Earth’s unbelievably recent DOB tailor-made for a lay audience who know very little earth science, and who rely on the work of those PhDs! Fellow scientists are appalled at the errant pseudoscience one routinely finds on Google’s lists of web sites.
OK TO QUESTION UNLESS IT’S TO UNDERMINE SCIENCE
Radiometric decay is a target for creationist criticism, and on the net one can read sensationalised claims, such as "radioactive dating is so inaccurate that living animals have been dated as thousands of years old" (The Collapse of Evolution by Scott Huse). A common response is of this sort: "Anyway, none of us was there, so we should accept the word of one who was (cf. Job 38:4) and tells us the world is young"!
More rational, but just as wrong, is, "We have been conditioned by the media to accept without questioning that the Earth is billions of years old." The media, for all its faults, has within it well educated scientists, and if any real evidence emerged that Ussher was right, the story would bust blocks for some time! Why is it that such material apparently isn’t available?
Why is it that creationists presumably accept the reality of scientific and technological progress, for example, in using planes and satellite communication, and benefit from medical technology, while denying equivalent developments in scientific fields related to geology and astronomy? The answer is along the lines of Muslim Pakistani jet pilots who have been taught rather poetic ideas about ‘the heavens’: they believe one thing while up there, and another while on terra firma!
A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, THEN THE FIRST ‘WEEK-END’
The literal acceptance as real of an obviously allegorical six-day creation, also anthropomorphised since the creator ‘got tired’ and needed a weekend, is unfathomable:
Day 1 light; Day 2 firmament of the heavens (the sky); Day 3 separation of water and land; Day 4 Sun, Moon and stars; Day 5 marine life and birds; Day 6 land animals and man/woman. And later, a talking snake, who like Adam and Eve, was banished to some East of Eden boot camp."And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them." Genesis 1: 31; 2:1 (KJB)In its historical/cultural context this is fine as one of the many creation myths, but this particular ancient ‘story’ has managed to ‘escape’ that context and become a prevalent thought form in the modern world.
NO DISHONOUR IN BEING WRONG
The above science-based time-line, allowing for marginal errors and anticipated adjustments via future discoveries, is the prevailing view found in virtually all recent text books and journals, and is taught in school and university courses world-wide. The onus is on those who disagree not just to attempt to undermine, but to explain, with relevant substantiated evidence, its fundamental wrongness. It is no dishonour to be wrong, but what is dishonourable is a deliberate process of—to quote Professor Ian Plimer’s book title—" telling lies for God".
THE PRESENT IS THE KEY TO THE PAST
There’s quite a difference between elucidating Earth’s past and finding answers to processes and places so distant in time and location (such as the distant galaxies) that the light we now see from them was transmitted billions of years ago.
In 1785, when James Hutton offered us uniformitarianism, the ‘present is the key to the past’, he was one of the first to show that the slow nature of Earth processes required millions of years rather than the then accepted thousands. For example, the massive thickness of the geologic column (naturally, his ideas were vehemently attacked for decades by those advocating catastrophism, principally The Flood).
Hutton recognised that rocks like granite had a plutonic origin, as well as explaining the significance of unconformities, which betrayed gaps in deposition, of millions of years, during which time the land had been uplifted, maybe tilted and folded, then eroded, before subsiding beneath the sea to accept more deposition. He thus wrongly concluded that Earth’s age couldn’t be determined because of its ‘removal’ of the evidence.
IGNORANCE OF THE COSMOS ON THE RETREAT
Regarding our Universe’s origins, the more we know the more we realise that we don’t know. But our vast ignorance will diminish.
The Star Dust project has just (January ’06) completed a seven year, six billion km journey to obtain the dust emitted by Comet Wild 2 and other ancient dust particles, "the basic building blocks of our solar system". The New Horizons project about to be launched in January ’06 (Time 16/1/06) won’t reach Pluto and its three moons until 2015 (Pluto is about 7.5 billion km from the Sun). Then there’ll be years of analysing the data, plus the inevitable debate as to what the data means. Will deep-frozen Pluto keep its status as a planet, since its moon, 2003 UB313, is larger (two other moons were discovered in October 2005)?
Some key data is very slow and expensive to obtain, but it’s now being amassed from a range of sources, and being analysed, for example, by "room-sized microscopes and 3.2 km long particle accelerators". Cosmological ignorance is on the retreat.
PERFECTIONISM PROJECTED OUT FROM WITHIN?
That theories and predictions have been proven wrong is an intrinsic element of the growth of scientific understanding. Science is imperfect, because it’s done by fallible hominids using (increasingly less) fallible technology, and because the data is complex — and thus open to multiple explanations — and extremely ancient.
Theists postulate a perfectionist idyll, which they compare with the imperfect reality, and bemoan its ‘loss’. The coloured illustrations in Watchtower magazines are ‘perfect’ examples of this: happy, good looking, multicultural couples and family groups in a sun-shined landscape with a male African lion nuzzling an Hispanic girl, and a cute young brown bear cuddling a child collecting fruit. The title for this unreality is "Life in a Peaceful New World" (available to some once they’ve carked it?).
DID HUMANS ‘MESS UP’ GOD’S ‘PERFECT WORLD’?
This kind of obsessive perfectionism has, in my opinion, a major role in creationist philosophy, a ‘once it was all fine as God intended/designed’. Then humans messed with it, and God was ‘unhappy’ and sent the Big Wet etc’. If only we believed more and prayed more we could return to the original ‘perfection’ and view our cosmos with reverent ID wonder, as exemplified by this quotation:"As man learns more of the marvellous designs implanted in creation, he should be moved to appreciate evermore the wisdom of the god who made it all. The evidence of His handiwork is so obvious that not only do the heavens declare His glory, but the Earth shows the evidence of His design. So much so that men are without excuse if they deny it." (Dr J Bergman, Creation 7 (2) 1984)Here is perfectionist confirmation bias/wishful thinking/confusion of cause and effect writ large: excuse me, Jerry, I do deny it!
EVOLUTION OF DATING COSMOLOGICAL HISTORY
Having read several books on astronomy I now have a better perspective on DeMyer’s quotations. Several of them are very outdated although even the most recent texts barely keep pace with new data/discoveries.
Let’s look back via this ‘thumb-nail’ at attempts at dating our Earth and our cosmos:
1760 Buffon estimate of cooling from molten: 75,000 yrs 1831 Lyell (a strong influence on Darwin) based on fossils of marine molluscs: 240 million years 1896 Henry Becquerel discovers radioactive decay 1897 Lord Kelvin (op cit): 20-40 million years 1905-1907 Rutherford & Boltwood discover that radioactive decay could be used as a reliable and convenient ‘yardstick’ of time: 500 million -1.64 billion years. . 1918 Vesto Slipher found a mysterious class of objects then called nebula, all receding from Earth, their light reddened (red shift). In the early 1920s Edwin Hubble estimated c 2 billion years, but this was less than geologists’ then best estimate! 1929 Hubble discovered the Hubble Constant, assuming the universe was expanding uniformly, and eventually he focussed on ‘milepost markers’, galaxies called Cepheid variables. 1947 Gamow used Hubble’s original data: 2-3 billion years, with more recent data leading to a likelihood of a longer time period. 1952 Bart Jan Bok measured galactic clusters: 1-10 billion years. 1952-1999 More scientific guesstimates accompanied by more advanced technology, such as radio astronomy (1950s) and the Hubble Telescope, launched in 1990: c 8-12 billion yrs. 1999 a special NASA team applies the Hubble Constant to very distant stars and those in our galaxy, dating the Milky Way to c 9.8 billion years, making the universe at least 2 billion years older. However, due to some mysterious repulsive force, akin to Einstein’s so called ‘fudge factor’, estimates of the universe were put at 13-15 billion years. There’s been a focus on the dimmest and coolest stars, very hard to find burnt-out stars called white dwarfs, which have taken a huge time to cool to absolute zero. The Hubble Telescope found some in globular clusters in our Milky Way, dated at 12.6 billion years, implying a universe of 13-14 billion years, which has been refined to the latest best estimate of 13.7 billion years, +/- slightly more than 1%, c 200 million years
DARK MATTER AND DARK ENERGY: WHAT ARE THEY?
Two projects, called Cosmic Microwave Background (COBE 1989-1992) and Balloon Observations of Millimetric Extragalactic Radiation and Geophysics (BOOMERANG 1998-99), similar to COBE but at a much higher resolution gave very useful data. NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anistropy Probe (WMAP 2001-2003) provided stunning confirmation of BOOMERANG and showed that the first stars appeared only 200 million years after the Big Bang, much earlier than previously thought.
The ‘latest’ (now about two years out-of-date) position, using high red-shift supernovae and the cosmic microwave background, is:
"1 The universe isn’t perfectly homogenous, and there are tiny fluctuations in its density, present in its infancy.
2 Most of the density of the universe is in dark matter (we don’t know yet what that is!)
3 The universe is just under 14 billion years old, has a "flat geometry" consisting of 4% atoms, 23% dark matter and 73% dark energy)."
"…we don’t know what 96% of the universe is. We’d better get to work". (De Pree and Axelrod)
THE COSMOS DOES NOT EASILY YIELD ITS SECRETS
This sobering acknowledgment of our current ignorance ‘agrees’ with some of DeMyer’s quotations, but in less than a century astronomy has taken some giant steps, and the proliferation of recent projects gives us hope of a much better understanding, while reminding us how far we still have to go. I’d like to think that this rather didactic article is a good summary of the ‘deep time’ necessary to allow for slow earth processes, such as biological evolution, glaciations and continental drift, to occur, and for the evolution of a gargantuan cosmos. The answer to the issue of thousands versus billions lies ‘in the field’ with working scientists doing real science, in their literature and on the net, if one looks with objectivity.
(Note: thinking literally, if "a day is a thousand years", over a year that’s 365,000 years. Accepting this, and allowing for 6,010 years since 4004BC, this means an Earth age of only 2.2 billion years!)
Axelrod, A and C De Pree, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Astronomy, Alpha books, New York, 3rd Edition, 2004
M Beazley, Anatomy of the Earth (The Joy of Knowledge), M Beazley Encyclopaedia, London, 1976.
Davies, P, The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin of Life, Allen Lane Penguin, 1998
Dawkins R, The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life, Orion Books London, 2004
Dawkins R, Climbing Mount Improbable, Viking, London, 1996
Raman Prinja, Visions of the Universe, Octopus Publishing, London, 2004.
Welch, G, Humankind And The Cosmos, Halbooks, Avalon, 1999
DeMyer, K, Regarding Biblical Pseudoscience, The Investigator, No 106, January 2006.
‘Flood geology, a house built on sand’, by Dr Alex Ritchie, on
Science versus Religion and the Paranormal