Just an old universe
Posted: 05 August 2005 03:21 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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The religious literalists always attack biologists, not astrophysicists.  Why?
Perhaps because life is far more complicated than physics, and the chain
of logic is long and complicated.  When it comes to astrophysics and
cosmology, there can be no doubt: the Universe is old.

Studies of the Cosmic Microwave Background indicate the Universe is
13.7 billion years old, with a statistical uncertainty of 0.2 billion years—
less than 2%.  Further measurements will refine this number soon.
Even radically different models of gravitation and cosmology only change
this number modestly.  (See WMAP results at this URL for details).
http://www.arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0302209

Furthermore, we know how (most) stars evolve from basic physics, and
have detailed observations that prove these theories are an astoundingly
good description of reality.  It is easy to find clusters of stars over
10 billion years old.

The Earth is known to be 4.6 billion years old by a variety of arguments
(including isotopic ratios) that all give the same number.

-> Those who say the Universe is 10,000 years old are off by a factor
of over 1 million! <-  It boggles the mind that they would be taken
seriously at all.

As a silly analogy, it would be like saying Sam Harris is 1000 seconds
old (about 15 minutes) rather than a billion seconds (about 30 years).
Now, I don't know how old Sam Harris is.  I could rationally assume he
is older than 4 (since he wrote a book) and younger than 130 (since
people don't live that long.)  However, if I ignored all empirical
evidence and experience, I would say I really do not know, and wouldn't
even if he told me.  He doesn't know—he does not remember being born.
Not only that, but the answer keeps changing.  Sam can't make up his mind.
I'll be if you ask him how old he is now, and ask in a year, you'll get a
DIFFERENT ANSWER!  He's like those scientists, always changing their
minds!  The truth is we can NEVER KNOW exactly how old Sam is.

So since I'm not absolutely certain, and I have a 2000 year old book
here that says Sam is 15 minutes old, that is what I am going to believe.

Seriously, folks, the "constant revisions" scientists make in our
understanding do not often radically change the bottom line.  The
idea that the Universe is old solves countless observational conundrums,
and there is no young Universe model that even attempts to compete.

If we want to win the young/old debate (which is an essential step in
the design / evolution debate), we need to move it to astrophysics
and cosmology where the arguments are simple and the observations
crystal clear.  Biology is sufficiently complicated that you will NEVER
use it to convince joe public, unless they are willing to invest years of
study.

- A concerned astrophysicist.

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Posted: 05 August 2005 03:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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I can only tell you of my own discussions about this.

The Young Earthers represent a minority of fundamentalists.  They have little to no scientific background, and answer all with “God made it on purpose to appear that way, and he did it for his own reasons which we can not comprehend, but you will burn in hell for questioning his creation”.

Most fundamentalists accept old earth, and reconcile it with Genesis by the biblical a day is 1000 years to god, so that the actual time frame of creation can be expanded to cover the science, even though a “day” for God is now expanded to cover about 2 billion years.

They dont see the logical fallacy in this which is;  if the 7 days of creation are extended to cover 13 billion years, then by the same math, Jesus wont be coming back for hmm about ...lets see, each day is two billion years, and he comes back at the end of the millenium, 36,500 days in a millenium…so 83 trillion years before Jesus comes back…. hmm check my math = )

Intelligent Design accepts the age of the universe, but points to the “universal constants” of physics which allow the universe to exist and function as “proof” of an intelligent creator.  I think there are 16 constants they point too, including the value of pi and the speed of light. 

So, I don’t see this as a battleground.  The reason evolution is a battleground is because of the man to monkey thing…it hasn’t gone away in the last 200 years because some people just refuse to accept we aren’t created special and are just animals.  This hits hard to personal issues, in a way the study of the universe doesn’t.

Anyway that is my take on the dialogues I have had with some funides.  I think I have explained their counterarguements pretty well.

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Posted: 05 August 2005 05:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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My daughter recently had laser surgery, and I took her to the doctor so I could drive her home.  I was sitting with her in the recovery room, reading “The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene, when the doctor came in to check her out, and began a discussion by asking me if I had read “A Brief History of Time.”  When I answered in the affirmative, he asked if I had heard of the work of Dr. Carl Wieland concerning radical differences in the speed of light 6,000 years ago, and that since it was much slower now, that accounted for the light of distant stars reaching us in only the time since biblical creation.

I chuckled, and asked the doctor if he really believed that crap.  He responded, somewhat indignantly, that many fine scientists “believed that crap,” and who the hell was I to doubt such men!  Besides, if science said one thing, and the bible said another, the bible wins!

I asked him if the Earth goes around the Sun, but by this time, he wasn’t talking to me anymore.  Here was a professional person, an eye doctor, an MD, and he believed, firmly, in biblical creation!

I spend a good deal of time trying to advance the teaching of science here in the bible belt.  Those of us who do that could use a lot more help than we are getting from professional scientists, such as yourself.  If you think your area is immune, you are WRONG!  Every area of science is targeted by these morons.  They want nothing less than the repeal of the enlightenment, and a return to the dark ages.  The sooner the professional science community realizes that, the better off we all will be!

It means nothing for Pete Soderman, Realtor, to write an op-ed piece to the local paper.  I have no scientific credentials whatsoever.  (I have a BSEE, but that was back in the dark ages, and I have never worked as an engineer).  If you wrote an op-ed piece for your local paper, they might print it.  Do it!

The next time your local high school has a science fair open to the public, go there!  Talk with the kids, discuss their projects, offer yourself to the science teacher as a mentor to some kids.  Get involved!  If you don’t, you will be teaching the bible creation story in a few years.  That’s what they are trying to do.

Sorry for the ramble.

Pete

[ Edited: 06 August 2005 08:31 AM by ]
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Posted: 05 August 2005 07:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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[quote author=“hampsteadpete”]...
I asked him if the Earth goes around the Sun, but by this time, he wasn’t talking to me anymore.  Here was a professional person, an eye doctor, an MD, and he believed, firmly, in biblical creation!

Now there is one of the best examples I’ve heard in a long time of the reality that it’s the “medical arts,” not science, that doctors engage in. That’s likely why some of them go on to Ph.D. work; those are the real scientists. The rest may or may not be; yours obviously was not.
[quote author=“hampsteadpete”]... If you think your area is immune, you are WRONG!  Every area of science is targeted by these morons.  They want nothing less than the repeal of the enlightenment, and a return to the dark ages.  The sooner the professional science community realizes that, the better off we all will be!

Hear, hear! Pete, that’s one of the best statements of the reality we face that I’ve heard in recent memory. Thanks for putting it so succinctly.
[quote author=“hampsteadpete”]It means nothing for Pete Soderman, Realtor, to write an op-ed piece to the local paper.  I have no scientific credentials whatsoever.  (I have a BSEE, but that was back in the dark ages, and I have never worked as an engineer).  If you wrote an op-ed piece for your local paper, they might print it.  Do it!

Well, it’s obvious from what you write that getting your real estate license didn’t disable the brain that you had to have to get your BSEE; as your story demonstrates, the presence of creditials doesn’t guarantee the ability to think clearly, either.
[quote author=“hampsteadpete”]The next time your local high school has a science fair open to the public, go there!  Talk with the kids, discuss their projects, offer yourself to the science teacher as a mentor to some kids.  Get involved!  If you don’t, you will be teaching the bible creation story in a few years.  That’s what they are trying to do.

It strikes me as interesting to remember that teaching anything but Lamarkian genetic mythology could have gotten you killed in Stalin’s Soviet Union; I guess dictating that non-science is to be taught as science isn’t unique to religious zealots, though it’s probably safer to tell them to take their silliness elsewhere.
[quote author=“hampsteadpete”]Sorry for the ramble.
Pete

Thanks for the cogent thoughts.

Cheers,
jwl

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Posted: 10 August 2005 03:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Thanks for the intelligent and interesting reponses, everyone!

I like the “1000 years is but a day to God” idea: if you are willing to be
that flexible, then I would say the Genesis author describes reality as well
as someone could have, given the general knowledge at the time.

The question of the fundamental constants (are they even constant?)
being carefully tuned to allow life is a serious one.  I remember a discussion
in my stellar structure and evolution class that went like this:
the existence of an excited state of the carbon nucleus at just the right
energy level acts as a “throttle” on the nuclear fusion reactions in many
types of stars, and if it were even a little different, stars could not exist.
“No,” said the professor; if you take away one mechanism, a new
equillibrium will be found using another mechanism, and the star
will burn colder or hotter, for more time or less, but it will still be a star.
I think this is a general feature of fine-tuning arguments—if the physical
constants were different, the Universe might be very different, but then
it might well just develop a very different kind of complex behavior that
we can not imagine.  Those 16 numbers appear to be required for “life
as we know it,” but not for “life as our simple brains cannot yet imagine it.”

As for “doing something about it,” I’m afraid my credentials are good in
the scientific community, but they are exactly the wrong credentials to
get me anywhere in the bible belt.  My Ph.D is from Berkeley, and now
I am a researcher at an Ivy League university.  My local paper is the
New York Times.  You see my problem.

I did judge a couple of local science fairs, and really enjoyed it.  I should
do more of that smile

Oh, regarding the variable speed of light:  serious physicists have
attempted to explain the redshifts of very distant supernovae (often
used as evidence of a “cosmological constant” or “dark energy”) as
the speed of light changing by maybe 10 percent over billions of years.
Even such a modest change breaks a number of other precise observations,
so nobody takes it seriously now.  It wasn’t crazy to try, though.

There is still doubt that the speed of light is an ABSOLUTE constant.
Giovanni Amelino-Camelia has a theory (called doubly-special relativity)
that has the speed of light appear to be different in different frames of
reference.  This slight deformation of “Lorentz Invariance” also means that
high-energy gamma rays appear to go a bit slower.
This effect only comes into play in extreme circumstances,
far beyond the reach of particle accelerators on Earth, but it may help
with some theories of quantum gravity, as well as observed (but
controversial!) anomolies in the ultra-high energy cosmic ray spectrum.
Even then, he wants the speed of light to change by about 0.000000001%
for the highest energy photons ever observed.  (There are ways to
measure this!)  But I digress.

As far as most people should be concerned, the speed of light is
a universal constant and has always had the same value.  I hope the
eye doctor at least did his job well.  I find it a bit astonishing that a medical
professional would be so dismissive of accepted physics.

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Posted: 10 August 2005 04:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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The question of the fundamental constants (are they even constant?)
being carefully tuned to allow life is a serious one

Think about this, and I would like your opinion as well.  The data seems to point to our universe being “tuned”  not for us, but to be a black hole generator!  A universe so tuned might happen to produce life here-and-there occasionally, but only as a by-product of generating black holes.

On the other thing?  I was just making some general suggestions, we all do what we can. 

Pete

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