Sunday, January 13, 2013

Is Big Bang Cosmology a 'Creationist' Model?

I've recently received a couple of comments of late, falling on both sides of the claim that the Big Bang is an explicitly "Creationist" model.   (Commenter1) claims this is a good thing. (Commenter2) regards it as evidence that Big Bang cosmology must be wrong.  It seemed like it was time to create a full post on the topic.  I will take the position that Big Bang cosmology is not a 'Creationist' model that depends on the religious views of the developers.

Both sides claim that the issue of cosmology is a question of Worldview (Wikipedia), and that somehow the model of the universe will be different if the writer has a different 'worldview'.  Most Young-Earth creationists, such as Barry Setterfield, oppose Big Bang cosmology, but some Old-Earth Creationists (such as those at Reasons To Believe) accept Big Bang cosmology as compatible with their theological beliefs.  Others from different philosophical camps hold a variety of views.

This is an hilarious quote from Commenter2:
"Lemaitre introduced a creation event into the equations of General Relativity and hence infused physics with the notion of God and His creation of the Universe."
This is a bizarre notion, as the equations for the FLRW metric (Wikipedia) are derived mathematically, starting from the assumptions of homogeneity (the universe, on large scales, has the same density everywhere) and isotropy (the universe should look the same in all directions from whatever point an observers looks).  The most general form includes a scale factor that can vary with time.  These are actually more general versions of the Copernican principle (Wikipedia). 

Kepler was an astrologer and was inspired by concepts of platonic solids.  Did his examination of planetary motion infuse physics with astrological concepts?  Does that invalidate Kepler's Laws?  What about the impact of Isaac Newton's supernatural beliefs (AIP) on his physics?  According to Commentor2's thinking, it must.  So does this person also believe spaceflight is a fraud, since it depends so much on these laws and their related phenomena?

How can mathematical operations be dependent on the religious beliefs of the writer?  Derivations of the FLRW metric from first principles are available in a variety of references.  Which of the two input assumptions carry the religious belief?  Which mathematical operation: addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division, is faith-based? Which terms in the equations represent this religious belief? 

You could change the input assumptions, such as examining metrics with non-uniform densities or which are not isotropic (have a preferred location).  Metrics with other characteristics have been explored, and found wanting (Wikipedia: Alternative Metric Cosmologies).  Beyond that, you could design a metric with the characteristics needed for Biblical Geocentrism and various flavors of relativity denial (see Global Positioning System).

Is Commentor2 saying the cosmological metric equations would be different if a non-religious person wrote them?  If so, then perhaps the Commentor2 should present a derivation of the the appropriate metric.

Many people were inspired by things that lead to correct results but the source of the inspiration was a faulty analogy.  William Harvey was inspired by ideas of planetary orbits when discovering circulation of blood. (Scientific Myth-Conceptions, Douglas Allchin, 2003).  The analogy was incorrect, but it inspired a correct result. 

The solutions to the Einstein field equations exist, regardless of the religious belief of the advocate.  Note that the metric was independently discovered by four people in time frame of the late 1920s to early 1930s (Wikipedia: Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker metric).

Were all of them motivated by religious beliefs?  I find no conclusive evidence that any of the others expressed religious motivations for developing this metric.
Lemaitre's View

Lemaitre opposed the Church's attempts to claim that Big Bang cosmology validated Biblical Genesis.
  • "A Universe From Nothing", Lawrence M. Krauss (pp 5-6)  I write about this in my review of this book.
  • "The Day We Found the Universe", Marcia Bartusiak (pp 257-258)
  • "The Very First Light", John C. Mather & John Boslough,  footnote pg 40
  • "Cosmology & Controversy", Helge Kragh (pp 59-60)  'Lemaitre on Religion and Science'
Also consider this quote from Lemaitre from 1933:
"Hundreds of professional and amateur scientists actually believe the Bible pretends to teach science.  This is a good deal like assuming that there must be authentic religious dogma in the binomial theorem.  Nevertheless, a lot of otherwise intelligent and well-educated men do go on believing or at least acting on such a belief.  When they find the Bible's scientific references wrong, as they often are, they repudiate it utterly.  Should a priest reject relativity because it contains no authoritative exposition of the doctrine of the Trinity?"
This is pretty secular scientific thinking for a priest!

The bottom line is that there is loads of public evidence that Lemaitre opposed religious interpretations of Big Bang cosmology.  Lemaitre went up against the Pope to defend this position  - not a trivial thing for a priest to do!

If there is this much on the public record on Lemaitre's position, then what are we to make of the Alfven quote from Commenter2 which is apparently cut-n-pasted from Tony Peratt's web site?
Here is what Alfvén reported: “I was there when Abbe Georges Lemaitre first proposed this theory," he recalled. Lemaitre was, at the time, both a member of the Catholic hierarchy and an accomplished scientist. He said in private that this theory was a way to reconcile science with St. Thomas Aquinas' theological dictum of creatio ex nihilo or creation out of nothing.
Now the similar quote here does not contain the 'He said in private...' part.  And finally compare a similar reference in Eric Lerner's "The Big Bang Never Happened", pg 214:
"I felt at the time that the motivation for his theory was Lemaitre's need to reconcile his physics with the Church's doctrine of creation ex nihilo."
So Alfven's description goes from "I felt" this was what Lemaitre was doing, to "He said in private"?  This is suspicious on several fronts:
  1. Did Alfven misremember, turning a personal impression of what he thought Lemaitre believed into an actual conversation?  A similar question has been raised before about Alfven's recollections  concerning his contributions to the cosmic ray acceleration mechanism known today as Fermi acceleration (Wikipedia, see "Reading: Cosmical Electrodynamics")
  2. Why would Lemaitre make such a statement as attributed to him, apparently by Alfven, to individuals with possibly broad range of religious beliefs?  
  3. The differences with other references on this topic suggest the claim of what Lemaitre said in private was second- or third-hand, since it is outside quotation marks and could perhaps be outside of what Alfven actually said.
I suspect the most likely answer is a Plasma Cosmology supporter did a little historical embellishment in an attempt to bolster their case.

Einstein's View

Another snippet from Commentor2:
Einstein stood up applauded, and said, “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened.” So evidently Einstein was actually a creationist, revealing thereby that he too was actually theological in his real disposition, despite his often overt cryptic claims that he was not.
Einstein was an agnostic and this fact is far from 'cryptic'. 
Einstein even made public statements about religion that infuriated many in America to the point that they wanted him deported.  To say after all that that Einsten was really a closet 'Creationist' takes a real stretch of the imagination.

That the Commenter2 seeks to make their case by ignoring Einstein's well-documented religious views suggests Commenter2 may be blinded by their own dogmatic views rather than the evidence.

Notice the Einstein quote has 'creation', not 'Creation'.  What would you call an origin point for the cosmos if not the moment of 'creation'?  In quantum field theory (QFT), we speak of the creation and annihilation of particles.  Does that make QFT a 'Creationist' model?  The religious connotations are more likely in the mind of the reader. 

The notion that Einstein was a christian seems to be pushed by a lot of religious types, in spite of facts to the contrary (Snopes: Religion/Einstein).

Considering how many people wanted to run off einstein for his religious views, claiming that he was some kind of closet Christian "Creationist" (with a capital 'C') looks a little strange


I summarize with the quote from to Alfven from Commenter2:
“There is no rational reason to doubt that the universe has existed indefinitely, for an infinite time,"
This is in itself a human prejudice based more on a philosophy that Nature must conform to human worldviews - a position more religious than scientific.

Historically, Nature has demonstrated it is not constrained by human worldviews.  Quantum mechanics, relativity, etc. all flew in the face of human preconceived notions of how Nature actually worked.  In many cases, great problems in science were solved by a person with a compatible prejudice at the right time who had the right insight to solve it.

Commentor1 is incorrect because the FLRW metric is a mathematical consequence which could just as easily been discovered by someone with an atheistic 'worldview'.  Even Lemaitre supported this view.  Others derived this metric independently.

Commenter2 is incorrect because not only does it require that we reject the fact that the FLRW metric is a consequence of certain physical and mathematical assumptions, it also requires we reject all other evidence of Lemaitre & Einstein's public position (some taken at great professional and personal risk) and believe they were actually supporting some other secret agenda.  Commenter2's approach is not to prove their position, but to discredit an opposing position.  Commenter2 seems obsessed with conspiratorial thinking (RationalWiki).

Finally, to really make any kind of objective evidence in this type of claim, one must be able to answer the question: Where is the 'religious component' in the FLRW metric?  How would this metric

be different if the 'religious components' were removed?  If you can't answer that basic question, then the question becomes pointless and simply a matter personal prejudices.

To bump the silly meter up a notch, I'll point out that a Biblical Geocentrist who comments on this blog has some comments pending claiming that the FLRW metric is false because it denies the Earth as the 'Center of the Universe' contrary to their religious interpretation!

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts."
Daniel Patrick Moynihan

1 comment:

sjastro said...

Using Commentator2's (non existent) logic one can also argue that the science of modern Genetics is a creationist model as its founder Gregor Mandel was an Augustinian monk.

Comentator2 seems to be unaware that steady state cosmological models such as Hoyle's or Narlikar's versions, or a non expanding rotating model as devised by Godel also satisfy the GR field equations but are rejected as they are not supported by observation.

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