Here are a few more vignettes from the big conference.

A fellow named Mark Matthews gave a presentation arguing that the Earth was located at or near the center of the universe. Most of the talk was given over to a discussion of the so-called “Fingers of God.”

According to the ever-useful Wikipedia:

Fingers of God is an effect in observational cosmology that causes clusters of galaxies to be elongated in redshift space, with an axis of elongation pointed toward the observer.[2] It is caused by a Doppler shift associated with the peculiar velocities of galaxies in a cluster. The large velocities that lead to this effect are associated with the gravity of the cluster by means of the virial theorem; they change the observed redshifts of the galaxies in the cluster. The deviation from the Hubble’s law relationship between distance and redshift is altered, and this leads to inaccurate distance measurements.

See the original for numerous links.

Matthews had a different take. He presented one of those pie-chart diagrams that show the location of various galaxies as viewed from Earth based on redshift data and Hubble’s Law. Quite a few of these galaxies are seen to arrange themselves in straight lines. Remarkable! Surely this needs a special explanation.

Option one, as he told the story, was that nonsense about redshifts I presented a moment ago. Option two was that this is some sort of divine signature indicating the Earth really is at the center of the universe. (He had two other arguments as well, one based on the relative positions of gamma ray bursts and galaxies, the other involving the cosmic microwave background radiation. These were squeezed in quickly at the end, and I had trouble following his argument.)

I had never heard of the Fingers of God prior to this talk, but there was clearly something fishy in what Matthews was saying. If the enormous number of galaxies we can see from Earth are placed randomly around the sky, then it is inevitable that some of them will line-up when viewed from Earth. So it simply couldn’t be that astronomers were looking at dots on a chart and were so impressed that a few of them lined up that they went and fashioned elaborate explanations for it. Indeed, that impression is borne out by the Wikipedia article. That various optical illusions can occur in using redshift data to plot clusters of galaxies in which different galaxies are moving at different speeds relative to the Earth is a simple fact of physics. The Fingers of God is just the name given to one such illusion. So when Matthews titled one of the sections of his paper “The Fingers of God are all Pointing at Earth,” he was merely expressing a tautology.

During the Q and A I said the following:

Regarding these fingers of God, I think you’re reading meaning into things that don’t really have any meaning. What you’re doing is taking a map of where these galaxies are and you’re noting various clumps and various irregularities in where the galaxies are placed, and you’re trying to infer patterns in those clumps. But clumping like that is the hallmark of a random process. If the galaxies are placed randomly in the sky, clumping is what you expect. If we observed that the galaxies were evenly distributed from our perspective, that would be evidence of design. When you see this clumping, that’s just what happens naturally when you place things randomly. You had a very revealing diagram where you said let’s take away most of these galaxies and the ones that remain kind of look like these little fingers pointing at us. But here again an astronomer in a different galaxy could do precisely the same argument. And I think this is just exactly the same kind of reasoning that led people to think there was something significant in constellations. Oh that group of stars looks a little like a bear and that one looks like a big dipper, but there wasn’t really a pattern there, they were reading into that. And I think that’s all you’re doing.

At this point a person standing near me suggested it was like a Rorschach test, and I agreed that was a good analogy.

This is where things got interesting.

The audience was not amused by my remarks. Various people kept telling me to look again at the diagram, quite a few of the galaxies really were lined up! I replied that I was not denying that the clulmps were real, I was merely questioning their significance.

Matthews joined the party by pointing to the fingers and saying that you can see them, plain as day. They weren’t an illusion. I pointed out that constellations weren’t an illusion either. I also pointed out that you could pick out other spots on the diagram where an astronomer might notice little lines of galaxies as well. There was a lot of crosstalk.

Now for the punchline. We had been asked to state our name before asking our question. Matthews, frustrated by his inability to convince me of his magnificent argument said:

Jason is a well-known guy on the internet, he’s working against us. Even secular cosmologists acknowledge these features and acknowledge that they are pointing towards Earth.

Genuinely surprised I said, “You’ve heard of me?”

But just when, one more time, I thought I’d have a good story to tell about standing up to creationist ignorance, something happened to make me change my view. You see, two questioners later came this:

I agree with you [he said, pointing at me]. The fingers of God have been around a long time. This is actually quite an old map. This is redshift space that is being converted to real space using some Hubble parameter. So in actual fact you can not say that’s real space. It’s not. It’s redshift space. And the finger of God effect that you can see there, that occurs all over the whole sky, in clusters. And it’s very easy to understand. If you have a spherical cluster of galaxies, and you add a dispersion velocity to that cluster, that simply means that cluster is in dynamic equilibrium. So any individual galaxy within the cluster has an orbit around its mutual center of gravity. So the cluster itself is in expansion with the Hubble flow, the center of mass of the cluster has a genuine cosmological redshift, that any individual component in the cluster has a random velocity component with respect to the center of mass of the cluster. Redshift only allows you to see the radial component of a real space component…in other words the velocity component of any individual galaxy within the cluster you’ll only see the line of sight velocity component. Do you understand what I am saying? If it’s moving completely tangentially to the line of sight you will see no Doppler effect from that motion. You’ll only get the cosmological redshift of the cluster.

At first I thought I had found a kindred spirit. Turned out, though, that this was John Hartnett, who writes books with titles like, Dismantling the Big Bang: God’s Universe Rediscovered. He was speaking later in the conference on the topic “Starlight, Time and the New Physics.” He had written a book with the same title, offering a novel explanation for the problem of distant starlight in a young universe. Thankful for the support, I went and bought this latter book. Never managed to get an autograph, though.

Matthews himself made a point of coming up to me later, and we talked a bit. We never did reach a meeting of the minds, alas.

Physics was a popular topic at the big conference. The first talk I attended was given by Ed Boudreaux, who, as an emeirtus professor of chemistry from the University of New Orleans was one of the few speakers to have serious academic credentials. He gave a fairly staid talk arguing for using toroidal particles, as opposed to point particles, in quantum mechanical theorizing. Boudreaux himself was pretty mild-mannered, but during the Q and A a fellow whose work had been cited during the talk got up to fill in a few details.

This fellow told us in no uncertain terms that quantum mechanics was a false theory since it was based on the assumption of point particles. Maxwell’s equations, sadly, suffered from the same deficiency. Two audience members, Hartnett being one of them, gave him a proper reaming for this. Starting from a pretty dull talk, it ended up being a riveting Q and A.

Actually, though, I was more interested in the following talk. A fellow named Gerald Brown wanted to gauge how scientists respond to novel scientific theories. So he took the outre model of quantum mechanics presented in the Boudreaux talk and devised a web based tutorial to introduce people to it. He sent the tutorial and a survey to various representatives of mainstream high-energy physics, as well as to people from the group Common Sense Science. I had never heard of these folks, and I am certainly no expert on quantum mechanics, but their website gives off unambiguous crank vibes.

Anyway, the basic findings of the survey were that the mainstream folks wanted nothing to do with this, while the CSS folks were more interested. The only reason I’m telling you about any of this is to show you the following amusing slide



Of course, in creation-land this sort of thing is taken as clear evidence of dogmatic closed-mindedness.

Ta ta for now. One more installment to go and then I will have to find some new blog fodder!

Comments

  1. #1 Luke O'Dell
    August 26, 2008

    OK, maybe any fellow physicists can shed some light on this for me. I thought this up while I was an undergrad and haven’t really given it much thought since, so it might well be wrong:

    The universe is expanding isotropically. The further the distance from Earth, the faster the expansion. At a far enough distance, the universe is moving away from us so fast that it’s approaching the speed of light relative to us. Therefore, at a certain point there’s a boundary beyond which we will never be able to go, or know anything about, since it’s moving away from us at c. This is effectively the edge of our universe. This means the universe is a sphere, and Earth is at the precise centre.

  2. #2 SLC
    August 26, 2008

    Re Luke O’Dell

    Actually, Mr. O’Dells’ conclusion is not true. The best way to see this is to imaging a bunch of random points on the surface of a balloon. As the balloon is blown up, every point on it is receding from every other point on it. No matter which point one focuses on, every other point is receding from it so naively, every point appears to be at the center of the balloon surface. The mathematical terminology is that the surface of the balloon is a 2 dimensional Riemmanian surface which is expanding into a 3 dimensional Cartesian space.

    Similarly, one can mathematically consider the universe as a 4 dimensional Riemannian surface which is expanding into a 5 dimensional Cartesian space so that every point on the surface is receding from every other point, just as in the balloon analogy. As in the balloon analogy, every point on the surface (e.g. the galaxies) appears to be at the center of the universe.

  3. #3 jianying Ji
    August 26, 2008

    Luke what you have described is called the observable universe. Using same reasoning every object in the universe are at the center of a similar observable universe, which is just so slightly or not so slightly different from our observable universe. If you stitch together observable “universes” for all objects then you would have the universe. Think of it as hopscotching thru the universe. You go from one place to another place within your observable sphere. And repeat. If A point is reachable thru a series of jumps then it is in your universe. The end point can very well be beyond your observable universe, but is within sight of your last jump. The number of jumps is not necessarily even finite.

  4. #4 Luke O'Dell
    August 26, 2008

    Thanks to the two posters. Yeah I was aware that anyone elsewhere in the universe would also be at the centre of their own boundary, but still… it kinda gives some truth to the the centrist viewpoint. What it doesn’t imply is any specialness or uniqueness about our location, so it’s definitely of no use as an argument in favour of design.

  5. #5 bobyu
    August 26, 2008

    A design is actually something that a random series of causes and effects forms into the likeness of a concept useful to the understanding of a purposeful being trying to make predictable order out of what it has no way of ever knowing will be eternally chaotic.

  6. #6 Charles
    August 26, 2008

    SLC, there’s no need for an embedding. What it is is that the metric is dilating, so say you have a metric g at time 0, you have for all t g(t)=tg. Though because the expansion rate is increasing, its more like exp(t)g. Sorry to be a bit pedantic, but assumptions of embeddings drive me nuts.

  7. #7 JimV
    August 26, 2008

    It seems to me that most who claim to see evidence of “design” in the universe would define design as some kind of supernatural process, whereby ideas manifest them out of nowhere in a designer’s minds, by some non-physical means.

    As someone who has at spent years with the job description “design engineer”, I would dispute that. I see design as fundamentally a trial-and error process, selectively filtered by marketplace survival – in other words, as evolution. With advantages over biological evolution, such as memory (personal and written) and means of analyzing and simulating design ideas before building them, but no magic involved. (I don’t have all the evidence necessary to carry this down to the neuron level, but expect it holds true there also.)

    As an example, I’ll bet that the wheel was invented (multiple times) by people who observed that it was easier to roll a log than carry it. Considering all the incremental changes that got us from the wheel to current cars, it is clear that human designs evolve rather than poofing into existence in optimum form. (One of the “transitional fossils” along the way was the fact that the first mechanically-driven farm vehicle in the U.S. still used a couple of horses for steering.)

    Therefore I can abstract nothing from the human design process which would lead me to see the need for a supernatural designer of the universe – but maybe I have been in too many design meetings.

  8. #8 MarkL
    August 27, 2008

    Patricia Burchat: The expanding universe & the search for dark energy and dark matter

    http://blog.ted.com/2008/08/patricia_burcha.php

  9. #9 LRM
    August 27, 2008

    Jason, a quick question. Did you chance to attend any biology-themed talks? Something about molecular biology, or population genetics, biological modeling? It would be interesting to hear about the creationists “research” on subjects most pertinent to biological evolution.

  10. #10 SLC
    August 27, 2008

    Re Charles

    I am afraid that I am going to have to partially disagree with Mr. Charles relative to the concept of embedding. As an example, take the case of an expanding perfect spherical surface. It is quite true that the position of any point on the surface can be uniquely determined by the longitude and latitude. However, the distance between two points requires a knowledge of the radius of curvature which implies a third dimension, i.e. embedding.

  11. #11 Peter Henderson
    August 27, 2008

    This is effectively the edge of our universe. This means the universe is a sphere, and Earth is at the precise centre.

    This is wrong and only an optical illusion. Here is the analogy I was given in an Open University astronomy course:

    Imagine a fly on a balloon. The balloon is blown up so hard that it bursts into a nuber of pieces (imagine these as galaxies). No matter which piece of the balloon the fly was sitting on the fly would imagine that all the pieces are rushing away from him(or her).

    Dont forget that not all galaxies are red-chifted either. Andromeda is blue shifted. This means only one thing. In several billion years time Andromeda and the Milky way will merge. This is a certainty.

    Jason, a quick question. Did you chance to attend any biology-themed talks?

    According to AiG both Dr. Georgia Purdom (biology) and Dr. Jason Lisle (astro-physics) both gave talks at the conference. i was wondering if Jason had a chance to go to either.

  12. #12 Peter Henderson
    August 27, 2008

    I’ve just read SLC’s post. SLC put it much better than I did although my analogy is the same.

  13. #13 Divalent
    August 27, 2008

    “Andromeda is blue shifted. ***This means only one thing.*** In several billion years time Andromeda and the Milky way will merge. This is a certainty.”

    Not really true. The blue shift only means that the two galaxies currently are getting closer to each other at this time. But it’s a 3 dimensional universe, and motion along 1 dimension not sufficient to determine future relative positions, and at this point we don’t yet have enough information on the full motion of Andromeda to know with certainty that a collision will occur.

    It’s analogous to two cars heading “towards” each other on on a highway: the mere fact that the distance between them is currently decreasing is not conclusive evidence that they will eventually collide.

  14. #14 Ritchie Annand
    August 27, 2008

    I’m glad Hartnett took folks to task there, though his book begins (unsurprisingly?) contentiously:

    Chemical evolution of life (eventually leading to intelligent life, an essential ingredient of any evolutionary cosmology) is clearly excluded by the evidence…

    …None of the major steps in that supposed chemical evolutionary process can be reproduced in the laboratory (under simulated naturalistic conditions) because the laws of chemistry prevent them.

    No problematic assertions in that little section… *cough*

    At least his book looks like it might be entertaining for some of the cosmology stories of various cultures.

    Did they explain what CFM was in that slide you posted?

    Congratulations on figuring out the photo scaling, by the way ;)

    From the slide:

    Physicists get emails like yours every few days. “I’ve got a theory which replaces every physics theory…”

    Well, truth be told, physics is like this. As complicated as biology is, evolutionary theory is extraordinarily well-grounded in experiment and observation.

    String theory started with the best of intentions, but never settled anything and there’s still a large chance that the LHC will not provide the physical link to bound the tens of thousands of possibilities.

    I guess there’s the frustration: “are the rest of us just supposed to sit here for 35-40 more years?” Even “legitimate” alternatives like loop quantum gravity are nothing like string theory.

    Remember, too, that we had serious proposals about the infinite regress of dodecahedral universes and the slowing-down-then-expanding universe in 2004.

    So yes, people like Common Sense Science have goof potential, but I can understand the frustration, as well as the sense that so many of the big questions are still open.

    There’s just nothing equivalent to this decades-long wait with lots of far-out proposals in evolution, and we can summarily slap the “what good is a quarter of a heart?” people.

  15. #15 the Kardinal
    August 27, 2008

    Jason,
    I, for one, have found this short series extremely interesting. It has been eye opening seeing/hearing/reading what the “other side” thinks is scientific data for their argument. I would encourage you to continue on with more blog postings (you mention that the next one will be the last on this conference). I would hope you are stopping due to lack of blog-topics rather than what you gauge is lack of interest in your experiences at this conference.

  16. #16 IM-Designed
    August 27, 2008

    I have read several things on this blog and I believe you have an incorrect understanding of creationists. You believe that creationists refuse to believe in evolution because of their faith and that they are not swayed by scientific evidence. I think it is the other way around. You see when Darwin came up with his theory, cells were thought to be nothing more than small, simple blobs and other biochemical machines were thought to be just as simple. With that understanding of biochemistry evolution made sense. But of course, modern biochemistry shows that life is much too complicated to have developed to the place it is now by random chance. In Darwin’s time, the fossil record did not support his theory but so little of the Earth had been searched for fossils that it was believable that they might be found in the coming years.
    But today, many fossils have been found and next to none that appear to be transition species. According to Darwinism, there should millions of transition species, more than the number of static species. Yet the fossil record shows very distinct groups of organisms and no apparent transition fossils. Of course there’s punctuated equilibrium: “there are no transition fossils to facilitate evolution so evolution must just occur in large jumps. Then we don’t even need to find any fossil evidence for evolution because evolution doesn’t leave evidence.” So evolution is true to evolutionists whether scientific evidence supports it or not. I thought you said that was what creationists believe about intelligent design? But I think science supports intelligent design. Back to punk eek. This theory of evolution requires saltations, enormous evolutionary leaps, requiring enormous amounts of simultaneous change in DNA. First of all, we know that only a small percentage of mutations are beneficial. So what is the probability that thousands of them could happen at the same time and create a functioning living organism? It is very small. Most scientists consider saltations to be equivalent to miracles again showing that evolution is at least as faith-based as intelligent design. Please respond to me at im-designed.blogspot.com.

  17. #17 J. J. Ramsey
    August 27, 2008

    IM-Designed, see http://talkorigins.org/indexcc/list.html

    “But of course, modern biochemistry shows that life is much too complicated to have developed to the place it is now by random chance.”

    See creationist claims CA100, CB010.1, CB010.2, and CB300.

    “According to Darwinism, there should millions of transition species, more than the number of static species.”

    See creationist claim CC200.1.

  18. #18 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 27, 2008

    IM-Designed –

    I don’t think you could have read this blog too carefully if you think I believe creationists are too deluded by their faith to consider scientific evidence. I have argued repeatedly that while creationists view their faith as central to their identity, they also sincerely believe they have solid scientifc arguments to back them up.

    the Kardinal –

    Glad you’re enjoying the series. Rest assured that it is coming to an end simply because after the next installment I will have hit all of the interesting things that went on at the conference,

    Ritchie –

    Yes, turns out compressing the photos wasn’t too complicated after all. The CFM in the slide refers to the “charge fiber model” of elementary particles, which is based on this idea that fundamental particles are not points, but tori. And thanks for the Hartnett quotes!

    LRM and Peter –

    I did not attend the talks by either Purdom or Lisle. I have a soft spot for Purdom, since she gave a talk at the MegaCreation conference in Lynchburg a few years ago going after the ID folks for their theological deficiencies. For the most part I didn’t go to the biology talks. Seems like they were always conflicting with something I found more interesting.

    I did go to John Sanford’s talk claiming, in effect, that all of classical population genetics had to be discarded and that the handful of beneficial mutations quickly get swamped by the vastly greater number of harmful mutations. Sanford, like Beudraux has some real academic chops, so I was curious to see what he would say. Alas, I was not impressed.

  19. #19 KeithB
    August 27, 2008

    The way to get the physics community to listen to you is easy. Simply show that your theory can predict the results of an experiment to better than the 10+ decimal places of QM. No Experiment, no credibility.

    (I had a crackpot at work that actually got an appointment with Kip Thorne at Cal Tech!)

  20. #20 IM-Designed
    August 27, 2008

    Thank you Jason for that clarification, but the rest of my comment still stands.

  21. #21 Jon
    August 27, 2008

    IM-Designed, complexity is irrelevant to the theory. Here’s the question you have to answer: What physical mechanism allows for preserved, beneficial, and simple short term changes, but does not allow those small changes themselves to accrue over time as larger changes?

    You’re simply arguing from incredulity if you cannot answer this question.

    No theorizer understands the full consequences of his or her theory at the moment of that theory’s conception. To use that as an argument against the theory is simply ridiculous.

  22. #22 Divalent
    August 27, 2008

    Im Designed: Your post is just chock full of the standard creationist talking points, complete with the conspiracy innuendo, strawman positions, revisionist history, evidence denials, and false assertions. By all appearances, you are so utterly typical of the tiresome ignorant creationists who are motivated purely by religious reasons to deny evolution, and who sporadically pop up on serious forums like whack-a-moles demanding that people address the same old nonsense. Here’s a clue: we’ve been there and done that, and you are bringing nothing new to the table.

    Oh how I wish at least one of you would at least educate yourselves to the point where you can honestly state (and thereby show that you understand) the position and evidence that supports modern evolutionary theory. (JJ Ramsey gave you some good starter links). And bonus points if you can clearly articulate what ID theory is (however, here’s a warning: even the DI doesn’t know, so good luck with that), with super bonus points if you give a non-religious explanation for why you find ID more compelling that MET.

    So, off you go, and get back to us when you can do more than parrot talking points that illustrate your shallow understanding of the topic. Perhaps then we can have an intelligent discussion of the issue.

  23. #23 IM-Designed
    August 27, 2008

    Jon,

    In answer to your question: small changes caused by a physical mechanism are mutations or adaptations. We can observe these because the actually happen. But no number of them can create truly different species. Maybe species which can not interbreed could develop but evolution postulates much more than the creation of organisms which cannot interbreed; it postulates organisms with completely different structure than their ancestors. There is no hard evidence that shows that small mutations can accumulate to create different structures of organisms. With Darwin’s finches, obviously mutations had occurred, but they were all finches none had evolved into anything but a finch with the same structure and which would be classified as a similar organism. New genuses could not be produced by the accumulation of small changes over time.

  24. #24 IM-Designed
    August 27, 2008

    Divalent,

    If you think my argument is faulty, please point out something specific instead of making generalizations that I can’t answer to. Please note, I never mentioned the Bible once.

  25. #25 Divalent
    August 27, 2008

    IM, let me repeat, with *emphasis*, since you seem to have overlooked my message:

    “By all appearances, you are so *utterly typical* of the tiresome ignorant creationists who are motivated purely by religious reasons to deny evolution, and who sporadically pop up on serious forums like whack-a-moles *DEMANDING* that people address the *same* *old* *nonsense*. Here’s a clue: we’ve been there and done that, and you are bringing nothing new to the table.”

  26. #26 michael fugate
    August 27, 2008

    IM-Designed’s blog page:
    “God created everything:
    matter, space, time…everything.”

    “I am a Christian and I believe in intelligent design. I do not believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis which would require creation in six days. However, God created time and is not restricted by it so He could have created the universe in six seconds if he felt like it (He also could have done it in 14 billion years).”

    No mention of God here.

  27. #27 IM-Designed
    August 27, 2008

    Michael Fugate

    When I said I never mentioned the Bible, I meant that in the argument above, I never cited the Bible, and also that a creationist can prove his or her point with purely scientific evidence. I also never said that I could prove that God created the universe without mentioning God.

    Divalent

    If you are bothered by me mentioning the “same old nonsense,” then please disprove the “same old nonsense” with scientific evidence, instead of just insulting me. I never intended to bring anything new to the table: this stuff has been around for years and you still haven’t provided any evidence against it.

  28. #28 J. J. Ramsey
    August 27, 2008

    Jon: “In answer to your question: small changes caused by a physical mechanism are mutations or adaptations. We can observe these because the actually happen. But no number of them can create truly different species.”

    And your basis for that last assertion is no more than an argument from incredulity.

    Meanwhile, we have evidence that different species are genetically related in ways that are best explained by common descent, such as the same endogenous retroviruses in similar species. Obviously, if I share ancestry with a gibbon, and I am obviously different from a gibbon, then there had to have been an accumulation of changes in the generations spawned by the ancestor shared by me and the gibbons.

  29. #29 JBL
    August 27, 2008

    IM-Designed, did you perhaps not read J. J. Ramsey’s post above?

  30. #30 Mark Matthews
    August 27, 2008

    Hi Jason,

    First and foremost, I would like to reiterate how much I enjoyed our conversation at the ICC. You are a thoroughly delightful person. This may sound strange to you (it seems strange to me), but after we talked, I was filled with thanksgiving to God for what a delightful creature of His you are and what a blessing it was to converse with you (I don’t recall that ever happening before). I certainly hope that some day we will meet again in person and have much more time to talk than we did that night. You are an absolute gem of a person.

    Based on some of the comments above, I would like to clarify a couple of things to all:

    1) I hope I made clear in the paper and in the presentation at the ICC that it is basically true by definition that we are at the center of the observable universe (by virtue of the argument given above) but this is, of course, trivial and uninteresting. The point I was making is that it at least appears that the universe has “structure,” and that we are at the center of that structure. Now, one could argue that even if it turns out that we are at the center of the structure of the observable universe, it doesn’t follow that we are at the center of the whole universe (if universe does extend beyond the observable universe). True, but at a minimum it would say that we occupy a special place in the universe.

    2) I took a great deal of time in both the paper and in the presentation of the paper explaining the standard redshift distortion explanation for the fingers of God. During the presentation, I then when on to give eight reasons, based on science, why I find the redshift distortion explanation lacking. In order to refute the paper it doesn’t do any good to point back to the standard redshift distortion explanation, one needs to show why the eight criticisms of the standard explanation are off-base.

    GPBOC

    Mark Matthews

  31. #31 SLC
    August 27, 2008

    Re IM-Designed

    A scientific theory must make positive testable hypotheses. ID has yet to make a positive testable hypothesis, other then to state that evolution by natural selection/genetic drift can’t explain the observed biological diversity. That’s not a positive testable hypothesis. Mr. Ramsey has provided an example of genetic support for common descent. Another is the fact that both apes and humans lack the gene for synthesizing vitamin C, unlike other mammals.

    A more recent example that was used in the Dover Case, as I have previously posted on this blog is the following. Chimpanzees have 48 chromosomes and humans have 46. If chimps and humans have a common ancestor, as predicted by evolution, then, if evolution is correct, 2 of the ape chromosomes must have fused in the past get from 48 to 46. That’s a testable prediction. If no such fusion is found, evolution has been falsified. Well guess what, human chromosome two has 2 centromeres and 2 telomeres, indicating a fusion of two chromosomes. Creationism, of course, predicts nothing.

  32. #32 michael fugate
    August 27, 2008

    Intelligent design advocates believe their god is some sort of superhuman architect/engineer/construction worker, but the analogy fails for at least 2 reasons:
    1) we have never seen a god make anything so we have no idea what to expect (any construction by the christian god is supposed to have occurred before humans arrived on the scene) and 2) living things appear very different than anything designed and constructed by humans.
    Not to mention, the design argument was shown to be seriously flawed long before evolution was seriously considered. “….David Hume could out-consume Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel….” please sing along.

  33. #33 gort
    August 27, 2008

    @ SLC,

    I must be missing something. If two out of 48 chromosones fused, wouldn’t that leave 47 (46 original plus the fused one for 47)?

  34. #34 michael fugate
    August 27, 2008

    chromosomes are in pairs so you need an even number – chimps 24 pairs, humans 23 pairs.

  35. #35 SLC
    August 27, 2008

    Re gort

    In response to Mr. gort, apes have 24 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 48. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 46. The fusion referred to occurred on both members of a pair so that, indeed, 48 is reduced to 46. For example, we humans get 23 chromosomes from mom and 23 from dad. Apes get 24 from their mother and 24 from their father.

  36. #36 SLC
    August 27, 2008

    Re Mark Matthews

    “I hope I made clear in the paper and in the presentation at the ICC that it is basically true by definition that we are at the center of the observable universe (by virtue of the argument given above) but this is, of course, trivial and uninteresting.”

    Well, mr. Matthews has, at least in principal, made a scientific prediction. The standard model of cosmology would say that an intelligent being in the Andromeda galaxy would observe the same thing that we observe from the earth, namely, that the planet on which he/she/it resides appears to be at the center of the universe. Apparently, Mr. Matthews believes otherwise and that such a being would observe something completely different. Of course, I suspect that Mr. Matthews, like a troll calling himself Mr. Jon S who used to comment here, denies there is any intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, or any life at all for that matter.

    Re Jason Rosenhouse

    I find the notion that quantum mechanics is wrong because it assumes point particles to be rather amusing. The application of Newtonian physics to the motions of the planets in the solar system also assumes that they can be taken to be point objects. So I guess that Newtonian mechanics is also wrong.

  37. #37 J. J. Ramsey
    August 27, 2008

    SLC: “I find the notion that quantum mechanics is wrong because it assumes point particles to be rather amusing.”

    I was taken aback by that as well, especially since the whole wave-particle duality bit was what motivated QM in the first place. FWIW, I think the idea was that the particles in the whole “Common Sense (Pseudo)Science” thing were supposed to be treated as toroids or rings rather than points.

  38. #38 tresmal
    August 27, 2008

    IM-Designed:
    I have a challenge for you. Come up with an anti-evolution argument that you find persuasive AND that talkorigins (see link provided above)does NOT have an answer to. Bring that argument here and I (and probably many others here) will do my/our best to answer it. I suspect that many readers here would actually be happy to have a new creationist/ID argument to deal with. Maybe our host would be happy to join in. In other words come up with some new material already!

    Intelligent Design is the argument that the evolution of the bacterial flagellum through natural processes alone is a pool shot so tricky and so difficult that not even God can pull it off, even when using stick, table and balls all of his own design and manufacture. Some omnipotence.

  39. #39 MartinM
    August 27, 2008

    Turned out, though, that this was John Hartnett, who writes books with titles like, Dismantling the Big Bang: God’s Universe Rediscovered.

    Hartnett is definitely one of my favourite YECs. A few years ago he wrote an article about the starlight problem – how to explain the arrival of light from objects billions of lightyears distant in a YEC framework – which described the common YEC solutions, explained why they were all wrong, and proposed his own. His model was similar to that of Russell Humphreys, in that it involves billions of years passing in the Universe as a whole, while time runs at a different rate on Earth, such that it remains young. However, where Humphreys tortures general relativity to produce his model, Hartnett simply invokes a miracle, producing possibly the greatest paragraph ever written by any creationist:

    A new model, of a type similar to Humphreys, has been described that allows billions of years to pass in the cosmos but only 24 hours on Earth during Day 4. In this model, the laws of physics are suspended while creation is in progress and enormous time dilation occurs between Earth clocks and astronomical clocks. This solves the light-travel-time problem faced by creationist cosmology and makes all astronomical evidence fit the Genesis account. No non-physical requirements are placed on the model.

    Emphasis mine.

  40. #40 MartinM
    August 27, 2008

    However, the distance between two points requires a knowledge of the radius of curvature which implies a third dimension, i.e. embedding.

    No, it doesn’t. Intrinsic curvature is independent of any embedding. Measurements made within the 2D manifold – of, say, the sum of the angles in a triangle – will reveal its curvature without any reference to a third dimension.

  41. #41 MartinM
    August 27, 2008

    Others have dealt adequately with the rest, but this needs addressed:

    This theory of evolution requires saltations, enormous evolutionary leaps, requiring enormous amounts of simultaneous change in DNA.

    Cobblers. Punctuated equilibrium is a gradualistic process.

    If you want to refute a theory, it helps to understand it first. Try reading an evolution textbook, written by real evolutionary biologists, and compare what it actually says to what your creationist sources claim.

  42. #42 MartinM
    August 27, 2008

    What physical mechanism allows for preserved, beneficial, and simple short term changes, but does not allow those small changes themselves to accrue over time as larger changes?

    In answer to your question…

    I can’t help but notice that at no point did you actually answer Jon’s question. You simply found several ways to restate the original claim he was questioning, without supporting it in any way whatsoever.

  43. #43 SLC
    August 28, 2008

    Re MartinM

    One of the big problem with the hypothesis proposed by Humphreys is that he assumes that time is dilated in the neighborhood of the earth due to a strong gravitational field. Unfortunately, such a gravitational field would also cause light from distant galaxies to be strongly blue shifted. Of course, such a blue shift is not observed.

  44. #44 gort
    August 28, 2008

    @slc and michael,

    Thanks for the responses. I remembered the issue from Dover but completely blanked out on the reasons. Gotta stop working while reading blogs, I guess.

  45. #45 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 28, 2008

    Mark Matthews –

    It’s nice to hear from you again. I’m glad you enjoyed our conversation, and I am happy to reciprocate the thought from my side.

    Concerning the fingers of God, it still looks to me like you are urging a complicated explanation when a simple one will suffice. I notice that in your paper you write:

    In the above quote, notice how Jackson immediately offers the astronomical community a way to avoid the obvious indication that earth occupies a special position in the universe.

    I think you have this backwards. The idea that the earth (or, more precisely, our galaxy) occupies a special position in the universe is flatly at odds with mountains of astronomical data. The obvious indication of the fingers of God phenomenon is that our inferences about the location of galaxies based on redshift data and Hubble’s law is confounded by our inability to obtain all of the relevant information, just as Jackson suggests. Having read Jackson’s paper, I notice that he did not think that he was proposing some flamboyent and controversial hypothesis.

    The reasons you give for rejecting the simple explanation proposed by Jackson and others are not very persuasive. You argue the explanation is dubious because it relies on dark matter. But it’s not as if dark matter was hypothesized simply to account for this phenomenon. Confronted with the data astronomers have collected, we can assume either that huge swaths of basic physics are wrong in fundamental ways, or we can assume that some of the matter in the universe does not interact with light in ways that are visible from Earth. The situation is similar to that of neutrinos in the 1930’s. The choices were discarding basic principles like conservation of momentum and energy, or hypothesizing a heretofore undiscovered particle. We all know how that one turned out.

    You then point to some smaller fingers of God and argue that they are not part of large clusters. But here I think you are guilty of precisely what I accused you of during your talk. Astronomers aren’t saying that every time you see a few galaxies lining up you need to invoke redshift distortion to explain it. Some galaxies are going to line up just by chance.

    I won’t try to go point by point through all your arguments, since I note they get increasingly complicated as they go along. When I attend creationist conferences I always hear biologists get accused of fashioning grand theories about natural history by filtering a handful of facts through an atheistic lens. I do not believe they are generally guilty of that, but I do think you are doing precisely that from the other direction in your treatment of the fingers of God. You are favoring an outre explanation that flatters your religious beliefs, over a simple explanation that does a better job in accounting for the facts. That certain optical illusions can occur in using redshift data to plot the locations of galazies is a ho hum fact of physics. That the conditions needed for these illusions to occur are fairly common is likewise an unremarkable assumption.

    I would also be interested in hearing more about what, precisely, you think God is playing at here. Is the idea that God deliberately aligned these galaxies specifically so that twentieth century astronomers would notice and see their faith confirmed? Did God have to align these galaxies as part of his grand plan for their to be a region of space in which humans could live? What’s the idea?

  46. #46 Irradiatus
    August 28, 2008

    [...]Jason Rosenhouse at EvolutionBlog has written a series of reports on the Sixth International Conference on Creationism. In part four he tells of a rather hilarious researcher who has found patterns (Fingers of God he calls them) in clusters of galaxies, which to him indicate that Earth is the center of the Universe. Jason does an excellent job refuting these claims in entertaining ways.[...]

  47. #47 Mark Matthews
    August 28, 2008

    Over at Universe Today they recently had an article with a map which beautifully illustrates these “fingers of God” that we are talking about. Readers not familiar with them can follow the link below and see them on the map:

    http://www.universetoday.com/2008/08/17/dark-matter-is-missing-from-cosmic-voids/

    Each dot on that map is a whole galaxy and earth is located at the apex – the pointed tip of the pie-shape. The linear streaks on the map which point towards earth are the fingers of God. To me the fingers so obvious that it just seems silly to me to argue about whether or not there really are lots streaks pointing towards earth, or whether or not there are just as many streaks there pointing to some other place on the map.

    To me, the only real question is, are those the actual positions of the galaxies, or are they just the apparent positions of those galaxies? As I said, I have given eight reasons why I don’t think the “apparent position” explanation works. After thinking about it some after the conference I think I’m seeing some even stronger reasons why the red-shift distortion hypothesis doesn’t work.

    Perhaps, Jason, we can at least agree on this: An open-minded cosmologist who is truly seeking to understand the cosmos should not adopt assumptions that they will cling to despite what the evidence seems to be saying.

    If we can, then I think you will agree it was wrong for Hubble to rule out the notion that earth might be at center of the universe even though the evidence he is famous for uncovering was, on face value, pointing in that direction. Likewise, on face value, the maps of the universe say that there are fingers of God pointing at us. The redshift distortion explanation, may explain these fingers – at first blush the red shift distortion explanation appears to be able to explain these fingers. I’m saying let’s look a little deeper and see if the redshift distortion explanation really explains the fingers of God.

    If the fingers of God are real, why would they be there? Total speculation: The Bible says, I think, 17 times that God stretched out the heavens. Other biblical passages seem to infer that this was probably a spherical type of stretching. These fingers of God could somehow be left-over radial effects caused by that stretching. That would be my best guess at this point. You asked ; )

  48. #48 Glenn Davey
    August 29, 2008

    Whaaaat? OK, I was following the conversation there and making personal evaluations based on both Mark and Jason’s arguments – not knowing a whole lot about the subject myself.

    But I think Mark has done himself a mischief with his last comment. When I looked at the picture he linked to, I thought, “That’s it?” Is that really what you can see “fingers of God” in? And that a filtered view of part of the universe somehow matches a passage in an ancient book written by goat-herders? This is as much of a stretch as fitting stanza’s of Nostradamus to modern events, or the claim that types of food relate to the body parts they are supposed to be beneficial for, or that the banana must have been designed for the human mouth and hand to hold (uhh coconuts and pineapple, anyone?).

    If the fingers of God are real, why would they be there? Total speculation: The Bible says, I think, 17 times that God stretched out the heavens.

    If you want to ask questions like that, why not also ask the supernatural reasons for other examples of order in nature, such as ripples in sand on a beach, spiral galaxies, rings around planets, metal filings pulled into rows by a magnet, or rippled cloud formations. Because these already have scientific explanations.

    Patterns appear in random nature due to entirely explanable, repetitive phenomena, or by objects exerting forces on other objects. It is to be expected, and no amount of comparison with ancient mythology can trump the simpler explanations provided by science. You’re picking out one phenomena – which may only be observed in one particular warped view of space – and finding a creationist explanation for it. And even if these vague lines that you’re referring to have no current explanation, it doesn’t mean we won’t find one in future, and indeed, that we will find much more of this sort of thing throughout the observable universe.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but is this not another God of the Gaps idea? In this case: find something mysterious and say ‘God did it’?

  49. #49 MartinM
    August 29, 2008

    Unfortunately, such a gravitational field would also cause light from distant galaxies to be strongly blue shifted.

    Not to mention some really entertaining tidal effects, such as, say, the total destruction of the Earth.

    Humphreys’ bigger problem is that he doesn’t have a model, as such. He has several different claims on the go; it’s a white hole. No, wait, it’s a region of Euclidean signature in the Klein metric. No, wait, we can construct a new manifold by matching an FRW section to a section of Euclidean metric. Only the last claim has any potential at all, and of course he hasn’t actually done it, last I heard, let alone show that it works as a YE solution.

    Humphreys’ biggest problem, though, is simply that he doesn’t actually understand GR. He thinks that spherical symmetry violates the Copernican principle. He thinks that metric signatures can change under coordinate transformations. He lacks even a typical undergrad’s understanding of such things.

  50. #50 MartinM
    August 29, 2008

    The reasons you give for rejecting the simple explanation proposed by Jackson and others are not very persuasive. You argue the explanation is dubious because it relies on dark matter.

    Is there a copy of this paper available somewhere? It’s a little hard to follow the arguments here. The ‘fingers of God’ effect isn’t caused by dark matter, but simply by the presence of a range of peculiar velocities in a cluster of objects. You’d get the effect even in the absence of dark matter. Presumably, then, Matthews’ argument is that dark matter is required to produce peculiar velocities large enough to explain the observed radial broadening in redshift space. But we already know that something funny is going on with peculiar velocities in large matter distributions; just look at galactic rotation curves, as the canonical example. The explanation for this may be dark matter, or it may be something else – perhaps a MOND-style modification of gravity at large scales. But whatever causes it will play into the ‘fingers of God’ effect, regardless.

  51. #51 MartinM
    August 29, 2008

    Likewise, on face value, the maps of the universe say that there are fingers of God pointing at us.

    That rather depends on what you mean by ‘face value.’ The null hypothesis must surely be redshift distortion, for the simple fact that you can’t not get redshift distortion unless all objects in a cluster are mysteriously fixed at rest with respect to one another in the radial direction. The question is not whether such an effect exists – it must, it’s a simple fact of celestial mechanics. The question is whether it’s large enough to explain our observations. I’m not sure you can call anything which requires falsification of the null ‘face value.’

  52. #52 Mark Matthews
    August 29, 2008

    Martin,

    I think you see the issue perfectly.

    Now, I would like to get your take on the following … I haven’t throughly researched this so this could be an artifact of how the survey was done, but if it is not, then I think the velocity dispersion explanation doesn’t even begin to explain the linear earth oriented distribution of luminous red galaxies that we are seeing here:

    http://www.lbl.gov/Science-Articles/Archive/Phys-universe-ruler.html

    Jason, I assume you have an electronic copy of the paper? Is there any way you could temporarily post it on your website here for those who want to follow the discussion better?

  53. #53 Steve
    August 29, 2008

    Just to clarify…when where the Fingers of God created?

  54. #54 Steve
    August 29, 2008

    Ooops. When *were* the Fingers of God created?

  55. #55 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 29, 2008

    Mark’s paper is available here.

    Perhaps, Jason, we can at least agree on this: An open-minded cosmologist who is truly seeking to understand the cosmos should not adopt assumptions that they will cling to despite what the evidence seems to be saying.

    Yes, of course. But it’s not always so easy to tell what has to give when theory and reality do not meet up. The example of the neutrinos illustrates this nicely. The data seemed to contradict the ideas of conservation of momentum and conservation of energy. But another possibility was that there was an unknown particle. Many people at the time said the hypothesis of the neutrino was just a desperation move designed to protect standard conservation principles. But the hypothesis turned out to be right.

    If we can, then I think you will agree it was wrong for Hubble to rule out the notion that earth might be at center of the universe even though the evidence he is famous for uncovering was, on face value, pointing in that direction.

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. A minute ago you were complaining about people clinging to assumptions in spite of the evidence. Now you’re agreeing that the evidence Hubble (and others) discovered, by which I assume you mean the expansion of the universe, points away from the idea that the Earth is at the center of things. Hubble was not dogmatically clinging to an assumption in spite of the evidence. He was, rather, following where the evidence led. I’m not sure what you think he did wrong.

    Likewise, on face value, the maps of the universe say that there are fingers of God pointing at us. The redshift distortion explanation, may explain these fingers – at first blush the red shift distortion explanation appears to be able to explain these fingers. I’m saying let’s look a little deeper and see if the redshift distortion explanation really explains the fingers of God.

    I’m all in favor of looking more closely at any proposed explanation for a natural phenomenon. The fact remains that your explanation, that the Earth is at the center of the universe, would require discarding huge swaths of modern astronomy, while the redshift explanation is based on well-understood principles of astronomy and optics.

    I find it ironic, for example, that the article you linked to in your earlier comment was discussing how the standard model of cosmology, which includes dark matter, was being used to make predictions about the sizes of the voids between galaxies, and that those predictions were being born out by the most recent data. If dark matter is just a fiction, it certainly seems to be a highly useful and fruitful one. If you can use your hypothesis of an Earth-centered universe to generate testable predictions, astronomers would find it more interesting.

    As SLC pointed out, it would be nice if someday we were able to make observations of the universe from some other galaxy, since that would certainly go a long way towards resolving this. Sadly, that seems unlikely anytime soon.

    If the fingers of God are real, why would they be there? Total speculation: The Bible says, I think, 17 times that God stretched out the heavens. Other biblical passages seem to infer that this was probably a spherical type of stretching. These fingers of God could somehow be left-over radial effects caused by that stretching. That would be my best guess at this point. You asked ; )

    I’ve seen people take that verse in Genesis about how humans were made “from the dust of the Earth” as evidence that the Bible predicted evolution. You impressed?

    And don’t say “infer” when you mean “imply.” :)

    MartinM –

    Presumably, then, Matthews’ argument is that dark matter is required to produce peculiar velocities large enough to explain the observed radial broadening in redshift space.

    Yes, that is the argument. Sorry for not spelling this out more clearly in my previous comment. And the point you go on to make in the remainder of your comment was precisely the one I was making in saying that dark matter wasn’t hypothesized into existence as some sort of desperation move to explain away the fingers of God.

  56. #56 SLC
    August 29, 2008

    Re Jason Rosenhouse

    Actually, it is my understanding that dark matter was proposed because of the gravitational lensing effect which indicated that the observed matter in galaxies was insufficient to explain what was observed (very insufficient as there is apparently 5 times as much mass in dark matter as there is in observed matter).

    Similarly, dark energy has been proposed as an explanation for the apparent acceleration of the rate of expansion of the universe.

  57. #57 Leni
    August 30, 2008

    Jason, you are indeed a “delightful creature”.

    Well, ok. That’s a little creepier sounding than I would have liked, but you have got to be about the nicest guy ever and Mark’s at least got that part right.

    Well done :)

    SLC, was it gravitational lensing that initially indicated the presence of dark matter? I thought it was mass to light ratios, and that lensing came about later as a statistical an observational method that confirmed earlier suspicions about unaccounted for/unexpected mass.

  58. #58 fongooly
    August 30, 2008

    Leni, you’ve got to be the greatest ass kisser ever. Here’s a hint about dark matter:
    “The galaxy rotation problem is this discrepancy between the observed rotation speeds of matter in the disk portions of spiral galaxies and the predictions of Newtonian dynamics considering the visible mass. This discrepancy is currently thought to betray the presence of dark matter that permeates the galaxy and extends into the galaxy’s halo.”
    Take it from there if you can understand it.

  59. #59 SLC
    August 30, 2008

    Re Leni

    Ms. Leni is probably right. However, clearly gravitational lensing is very strong evidence of the inadequacy of the observed mass in galaxies to account for most of the effect (a factor of 5 is pretty convincing).

  60. #60 Mark Matthews
    August 30, 2008

    Just time for a quick post now …

    Check out this Universe Today article on dark matter. Apparently the ratio of dark to normal matter in the dwarf galaxies that hang around our neighborhood is 10,000 to 1! Wow, that’s a lot of dark matter! Standard cosmologies say that the ratio of dark to normal matter is about 5 to 1.

    http://www.universetoday.com/2008/08/29/minimum-mass-for-galaxies-provides-insight-on-dark-matter/

    Jason, I’ll post what I was saying about Hubble latter. I thought I had some stuff about it in the paper, but I must have taken it out somewhere along the line cause I can’t find it now.

  61. #61 Leni
    August 30, 2008

    SLC,

    However, clearly gravitational lensing is very strong evidence of the inadequacy of the observed mass in galaxies to account for most of the effect (a factor of 5 is pretty convincing).

    There’s no doubt about that. Lensing is also very, very neat. It’s hard to overstate what a boon it’s been for astronomy and cosmology. And sorry for the nit, I just thought the dm problem had arisen earlier than observed lensing.

  62. #62 fongooly
    August 30, 2008

    Leni, it’s not hard enough to overstate matters involving science, or you wouldn’t be able to babble on so pretentiously. Who cares what you thought was the earlier or earliest problem when you clearly didn’t know enough about the subject to begin with. Sure, any mofo can drop in here and offer an opinion, but to pretend some expertise in the bargain simply makes you a mofo liar in that same bargain.

  63. #63 Steve
    August 30, 2008

    Mark,

    Again, when were the Fingers of God created? I think this information would be useful.

  64. #64 Mark Matthews
    August 30, 2008

    Sorry Steve. I wasn’t sure if you were asking when the term was coined … ? Or when the fingers themselves formed. Either way, I don’t know. I don’t really have any useful ideas about how or when they formed.

  65. #65 Steve
    August 30, 2008

    I was asking when the Fingers themselves were formed, that is, the objects, not the term. I see your answer, but can we at least narrow the time span down a bit? Thousands of years ago or billions of years ago?

  66. #66 Mark Matthews
    August 30, 2008

    Since I’m having a hard time getting around to posting what I wanted, I just lift a portion from something else I wrote:

    “However we are not able to make cosmological models without some admixture of ideology. In the earliest cosmologies, man placed himself in a commanding position at the center of the universe. Since the time of Copernicus we have been steadily demoted to a medium sized planet going round a medium sized star on the outer edge of a fairly average galaxy, which is itself simply one of a local group of galaxies. Indeed we are now so democratic that we would not claim that our position in space is specially distinguished in any way. We shall, following Bondi (1960), call this assumption the Copernican principle.”
    Stephen Hawking & George Ellis, 1973, p. 134

    Ideally, science is an objective, data-driven investigation of reality, but the famous quote by Max Planck reveals
    the unattractive truth, “A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
    Thomas Kuhn (Kuhn, 1962) expounded on this thesis in his “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” and
    showed how prejudices and old, erroneous, but firmly entrenched ideas in science can retard the progress of
    science. Like all of science, Cosmology is susceptible in this regard and has its own prejudices inherited from
    historical contingencies.

    As Hawking and Ellis have noted above, from ancient times to Copernicus it was thought (based on simple
    observation) that the sun, moon, and stars revolved around Earth. Next, of course, came the famous clash
    between Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church. This incident began the solidification of the science verses
    religion paradigm, and still casts a huge shadow over cosmology and all of science. After Galileo, science began
    to slowly scrub itself of any vestige of religion – or rather, of certain religions. Because, most scientific progress over the last several hundred years has taken place in the western world, science has insulated itself from western religion. And because the historical consensus among western religious opinion was that Earth must be a special place in the Universe, science reflexively began to proactively reject the notion that Earth held a special place in the Universe. In 1929 Edwin Hubble (Hubble, 1929, pp.168-173) published observations that seemed to be indicating that our home galaxy was at the center of the Universe because most all other galaxies were speeding away from us. As an illustration of how detestable this suggestion was to modern sensibilities, Hubble himself,
    one of the fathers of modern cosmology, said that the notion that Earth occupied a special position in the
    Universe is, “unwelcome,” “intolerable,” and a “horror” which “must be avoided at all costs” (Hubble,1937,
    pp.50-59). And so it has been.

    There is an undeniable appeal to the notion that science should be completely neutral with respect to any ideas about religion. After all, it would seem counter-productive to begin a search for truth with the assumption of
    certain truths. Unfortunately, as Hawking and Ellis point out above, assumptions are unavoidable; and assumptions will always favor some ideas about religion over others. Clearly, the strong bias displayed by Hubble is not neutral towards all religious view points — it fervently opposes some of them. Consider also that even basic assumptions of the scientific enterprise will, of necessity, support some ideas about religion over others. Among the myriad of ideas about religion in the world are Atheism and Buddhism; and at least some varieties of Buddhism have been described as a religion without a god. Those who insist that only naturalistic explanations can be investigated by science, are dictating then that the whole scientific enterprise start with assumptions which are in complete harmony with Atheism and Buddhism, and will unfailingly produce theories
    compatible with Atheism and Buddhism. More generally, any particular finding of science can always be seen as
    supporting some view(s) about religion over others. The best that science can do with regard to religious
    neutrality is to try to let the data guide us where it may, and have no regard for whose religious territory we are
    passing over. Neutrality would demand that we never adopt starting assumptions because they favor or disfavor
    a particular view about religion, nor would we ever divert our course to avoid certain sacred ground, or confine
    ourselves to the paths we deem more desirable. In science, the data is supposed to be king.

    In the past several years many new lines of evidence have come to light which seem to be indicating that Earth
    occupies a special place in the Universe – at or near the center of it – this review surveys three of these lines of
    evidence. The inevitable knee-jerk reaction by the vast majority of cosmologists will be automatic rejection of
    this hypothesis because, whether deliberately or nconsciously, they have adopted the philosophical starting
    assumption which says that Earth must not hold a special place in the Universe (i.e. the dogma known as the
    “Copernican principle”). Whether or not the Earth, our solar system, or our galaxy – the Milky Way – are special
    in any way should be decided by the data, not by prejudices, biases, “ideology”, or assumptions.

  67. #67 Mark Matthews
    August 30, 2008

    Wow, That didn’t format like it said it would …

    Steve, I’m a YEC if that’s what your hunting for.

    Under a YEC cosmology like Humphreys’, whether it happened billions of years ago or thousands of years ago would depend on who’s clock you are using.

  68. #68 Steve
    August 31, 2008

    Thanks for the clarification. I’ve made the mistake in the past of assuming either YEC or OEC with respect to a given commentator, so now I like to be sure.

    Except, I’m not really sure. I thought YEC meant the universe was six thousand years old. Simple and straightforward. But now it appears that the evidence that the universe is billions and billions of years old is so overwhelming, that you need to invent completely different clocks for the Earth and for everything else just to make the evidence go away.

    I know nothing of astrophysics, but from what I read in the above comments, there seems to be some mighty big problems with Humphreys’ magic clock, not the least of which is the total lack of evidence of its existence. How can we know if Humphreys is wrong? Where’s the testable hypothesis? The above commentators appear to have disproved the hypothesis, because it’s predictions are not confirmed by the evidence.

    I don’t know astrophysics, but I do know a little about human history. Is it fair for me to assume that you don’t believe the Pyramids of Egypt were built in 2500 BC?

  69. #69 SLC
    August 31, 2008

    Re Mark Matthews.

    As both myself and Mr. MartinM have shown, Mr. Humphreys’ gravitational time dilation theory is total nonsense. Ther is not a jot or a tittle of evidence suggesting the existence of gravitational fields of sufficient strength to dilate time by a factor of a million, other then very near the event horizon of a black hole.

  70. #70 Mark Matthews
    August 31, 2008

    I imagine that regular posters here would probably have a thousand questions for a YEC since in your eyes it seems so crazy. I’m afraid that I’ve got too many other things that are falling into neglect to devote the amount of time necessary to engage all such questions. I’ll try to briefly address the ones raised so far then I’m going to have to confine myself to addressing the fingers of God issue …

    Steve,

    Starlight from great distances is perceived as one of the biggest challenges (if not THE biggest challenge) to YEC. Humphreys’ cosmology, or something like it has at least the potential to address the distant starlight concern. I should point out that many creationists would not subscribe to Humphreys’ cosmology. (I like at least some parts of it.)

    There is no “magic clock” involved, the time dilation involved is a standard relativistic effect. In his model the universe was made about six thousand years ago based on a clock on the surface of the earth, but billions of years could have transpired in other parts of the universe based on clocks in those parts of the universe.

    Humphreys is known for making actual creationist predictions – predictions which have been verified. As soon as his model is at a point that he can make a numeric prediction, I’m sure he will (he likes doing that and recognizes that it is the mark of good science).

    Yes, creationists are critical of the standard Egyptian chronologies, and I believe there is some serious work going on with respect to it (though I can’t remember who is involved – it can’t be too hard to find out if you are interested). I know very little about it, sorry.

    SLC,

    I’m afraid that I’m going to have to let Humphreys defend Humphreys’ model. I haven’t keep up with the latest on it, but I believe Humphrey’s has earth starting out deep within a black hole, so there is plenty of gravitational field strength in his model. If after studying his model closely you think you see flaws in it, I would encourage you to write it up and publish it in the peer-reviewed literature. That’s how Humphreys thinks the process should work. As far as I know, he won’t engage in debate in a non-peer-reviewed forum. If you engage him that way I’m sure he’ll be delighted – even if you do find an actual flaw.

    Martin or anybody else, have you had an opportunity to look at the luminous red galaxy stuff? What do you think?

  71. #71 Leni
    August 31, 2008

    …but I believe Humphrey’s has earth starting out deep within a black hole, so there is plenty of gravitational field strength in his model.

    I know you don’t want to defend Humphrey’s model, and I don’t expect you to, but based on your knowledge of it do you believe this is a scientifically defensible statement?

    That earth “started out” in a black hole? My jaw actually dropped when I read that. Is he talking about bubble universes?

  72. #72 Steve
    August 31, 2008

    Bottom line…I”ll use whatever clock works, I’ll ignore the refutations of those who actually understand relativity and astrophysics, and if the Egyptian chronologies don’t fit my Bible, I’ll toss them out. I really don’t mean this to sound rude as you’ve been very polite, but…I’m not surprised by the your answers.

  73. #73 fungomofo
    August 31, 2008

    Leni,
    No, bubblehead, he’s talking about the chaotic inflation theory, an extension of the big bang theory. Our universe is clearly part of a boundary-less cosmos. If a universe is new, there was arguably a vacuum with a “need” to be filled (think of your own cranium as an example). To try to simplify the explanation for amateurs, the vacuum state, according to computer modeling, will always result in a bubble shaped “universe.” One of the concepts that intuitionally lacking humans have difficulty with, theistic or not, is that black holes and vacuum states are integral to the modeling of certain developing phenomena.

  74. #74 SLC
    August 31, 2008

    Re Mark Matthews

    “I would encourage you to write it up and publish it in the peer-reviewed literature. That’s how Humphreys thinks the process should work.”

    I was not aware that Mr. Humphreys’ had published anything in a peer reviewed journal. And publications by Answers in Genesis don’t count.

    Re Jason Rosenhouse

    I must say that Mr. Matthews seems like an intelligent fellow. It’s rather sad to see him wasting his time trying to prove a 6000 year old earth, much like Kurt Wise wastes his time trying to disprove evolution.

    I think that much in the following article by Richard Dawkins about Dr. Wise might also apply to Mr. Matthews.

    “Sadly, an Honest Creationist
    by Richard Dawkins

    The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 21, Number 4.

    Creation “scientists” have more need than most of us to parade their degrees and qualifications, but it pays to look closely at the institutions that awarded them and the subjects in which they were taken. Those vaunted Ph.D.s tend to be in subjects such as marine engineering or gas kinetics rather than in relevant disciplines like zoology or geology. And often they are earned not at real universities, but at little-known Bible colleges deep in Bush country.

    There are, however, a few shining exceptions. Kurt Wise now makes his living at Bryan College (motto “Christ Above All”) located in Dayton, Tennessee, home of the famed Scopes trial. And yet, he originally obtained an authentic degree in geophysics from the University of Chicago, followed by a Ph.D. in geology from Harvard, no less, where he studied under (the name is milked for all it is worth in creationist propaganda) Stephen Jay Gould.

    Kurt Wise is a contributor to In Six Days: Why 50 Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation, a compendium edited by John F. Ashton (Ph.D., of course). I recommend this book. It is a revelation. I would not have believed such wishful thinking and self-deception possible. At least some of the authors seem to be sincere, and they don’t water down their beliefs. Much of their fire is aimed at weaker brethren who think God works through evolution, or who clutch at the feeble hope that one “day” in Genesis might mean not twenty-four hours but a hundred million years. These are hard-core “young earth creationists” who believe that the universe and all of life came into existence within one week, less than 10,000 years ago. And Wise—flying valiantly in the face of reason, evidence, and education—is among them. If there were a prize for Virtuoso Believing (it is surely only a matter of time before the Templeton Foundation awards one) Kurt Wise, B.A. (Chicago), Ph.D. (Harvard), would have to be a prime candidate.

    Wise stands out among young earth creationists not only for his impeccable education, but because he displays a modicum of scientific honesty and integrity. I have seen a published letter in which he comments on alleged “human bones” in Carboniferous coal deposits. If authenticated as human, these “bones” would blow the theory of evolution out of the water (incidentally giving lie to the canard that evolution is unfalsifiable and therefore unscientific: J. B. S. Haldane, asked by an overzealous Popperian what empirical finding might falsify evolution, famously growled, “Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian!”). Most creationists would not go out of their way to debunk a promising story of human remains in the Pennsylvanian Coal Measures. Yet Wise patiently and seriously examined the specimens as a trained paleontologist, and concluded unequivocally that they were “inorganically precipitated iron siderite nodules and not fossil material at all.” Unusually among the motley denizens of the “big tent” of creationism and intelligent design, he seems to accept that God needs no help from false witness.

    All the more interesting, then, to read his personal testimony in In Six Days. It is actually quite moving, in a pathetic kind of way. He begins with his childhood ambition. Where other boys wanted to be astronauts or firemen, the young Kurt touchingly dreamed of getting a Ph.D. from Harvard and teaching science at a major university. He achieved the first part of his goal, but became increasingly uneasy as his scientific learning conflicted with his religious faith. When he could bear the strain no longer, he clinched the matter with a Bible and a pair of scissors. He went right through from Genesis 1 to Revelations 22, literally cutting out every verse that would have to go if the scientific worldview were true. At the end of this exercise, there was so little left of his Bible that

    . . . try as I might, and even with the benefit of intact margins throughout the pages of Scripture, I found it impossible to pick up the Bible without it being rent in two. I had to make a decision between evolution and Scripture. Either the Scripture was true and evolution was wrong or evolution was true and I must toss out the Bible. . . . It was there that night that I accepted the Word of God and rejected all that would ever counter it, including evolution. With that, in great sorrow, I tossed into the fire all my dreams and hopes in science.

    See what I mean about pathetic? Most revealing of all is Wise’s concluding paragraph:

    Although there are scientific reasons for accepting a young earth, I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand.

    See what I mean about honest? Understandably enough, creationists who aspire to be taken seriously as scientists don’t go out of their way to admit that Scripture—a local origin myth of a tribe of Middle-Eastern camel-herders—trumps evidence. The great evolutionist John Maynard Smith, who once publicly wiped the floor with Duane P. Gish (up until then a highly regarded creationist debater), did it by going on the offensive right from the outset and challenging him directly: “Do you seriously mean to tell me you believe that all life was created within one week?”

    Kurt Wise doesn’t need the challenge; he volunteers that, even if all the evidence in the universe flatly contradicted Scripture, and even if he had reached the point of admitting this to himself, he would still take his stand on Scripture and deny the evidence. This leaves me, as a scientist, speechless. I cannot imagine what it must be like to have a mind capable of such doublethink. It reminds me of Winston Smith in 1984 struggling to believe that two plus two equals five if Big Brother said so. But that was fiction and, anyway, Winston was tortured into submission. Kurt Wise—and presumably others like him who are less candid—has suffered no such physical coercion. But, as I hinted at the end of my previous column, I do wonder whether childhood indoctrination could wreak a sufficiently powerful brainwashing effect to account for this bizarre phenomenon.

    Whatever the underlying explanation, this example suggests a fascinating, if pessimistic, conclusion about human psychology. It implies that there is no sensible limit to what the human mind is capable of believing, against any amount of contrary evidence. Depending upon how many Kurt Wises are out there, it could mean that we are completely wasting our time arguing the case and presenting the evidence for evolution. We have it on the authority of a man who may well be creationism’s most highly qualified and most intelligent scientist that no evidence, no matter how overwhelming, no matter how all-embracing, no matter how devastatingly convincing, can ever make any difference.

    Can you imagine believing that and at the same time accepting a salary, month after month, to teach science? Even at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee? I’m not sure that I could live with myself. And I think I would curse my God for leading me to such a pass.”

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.