26 Mar 2017

The Origin and Structure of the Universe

All Posts, Philosophy, Physics, Religious 22 Comments

I saw “Is Genesis History?” a few weeks ago and thought it was very well done. Given its heroic (some would say impossible) task–namely, to interview a string of PhDs to say that it’s not crazy to believe in the Genesis account–I thought it was very impressive. I’m not saying it is a slam dunk that would convince Bill Maher, but rather I’m saying that there are several very good points that it raises, which I think would trip up the average internet atheist. (Note that “internet atheist” is not the same thing as “someone on the internet who happens to be an atheist.”)

(Disclosure: I am friends with the guy who made the documentary, so I’m biased. I mean, beyond my bias of being a Christian.)

Now let me relate one item that is ironic. When the narrator interviewed the astronomy guy (who believed in Genesis as history), they brought up the awkward fact that some galaxies are billions of light-years away. So how could the universe be only ~6,000 years old?

(NOTE: Some Biblical literalists, including the famous commentator Vernon McGee, do not believe in a Young Earth. They think, for example, that the list of generations–the basis for the 6,000 year view–only touches on the important people from the list. So be aware that people in this camp could believe “Genesis is history” and have no problem with light traveling billions of years to reach us.)

At the time, I thought the astronomer’s answer was unpersuasive. He said something like, “Well, I admit it’s definitely a puzzle as to how light could have traveled that far to reach us, if the universe is so young. But that perspective simply assumes that the processes Nature obeyed in the past, occurred just as they do today. That’s just an assumption.” (I am very much paraphrasing what he said, but the spirit is right.)

As I say, at the time I was watching the documentary in the theater, I thought, “The geologist made some great points, but oh man the atheists would blow up over this astronomer. You can’t just assume the laws of physics were different in order to get your theory to work.”

Welp, I stand corrected. As luck would have it, not long after watching that documentary, I took my kid to the Houston planetarium. In a well-done show about cosmology, Neil deGrasse Tyson ended up telling us that 95% of the universes consisted of “dark matter and dark energy”; only 5% of the universe was observable to us. Such quantities of dark stuff were necessary in order to make sense of observations; rotating groups of galaxies should be spinning apart if they are just composed of the stars we see in them.

Now I had heard about that stuff before, but the part that was new to me was the discovery that the rate at which galaxies were moving away from each other was accelerating. Back when I was really on top of this stuff (like in the mid-1990s), my understanding at that time was that scientists were trying to figure out if there were enough matter to make the expanding universe slow down and then reverse, to fall back into a Big Crunch. OR, would it just keep expanding forever, because the gravity wasn’t strong enough (i.e. not enough mass)?

But either way, clearly you would have expected that the universal expansion would be slowing. Yet in fact, it’s doing the opposite, as revealed by observations of different pairs of neighboring objects (at farther and farther distances from us, meaning we are peering back further and further in time). It’s not surprising that this was news to me; I just checked Wikipedia and the discovery was made in 1998, and some of the people involved got the Nobel Prize for it–scientists weren’t expecting it.

Now here are two things that I think are really interesting, relating this to the Genesis documentary:

1) It’s not simply that scientists are saying, “Oh, turns out the universe has been accelerating all along since the Big Bang.” No, as Tyson’s remarks and the Wikipedia discussion both state (someone tell me if I’m wrong), the accelerating universe only started about 5 billion years ago; before then, the universe’s expansion had indeed been slowing down since the Big Bang. So notice what we have here: Modern physicists can only reconcile observations with their theories by saying cosmological forces were very different in the past from what they are now.

2) When I was growing up, the standard scientific tale went like this: “Einstein was an unbelievable genius. But alas, even Homer nods. Even though the most elegant and straightforward version of general relativity–what popped out of his thought experiments concerning a guy in an accelerating rocket or standing on a planet–would have predicted either a shrinking universe or one that was expanding but slowing down, that offended Einstein’s sensibilities and so he inserted a fudge factor called the ‘cosmological constant’ to make the universe static. He later said it was his biggest blunder, because had he trusted his theory it would’ve anticipated Hubble by more than a decade.”

Now, however, I see physicists saying stuff like this: “In an ironic twist of history, it turns out Einstein was right! We now use the cosmological constant, or what can be called dark energy.” (This NASA discussion is typical.)

Does everyone see the irony here?

I BESEECH YOU, please don’t recite to me the Scientific Method in the comments, and explain that we can’t use the pages of a holy book written by shepherds to do science. I know, I promise.

I am also aware of the fact that the use of dark energy, the “inflation” theory of the early universe, etc. etc., are heavily constrained by known physical laws and what happens in particle accelerators.

My modest point is that an intellectual move that would be ridiculed when pulled by a Bible-believing Christian in a documentary, is treated with awe as “how science proceeds” when pulled by an atheist in a planetarium.

I watched a bunch of videos after the planetarium show to learn more. The video below of Lawrence Krauss is excellent, both for his presentation of the science and also his smug jabs on religion. (The religious jabs and/or question-begging statements occur at 16:45, 17:15, 18:11, and 33:10. There are also some jabs in the very beginning from Dawkins and Krauss.) If I could clone myself, I would get a PhD in physics and then debate this guy.

This video from Alan Guth is also good:

Finally, if those two videos are too heavy for you, here are shorter ones that are not as technical:

22 Responses to “The Origin and Structure of the Universe”

  1. Mark says:

    Bob – I once heard J. Vernon say that when we get to Heaven, we’re all going to have to amend our theology a bit. That applies to him, as well, since there are no gaps in the genealogies in the OT. There are some in the NT, but not the Old. So with about 2,000 years from Adam to Abraham, and about 4,000 from Abraham to now, you have about 6,000 years (not counting the five days before Adam. :-))

    • Bob Murphy says:

      I should clarify, I am not certain that that’s how McGee reconciles an old universe with the Bible. I know for a fact he DOES say that (i.e. there’s an old universe), but I don’t remember him saying the thing about skipping generations. (In contrast, a Biblical literalist at a Bible study in Nashville said that. And also, that latter guy wasn’t saying he was young or old creationist; he was just saying he didn’t think you could deduce the age of the universe from the Bible.)

      • Brian says:

        Also noteworthy that some “Old Earth” creationists still believe that humanity is about 6,000 years old. You can have an old universe and still accept the historicity of Adam & Eve, followed by full and literal genealogies in the OT. In other words, Old Earth + Creationism, still rejecting standard Darwinian human evolution.

  2. Tel says:

    Firstly, I don’t believe the genesis story is literally true, although arguably it might be metaphorically true, but then again that’s a cop out because many stories could be metaphorically true.

    Secondly, I think the whole “dark matter dark energy” thing is a sad crock and deep down a reflection of where science has gone in modern times. Once upon a time physicists spit the atom, invented the ultimate weapon, defeated the evil of National Socialism and killed a lot of people in a single flash. Now they are frightened of their own shadow, hide in meaningless theory and come up with Dark Matter and Global Warming.

    FWIW I support the “electric universe” theory… electromagnetism contains energy (therefore mass) and I suggest there’s a lot more of it out there than astronomers have previously estimated. Let’s suppose I have two chunks of permanent magnet and they are stuck together, the field around them is strong because they reinforce one another. Then I pull them apart (which requires effort so I am ADDING energy to the system) and as I pull them apart the field between them reduces until when they are very far apart (i.e. maximum potential energy, thanks to the effort I put into pulling them apart) the field between them is quite weak. Isn’t that a bit backwards? Adding energy to the system in order to weaken the field? The universe is big, and the fields are weak, so the energy contained therein must be yuuuge!

    I admit I haven’t watched the documentary, will make time tomorrow…

    • Harold says:

      Dark matter and dark energy are quite different. Dark matter is required to explain the observed behaviour of galaxies – they would fly apart unless held together by more gravity that we observe. This dark matter does not have to be exotic and explanations have varied from WIMPS to MACHO’s – that is either neutrino like elementary particles or Jupiter sized massive objects. Certainly the existence of these objects is not a stretch – it is the distribution around galaxies that needs explaining. Something must explain the observations, and it seems to be either dark matter, or gravity is not constant.

      Dark energy is a much more exotic beast, and we don’t really have an explanation for what it is, I think.

      • Craw says:

        It is Trump’s soul.

        • Harold says:

          Excellent hypothesis -I think you have cracked it!

      • Mark says:

        I have no opinion on dark matter one way or the other – esp since there are creation scientists on both sides of the matter (forgive the pun.) But we do need to recognize that at this point dark matter is a fudge factor because the Big Bang theory doesn’t match the observations (and the Big Bang theory will most likely be replaced anyway.) But there is no direct evidence for dark matter, so anyone that talks of it as being a fact is just as deluded as those that speak of evolution as a fact.

        While the Bible is not a science textbook (and that’s good, because there would have to be a new edition every year), where it speaks to biology, chemistry, history, astronomy, etc,, it is 100% reliable.

        The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever. Isaiah 40:8

  3. Timothy says:

    Here’s my 2 cents and then some; I find it a fun topic to theorize on.

    1) Adam and Eve were created as mature adults, not as infants. In the same way, it is likely that the earth and the rest of creation were created mature, full of resources man would need for sustainment until Christ’s return. This is why the Universe appears as old as it does; doesn’t mean it actually is.

    2) Soul Creation. As I see it, there are three options
    (a) all souls were created in the beginning and hang around until they can enter a newly born person.
    (b) God creates a soul every time a person is born
    (c) souls are created as part of the natural biological process

    I do not believe (a) because that would imply that, at the fall, God turned all remaining souls sinful in order to impart a sin nature. God cannot commit such sin.

    I do not believe (b) because I believe God ceased creating at the end of the 6th day. More so, if God were to create souls new, he would be creating souls with a sin nature, and God would then be guilty of creating something sinful.

    (c) then is the most logical option to me. The soul is created as part of the natural biological process. When Adam and Eve fell, all of creation, including the natural biological process, was impacted by sin. Thus, the tainted sin nature is passed on biologically.

  4. Harold says:

    “The expansion of the universe has been accelerating since the universe entered its dark-energy-dominated era, at redshift z ≈ 0.4 (roughly 5 billion years ago)”

    Yes, I think so. We have the pull of gravity and the push of lambda, and at that point the push got stronger than the pull. Presumably, before 5 billion years ago the expansion was always a bit slower than would have been expected. I am not sure this is quite the same as saying the forces were different, more their effects were different. We know that gravity will have less effect the further away we are, and the more space there is the more vacuum energy we have.

    “So notice what we have here: Modern physicists can only reconcile observations with their theories by saying cosmological forces were very different in the past from what they are now.”

    Not quite the same, but if I drop a weight on a spring, we might say the weight has only been bouncing upwards since it got to the bottom of its travel, but we probably wouldn’t say that forces were very different before the weight got to the bottom.

    Perhaps a bigger problem is inflation. If the very early universe expanded extremely rapidly it gets us out of many theoretical problems – the “horizon problem”, the mono-pole problem and others. It seems to be a requirement for cosmology as we understand it to work. However, there are problems with it.

    “A recurrent criticism of inflation is that the invoked inflation field does not correspond to any known physical field, and that its potential energy curve seems to be an ad hoc contrivance to accommodate almost any data obtainable.” The inflation is also very sensitive to initial conditions, introducing the “fine tuning” problem.

    Inflation is a bit like Einsteins cosmological constant, in that it is introduced in part to explain what we see, not because theory demands it – it is “top down” rather than “bottom-up”.

    “My modest point is that an intellectual move that would be ridiculed when pulled by a Bible-believing Christian in a documentary, is treated with awe as “how science proceeds” when pulled by an atheist in a planetarium.”

    I guess the difference is what is the evidence for the “fix” that is needed. We have evidence that the universe is as it is, so we need hypotheses to understand that. We have no scientific evidence that the universe is 6000 years old, so scientifically we don’t need explanations for that.

    Einstein thought we needed an explanation for a static universe, so he put in lambda. It turned out later that we did not, because new observations showed expansion. The it later turned out that we did, because it was accelerating. The point is that the cosmological constant should have been recognised as something to fit observation, so was always subject to alteration with new observation. Similarly with expansion – we need some explanation for the way the universe looks, and expansion seems to fit. Because it is not a “bottom up” explanation it is treated with some suspicion.

    The explanations for the 6000 year old universe are neither top down, nor bottom up. They are explanations for something that does not need to be explained unless you believe the literal truth of the bible, which is not a scientific basis.

    • Mark says:

      “We have no scientific evidence that the universe is 6000 years old”

      Harold, can you please not be dishonest? I offered you an article that listed 101 evidences for a young earth. Again, I suspect you didn’t read it, since you’ve mentioned nothing from it nor offered any explanation as to why the scientific evidences offered in it are wrong.

      I reject the notion that something came from nothing, life came from lifelessness, and all living things came from a rock that was rained on for millions of years. One may choose to believe those things as part of a fairy tale religion, but you shouldn’t use the word science in a discussion of these issues because no scientist observed or duplicated these events, let alone measured or studied them in any fashion.

      They are a construct of those who would have us a believe that one-off fantasy processes, and an unimaginably long period of time, “scientifically” explain the origin, nature, and contents of the universe. These imaginary events, coupled with the myth of Darwinian evolution, allegedly explain all living things, and, more specifically, human beings, who are nothing more than rearranged pond scum in the fantasy world of those who desperately require a rationale to avoid answering to a Creator.

      This is not science. It is hope against hope and is not really suitable for discussion in a conversation above kindergarten level. The subjects of the Big Bang, abiogenesis and Darwinian evolution should be banished to the realm of the tooth fairy – they certainly do not belong in any serious conversation where real science (observation, repeatability and measurement) is being discussed.

      You can go to the leading creationist websites like Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International and search for “scientific evidence for a young earth” and get a gazillion articles on the subject. I have posted just three from each below to give you more to chew on. If you choose to reject this evidence, fine. If you choose to reject the truth of God’s word and beleive Jesus didn’t know what He was talking about, fine. But please stop lying about this issue.

      answersingenesis.org creation.com







      • Harold says:

        I did read the article, but I see the evidence is not so much as suggesting young universe, but instead is evidence that can be construed as supporting a young world. The first article in your links is a good demonstration.

        1) Galaxies spin too fast. There are other explanations apart from young galaxies, such as there is more mass in galaxies than we can see. The assumption that we are observing unstable galaxies that are in the process of tearing themselves apart because they have not yet had time to do so is not supported by any other scientific evidence. It is a poor scientific theory because it takes one observation in isolation.

        2) Too few supernova remnants. This ignores the fact that we should only be able to see remnants in the local part of the galaxy and that they fade. They should only be visible for a few tens of thousands of years. The number we see is not evidence for a young universe.

        3) Too may comets. As it says, the Oort cloud and Kuiper belt are reasonable explanations for these that are consistent with other data.

        11) Too much C14 in old strata. There is far too little C14 for 6000 years. The current thinking is that the C14 is produced by radiation from radioactive elements in surrounding rock. The hypothesis that the Earth is 6000 years would not be the default one from the information on C14.

        In short, if one did not already think the Earth were 6000 years old, one would be very unlikely to arrive at that conclusion from the sum of this type of evidence. If one already believes it is 6000 years old then you can fit this evidence to support your hypothesis. That is what I mean when I say there is no scientific evidence that the universe is 6000 years old. In the absence of this pre-existing belief I do not think that ay scientist would conclude from this evidence that the universe was 6000 years old.

        • Mark says:

          First, I was referring to the link with the 101 evidences. However, using the article above that you did look at, a few things regarding your comments:

          I don’t know enough about the first two points to comment. I’m sure you could contact AiG or CMI for more info. As far as comets, I think it’s sheer lunacy to believe in the fantasy Oort cloud. To believe there is a comet making factory out in space with no evidence (isn’t that your big thing?) is nuts. You have repeatedly asked for evidence, evidence, evidence and yet you admit you believe in something that has zero evidence.

          As far as C-14, if the whole earth was pure carbon-14, it could only last about a million years before it would all be gone and we wouldn’t be able to detect it. But we repeatedly find carbon-14 in objects which are claimed to be millions or even billions of years old, including diamonds. That is direct evidence that the earth cannot be millions or billions of years old, yet you deny that evidence. Finding c-14 in something that is supposedly millions or billions of years old only fits with a young earth – there is no way it can fit with an old one.

          As far as fitting the evidence to the hypothesis, both sides do this. Christians don’t ever claim that any evidence “proves” the Bible, as that would mean the evidence has more authority than the Bible. Over 90% of about a hundred different methods that can be used to date the age of the earth support a young earth rather than an old one. Only a few can be used to support the old earth theory – that’s after you make a bunch of assumptions about decay rate, amounts of parent and daughter isotopes, etc.

          Christians are honest in that since we believe the Bible to be God’s word, and that God does not lie, we start with the historical accounts in the Bible as our presupposition. And as you would expect, the evidence supports those accounts. Very few secular scientists are willing to admit that they start with the presuppositions that there is no God and that the entire universe can be explained by natural processes even though the “biggies” (big bang (something from nothing), abiogenesis and evolution) have never been seen or duplicated by a single scientist ever.

          I’m curious, if you are willing to share, as to where you think the Bible fits into all of this, if anywhere.

          • Harold says:

            “Finding c-14 in something that is supposedly millions or billions of years old only fits with a young earth – there is no way it can fit with an old one.”

            Actually there is. There is a good explanation for the origin of C14 in the atmosphere – cosmic rays knock a proton out of N15 to produce C14 (roughly). This fits with all the nuclear theory we have. The C14 in incorporated into living things whilst they are alive, but when they die they stop incorporating C14 and the levels decay according to the half life.

            Calibration becomes more difficult going back further, but the method seems reliable going back 20,000 years using radiation and maybe back to 50,000 years using mass spectrometry. But it only works for things that were actively exchanging carbon with the atmosphere.

            If the Earth was created 6000 years ago there is no way to explain these data whilst remaining consistent with other data, such as magnetic field strength fluctuations.

            Given that C14 data is recognized as a very useful technique for dating up to 20,000 years or so, and some things back to 50,000 years we should not then extrapolate this back millions of years. We know that after 50,000 years the levels of C14 are too low to say anything about the age of the object as background variations swamp the signal and a few atoms cause large uncertainties.

            So to assign a carbon date to things reported to be older than this is meaningless.

            What we need is another explanation for the tiny amounts of C14 present in fossil fuels – and these really are tiny. There are explanations based on radiation from surrounding rocks causing exactly the same N15 to C14 transition. So we might expect to find very low levels of C14 even if these were millions of years old.

            As an example, a 0.2g sample of carbon made with current C12/C14 ratio that was 180,000 years old would contain just one atom of C14. We really are talking very low levels.

            So it is not true that there is no way that C14 in fossil fuels is consistent with an old Earth – it is actually fairly straightforward, requiring only a mechanism for producing tiny amounts of C14. On the contrary, it is very difficult to explain C14 levels in artifacts with a young Earth.

            “Very few secular scientists are willing to admit that they start with the presuppositions that there is no God and that the entire universe can be explained by natural processes ” You are probably correct now, but going back a while many scientists were religious, and of course many scientists still are.

            “I’m curious, if you are willing to share, as to where you think the Bible fits into all of this, if anywhere”
            I personally am one of those “secular scientists” you refer to, although technically agnostic rather than atheist.

  5. Capt. J Parker says:

    Terminology matters. Modern physicists are not saying that “the laws of physics changed 5 billion years ago.” They are saying that the evolving, expanding universe reached a state 5 billion years ago where dark matter and dark forces became important. This is consistent with the idea that when matter is compacted in a small space, electromagnetic or nuclear forces may dominate and when the same matter subject to the same laws is allowed to expand to the size of the solar system then gravity dominates. Now, if the astronomer defending Genesis had said “our understanding of factors that affect the propagation of light through the changing universe may not be complete. It’s quite possible that future discoveries in cosmology will explain the discrepancy” atheist scientists might sill disagree but, they would be forced to be a little more measured in their criticism. My point is that the degree intellectual inconsistency on the part of anti-creationists being supposed by Dr. Murphy hinges critically on the precise terminology the creationist astronomer used.
    There’s a lot of beliefs that make up Christianity. So little of it has to do with apparent inconsistency between Genesis and modern scientific knowledge. Why engage in this battle? Science explains the world around us. Science does not show us a purpose to our existence. If Christians want to engage in an intellectual debate with atheist scientists, it is this latter debate about the meaning of life that Christians will win most easily. It is also the more significant debate IMHO.

  6. Mark says:



    It’s always good to believe the One who was there, isn’t it?

    • Mark says:

      My bad. That should say the Bible, not Genesis. We’ve been talking about Genesis and that was on my mind.

  7. Levi Russell says:

    My favorite physicist is Fr. Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître.

  8. Major-Freedom says:

    “My modest point is that an intellectual move that would be ridiculed when pulled by a Bible-believing Christian in a documentary, is treated with awe as “how science proceeds” when pulled by an atheist in a planetarium.”

    The reason for this is that the ridicule is actually against the PRINCIPLE of how knowledge of the world arises in the theological method

    The claims are not identical, Murphy

    The difference is that with the empirical claim, it is in principle falsifiable, whereas with the theological claim it is not

  9. William Baumgartner, P.E., DDE,CHMM says:

    As that great theologian, Sherlock Holmes nice said,(paraphrase), once you eliminate all the posibilities , whatever is left, no matter improbably is likely the truth. If you drown out the ” Genesis is poetry ” crowd and the Hugh Ross/Biologos crowd you are face to face with one teeny issue. If the earth is gazillion years old, than, when God says all that He has created is “very good” He is declaring a Huuge graveyard of death. Now you have to through out the Epistle of St. Paul that death did not enter the “very good” creation until after a historic Adam and Eve screwed up. Sorry, you just can’t honestly have it both ways. Go with Biologos but please don’t pretend you are holding to the teachings of the Apostles, Christ or any of the holy fathers of the Church. At least be epistemology self conscious and say”the Bible, the Church and Christ Himself, are just wrong.

    • Tel says:

      Very good compared to what?

      Have you been hiding the better universe? Might be time to show everyone what that looks like.

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