Monday, April 14, 2014

Science, paradigms, and the age of the earth and universe

[continue from here]

The implications a robust philosophy of science has on the origins question is huge. Now, for sure, Kuhn might not be the last word on the issue of how science works. Nevertheless, one has to grapple with the insights he has into the nature of science. Note also that I do not claim Kuhn as a friend of creationists; he is not. Kuhn is an evolutionist after all. But it is with regards to his theories that it seems to me a more robust philosophy of science would be helpful.

In contemporary Christian discussions, attacking materialism is easy. Attacking evolution, through for example the Intelligent Design (ID) route, is still tolerable. But the age of the earth and universe remains a sore sticking point. To be sure, some of the YEC answers are ridiculous. Talk about creation of light in transit is nonsense, for why would God create light in transit that actually conveys information about its supposed source? If the light is just plain light, it would be conceivable for God to create it in transit, but not when the light conveys information (i.e. redshifts).

The history of science is fascinating, especially as to how the calculated age of the earth and the universe steadily increased over time. Now, there are many reasons why scientists think that the universe is old, but a major sticking point for almost everyone is the issue of starlight. We know, or rather it is measured, that the speed of light in vacuum (c) is about 3 x 108 m/s. From Einstein's theory of special relativity, the speed of light in vacuum is fixed. Light cannot increase its speed. Furthermore, the speed of light is always fixed relative to all bodies. Even something traveling at 0.9c sees light travelling at c. The speed of light, c, seems to be a fixed universal, and it also seems to be the limits of how fast any object can be. When an object accelerates towards light speed, the mass of the object increases towards infinity, thus requiring more energy to increase the velocity of the object further. Reaching light speed would therefore require an infinity amount of energy and the object reaching infinite mass, therefore light speed is taken to be the limit for how fast an object can aspire to (Although mathematically, it is possible to reach speeds faster than light speed, just not reach light speed itself).

In light of all this, it seems therefore that the time taken for starlight to reach the earth can be calculated using the equation time, t = Distance/ Velocity. Distance can be approximated using methods such as parallax, while the velocity is absolute speed of light. Assuming that the absoluteness of light speed is correct, the calculated time for distant starlight to reach the earth is something in the neighborhood of 13GYr (13 x 109 years). Now, such starlight must be genuine starlight. Therefore, it seems incontrovertible that the universe must be at least 13GYr old, for otherwise, given what we know of light, how can the light from the distant parts of the universe reach us? This is the starlight problem, and it is a big problem for YECs.

This is where a robust philosophy of science comes in. If we understand how science works, then for sure the scientific theories at work here are working within a paradigm. This does not mean the theories postulated are necessarily wrong, but it is something that we need to take note of. We should then ask ourselves whether we should keep ourselves to the parameters of the debate in the modern times, or is there something more that we are missing out on. Granted what we know of the problems with the standard Big Bang model, with all the fudge factors introduced into it, perhaps it is time to be a bit more skeptical and see if there are other models not tied to the conventional (meta-)model that actually works.

It should be noticed how philosophy of science is informing my view concerning the topic. Precisely because we understand the nature of paradigms and their controlling power, we should exhibit a healthy skepticism towards mainstream scientific meta-theories, since those paradigms are neither testable nor falsifiable. Thus, while the starlight problem is indeed a problem, it is better for us to acknowledge our ignorance on the issue while having faith in God's Word (which incidentally does not directly tell us how old the earth is anyway), than to join in the rest of the world in their error.

Thankfully, not all YEC solutions to the starlight problem is dumb. The most recent YEC cosmology latches on to the work of the late Israeli physicist Moshe Carmeli. He has almost single-handedly created a new alternate cosmology with the idea of Cosmological General Relativity. Now, I do not pretend to be a physicist, although I was a triple science (Physics, Chemistry, Biology) student before I entered university, so I can't properly evaluate his proposal, but the way it is presented, through John Harnett, sounds plausible. If his proposal actually works, it has great predictive power and it does not require fudge factors like dark energy and dark matter to work. Furthermore, it removes the need for the generalized Copernican Principle because it does not have the idea of a 4D hypersphere, but rather that the universe has a center. In Carmeli's cosmology, the rejection of the Copernican Principle and the introduction of a new (5th) dimension called spacevelocity allows for the passing of around 6000 years on earth while the rest of the universe experienced up to 13GYr physical time, through time dilation occurring in the vicinity of Earth due to strong gravity within the initial mass.

So now we have a plausible YEC cosmology. Is it right and should we hang our faith on it? It might be right, but no, we do not hang our faith on anything besides God's Word. The whole point of putting forward Carmelian cosmology is to show that there are viable alternates out there. When one actually transcend the current paradigm, it may be the fact that a much better scientific model is there, but the reigning paradigm blinds those in it to the possibility of the radical alternatives. One really wonder how long the standard Big Bang model will continue on with all its manifold problems. After all, even scientifically, isn't a model that does not require dark matter and dark energy, which we have not observed in sufficient quantities anyway, a better model?

Science! A lot of people think too highly of it. Yet understanding the nature of science helps us to see its limitations and how science itself is not neutral. Once we understand that, we can hope to transcend the current paradigms, and realize that science in itself is no threat to Scripture at all.

[next up: Science! Part 2]

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