On Monday 4th April 2005, The East Antrim Astronomical Society hosted its 3rd Annual “Andrew Trimble Memorial Lecture”. The guest speaker for the evening was Mr Mark Sweetnam (Trinity College Dublin, and Senior Lecturer at Schull Planetarium Co. Cork). The title of his lecture was “Creationism…A Credible Cosmology?”.
Over 60 people gathered to hear this lecture, with ages from 10 upwards. Our society chairman, Mr. John McConnell introduced the meeting with a brief account of the life of Andrew Trimble, his passion for astronomy and his faith in God. Therefore, it was very fitting that we should have a lecture on cosmology that adhers not only to observational astronomy, but to the Word of God.
Mark began by introducing us, some of us for the first time, on how the astronomical articles and scientific research that we read about regarding cosmology all start with a number of broad assumptions.
At first glance, these may not seem to present any problems with observational evidence but we shall see that all can be seriously called into question and are at variance to observational science.
Many new theories spring from observations that do not fit in with the Big Bang model of the universe and so we end up going farther from the findings of direct observations and more towards shaping and moulding new data to fit with the Big Bang model. Three examples of this are Saturn's rings, distances of quasars and the redshift, and the origin of the Moon. There are many more questions unanswered by current scientific theories, so when a very old theory of creation by God is brought again to the fore, we should be more open minded to the possibility of its validity. If you think that Mark's cosmology is not valid then check out CosmologyStatement.Org as hundreds of other scientists have serious questions about the validity of the big bang theory. Below is a summary by Mark Sweetnam of his lecture.
I have been asked to provide a summary of the lecture that I presented to the East Antrim Astronomy Society on the 8 th of April 2005. Given that this account is attempting a summary of a lecture that lasted for over an hour and was itself highly compressed, it is intended only to provide a very sketchy outline of the topics discussed. It will also attempt to act as a signpost to relevant and useful literature.
Before concentrating on the finer scientific detail of the debate between creationists and Big Bang cosmologies, it is useful, indeed vital, to consider the values and belief systems that underpin our approach to science. In general (although not universally), for the creationist, a commitment to Christianity is prior to their engagement with cosmology. Such is my own case, and I make no apology for the fact that my approach to science is based on a Christian faith that includes, among other things, a belief in the plenary and verbal inspiration of Scripture. To many fundamentalist supporters of the Big Bang, such an admission may appear fatally to undermine my credibility as a scientist. This is only the case because they assume that science is somehow ‘value free’ or philosophically neutral. While this may be true of classical observational science, it is not in any way a valid view of theoretical science, whether cosmology or evolution. The scientists who are central to both these theories acknowledge this fact. So, for example, Stephen Hawking and George Ellis acknowledge ‘we are not able to make cosmologies without some mixture of ideologies.’ Similarly, and still more strikingly, Richard Lewontin, an evolutionary geneticist at Harvard, expresses his understanding of modern science in this way:
In the light of comments like this, it should be clear that Stephen Jay Gould’s influential idea of separating religion and science into his neat, discrete Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) is unsatisfactory. In any case, Gould’s approach is only tenable in the light of science and religion so severely emasculated as to be unacceptable to any rigorous thinker. It is also imperative, at this point, to say that a literal understanding of Genesis cannot co-exist with the materialistic philosophies of Big Bang and evolution without compromise to the point of meaninglessness. And, when we compromise the first and foundational chapters of Scripture, we compromise all of Divine Revelation. A literal reading of Genesis 1-11 is of vital importance for our wider understanding of Scripture.
With these fundamentals established, our philosophical viewpoint should be adjusted to an extent where we can critically evaluate the Big Bang and creationism as rival cosmological models. One very useful way of proceeding with this exercise is to examine the assumptions and predictions that are basic to each model, and to ask if these provide an accurate model of the world that we empirically observe.
Firstly, let us deal with the Big Bang Theory’s suggestion that the Universe is expanding. Indeed, it is a basic assumption of the Big Bang Theory that we inhabit a non-static and expanding Universe. And indeed, supporters of the Big Bang are, not infrequently, heard to rejoice that in every direction we look we witness expansion! That is not correct. In every direction we look we see stellar redshift, which can be interpreted as indicating expansion. This interpretation has been problematic for two reasons. Firstly, observed redshifts are ‘quantised’ or fall into definite bands. If redshifts do indicate expansion, this means that the Earth is at the centre of nested shells of galaxies, which contradicts two basic assumptions of the Big Bang (isotropy and homogeneity). Secondly, Halton Arp’s work on quasars has suggested that quasi-stellar objects (quasars), which have very high redshifts, and thus should be very far away, appear to be physically linked to galaxies with much lower redshifts. A further difficulty resulting from this interpretation of redshift is that some stars appear to be older than the galaxies that contain them, and indeed, older than the Universe itself. The Universe may well be expanding, but to say we see such expansion in every direction is entirely fallacious, and Big Bang cosmologists needs to make a far more convincing effort to deal with the new data produced by scientists like Arp and Humphreys.
A second assumption of the Big Bang is that it resulted in a spatially homogeneous Universe (the lexical barbarism is used with a grimace and only under duress). Simply put, Big Bang cosmologists predicted that the early Universe was a very smooth place, with no clumps in matter. Because of the time that starlight takes to travel, when we look out into space, we also look back in time. Thus, the farther away we look, the smoother our Universe should appear. The actual observational data, and the feelings they evoke are memorably described by James Trefil:
For someone who wishes to believe that scientists are fascinated and stimulated by data that they cannot accommodate in their theories, Trefil’s comments may be something of a disillusionment.
Thirdly, the Big Bang predicts a Universe that, on a sufficiently large scale, looks the same from every point. This principal is the isotropy alluded to earlier. For the Big Bang to work, there can be no point in the Universe more special than another – the Universe cannot be said even to have a centre. We have already remarked that the quantised redshifts of galaxies appear to contravene isotropy. Nor are they the only data to do so. Indeed, as we look at the Universe at an ever-increasing scale, we see even more irregularities – the Universe appears less, not more, isotropic. The Big bang cosmologist responds to these criticisms by pleading for more time, by arguing that one day, some day we will be able to see enough of the Universe to appreciate that it is, in fact, isotropic. This might some day happen, but the dim possibility of what might be discovered in the future scarcely precludes us from drawing attention to the present discrepancy, and, indeed, it is hard to comprehend why anyone might think that it does. To do so is to indulge a special pleading for the Big Bang, one that excludes it from the rigours to which a scientific theory should, and must, be subject. The desire to so differentiate it suggests, to my mind, exactly the sort of doctrinaire commitment to a materialist creation already mentioned.
Finally, as far as the Big Bang is concerned, we must address the discovery of Cosmic Background Radiation (CBR). This is always hailed as a huge success for the Big Bang, which had predicted such a residue of the heat from the birth of the Universe. It might arguably be described as the Big Bang’s only successful prediction. It is worth noting – as Mark Stronge kindly reminded me – that Arp casts a good deal of doubt on the accuracy of this prediction. Arp draws our attention to the little-publicised fact that Big Bang cosmologists initially predicted a CBR temperature of 50 K, which was only later revised down to the ~3 K that we observe. Also, it is worth remembering that the Big Bang was not – is not – the only theory to make such a prediction – indeed, the proponents of a steady-state Universe had predicted it with greater accuracy. Another, and more serious, difficulty with citing CBR in support of the Big Bang is that the temperatures observed are too uniform, providing no cooler areas to seed the formation of galaxies. The COBE mission was designed to find these fluctuations. Variations of the order of 150 microKelvins were eventually reported, albeit only after a complex statistical algorithm had been used on the data. While it is undoubtedly true that variations of 150 mK are still variations, it is unfortunate, from a Big Bang point of view, that these readings were within the design tolerances for measurement error. Despite the best efforts of COBE, and in spite of some creative statistical processing of the data, this remains a crucial issue for the Big Bang.
There are countless problems with the Big Bang, and a great deal of time could be spent in discussing them. The problems outlined above have been chosen because they are fundamental to the way in which the Big Bang works. That the theory has such major problems, still unaddressed is difficult to credit. Surely we need to reconsider our commitment to the theory in light of the observed data, surely we need to ask ourselves if our faith has been sadly misplaced.
Many leading scientists have turned away from the Big Bang model as more and more new observational evidence conflicts with it.
At this juncture, I want to turn to creationism, and to consider its claims and assumptions. In doing so, I adopt a broad-brush approach that doesn’t concentrate on a particular cosmological model. There are compelling reasons for this. Chief amongst these is the relatively recent emergence of specific formal models of creationist cosmology. Indeed, Russell Humphreys can claim to be something of a pioneer in this area, and initial indications are that his young earth relativistic cosmology accounts very effectively for the Universe that we observe. However, we must remember that, despite the Big Bang cosmologists claims about the cultural hegemony of Biblical creationism – claims that are, in my view, largely overstated – creationism has been sidelined by the scientific academy for most of the past century. Hence the need for detailed models. It is also true that any such creationist model will, of necessity, be based on precisely the assumptions that are dealt with below. This is a direct result of the fact that the Bible makes some clear and unambiguous predictions about the world, and the Universe, that we inhabit.
One of the clearest conditions of creation assumed by Scripture is the existence of a cause prior to the Universe. Numerous Scriptures demand this, not least the opening verses of Genesis – ‘In the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth.’ (Ge. 1:1) This fact should scarcely surprise us – the laws of science, as we know them, likewise insist on a prior cause. In particular, the First Law of Thermodynamics – the Law of the Conservation of Energy – states that energy cannot be created within a closed system. Thus, the energy – and thus the matter – in the Universe cannot be explained by reference to the Universe; a cause external to the Universe is required. To be fair, the same could be said of the Big Bang. However, while Big Bang cosmology must admit the impossibility of answering this question, Biblical creationism has no difficulty in addressing it.
Secondly, the Biblical account of creation requires an ordered cosmos – remember that ‘God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.’ (Ge. 1:31) According to Psalm 8 and 19, this order has been encoded in creation as a manifestation of Divine character and power. What does science have to say about this order? To take but one example of a scientific law that deals with ordered information, we can consider the first principle of information theory. This states that information cannot arise out of random or chance events. Thus, information requires an intelligent designer. Given the amount of information hardwired into our planet, this principle poses a very serious question for the Big Bang theory. For an excellent discussion of this topic, I recommend Werner Gitt’s In the Beginning was Information.
Scripture further indicates that we should expect not only an ordered cosmos, but also a cosmos moving towards disorder, and eventually dissolution. This is very clearly stated in Psalm 102, amongst other references: ‘of old Thou hast laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of Thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment: as a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shalt be changed.’ (Ps. 102:25-26) This is in perfect accord with one of the most fundamental principles of modern science, the second law of thermodynamics, or the Entropy principle. This states that an ordered system moves from order to disorder over time. This might seem so obvious as to scarcely require statement, but it should be pointed out that from the classical cosmologies of the Greeks and Romans, right up to the early twentieth century, the dominant cosmological view was of a eternal Universe in a ‘Steady State.’ Indeed, I have heard Prof. Stephen Hawking make the point that modern advances in cosmology only became possible when the hegemony of the Steady State was broken. It is also clear that the Entropy principle is an enormous difficulty for both the Big Bang and evolution, both of which require increasing order in a closed system. It is also important to make the addendum that the undirected addition of energy to a system increases entropy, so matter-antimatter interactions do not help the Big Bang cause.
The final prediction that the Bible makes is that the created Universe is less than 10,000 years old. This is a huge topic in itself, and we do not have sufficient scope to address it fully here. Suffice it to say that any attempt to set the age of the Universe is inevitably based on untested and untestable assumptions. Astronomically, the a priori assumption of the Big Bang results in a requirement of billions of years, to allow the processes of creation time to complete. In the context of radiometric dating of rocks, suffice it for the present to say that the methods used have resulted in some very contradictory results. The situation is perhaps best summarised by the illustrious, non-creationist astronomer John Eddy:
It is important to stress again that this article is a summary, and has made little attempt to deal in depth with these issues. For those who are interested in the issues discussed, I would heartily recommend Dr Danny Faulkner’s Universe by Design, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004). The book is a general introduction, not a technical volume, but is laudable in the clarity of its presentation, the usefulness of its referencing, and its dedication to dispelling myths and presenting facts. For a more technical approach, both D.R Humphrey, Starlight and Time, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1994) and Werner Gitt, In the Beginning was Information 3rd ed., (Bielefield: Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung e.V, 2001). There are a plethora of volumes dealing with creation science in a wider sense – beyond the bounds of cosmology. Among the most useful is Henry M. Morris and Gary E. Parker, What is Creation Science?, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1999). Given the constant flux of science, useful up-to-date resources include the peer-reviewed technical journal TJ, and the Answers in Genesis website (http://www.answersingenesis.org), which provides a vast searchable archive of material on all aspects of creation science.
In closing, let me state my clear conviction that there is nothing in the Bible that is compromised by scientific fact. Let me also point out that the very best efforts of scientists are an effort to reach back into a past that we did not experience, and have no record of. As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is the word of God, in short, that it is the only eyewitness account that we have of the origins of the Universe, of life and of ourselves. Further, it is an entirely reliable account of God’s work of Creation, but also of His greater work of redemption. Not only is it a wonderful truth that God has made us; it is a greater truth that His Son has died to save us.
As you may imagine, there were a number of questions regarding Mark's lecture on Creation Cosmology which covered areas regarding the time frame, cosmic microwave background radiation, red shift clumping and other detailed aspects of the current observational data of the universe.
Councillor of Newtownabbey, Alderman William DeCourcy was then invited to say a few words on behalf of the mayor and presented Mark with a Tryone Crystal paper weight engraved with the society emblum.
For more information on the cosmology discussed here, check out Answers In Genesis Astronomy and Astrophysics Question and Answers section.
Below are the close relatives of Andrew Trimble with Mark Sweetnam TCD and Mayor Turkington.
Mark Sweetnam has been active in astronomy since childhood and has read Mathematics and English (TCD). He is presently completing teacher training in Mathematics (TCD). He has been Senior Lecturer at Schull Planetarium, Co. Cork for the past ten years, and has special interests in the popularisation of astronomy, history of astronomy, philosophy of science, and Creationism. He organised and presented a series of ‘Millennium lectures’ on Creationist Cosmologies at Schull Planetarium, and subsequently has delivered a number of lectures to Astronomy Ireland branches, including the National Cosmology Debate 2003. Other non-astronomical researches include Missionary writing, contemporary millennialism, and Renaissance literature.
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