Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Real" Science vs. "Cosmological" and "Origins" Science

Pseudo-sciences that try to undermine physical sciences tread a fine line.  They attempt to sell their flawed thinking to a general public which, while not necessarily very scientifically literate, still understands that the physical sciences have provided technologies that improve their quality of life.  Even the not-very-scientifically literate public understands that most of these technologies are the product of modern science.  Should the pseudo-scientists try to attack all of physical sciences, they would risk alienating the public who might realize that it would undermine technology that contributes to their high standard of living, which could backfire on them.

To reduce the chance of losing support from those who recognize the science-technology connection,  some pseudo-scientists try to erect a barrier between science that can be seen contributing to technology and science that has implications for topics which the pseudo-scientists wish to reject.

Creationists such as Ken Ham have tried to argue that there is a 'real science' or 'operational science' that exists in the laboratory, contributing to developing technology, and an 'origins science' that attempts to describe the origin of the universe in general and life in particular.  Mr. Ham then argues that 'origins science' is not a reliable as 'operational science' since 'origins science' can't make technologies and therefore allows for other interpretations of the data, particularly various claims attempting to make the universe less than 10,000 years old.  I've written about this before (Technology from Cosmology, or “Can Creation Science Do That?”).  Some creationists push this barrier even further, claiming that the processes we can test in the laboratory have no connection to the behavior and processes in Nature.

Electric Universe (EU) supporters adopt a similar tactic, trying to separate 'classical science' for technology and 'cosmological science' as anything beyond the Earth which they don't like.  They then try to claim that their cosmological claims are just as valid as mainstream science.  EU plays on  shakier ground as their 'classical science' is a category that appears to exclude developments in the 20th century such as relativity and quantum mechanics, both backed by significant laboratory experiments and technology applications.

The BIG problem with this division strategy is that there is NO such barrier between the physical sciences.

Fundamental Physical Theories
Physicists actually have a handful of theories that could be regarded as truly foundational or fundamental.  Here's my list that comes to mind, but I don't regard it as complete and there is significant overlap between some topic:
  • Mechanics or Dynamics (Wikipedia)/Kinematics (Wikipedia):  The physics of motions under the actions of forces, or no forces.
  • Gravitation (Wikipedia)/General Relativity (Wikipedia): The physics of motion of particles with mass.
  • Electromagnetism (Wikipedia): The physics of motion of particles with electric charges.
  • Quantum Mechanics (Wikipedia): Quantum mechanics can be considered as dynamics and kinematics on a sub-atomic level.  As we apply it to larger systems, its predictions become equivalent to those of dynamics and kinematics. 
  • Quantum electrodynamics (Wikipedia): The physics of motion in cases where relativity and quantum mechanics are important.
  • Quantum chromodynamics (Wikipedia):The physics of motion for particles which feel the 'color' force.
An interesting aspect of these theories is they all describe interactions between objects and particles, not so much the objects or particles themselves.  The particles themselves are described in the Standard Model (Wikipedia).  They describe how the particles move in relation to each other if the particle respond to a specific force.  Many of these theories are built around a few fundamental relationships, expressed mathematically, whose implications are studied in a variety of physical scenarios.  From these theories, we can develop mathematical models for more complex, multi-atom/multi-particle systems, such as fluid dynamics, magnetohydrodynamics, solid state physics, etc.

All of the theories above have been subjected to significant testing, through experiment and observation.  Many of them have critical connections in our technologies: semiconductor electronics is critical for everything from computers to cellphones; gravity and relativity play crucial roles in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS), all satellites, and interplanetary flight.  Some of these theories were tested to a higher-level of precision by observations in space than they could be tested in the laboratory.

Pushing Physical Theories Over the Edge?
In spite of all the testing of the physical theories described above, they can still make predictions that are beyond our current laboratory capabilities to test! 

What do you do then? 

I see three options:
  1. Some experimental tests would require a only small improvements in current technology in order to actually perform them.  This can sometimes take just a few years, or it could take many decades. 
  2. If the predictions are far beyond the capability of current, or even near-future technology, one can find other ways to test the theory that may not be as direct.  The general practice is to assume the theory is valid until real evidence can be found to the contrary.  This gets more difficult if there are more than one theory where both agree in the tested range, but exhibit disagreement outside that range.
  3. Declare any aspect of the theory beyond those immediately testable in the laboratory as unknowable and open to any explanations that can be dreamed up.
Mainstream science generally chooses option (1) & (2), though sometimes the boundary between them can be fuzzy.  Most pseudo-science insists the only choice is option (3).

Are there other options?  I'd be interested if there are other possibilities I've missed here.

Update: January 28, 2014: Fixed broken links


Bunc said...

The creationsists and IDers will attack any science that they think causes a problem for their literal interpretations of the Bible. While most of the attacks have been on ebvolutionary Biology its implicit in young earth creationsim that Large parts of Physics, astronomy and geology have to be attacked because the evidence in these sciences runs so counter to their beliefs.

I have a long running blog debate with a "Looney" creationist - usually about evolution.

I made a post about the problem of starlight propagation for the Bible genesis account that got him wobbling as you can read here.
Starlight and Young earth Creationism

Unknown said...

Yes it does seem like an uphill battle dealing with Big Bang theories when so many red flags exist.

Have you ever seen Scot Aaron's Spiritual Astronomy with a new Cosmology based on a Relativity Ratio?

He actually uses a 1:400,000 primary "relativity ratio" of the Fall / Expansion of time and space, seen in the Bible.

"Psalms 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 in the Old and New Testaments refer to a day of God compared to 1000 human years. This (365 days times 1000 years) can be understood as a simple Relativity Ratio of 1 to 365,000."

(Note this does not literally interpret the Bible, but Close, using the 10,000 year time it takes Earth to Travel a Light Year.)

Share your thoughts, please,

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Celestial,

Yet all the 'problems' in Big Bang cosmology are minuscule when it comes to the problems with the cosmology I find in the 'relativity ratio' link. The the author of the material doesn't tell you about them. I can't find anything in this 'theory' that could qualify as a testable prediction. Like many crank theories, it 'explains' everything yet seems to predict nothing.

Ryan said...

Its interesting that you imply that Ken Ham was wrong to say that origins science is different than operational science. But isn't it? If the universe was created from NOTHING, as creationists and physicists agree, what possible predictions could be made (and tested) about the "preceding" nothingness? Isn't it like staring into a black hole? How could something that didn't exist, leave any kind of evidence in the sands of time, which also didn't exist? Going back beyond the Big Bang there certainly can be no science.

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Ryan:
After about 10^-30 seconds from the original 'bang', virtually everything we measure in the distant cosmos to the Earth can be calculated from physical laws we've identified in Earth laboratories, with some extensions. The recent possible identification of the Higgs boson (see Another success for the Standard Model?) is part of that physics. It illustrates how, if we are in error, then it is not by much. But it is an example of how we can test cosmological science in Earth laboratories.

Even if we can never analyze events prior to the Big Bang, it does not invalidate any of the physics determined after the Big Bang.

Similarly, when we throw a ball into the air, we can use physics to describe what it does after the throw. Where/when the ball was made, or who was doing the throwing, doesn't enter into the equations.

Ryan said...

Mr. Bridgman, I fully agree with your comments regarding the laws of physics, that they describe what happened after the big bang. And I'm sure you'll agree that those laws describe the interaction of space, matter and the forces that act on them, i.e. all the causes of natural events. But if we follow the big bang back in time, the entire universe disappears into a singularity. So the really interesting question for physics is: what caused the singularity?

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Ryan,

Sorry for my delay. I'm trying to spend a little time away from the blog to complete some projects for the blog.

Agreed, the singularity would be very interesting, but it may be a question we may never be able to answer. I doubt taxpayers would fund the construction (and risk) of such a powerful atom smasher.

If one wants to say that a diety is the source of the singularity, it would probably not be possible to *disprove* it. However, the fact that we do have such a good understanding of everything that happened *after* the singularity, the diety would not be one that *actively* intervened in the Universe, except perhaps by inspiring actions of the occupantants of that Universe. I call that the god of the Kobyashi Maru scenario, which I wrote a little about here

Ryan said...

Agreed. It seems maybe I misunderstood Mr. Ham's point, as I seem to be in agreement with you on the reliability of physics. I suppose, we must allow that the whole universe *could* have been created with the illusion of a history it didn't really have, but that does seem to be more contrived, and not a very satisfying solution for either believers or nonbelievers. You may be interested in a comparison my brother-in-law did on the creation narrative of Genesis vs. modern cosmology, in which he found a one-to-one correlation.

He's not an astronomer but his PhDs are in Physics. The first half is background for the layperson, the second half is probably most interesting to you.

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Ryan,

In regards to the video:
I can find no documentation that Alexander Friedmann was a Christian. He claims there was opposition to the Big Bang due to 'atheist' scientists. No, the data supporting it was still in it's early stages. There was a certain amount of legitimate confusion due to limited communications between individuals doing theory and observation, and there is some evidence of professional animosity.
Lemaitre was a Catholic priest but opposed the church's attempts to 'christianize' the expanding universe cosmology.

A good reference on the history of cosmology is "The Day We Found the Universe" by Marcia Bartusiak  (2010) 

The religious affiliation of a scientist is no measure of the accuracy of their science. If you want to discount the science developed by scientists of other religious affiliations, you'll quickly find yourself living in a cave. Remember Matt 5:43-47.

"Reasons to Believe" has a 'model' that is a little more sophisticated, but there is much I regard as just word games, indisinguisable from arguing about the number of angels can fit on the head of a pin. I'm rather torn with how I feel about Old-Earth Creationism.

Ryan said...

It's interesting that you disagree about atheism being a stumbling block to subscribe to the Big Bang theory. Do you also disagree that such a thing as Weltanschauung which colors our interpretation of facts and reality? It seems we must accept that our worldview colors our judgment, just as a purely naturalistic worldview has led others to believe in a multiverse. What scientific evidence is there for that outside of our faith in naturalism? And how can we hope for evidence of a multiverse which by its very nature is entirely isolated from our senses?

As for your critique of the video, I'll leave those questions to the author if he sees fit to answer them.

Ryan said...

As an aside, I'm just curious where you were going with the thought on Matthew 5:43-47. I agree its good advice for everyday but I wasn't sure what you meant in the context of the discussion, whether it related to the video, or my conduct, or words? It would seem to be an admonishment in Christ, and if so I accept it, but I'm not sure if you meant to correct, or to prevent misconduct, either toward yourself or toward others? Care to say a little more?

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Ryan,
Worldview (Weltanschauung) as a source of inspiration is one thing. But worldview is no guarantee of correctness. Young Earth Creationists have much the same Worldview os Old-Earth Creationists, yet propose very different things in a number of scientific fields. Who is correct? Plasma Cosmology & EU use Worldview quite a bit, claiming that the fact that Lemaitre was a priest makes Big Bang a 'Creationist' cosmology and should therefore be disregarded.

The pattern suggests that "superiority" of Worldview or 'Culture' is popularly used when the mainstream theory that successfully explains the experiments has implications uncomfortable for some group. Letting 'World view' guide your science has historically proven destructive - Deutsche physic (wikipedia) was the response by German Nationalists to relativity and quantum theory; Lysenko biology (wikipedia) was the Soviet response to Darwin. On the other hand, 'Worldview' approaches to science are popular in totalitarian states - which brings me to Matthew 5:34-47.

If you automatically favor the theory pushed by someone BECAUSE of their worldview, you are automatically DISFAVORING alternatives by those with other worldviews BECAUSE of their worldview. The standard for science is the agreement with EXPERIMENT & OBSERVATION - regardless of the worldview of the of the proposer. If you're using Worldview as your standard, then you are automatically discriminating against those with a Worldview different from yours. What would that make your standing according to Matt 5:43-47?

The Golden Rule makes good SECULAR sense.

Another comment recently appeared also pushing the 'Worldview' claim from the Electric Universe side so I'll write more later to include that.

Ryan said...

Mr. Bridgman, we seem to be in agreement on one point, that when our scientific inquiries are influenced by our worldview we are easily misled to conclusions that are not strictly scientific.

But you seem to imply that only those with specific political or religious agendas have worldviews. But what about YOUR worldview?

Certainly there are things you believe about the world which have not been proven, perhaps they even cannot be proven. For example, most modern Westerners believe in the basic premise of "naturalism" and I'd agree it certainly holds true for everyday life. But what about when you encounter something that's out of the ordinary? Wouldn't you be inclined to change your basic belief in "naturalism" to allow for the occurrence of occasional "supernatural" events? And if not, WHY not? What is it that might make you cling to naturalism *despite* evidence to the contrary? And furthermore, is a person being LOGICAL or ILLOGICAL when he observes something that doesn't follow known natural law and concludes that something "unnatural" has occurred? This is where worldview really comes into play, when we are willing--even eager--to overlook evidence which is contrary to our worldview. And it is something which we *all* are susceptible to, both theists and atheists, naturalists and super-naturalists, both you and me.

As to the video, as you gave no opposition to his basic premise, shall I conclude you are in agreement with it? That the creation story in Genesis is a perfect analog of the creation story presented by modern cosmology?

As for loving our neighbors, what would you call it when we engage together in the search for the truth? After all, isn't what why we engage in both science and dialog, to narrow in on what is true? And if, in the end, we remove blinders from each other's eyes, is that not love?

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Ryan,

"Out of the ordinary" really means "out of our experience". But human experience is VERY limited when it comes to our view of the world and the rest of the universe, and for many people, that experience is still not much improved since a thousand years ago. I've encountered people who have some very strange ideas about how the technology they use every day, such as a personal computer, actually works. In the case of the United States, it is no surprise that many of the leading-edge manufacturing jobs are now being done in other countries.

What you appear to advocate is a 'God of the Gaps' approach (Wikipedia). This means that if it is truly a natural phenomenon, then the researcher who assumes a supernatural origin will be less capable of discovering that fact. I wonder how many researchers missed the opportunity to discover the true nature of electricity, or radioactivity, because they dismissed it as a supernatural event.

Electricity and magnetism were phenomena known for thousands of years and interpreted by mystics. In the hands of the naturalistic worldview, they became powerful tools in about 200 years. Would we have satellites orbiting the Earth if we still believed the planets were guided by deities instead of gravitation?

There are loads of complex natural phenomena that at one time were regarded as supernatural in origin (lightning, hurricanes, tornadoes). Only recently has our physical understanding and computational power demonstrated that these are indeed natural processes driven by complex systems where some aspects (but not all) of their behavior are indistinguishable from random, but only because we cannot make measurements or computations to the necessary precision (and I did go through a phase where I regarded such things as 'God's workspace'). Weather forecasting would be very different today if we dismissed weather events as supernatural in origin and not subject to human inquiry. Yet there are still many people calling themselves 'christian' who regard weather disasters, disease or even poverty afflicting *others* as punishment from God and use their own good fortune as 'Gods favor'. This in spite of Matthew 5:45.

My main issue with comparison of Big Bang Cosmology with Genesis is that is always done in the context of 'my faith is better than yours because we have this as 'proof''. Doesn't seem to be a Christ-like behavior.

Ryan said...

As for your last point, I'm a little taken aback. I happen to think that "proofs" and evidence are an excellent basis for judging the truthfulness of a faith.

And I'd have to disagree that the God of the Bible was a God of the gaps, nor am I advocating such an idea. What I'm asking you is, which science proves or necessitates the "fact" of naturalism? Which of the physical laws has proven the impossibility of the existence of God? Science is merely a framework for understanding and testing natural phenomena (brute facts), but it doesn't have anything to say about why the world is the way it is. From whence do those phenomena flow? What basis have we to know whether the first cause is *natural*?

On the other hand, how do you explain the countless prophecies which were fulfilled in the Old and New Testament if naturalism is true?

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Ryan,

The definition of 'faith' is the belief in something for which there is NO evidence. 'Proof' is where you have absolute evidence. If you have 'proof', then how can it be 'faith'. It is a logical contradiction. If you need proof, what does it say about the strength of your faith? And since the strength of your faith is keyed directly to the status of your Salvation, what does that imply?

Remember that the Christian Bible says in an afterlife, you'll be known not by your words, but by your WORKS, your ACTIONS. I elaborate on this in Creationist Junk Debunked

I have come to view advocacy of creationism is an easy way for those with a weak faith to fool themselves, and others, into thinking their faith is strong, by believing the most ridiculous things they can. This allows them to avoid the real work it takes to be a Christian. It is the only way to reconcile the amount of evil done by those claiming to be Christian. That they are really the wolves in sheep's clothing and while they may tell you they've been Saved, they really are not, because they continue to do evil.

As I noted before, there is nothing in physics that has proven a god does not exist - only that if it does, it does not actively (or even minimally) intervene in real events. People can survive horrific plane crashes just because some nuance in the mechanics of the crash made it possible. It may be miraculous, but it is not evidence of supernatural intervention.

For faith to be real, one must emulate the ACTIONS of Christ, in spite of these unpleasant facts. That is basis of real faith.

Ryan said...

You picked one particular definition of faith that works well for your argument, but its certainly not the only definition of faith. And its not the one that Christ called us to live by. Mirriam-Webster's third definition seems a better working one: "something that is believed especially with strong conviction." Christ gave many signs and wonders to confirm that his message was true, so what led you to believe He requires faith with no evidence? And why do you think that salvation depends solely on the strength of a blind faith? That's certainly not the mainstream message of Evangelical Christianity, and it'd be a stretch to say its what the New Testament says. There's plenty of historical evidence that Jesus of Nazareth lived in the first century, that the places and events narrated in the New Testament are historical, and verifiable by external sources, and by archeology. A great many facts about his person, life and death are accepted by both Christian and secular historians. Have you examined the evidence? If not, why not? If so, who do you say that he is?

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Ryan,

Perhaps you should just call me 'doubting Thomas'? I suppose that means I'm not blessed? Why would Jesus say that those who believe WITHOUT seeing more blessed?

How is 'Belief with especially strong conviction' a better definition? Strong conviction requires no actual evidence. Electric Universe supporters, or at the extreme end, religiously-motivated suicide bombers could probably match this definition of faith.

Ryan said...

Tom, I think that we're getting side-tracked by the definition of faith. You seem to be saying that based on the "no-evidence" definition of faith, we can conclude that there is no evidence for the life and works of Jesus of Nazareth. But wouldn't you agree that this is clearly a non-sequitur. There is ample evidence that there was a person, named Jesus of Nazareth, who lived in the time and place described in the surviving manuscripts, and that those documents are an accurate record of the geography, culture, peoples, politics, and events that they describe. So I must ask, based on what *evidence* do you reject their historicity? Have you read them?

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...


I don't know where your claim came from.

The issue is whether Christ's definition of faith is put into action by practicing the Golden Rule, or whether it is better served by believing in things with the least evidence being claimed as proof of the faith (creationism). My position is that it is the former and that creationists, by definition have flunked this test of faith.

Ryan said...

I agree with you, that we all have failed the test of the Golden Rule, Christians included.

But I would disagree that believing in creation violates the Golden Rule. Certainly there are some who believe in creation AND act lovingly towards others. But this could not be true if the two were mutually exclusive.

Also, I think you're mistaken to think that Christians (or creationists) prefer to believe in things that lack evidence. It's certainly not mainstream. Christ showed this by confirming who he was with many types of evidence. And the Christian faith is founded around historical events for which we have excellent evidence.

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Ryan,

Since you are diverging so far from the science issues of this blog, my last word on this topic will be today's post (G4G: Religion, Science, and the Kobayashi Maru Scenario).

There are other forums more suitable for the discussion of historical issues. As for other historical issues, you might find "The Passover Plot" by Hugh Schonfield an interesting read. (The Passover Plot).

So...What Happened?

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