Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It's Really a Question About Poo

Now that I've had a moment to think about it, the recent poll results from Science on the question of evolution doesn't show much. Since the VAST majority of people in the poll almost certainly have very little understanding of science, all it points out is that Europeans and others are more likely to believe what scientists tell them over what others might. Big deal. Should they blindly believe "scientists" for some reason, when they do not possess the clue? I dunno, maybe yes and maybe no. What difference does it make anyway? The researchers claim that we Americans have a poor grasp of genetics. Is that true? Or do we grasp it just as well as everyone else, but just don't care about the final conclusions? Or is it more like this


"Did we come from apes or were we created on the 6th day by God 'n stuff?"


"Um, well, I don't really know... Apes? Really? I dunno, they kinda look like us, but they're kinda dumb and they eat their own poo. I'm gonna go with the God version, ok?"

More enlightened non-American...

"Yes, well, the notion that God made us in one day is preposterous. All the evidence points to a steady change in living creatures, and since we have been around not very long, we must be the latest in the line of change over time. Darwin and all that. After all, it's the scientific consensus. And to prove I came from a monkey, I'm going to eat my own poo, right now! Omng ymm rmgn ymg."

End result...

So what?


Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

It's not always even a matter of having a scientific background -- what if you have it, but don't apply it?

At the astrophysics conference I attended last month, I was talking with a post doc who told me how she was astonished when her brother announced that he no longer believed in evolution, but when she tried to argue him out of it, she suddenly realized that she didn't even know why she believed evolution was true.

Well, it's faith. This person had a Ph.D. in astrophysics, but she didn't even know enough about the basics defend her belief. She just accepted the conclusion.

Atheist evolutionists criticize religious types for doing the same thing -- holding an unquestioning belief in an idea that was indoctrinated into them by an authority, all the while being ignorant of the facts. Belief in evolution is mostly a matter of faith. The poll results just show to what degree humanism prevails in each country.

8/16/2006 9:22 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

If I may interject...

I believe in evolution because as I understand the fossil evidence the oldest forms of life we find evidence of are the very simplest. As we progress through time towards the present, the life forms become more varied and complex, with significant "die-off" events where large percentages of various type vanish completely, to be replaced at later times with other forms.

This leads to the belief that all more complex forms of life developed from earlier, simpler forms over vast periods of time.

This is the "theory of evolution." It does not answer the question of biogenesis - or where or how life originated - but it describes a process by which life becomes more varied, more complex, and more widespread.

When you then look at humanity, it brings one to wonder if we ourselves are the result of this same process? And if so, what were our immediate predecessors? As the sciences of paleontology, biology, and specifically genetics have advanced, it becomes even more convincing that yes, we are the product of evolution, and that our ancestors were more ape-like than we are. Examination of the fossil record produces evidence of species that seem intermediate between modern apes and modern humans, just as there appear to be earlier versions of other modern species.

So the question becomes, are human beings the product of a natural process of evolution from simple life forms to more complex ones, or did some Supreme Being build the entire universe over the course of six days, and human beings from the clay of the earth on the last day, just as we exist today, just so our existence could act as an exhibition match (with a predetermined outcome) for the angels that are sitting on the fence in the battle between the Supreme Being and a rebellious angel? Or (choose your own particular creation myth and insert here.)

I know which one I believe, and why.

8/16/2006 10:54 AM  
Blogger carnaby said...

Fair enough, Kevin. But I doubt most of those poll responders on either side could have actually made a case one way or the other.

Here's a question for anyone who believes the literal 6 day creation story: There was no such thing as a "day" before the earth, sun and moon system existed, and yet God did stuff on a couple "days" before he set that system up. So, what exactly constituded a day back then? Justify your answer.

8/16/2006 11:01 AM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...


There are a number of problems with evolution as it is currently framed. One arises from the assumption of random mutations and the fact that evolution is decidely one-way -- from simple to more complex. If variations really do occur in a random fashion, then why do changes in organisms always proceed in the direction of more complexity? Why, over the course of billions of years, have we not seen ancient forms or less complex forms popping up again? That would follow the meaning of random, would it not? But what we actually see is progressive, not random.

Also, there are significant gaps in the fossil record. So much so that Stephen Jay Gould had to come up with the idea of punctuated equilibrium to explain why we find so much evidence for "stable" species, but pretty much nothing showing in-between stages. Why, for instance, do we not find evidence of partially-formed eyes and other in-between stages of organs? There ought to be many more fossils showing these partially-formed stages than for the stable species.

I do think a form of evolution does occur, which is consistent with fossil evidence, but it's not the random Darwinian version.

Ben and Kevin,

It is true that a naive literal interpretation of Genesis is not consistent with current scientific knowledge. This is where a little reading would help the both of you. Gerald Schroeder's The Science of God demonstrates how the Bible is perfectly consistent with scientific evidence.

Schroeder points out that the Old Testament was written on two levels -- one for the ignorant and backwards people who were struggling out of paganism millenia ago, and another that contains far deeper knowledge for those able to understand it. This isn't just Schroeder's opinion, it comes from scripture.

The problem is, Kevin, that people who want to dismiss the Bible as ridiculous don't take the time to do some digging and find out if there is anything on a deeper level.

Ben, your question is a particularly good one. A "day," which we define as one complete rotation of the earth, is mentioned in Genesis before the earth has formed. Is this a typo? Human fallibility creeping in? Proof that the Bible is wrong? No. It's the key to understanding the deeper wisdom of Genesis and the biblical interpretation of time for the first six days.

A careful reading of scripture shows that the flow of time for the first six days is different than for the rest of the Bible. This is our first clue that a "day" for Genesis might not be the same as a day for the rest of the Bible. Because there is no earth on the first day, we have to figure out what to use as our reference for its duration. The problem is, from our understanding of relativity, every single point in spacetime has its own flow of time, because time is affected by gravity and velocity. Close to the sun, for instance, the flow of time is slower compared to that on the earth's surface, because the sun has much higher gravity near its surface than the earth.

To establish the meaning of a Genesis day, you have to pick something that is consistent for every point in the universe and at all times. Schroeder says we should use the universe as a whole to define the reference frame for a Genesis day -- God's clock, so to speak.

In addition to gravity and velocity, the stretching of space as the universe expands also affects the flow of time. Time "slows down" because of expansion. If the universe expands by a factor of two, for example, then the flow of time is halved. In astrophysics, we use light (e.g. photometry or a spectrum) to get our information about distant objects. For my own research, the objects I observe are so far away that I have to correct their spectra for the effects of expansion. The way I determine the correction factor is by comparing the observed frequency of light for a known emission line in a spectrum to its rest-frame or laboratory frequency. The greater the difference, the further away the object is from us, the more stretching that has occurred since the moment when that light was emitted, and the more the flow of time has slowed down since then. For example, if I have a distant quasar with a correction factor of two, it means that in the time it took the quasar's light to reach me the universe doubled in size. The observed light was emitted when the universe was half its present size, and, assuming roughly constant rate of expansion, the light was thus emitted when the universe was half its present age. It also means the flow of time back then was twice what it is today.

Now it gets interesting.

When we apply this principle to something that has been in existence since the time of the big bang, we can determine the difference between the flow of time in the universe soon after the big bang and that of present day earth. Recall what Schroeder said about a universal clock. The one thing that is universal and has been around since the beginning is the cosmic background radiation (CBR), the leftover radiation from the primordial explosion of the big bang. This forms the basis for the cosmic clock (i.e. God's clock).

Early on, the universe consisted of an extremely hot, dense soup of radiation and matter. As the universe expanded, the soup cooled a bit allowing matter to form, and eventually the radiation was able to break free -- these photons have been zipping around the universe ever since in the form of the CBR. Its current temperature is well known, ~3 K or -270 C. Cold, eh? This happens to be 10^12 times cooler than its temperature way back at the time of matter formation. This means that the universe has stretched by a factor of 10^12 since then. It also means that the flow of time has "slowed down" by the same factor.

The age of the universe is a hotly-contested number. Even with the accurate CBR measurements, an age anywhere between 10-20 billion years is considered reasonable. Let's pick the middle ground with 15 billion years. Well, guess what? If you apply this correction factor to 15 billion years you get six days.

Six days on God's clock are the same as 15 billion years on our clock.

Even better, when you use this expansion correction factor to map Genesis time onto cosmic time, day by day, you get a very good match between the events of Genesis and what science tells us occurred at those times.

Coincidence? You decide. But Genesis can no longer be written off as scientifically implausible.

Kevin, another point that needs to be made is that when the Bible says man was created from the dust of the earth, it is no different than when Carl Sagan waxed on about humans being made of star-stuff. The big bang produced the five light nuclei -- hydrogen, deuterium, helium, and traces of lithium and beryllium -- the other elements, including those necessary for life, can only come from stellar reprocessing of the lighter stuff. The earth was created from the cosmic dust (we actually use that word in astronomy) of a long-ago supernova nearby; everything on the earth, including human beings, is in turn made from that dust. The Bible wasn't just being poetic, it's quite accurate.

Lastly, on what basis do you assume that a purposeful creation, as opposed to an accidental one, must necessarily mean that it's all just an exhibition for angels or whatever? You've created a strawman here: it's either "natural" evolution or the WWF biblical-style. Since any rational person would reject the latter, you've automatically set yourself up to choose the former. Eight hundred years ago Maimonides commented that we need to study physics and astronomy to understand the nature of God and his purpose for us. If religion has taught us that we exist just to amuse God, then why even bother with this admonishment to study? BTW, Schroeder makes an interesting argument for non-determinacy based on the uncertainty principle.

8/16/2006 3:11 PM  

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