Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Origin of the Universe

I occasionally ponder on the origins of the earth. When I was younger I could make my brain hurt trying to think of how there could have always been something that existed somewhere and how there is no end to anything, yet everything we know is that there is always a start and end. So how did we start if there was nothing there to start it? I don't worry about that anymore. Why? A scripture in the bible solved it for me, and not the one in 2 Peter 3 about a day for the Lord being 1000 years for us, but one in Revelation of all places.

Revelation 10:5-7

5 And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven,

6 And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer:

7 But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.

So time will be turned off. It's a temporary constraint to our understanding. I don't understand what the big picture is, but I know time isn't permanent. At least I believe it doesn't, to the extent that it no longer gives me headaches.

A few days ago I saw this graphic posted who knows where, which I tried to track down, and I can't figure out the original source, so if anyone knows where it came from, let me know so I can give proper attribution. The idea is that none of us knows what is truly real. There are real things we can't see just as there are things we see that aren't real. There are always people who think they have it all figured out, whether based on their interpretation of the bible or on what Bill Nye tells them. The truth is that none of us knows the truth, and with apologies to Jack Nicholson, we probably can't handle the truth.

It then makes me wonder when I see an article like this one that purports to explain Why Marco Rubio Needs To Know That The Earth Is Billions Of Years Old. Go read it if you want. The author, who is a technology writer for Forbes (not a theologian or a scientist), calls out Marco Rubio for answering truthfully that he doesn't know how old the earth is. Rubio states that he is neither a theologian or a scientist, and none of those experts can agree, so he's leaving the debate up to them.

The interesting point that is called out of the many that could have been is that if the earth isn't billions of years old, then all our DVD players will stop working, laser surgery will start failing, and our nuclear reactors will all blow up tomorrow (Are you paying attention, Mayans?) because everything we know about science is wrong.

Awkward pause.

Just a minute while I finish looking up the Wikipedia article on logical fallacies.

One of the most important ideas that I learned about in the multivariate statistics class I took in my PhD program (which I will get to blogging about in a couple years at the rate I'm going) is the principle of parsimony. The idea is that you go with the model that is the appropriate balance between simplicity and completeness, or you start with the simplest hypothesis, with the fewest number of assumptions, and work towards the more complex ones.

Thinking about all the elements that would have had to blow up just right to form new elements and align themselves somehow into what would become self-aware beings is a bit complex for me and the basis of another big headache. That's not to say I don't believe the earth is billions of years old, or that at least the materials used to create the earth are that old. I said before that it gives me comfort that time will be turned off at some point, but that doesn't mean that time doesn't still exist and play a role in our larger existence, just that it won't be limiting as it is now.

Foes of the religious will dismiss what I'm about to say as me dealing with my cognitive dissonance, but hear me out. This is the parsimonious model I've come up with that brings together my belief in the bible and the creation and in my understanding and trust of scientists. Matter in various shapes and forms has existed for a long time, billions of years or more even. The universe has existed for billions of years. God has existed for billions of years. If we read the biblical history literally, our earth was only created maybe 10,000 years ago, depending on when the clock started ticking. It was created from remnants of other worlds and placed with our solar system into the universe that already existed.

The laws of nature, such as how light works, gravitational pull, and chemistry, are constant. They haven't changed. Our DVDs will still work tomorrow. At least I hope the laws of physics will last long enough for me to see The Hobbit. We just have some billion year old recycled pieces of another planet that happened to have animals that were a lot scarier than the ones we have now. No, dinosaurs never walked this planet. They walked on another planet, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Not reasonable? Which is more far-fetched? God recycled the dinosaur's planet in making ours or the earth and dinosaurs evolved from nothing, they were all killed from a meteor and resulting ash cloud, and then we evolved again from nothing? The scientists are guessing when they come up with their hypotheses about why the dinosaurs went away. They don't know. So why is my guess of a hypothesis any worse off than theirs? Which is more parsimonious?

I learned within the past year or two about dark matter. Granted I don't know a lot about it, but the basics of it is that there is something that exists in such a way that it increases the mass (and thus the gravitational pull) of galaxies but that cannot be seen. Wait, let's think about that. We know (or think we know) how gravity works. But something in the galaxy behaves in a way inconsistent with our understanding of gravity. So scientists hypothesize that there is a mysterious, invisible matter that accounts for 84% of the mass of the universe in order to make their previously held theory (gravity) continue to work. Now is a good time to refer back to the cognitive dissonance link in the "Foes of the religious..." paragraph above.

Understanding how the universe works seems to me to be a completely separate question from how we and the particular world we live on were created. They still don't know for sure where the moon came from. But we do know it's there and can predict its movements and measure its effects on the tides. We don't know where the dinosaurs came from or how they died, but we do know that their rotting flesh makes good fuel for powering our cars and heating our homes. Well, maybe oil comes from dinosaurs.

My pointing out the great deficiencies in the knowledge of scientists does not mean I think they are idiots but rather to point out that any of the things they say about religious folks could apply equally to them. I do respect scientists, and I believe that many useful discoveries can be made by investigating the origin of the universe, just as much as studying the operation of the universe. As of next month (December 2012), it will be 40 years since a man last stood on the moon, and I think we should go back.

More importantly, I think we should be more respectful of one another's ideas, because if I'm right, then both theologians and scientists are right. If I'm not right, chances are both of them are wrong with me as well, and neither has the standing to point out the flaws of the other.


robmba said...

Just commenting on my own post here to link in an interesting related article from The Ensign, Worlds without Number.

robmba said...

And one more semi-related article that puts it much more directly, an oldie but a goodie, Warnings from Outer Space.