Archive for the ‘science’ Category

>The moon and the age of the earth

2009 December 15 6 comments

> In my defence of a young earth I wanted to address the philosophical issues which I think are foundational to the argument. Discussions that fail to identify these issues end up with proponents of an old earth indirectly defending their presuppositions as if they are conclusions.

Consider 2 dating systems that give contradictory results. Which do we take as preferable? They both cannot be true. One or neither is true. Frequently the position is taken that dating system A gives the correct result and dating system B in in error because of incorrect assumptions X, Y, and Z. But it may be just as reasonable to take B as the correct result and explain why A is in error. Unfortunately proponents of A fail to see the philosophical validity of this. And even if they do, their subsequent arguments still frequently assume A.

I am not saying that all systems are equally convincing in their arguments. Rather that if B can be questioned then so can A.

I anticipated giving further specific arguments in favour of a young earth, or at least against a 4 billion year old earth. One argument is the maximum age of the moon.

The moon is known to be receding from earth. The rate is currently about 4 cm per year, though it is decreasing; the moon receded more quickly in the past. The recession is due to a transfer of angular momentum from the earth to the moon. The loss of angular momentum on earth is due to ocean tidal friction.

If we calculate how long it would take the moon to get to its current position if the moon was initially at the surface of the earth we get a figure of ~1 billion years. This is the maximum possible age for the earth-moon system. It can be much younger than this.

This maximum age is slightly, but negligibly, shorter if we consider the Roche limit. The earth’s gravity exerts a force on the moon dependant on the distance of the moon from the earth. At a certain distance the force exerted from the earth on the near-side of the moon compared to the lesser force on the far-side of the moon is greater than the gravitational force holding the moon together. This is called the Roche limit. This ignores added force from any internal tensile strength that holds the moon together.

The Roche limit for the moon is ~18,000 km from the centre of the earth. The moon is currently ~384,000 km from the (centre of the) earth. The earth’s radius is ~6,300 km.

Categories: creationism, moon, science

>Adjusting multi-site and single site temperature data

2009 December 8 2 comments

> NIWA offer as their explanation for the temperature adjustments the paper

  • Rhoades, D.A. and Salinger, M.J., 1993: Adjustment of temperature and rainfall measurements for site changes. International Journal of Climatology 13, 899–913.

Though they do not link to it nor give a digital object identifier (doi:10.1002/joc.3370130807).

The abstract states

Methods are presented for estimating the effect of known site changes on temperature and rainfall measurements. Parallel cumulative sums of seasonally adjusted series from neighbouring stations are a useful exploratory tool for recognizing site-change effects at a station that has a number of near neighbours. For temperature data, a site-change effect can be estimated by a difference between the target station and weighted mean of neighbouring stations, comparing equal periods before and after the site change. For rainfall the method is similar, except for a logarithmic transformation. Examples are given. In the case of isolated stations, the estimation is necessarily more subjective, but a variety of graphical and analytical techniques are useful aids for deciding how to adjust for a site change. (Emphasis added)

I did not fully follow all the maths in the paper. It was not particularly complex but I would need to spend some time doing examples to completely grasp it.

In the introduction they define “site change”,

We use the term site change to mean any sudden change of non-meteorological origin. Gradual changes can seldom be assigned with any certainty to non-meteorological causes. Where long-term homogeneous series are required, for example, for studies of climate change, it is best to choose stations that are unlikely to have been affected by gradual changes in shading or urbanization. This is no easy task. Karl et al. (1988) have concluded that urban effects on temperature are detectable even for small towns with a population under 10000.

…This paper is concerned with the estimation of site-change effects when the times of changes are known a priori, such as when the station was moved or the instrument replaced.

The paper predominantly discusses adjustments to data when there are site changes and there are surrounding overlapping data sets (nearby thermometers) that can be used to assess whether there needs to be adjustment.

Later in the paper when discussing sites that have no overlapping data the authors state,

Such an adjustment involves much greater uncertainty than the adjustment of a station with many neighbours. A greater degree of subjectivity is inevitable. In the absence of corroborating data there is no way of knowing whether an apparent shift that coincides with a site change is due to the site change or not. However, several statistical procedures can be used alongside information on station histories to assist in the estimation of the effect of a site change. These include graphical examination of the data, simple statistical tests for detecting shifts applied to intervals of different length before and after the site change, and identification of the most prominent change points in the series independently of known site changes. Finally, a subjective judgement must be made whether to adjust the data or not, taking into account the consistency of all the graphical and analytical evidence supporting the need for an adjustment and any other relevant information.

Moreover when they apply this adjustment to a station in Christchurch to demonstrate their method comparing with the more accurate method used earlier in the paper they significantly over estimate the difference,

The 1975 site change at Christchurch Airport is somewhat overestimated, when compared with the neighbouring stations analysis. The contrast between the estimates based on 2 years data before and after this site change is particularly marked. For the neighbouring stations analysis the estimate is 0.45°C (Table TI); for the isolated station analysis the estimate is 1.58°C (Table V). This is to be expected when a site change coincides with an actual shift in temperature, as occurred in this case. The isolated station analysis then estimates the sum of the site change effect and the actual shift.

In their conclusion they note,

Adjustments for site changes can probably never be done once and for all. For stations with several neighbours, the decision to adjust for a site change usually can be taken with some confidence. The same cannot be said for isolated stations. However, large shifts can be recognized and corrected, albeit with some uncertainty. Ideally, for isolated stations, tests for site change effects would be incorporated into the estimation of long-term trends and periodicities as suggested by Ansley and Kohn (1989). This is not practicable at present on a routine basis, but may be in the future.


Whatever adjustment procedures are used, the presence of site changes causes an accumulating uncertainty when comparing observation that are more distant in time. The cumulative uncertainties associated with site change effects, whether adjustments are made or not, are often large compared with effects appearing in studies of long-term climate change. For this reason it is a good idea to publish the standard errors of site change effects along with homogenized records, whether adjustments are made or not. This would help ensure that, in subsequent analyses, not too much reliance is placed on the record of any one station. (Emphasis added)

Ironically, the methods suggested in this paper do not include the method used by NIWA in defending their Wellington data.

>NIWA defends it adjustment of data

2009 November 27 Leave a comment

>NIWA have released a statement that the data that shows a warming trend in New Zealand over 100 years was adjusted.

NIWA’s analysis of measured temperatures uses internationally accepted techniques, including making adjustments for changes such as movement of measurement sites.

Though the paper (and my post yesterday) suggest adjustment was the likely explanation. However the graph and the surrounding paragraph fail to mention the data is adjusted. I read significant numbers of scientific papers and they are always referencing the raw and the adjusted data labelling both. There are statistical issues with some of these papers but this is not one of them.

NIWA go on to say,

Such site differences are significant and must be accounted for when analysing long-term changes in temperature. The Climate Science Coalition has not done this.

NIWA climate scientists have previously explained to members of the Coalition why such corrections must be made. NIWA’s Chief Climate Scientist, Dr David Wratt, says he’s very disappointed that the Coalition continue to ignore such advice and therefore to present misleading analyses.

Unfortunately this comment fails to identify and thus address the issue which is: “why” is not the question the Coaliltion is asking; it is “what” and “how”. What is the adjustment? and how have you done it? Treadgold (an author of the paper) writes,

We cannot account for adjustments, because we don’t know what they are. We ask only to know the adjustments that have been made, in detail, for all seven stations, and why.

Transparency demands that the specific reasons for data adjustment be given.

  • What stations have been adjusted?
  • When were they adjusted?
  • Is the adjustment stepwise or a trend?
  • Is there overlap of data when stations are shifted?
  • Does the overlapped data show good correlation?
  • Have adjustments been modified in subsequent years? Why?
  • What is the computer code that applies the adjustment?

This sort of information allows others to review the legitimacy of such decisions. And various groups can argue for and against these reasons and the weighing various reasons should be given.

Why the secrecy? The refusal to be open with data and theories is looked upon with suspicion, and rightly so.

Gareth Renowden writes a post explaining why adjustments are made to the data. The excessive rhetoric notwithstanding, the argument is plausible. But it still leaves questions unanswered. While the Wellington station may just be used an example, what of the other 6 stations? Wellington may show a rise after adjustment, but this will be diluted when averaged across all the station unless they all showed a rise. It they did what is the explanation for them.

Though I am not fully convinced with NIWA’s explanation. The Airport and Kelburn temperatures seem well correlated, with Kelburn cooler being at a higher altitude. And Thorndon and Airport are both at the same elevation (sea level). But there is no correlation established between Thorndon and the other 2 locations.

Elevation is not the sole determiner of temperature. There may be other considerations that make Thorndon and the Airport different temperatures. If so, then the adjustment down of the Thorndon data may be excessive. It should be easy to set up further measurements at Thorndon currently and see how they correlate to Kelburn and the Airport. If they all correlate well then we can establish a more accurate correction factor for the pre-1930 Thorndon data.

>New Zealand not warming?

2009 November 26 18 comments

>It seems to residents that the country has not being getting warmer over the last decade. Such that advocates of global warming prefer the term climate change so that any weather anomaly can be attributed to anthropomorphic global warming. And people are willing to parrot claims that some parts of the world will get colder (this may be a prediction of the theory but should encourage one to cautiously consider these claims).

The New Zealand National Institute of Atmosphere and Water Research (NIWA) do not show significant change since 2000 but they do show an increase over the last century as seen in this graph.

Graph. Mean annual temperature over New Zealand, from 1853 to 2008 inclusive, based on between 2 (from 1853) and 7 (from 1908) long-term station records. The blue and red bars show annual differences from the 1971 – 2000 average, the solid black line is a smoothed time series, and the dotted line is the linear trend over 1909 to 2008 (0.92°C/100 years).

Yesterday the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition released an article challenging this rise using NIWA’s own data. They plotted the temperatures from the NIWA source data and got this graph.

Whereas the first shows a rise of ~1°C per century, the second shows no discernable rise. The difference between the 2 graphs? The second uses raw data, the first (probably) has adjusted the data.

About half the adjustments actually created a warming trend where none existed; the other half greatly exaggerated existing warming.

There are legitimate reasons why data can and should be adjusted. Cities grow and hence warm so later temperatures may be warmer, especially overnight. Different thermometers may be used that show a consistent measurable difference. But there are 2 comments to make about adjusting data. Firstly adjusted data should be labelled as such with the unadjusted data displayed alongside it and the factors the data was adjusted for.

Secondly, it makes a difference whether adjusting data removes or produces an association. Frequently differences in data are seen because they attributes of the data sets are different. If we compare test scores between highschools to create a league table it may be reasonable to correct for number of children in different grades as some schools may have more students at higher levels, or one school may only let its brightest children sit the test. But we should be more cautious about accepting an association that only appears after adjustment. It is not that there can be no difference, rather it is that enough statistical manipulation can show a difference and the reasons for the adjusted variables are then argued after the fact.

If you do find a difference after adjustment you need to check your adjustment factors are not associated with the variable that is under consideration, in this case you cannot adjust for time as time changes are what is being looked for; and you must validate your adjustment with an independent data set.

On top of the release of emails and computer code from the now infamous Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, UK; perhaps there might be some room for debate around the issues of climate change. Is it happening? Are humans responsible? Would it be detrimental? Should we pay attention to scientists who refuse to reveal their data and formulae?

>The illegitimacy of anti-supernatural causation

2009 September 28 7 comments

>My recent post led to some discussion, mainly in response to my opposition in defining science as methodological naturalism. I think the previous use of the term Natural Philosophy was adequate for the time. It made it clear that it was the study of natural phenomena without the baggage of additional metaphysics that are unnecessary to the practice of science. The subsequent addition of historical science to operational science to encompass all “science” makes short descriptions more difficult.

My contention is that forcing singular past events to be natural (that is not supernatural) is artificial (not genuine) and arbitrary (not determined by necessity); in that if God did make an object, methodological naturalism would prefer the false explanation that man made it over the true explanation that God did. david w states

The difference is artificial if there can be evidence for supernatural causation. How… [can] we know if God made a house?

This is putting the cart before the horse. One cannot argue philosophically that God does not exist thus he cannot make anything thus nothing is made by God. One can argue philosophically the case for and against God, but if there is empirical evidence otherwise, that must be taken into consideration.

To ask what such evidence is for God, but deny that evidence is even possible within one’s philosophy is disingenuous.

If God exists and he made man, and is at least as capable as man then he can make anything man can make. It does not matter whether or not we can identify a particular object is made by God, the fact is this is theoretically possible. And a definition that excludes God from producing something when it possible that he could, and thus God didn’t, even if he did, is fallacious.

I think there is reason to think that God made some objects. But definitive evidence, or even any evidence, that God made something is not necessary to allow that possibility. We allow for that possibility in other situations, such as an unknown culture, or the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.

It must be recognised that we are looking at effects, thus inferring the source. Extensive knowledge, or any knowledge, about the source is not required beforehand. It is in studying the effect that we theorise about the source.

Categories: design, logic, philosophy, science

>Bypassing the argument thru definition

2009 September 21 54 comments

>Choosing one’s terms and labels may be an effective rhetorical technique; albeit frequently a dishonest one. Here are few examples that I find irritating.

Pro abortion as pro-choice

I have concerns with terms used on both sides of this debate, but this the more insidious. It is describing the issue in terms of freedom, but opponents to abortion are by no means anti-freedom. They see the issue as one of murder. I don’t hear “pro-choice” people advocating for the freedom of men to murder adults, or steal property. The pro-freedom position is reasonably described as libertarian. It is true many libertarians are “pro-choice” but this is not universal with some libertarians arguing against abortion. More relevant however is the position “pro-choice” people take otherwise, and this is commonly a socialist leaning position, hardly a paragon of choice or freedom. I would not be surprised to learn that opponents of abortion have a stronger commitment to choice outside the abortion debate.

I don’t particularly like the term “pro-life” either. The debate is about whether a fetus is living in a sense that confers the fetus natural rights. Although I hold this position, many abortion advocates disagree with it. As such they could argue they are pro-life and consistent by opposing capital punishment. I think it preferable to use accurate unloaded terms such as “pro-abortion” and “anti-abortion.”

Science as methodological naturalism

Science does not need to be defined this way and historically it was not. While it may seem somewhat reasonable on the surface, it fails on 2 counts. The meaning and reason for the term “methodological naturalism” is that one can not invoke the supernatural as an explanation, rather science seeks natural explanations for various phenomena. Given that operational science was invented by supernaturalists whose concept of God (immutable) gave them reason to think the world was orderly and thus amenable to repeated observation with an expectation of identical findings, it is uncertain why a definition using “naturalism” needs to be invoked centuries later.

It fails because it does not apply to historical science which has no such non-supernatural limitations yet historical science is considered part of the broader concept of science. And it fails because it contains a philosophical term: Naturalism has a range of claims which are not derived from science, nor does science intrinsically favour naturalism.

Such a term can lead to the claim that science has disproved God. But analysis of this claim will show it to be circular. God is excluded by definition, and any thesis sans God is deemed “scientifically” preferable, even if untrue.

Gender neutral as gender accurate translation

There is debate about how to best translate various Greek words into English in Bible translation. Does one translate masculine pronouns such as “he” inclusively or specifically? Does the Greek word anthropos mean “person” or “man” with generic connotations at times? I do not intend to discuss the merits of both arguments, just note that the inclusive school uses the term “gender accurate” to describe their theory. They argue that an inclusive view is intended by biblical authors, thus improved accuracy. One problem is that the term “accurate” is more synonymous with “precision” than “intention”. The other problem, of course, is that the debate is around which translation theory is the most accurate. Using a term as part of your definition, then claiming something is thus, by definition—often implicitly—resolves nothing.


The reason this annoys me is that the terms are deliberately chosen. Their inventors are not so much trying to frame the debate as circumvent it. I find it disingenuous.

This is not to suggest choosing various terms is intrinsically dishonest. If a different term brings clarity, or is neutral, or both, then it may be preferable.

Sometimes one should consider terms used by his opponents. While the adoption of labels from the opposition is not compulsory, they may sometimes be accurate. Another option is to use historical terms.

>The ropens of Papua New Guinea

2009 September 15 4 comments

>Mike T brings my attention to the incompletely documented creatures called ropens. Several eye-witness accounts describe featherless flying creatures that perch upright on trees on the islands of Papua New Guinea.

Around Manus Island, the wingspan is three to four feet, according to Jim Blume, a missionary in Wau, on the mainland. Blume’s investigations indicate that wingspans may reach ten to fifteen feet in other areas. Whitcomb’s book mentions a few ropens that are even larger, including the ones seen by Hodgkinson and the Australian couple.

I am familiar with a variety of sightings of reptiles that are otherwise thought to be extinct, such as the bunjip. But I had not heard about ropens.

The description seems to be of a pterosaur. What I found particularly interesting about these sightings was the mention of lights on the animals.

Two natives described a ropen holding itself upright on a tree trunk (fruit bats hang upside down from branches), and his book also describes an apparently bioluminescent glow that may help the nocturnal creatures catch fish.

I am not aware that palaeontologists propose bioluminescence in pterosaurs. However previous eye-witnesses have suggested something similar. In his book After the Flood, Bill Cooper quotes Marie Trevelyan’s book Folk-Lore and Folk Stories of Wales, published in 1909.

The woods around Penllin Castle, Glamorgan, had the reputation of being frequented by winged serpents, and these were the terror of old and young alike. An aged inhabitant of Penllyne, who died a few years ago, said that in his boyhood the winged serpents were described as very beautiful. They were coiled when in repose, and “looked as if they were covered with jewels of all sorts. Some of them had crests sparkling with all the colours of the rainbow“. When disturbed they glided swiftly, “sparkling all over,” to their hiding places. When angry, they “flew over people’s heads, with outspread wings, bright, and sometimes with eyes too, like the feathers in a peacock’s tail”. He said it was “no old story invented to frighten children”, but a real fact. His father and uncle had killed some of them, for they were as bad as foxes for poultry. The old man attributed the extinction of the winged serpents to the fact that they were “terrors in the farmyards and coverts” (emphasis mine).

The Welsh description may be iridescence rather than luminescence, but I think the parallel striking. While I know too little about the Papua New Guinea story to vouch for its veracity, the lack of communication between Welsh and New Guinean witnesses concerning a pterosaur trait not otherwise recognised does give one pause.

Categories: animals, creationism, science

>Establishing the model before doing the maths

2009 September 7 1 comment

>My recent post on information led to a call for a precise definition of what is meant by information. This request is eminently reasonable. I have yet to give an exact mathematical definition, or even an exact philosophical one. The reason is that “information” has a variety of meanings to different people; and the association with computing and information technology colours people’s thinking.

Consider gravity. My understanding is that ideas about gravity around the time of Bacon, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton changed the way people thought about motion. Prior to then it was obvious that objects fell to the ground, but the Aristotelian rationale for such motion was that (some) objects tend toward the centre of the earth. And observations would support this claim. Post-Aristotelian physics described the same phenomena, but for a different reason: massive objects attract each other. The stone moves toward the earth, and the earth moves toward the stone; but the earth imperceptibly because of its immense size. Same observation (as much as perceptible) but different explanation.

The old theorem explains pendulums better. Pendulums tend to the centre of the earth so they stop after a time, not doing so immediately because the weight is moving when it gets to the lowest point. Newton’s theory needs friction to explain the same observation; one could argue Newton is less parsimonious. However Newton was shown correct over time. And his theory was well defined, gave predictions, and was generalisable to the heavens.

My diversion was to highlight that the differences between the two approaches did not require them to be rigorously defined. The mass-attraction concepts antedated the maths by a significant amount of time; Newton had to invent maths for his theory! But a philosophical discussion on the merits of objects tending to the centre of the earth versus objects attracting is still very possible.

Similarly, it is possible to discuss other topics in general before rigour is attained, including information.

Information is a non-material concept that contains instructions thru language.

I use the term instruction somewhat broadly including being informed, not just commanded. That is, meaning of some form exists.

>Critique of my Young Earth Creationism post

2009 August 22 7 comments

> My post on young earth creationism raised several responses here and at Vox Popoli where it was originally posted. See also here and here. As well as a response on theologyonline.

These responses suggest some further aspects need to be discussed.

It is important for me to clarify what I was trying to do. I deliberately chose to give a scientific/ philosophical defence rather than a scriptural one. I thought it would interest a broader audience. And it is important to realise the issues in this debate are philosophical.

There were 2 main points I wanted to make.

  1. There is a fundamental difference between operational and historical science. Thus historical science can be challenged by types of knowledge (such as testimony and documentary knowledge) in a way that operational science cannot be challenged.
  2. Evidence against YEC that presupposes evolution is true is invalid. (In fact evidence against any theory presuming a priori that it is false is invalid).

So if people came away unconvinced yet more aware of their own preconceptions, and they could see that YEC is a valid philosophy that can be considered—and either accepted or rejected—then I am content with this.

The main complaints were the lack of positive evidence for YEC and the lack of exegetical support given for the YEC position.

Addressing the lack of positive evidence first. This complaint is reasonable, especially given my title. However the reasons given above are why I was cautious to discuss specific issues. Until these issues are dealt with, debates are frequently at cross purposes. YECists are forever pointing out the assumptions that non-YECists hold.

I had considered that too much discussion on the merits of, say, helium diffusion dating (and why evolutionists disagree with it) would miss the point that evolutionists are assuming ancient dates because they have a prior commitment to such, and thus they are judging other dating methods by their agreement, or not, to radiometric dating. Whereas my position is that the questioning of all dating methods is legitimate. As it was, the debates in the comments still frequently assumed the validity of old earth dogma.

Do YECists not also have a prior commitment to younger dates? Yes, they do. But they admit their commitment to a biblical timeframe. Evolutionists frequently deny their prior commitment and pretend they are somehow more objective, when in fact they are choosing the clocks that suit their purposes.

Nevertheless, the inclusion of more positive evidence of a young earth would have improved the post and it may be something I could address at a later stage.

My choice to avoid a scriptural defence on why the Bible demands YEC was deliberate, as mentioned. I laid out the basic beliefs for the benefit of those who did not know what they were; to clarify what YECists believe and also what they do not believe despite accusations to the contrary. However the responses and a conversation I had with a friend a few weeks ago has suggested that I should probably give the scriptural reasons for the YEC position at some stage.

>A defence of Young Earth Creationism

2009 August 14 33 comments

>Young Earth Creationism (YEC) is multifaceted. It is a metaphysical framework; a scripturally informed philosophy of nature which includes a scientific model that seeks to evaluate and explain the world. Thus it touches a variety of topics. There are limits in what can be accomplished with a short blog post, but I think that some clarity can be brought to the debate, specifically identifying the source of the conflict and the domain in which the debate needs to occur.

Antagonism to YEC is predominantly philosophical, rooted in naturalism. Opposition to the YEC position is frequently made using suppositions antagonistic to YEC; the proof of error is therefore in the axioms not the conclusions.

YEC has a long history. It has been the predominant position throughout most of the history of the West, until the introduction of uniformitarian interpretations in the 18th and 19th century by the non-catastrophic geologists. These geologists influenced Darwin and although Darwin didn’t publish his theory till the 19th century, evolutionary-like philosophies have a much older history, somewhat similar ideas proposed by some Greek philosophers. And YECists have good company with the likes of scientists such as Kepler, Newton, Pasteur, and Maxwell. But the issue is not a tradition game or a numbers game, it is: Does YEC accurately describe reality?

The underlying reasons for specific YECist concepts are: the rules of logic as applied to the Bible and science, and the grammatical historical hermeneutic applied to the Bible. YECists take most of Genesis to be historical narrative including the creation, fall, and flood. They think that most occurrences of the word “day” in Genesis 1 mean a usual day because of contextual considerations.

YEC touches several fields including theology: hermeneutics, theodicy; philosophy: philosophy of science, logic; science: biology, genetics, palaeontology, astronomy, geology, climate, thermodynamics; information theory; archaeology; history. (Hermeneutics and logic would be better classified as fields that form YEC belief rather than result from it, as mentioned above).

I wish to cover the following about YEC

  • What young earth creationists (YECists) do and do not believe;
  • The nature of evidence and science; and
  • A discussion focusing on a single aspect of YEC: the age of the earth.

What YEC is

YEC can be summarised as follows:

  • The universe is not eternal, it was created by God who is external to the world, self existent, and eternal
  • God created the world in 6 usual days
  • Nature was corrupted by the Fall of Man
  • The earth is about 6000 years old
  • The earth was deluged by a global flood about 4500 years ago
  • The Bible is inerrant and should be interpreted in a straightforward manner (according to genre)

There are several corollaries from this, though the specifics may vary. The creation model includes:

  • Most of the sedimentary layers of rock and enclosed fossils that occur worldwide were formed during the Noachic Flood.
  • The earth likely contained a single continent that broke up during or after the Flood
  • There was a single ice-age caused by the post-Flood climate
  • All land and air animals (of significant size) are descendants of the animals that were on the Ark
  • Man has coexisted with all animals that have ever existed
  • Natural selection (an analogue of artificial selection) occurs
  • Speciation is rapid. It occurs through allelic separation, genetically induced variation, or detrimental mutation (loss of genetic information).
  • There are genetic limits to the amount of speciation, diversification, adaption, or breeding that can occur
  • Information content of the biosphere cannot increase. Matter cannot create information.
  • Information is always the result of an intelligence
  • Loss of information can mean improved fitness within a specific environment, that is loss of function can result in improved likelihood of survival.
  • Lost information cannot be recovered without reintroduction of the same information (save trivial examples) by breeding or design
  • Archaeological artefacts post-date the Flood, which limits their age to a maximum of 4500 years

There are several accusations that are charged against YEC which proponents of YEC do not support or promote; such as

  • God (or Satan) created the fossils in situ as a test of our faith
  • God created things with false appearance of age (this needs qualification)
  • Animals were created how they look now and no new species of animals have developed
  • Entropy was a result of and did not exist before the Fall of Man
  • The earth is flat

On evidence and science

While much could be written in defence of the specific YEC beliefs, discussion can be difficult if foundational issues are not identified.

Modern science was originally a systematised process of categorising our observations to make further inferences and reduce our observations to consistent laws. While hypothesis testing is a usual method, data gathering to create a hypothesis was seen as legitimate. Thus, multiple measurements of the planets led to Kepler proposing elliptical orbits, which could then be further tested. Francis Bacon is frequently credited with formulating the scientific method. Written as:

observation → induction → hypothesis → test hypothesis by experiment → proof/disproof → knowledge

Popper’s falsifiability criterion has had a clarifying influence on the understanding of scientific theories. Therefore negative evidence was seen as disproving a theory whilst positive evidence is merely consistent with a theory, not proof of such.

Notice that Bacon’s definition is necessarily limited to observable phenomena. This is classic operational science (also called empirical science), which helps us infer laws about things that are demonstrable and repeatable. This is an enormously important distinction that frequently goes unrecognised. In contrast, inferences about previous events are not repeatable. This does not mean that the scientific method cannot be employed, rather that it is limited in what it can say.

Consider the science of identifying a criminal via a DNA sample. This science is not being done to discover how DNA binds to itself (i.e. hydrogen bonding), it is attempting to establish an event such as a murder.

So a fragment of the DNA is identified and then matched to a specific person. The samples can be run several times and in several different ways; both the forensic sample and the suspects’ samples. And we can establish that the forensic sample and a suspect sample match. This part of the process is operational science.

However establishing a particular suspect as the murderer is not observable. We cannot do an experiment several times to show that he did indeed murder the victim. Intrinsically it is impossible; the event happened in the past. And even if we establish he is capable of murder, it doesn’t prove he committed this particular murder. This kind of science is called historical science.

It has been claimed that scientists do not discriminate this way when practising science. This may be the case. When one does historical science there is usually an element of operational science as seen in this example (though the converse is not necessarily true). But whether actual scientists discriminate like this is irrelevant to the philosophy of science, what matters is whether this distinction exists. And it clearly exists because a methodology that relies on repeatability cannot be applied to singular past events.

The reason for this discussion is to show that historical science competes with other evidences in a way that operational science does not. If I claim my house is so high, I can invite you to m
easure it. Testimonial evidence doesn’t play a part. We don’t ask a range of people their opinion as to what they think my house height is. 3 measurements by several engineers using differing methods that all agree trump the opinion of a dozen opinions and guesses. This is not the case with historical science.

Returning to our murder investigation with DNA sampling, all we have established is that a suspect shares a DNA fingerprint with a crime scene sample. This may be because it is a limited test, say a portion of DNA with a limited number of polymorphisms. Even if we can be certain the DNA matches by performing adequate sequencing, there may be a identical twin brother we do not know about. Or the DNA may have come from the suspect, but at another time; a meeting earlier in the day. Now I am not trying to imply that DNA testing is inaccurate or inappropriate for criminal investigation, I am illustrating how its use in proving crime is intrinsically different from operational science.

Testimony of others meant little in the height of my house, but it means a great deal in identifying a murderer. Not because murder is more important that house height, but because it is not testable in the way that heights and widths of objects are. A claim that the suspect has a twin brother is a competing claim against the DNA test. A claim that the suspect was seen elsewhere at the time of the murder is a competing claim. A claim that the blood type does not match despite the DNA matching is a competing claim.

Note that competing claims against historical science can be both scientific and non-scientific (eg. testimonial).

Also note that scientific claims do not automatically trump non-scientific claims. The testimony of a thousand witnesses is not overturned by a DNA match just because the latter is scientific. We weigh several competing claims and people will be variously convinced depending on how reliable they regard each piece of evidence.

YEC is a competing claim about the history of the world. It is predominantly a competing claim to the historical sciences of biological macro-evolution, abiogenesis, stellar evolution, and uniformitarian geology.

Some of the YEC disagreement with evolutionary theory is due to consideration of non-scientific fields such as documentary evidence. However much of the disagreement is from a competing but different historical science. For example, consider the age of the earth.

How old is the earth?

YECists claim that the earth is about 6000 years old (though anything below 10000 years would fall into the same range). This is phenomenally different to the uniformitarian geological claim of 4.5 billion years. But note that any usual clock cannot calculate the time since the formation of the earth. We cannot go back, set our stop-watch, and mark off the aeons until now. We are considering a past event (or several past events). Compare this to measuring the time it takes a horse to run 1 km. We can do this measuring the starting and finishing time, and we can do this repeatedly, thus giving us the time (on average) the horse takes. For this we observe established clocks.

For past events we need to establish a historical clock, say radiometric-dating. Experiments can determine the amount of various isotopes of uranium and lead in a particular sample. One can do this part of the experiment over and over. We can satisfy ourselves to the limits of experimental accuracy that the sample contains a certain amount of uranium. This part of the investigation is operational science. All parties generally agree on the number of atoms identified in the sample and their ratio.

This ratio is then keyed into a formula based on a specific theory with a variety of assumptions to get a date for the formation of the mineral it was derived from. Now the theory is radioactive decay, which is reasonably well established, and an assumption is, say, no daughter isotope was present when the mineral formed.

The problem is that these calculations do not always give the answers that are thought to be correct (as established by other historical clocks or underlying evolutionary theory); so sub-theories are added, such as leaching of isotopes, addition of isotopes, incomplete melting at time of formation of mineral in rock. Creationists have also suggested a modification to the theory: the variation of decay half-life, though this modification is often disparaged.

Rather than discuss the merits of these sub-theories or, if you prefer, alteration of assumptions (all of which are reasonable); I would simply like to note that since radiometric dating is a historical science, there are competing claims.

There is the competing documentary claim, that the world was created 6000 years ago according to the Bible. This is a claim that YECists take seriously, much like the testimony of someone who witnessed an event. But documentary evidence is not restricted to the Bible. A variety of cultures have given an age of the earth much less than 4.5 billion years and more in keeping with the biblical figure, such as the Mayans and the Greeks. This particular competing claim is less convincing to agnostics and some theists, including some Christians. There are, however, other documentary claims and historical scientific claims that are worth mentioning.

Staying with radiometric dating, we have reliable documentary evidence for the age of some volcanic episodes. It so happens that rocks from lava flows within recent history that we know the real age of (via operational science) are consistently dated much older by radiometric dating, frequently hundreds of thousands of years or older. Explanations are offered up as to why this is the case, but the greater point is the model is reliably incorrect; it doesn’t matter how good this theory is or should be, the fact is the model doesn’t work.

If radiometric dating cannot get dates correct when we do know the true age, why should we trust it when we don’t know the true age?

We also have competing scientific claims. Radiometric dating is not the only historical clock. There are a large number of clocks. And even radiometric clocks vary depending on the isotope used.

Historical clocks often give maximum ages. This does not mean that the calculated age is the actual age, rather given the most favourable assumptions this is the longest a particular process has been going on. In constructing a clock based on sodium in the ocean, a maximum age would be established by assuming no sodium in the ocean when it formed, the lowest reasonable estimate for sodium influx, the highest reasonable estimate for sodium outflux, with the current concentration identified by measurements of salinity. The maximum age identified may not equal the true age, as the ocean may have started somewhat salty for example.

Within radiometric dating we have carbon dating competing with metal dating. Pretty much all carbon containing materials that have been tested contain carbon-14. This places an upper bound on their age. This includes diamonds embedded in rock supposedly millions of years old.

Other historical clocks include: diffusion rates of helium; decay of the magnetic field; decay of DNA and protein from dead organisms; elements in the ocean; recession of the moon, starlight travel from distant stars.

Objections can be raised against these other clocks (though the carbon-14 data is hard to surmount), but this is hardly the point. The point is that there are competing claims here. Radiometric dating of metals is favoured by the evolutionists because it gives a time frame needed for evolution. But it is one piece of historical scientific evidence. One person may find it convincing, but with so much riding against it, it is not unreasonable to weigh the other evidences heavier.


YEC is a worldview. It recognises a variety of evidences. It clearly understands the difference between operational and historical science
. YECists do not dispute any significant operational scientific finding. Investigating past events is philosophically distinct from investigating repeatable events and YEC views past events differently, and in a way that I think makes more sense of the data.

YEC theory on the age of the earth is more parsimonious. It is consistent with much of the documentary evidence. It is also consistent with many of the historical scientific clocks. Modifications to the starting conditions and rates give ages consistent with a young earth, including radio-carbon. Radio-dates of metals less so, but these are known to be inaccurate, and YEC proposals concerning rates of decay may resolve other well recognised difficulties of radiometric dating. Ancient earth theory is unable to easily reconcile non-radiometric clocks or even radio-carbon clocks.

Thanks to Paladin and AndyM for their suggestions.

>Does the Bible reflect modern science?

2009 February 11 10 comments

>I was hoping to discuss some ideas about ancient cosmology at some stage. In the meantime Greg has raised the more fundamental issue of presuppositions and modern evangelicals. My initial response is below though some items may need clarification.

Greg: …you seem to be concerned with the idea that the Bible has to reflect our current understanding of the world in order for it’s inerrency and infallibility to be upheld.

Well actually my view of Scripture means that I reject a lot of current popular theory. While I accept the world is spherical, I reject Darwinism which is by far the most popular understanding in modern science concerning the origin and development of the biosphere.

Your bias is constrained to a specific view of inerrency. He may prefer another, but each one tips either of you in a particular direction and to a particular interpretation that satisfies the requirements of that inerrency.

I presume “he” in this sentence refers to Gier. I am aware of different views. See here for inerrancy and infallibility. I also have a pastor who is neither a inerrantist nor a creationist whom I sit under quite happily. While I think that some passages appear difficult with an inerrant approach, I think that their resolution leads to deeper understanding of the way of God. This has occurred enough for me that initially contradictory passages do not send me reeling each time I come across one. I tend to look deeper into the context and some inferences turn out to not exist. We can read more into a passage than is often there.

More importantly, I think Scripture points to an inerrantist approach. See my comments on Jesus’ interaction with the Sadducees.

An aside, be careful how you use the term inerrancy, it has a meaning. If you propose another meaning preferably use a different word. Even the word “infallibility” seems to imply inerrancy however it has a theological definition that specifies inerrant doctrine which potentially allows for error of fact.

This concerns me because I see an initiative to interpret passages in a certain way that conforms it to modern science,

The idea that anyone before Bacon really understood science quite the way we do is questionable. I think you are better to talk about the worldviews of then and now. Even Gier uses the term pre-scientific which is better though can still be misleading. I am more concerned about having a biblical worldview than a Western one. While the current Western worldview gets much wrong, it is important to realise that the Western worldview developed from Christianity—likely with some added Greek philosophy (to its detriment I think). Because of this the Western worldview is very Christian unlike many other cultures including pre-Christian Europe and Briton.

You will need to give examples of specific passages.

when an interpretation that draws from the science of their day explains it much better.

Except is the interpretation drawing from their day? Much of what I see is a later construct of what the ancients supposedly thought based on a hyperliteralist interpretation of ancient literature.

I see this a lot in the church, and once again, if I am wrong about you, I apologize.

You may be correct about me, though I give my views considered thought.

A modern person who wishes to explain scripture in light of modern science has the burden of proof upon them first.

Why? If Scripture is consistent with modern science why insist on a different interpretation just to make it inconsistent?

They need to show how an ancient person could have known what we know,

This assumes an anti-supernatural bias. If God created the universe he is more knowledgeable about its intricacies than every scientist combined. God can reveal material that happens to be factually correct, even if simplified. I am not stating that this has to be the case, rather pointing out the bias which insists on human authorship sans divine authorship. Scripture suggests both human and divine. Peter adds that prophets did not always understand everything about their message (1 Peter 1). I am not suggesting that the message of the prophets was differential mathematics and quantum physics, just the importance of divine authorship.

what benefit it provided the ancients,

It may not offer a benefit, it may just be an accurate report.

why God would only make it truly relevant to moderns in the West,

Examples such as?

and why the church missed these interpretations all this time and had to wait until the 20th century before science could shed light on things.

The church didn’t. My previous post on the flat earth mentioned that theologians in general did not teach a flat earth. Several appealed to Scripture to “prove” geocentricism. The fact they could only do so by appealing to poetical passages should have been a concern. Both hyperliteralism (including the Jews) and over-allegorising have been practised in interpretation, but that does not deny that Scripture can be understood. Moderns possibly do this less than some previous generations. Though there is a trend to turn historical narrative into symbolic language.

This comment also seems to contradict your earlier comment,

Going forward we as Christians must always be willing to follow where God’s Word leads us and not be afraid to discard tradition if a new understanding can fit the picture better. Many doctrines, or the expression and depth of understanding concerning them, have developed, been lost and found again numerous times throughout our history. There is always the possibility old understandings will crumble in the face of new discoveries.

While I agree with discarding tradition, I am cautious about new interpretations. They may exist but one would want very good evidence.

On a slightly tangential but important note—and this does not apply to the shape of the earth—part of my concern is how little people understand the types of science. Operational and historical science are quite different and a reasonable argument can be made that the latter is not strictly science. Historical science is a claim about history. It is a claim that can be refuted by eyewitness testimony.

For example scientific examination of Jericho cannot “prove” Joshua did not raze it. Both are claims in the same realm: historical truth. One is just playing a contemporary witness off against a non-contemporary interpreter. Either the first is a liar or the latter is mistaken in his interpretation of his findings.

Presuppositions are important. I think there is good reason to hold to inerrancy based on how Jesus and the apostles viewed Scripture. I think the Bible is historical and that it is correct when it makes historical claims. I think it important to understand what the author intended and the cultural situation into which he spoke. I disagree (in general) with hyperliteralism, but I think the bigger problem in this age is the priority of secular theory and hence unwarranted claims of symbolism, the explosion of interpretations, the invention of hermeneutic principles, the cherry picking of Scripture, the holding of contradictory ideas and anything else that lets us hold on to our favourite ideas; be that psychological, biological, sociologic
al, political or any other theory which we cherish.

>Flat earth cosmology and other assumptions

2009 January 29 9 comments

> Michael Patton posted recently that he thinks that people lose faith because of lack of discipleship and he mentioned in passing that Christians used to believe the world was flat. That Christianity didn’t teach a flat earth doesn’t change the thrust of his argument. Nevertheless, I offered my thoughts as this lie needs to die.

In response to this others claimed that the Bible teaches a flat earth.

Greg made this comment,

…the idea of a “flat” earth is presented in the Bible, simply because that’s how the people envisioned it back then. They’d go up onto a mountain top, look around, and see a round, disk-shaped earth. That’s all they knew, and God no where in His Word sought to obviously correct that understanding. I think any “scientific” statement in the Bible is best understood by the science of their day, not ours.

The cosmology presented in Genesis is incredibly similar to Egyptian and Babylonian cosmology. Not in its theology, just in its structure. Sometimes we like to think that the Israelites developed their culture and wrote the Bible in a vacuum, that there was no influence or sharing of ideas between others in that same era and geographical location.

I’ve noticed that Christians tend to try and explain this kind of stuff away so we can make the Bible conform to our modern understanding of science. We have this misplaced idea that to be reliable, the Bible needs to match our understanding of everything, or that if there’s some borrowed stuff from Babylon or Egypt that its any less inspired. We sometimes forget that the Bible was written for us, but not to us. God inspired in a manner that would be meaningful to ancient Israelites. He accommodated Himself to them by taking their cosmology and reinterpreting it in light of Himself.

Its really quite fascinating when you read Genesis with this in mind. You come across a whole mass of information and meaning that we moderns tend to overlook because we just don’t think that way anymore.

And he recommended the article A Common Cosmology of the Ancient World. I have only read some of this and would like to respond to it in more depth at a later stage. For now I wish to make a few comments about assumptions in Greg’s quote and then a few thoughts on the flat earth question.

The phrase

any “scientific” statement in the Bible is best understood by the science of their day

poses problems. Firstly science in the modern sense dates back a few hundred years. Rather statements of this type in the Bible are factual claims. Granted they may come from inference rather than direct observation but they are not scientific in the way we understand the term. Further many modern “scientific” claims are claims of history not operational science. There is much truth in understanding the Bible on its own terms not ours, but “own terms” is about how the Bible uses language, not its objective claims. The ancient Israelite concept of what constitutes “life” may not fully correspond to ours, but Jesus either rose from the dead or he did not.

The related comment

He accommodated Himself to them by taking their cosmology and reinterpreting it in light of Himself.

is a significant claim. Agreed, God does not have to correct our misconceptions. And not doing so does not give tacit approval. But statement says that God tells us our misconceptions are correct when they are not. I disagree.

What about cultural influences?

Sometimes we like to think that the Israelites developed their culture and wrote the Bible in a vacuum, that there was no influence or sharing of ideas between others in that same era and geographical location.

I am not certain who holds to the Bible being written in a vacuum. Israel clearly interacts with the nations thru-out both Testaments. They constantly shared ideas with their neighbours, much to God’s displeasure. The proposal that God hated the behaviour of the pagan nations and constantly told Israel not to emulate them and repeated told them not to worship foreign gods or adopt their practices, yet borrowed their incorrect structural cosmogony seems unlikely.

To flat-earthism. I note that the objection is a slightly different point to the one I made. I have previously posted that the sphericity of the earth was documented as least as early as 500 BC. Patton’s comment was about Christianity teaching a flat earth. The history is that Christianity has, by and large, taught a spherical earth when addressing the topic. The most that can be said is that some argued against antipodean lands and/ or inhabitants for reasons unrelated to the earth’s shape.

As mentioned, I hope to post later about the claim about the Bible teaching a flat earth. For now I have several general comments.

  1. Because the flat-earth myth was invented by infidels in an attempt to discredit Christianity, in any discussion about earth topology Christianity should be given the benefit of the doubt.
  2. Geocentricism is not the same as flat-earthism.
  3. “Evolutionary thinking” is much more pervasive than we realise. For example the idea that polytheism developed into monotheism is an social evolutionary idea not a biblical one. The Bible suggests the reverse.
  4. Why should every other text (and theory) be the standard to which the Bible is compared? If the Bible and any particular text disagree why is it assumed the Bible is in error?
  5. Accounts recorded by Scripture and other cultures could be due to common memory. If there is borrowing going on it may be from the Bible (or possibly source texts in the case of Genesis) to other nations than vice versa. A comparison of texts is helpful.
  6. We must be careful about forcing poetry. As I previously wrote:

    Poetry frequently talks about real events and uses literal wording at times. However features of poetry include the frequent use of symbolism and metaphor. When reading poetry it is important to understand the point being illustrated, not insist on the literal meaning of the underlying wording. If a poem uses a phrase that is intended to be literal or does indeed coincide with reality then it is not unreasonable to use the passage as support that the author understood this particular concept. It is not valid, however, to force literalism on a poetical passage.

>Cold weather ahead?

2008 July 22 2 comments

>There is an ocean pattern in the Pacific called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. It has a warm mode and and cool mode and switches between these every 20–30 years or so. It has switched to the early stages of its cool mode this year. Cool modes seem to be predictive of cooler weather over their duration.

This combined with the current nadir of sunspots and no sign of the next sunspot cycle beginning, also a harbinger of cooler weather, means we could be in for a cold next few years.

Categories: climate change, science

>Radiation in the atmosphere

>This diagram from Global Warming Art helps show the contribution of various gases to heat retention in the atmosphere.

On the spectral intensity graph the red line is the radiation coming from the sun. It is stylised by using a blackbox assumption feeding in the temperature at the surface of the sun. The red area is the radiation that is transmitted thru the atmosphere to the surface of the earth. The purple, blue and black lines are the radiation transmitted from the earth into space; again with a blackbox assumption based on temperature. The 3 lines represent 3 different temperatures from 210–310 K (–63 to +37 °C) due to the variation of the surface and atmospheric temperature over the earth. The blue area is what escapes into space.

The next graph shows the absorption of the radiation (energy) at various wavelengths. Both for inward and outward radiation; these are predominantly non-overlapping. A level of 100% means that no radiation at that frequency gets transmitted thru the atmosphere (ie. from space to earth on the left side of the graph or from earth to space on the right side of the graph). A level of 0% means that all radiation is transmitted.

Note that this is as a percentage of incident radiation, but as can be seen from the first graph, there is not the same amount of radiation for all frequencies. Thus high absorption near peaks of radiation is more important than high absorption at nadirs. Thus the resultant effect is seen in the first graph in the solid red and blue areas. The white area of the second graph is nearly a mirror image of the first graph (though stretched at low spectral intensities due to the first being an absolute scale and the second being a relative scale as mentioned).

The bottom graph shows the spectral absorption of various gases and the effect of Rayleigh scattering. There is no scale on the y-axis but it is a percentage scale like the second graph. Note it goes from 0–100% for each of the 5 gases.

Several things can be appreciated here. The most obvious being how important water is to heat absorption. Water reacts moderately to the incident solar radiation and significantly with the outgoing earth radiation. Any modelling of the climate that neglects to incorporate the effect of water, or treats it as an unchanging constant is virtually guaranteed to be incorrect. And this is just water vapour! The cloud effect is much more complicated.

The interesting thing about CO2 is that several of the absorption lines correspond to wavelengths that are of minor consequence. They lie at the tails of the solar and earth spectral intensities. So the CO2 intensity band of most interest is the far right one. This band is important. It is wide and it is absorbs 100% of the incident radiation. It is also in an area where water absorbs a significant amount of radiation and given that there is far more water than CO2 in the atmosphere, the contribution from water at this frequency is not negligible.

Categories: climate change, science

>Did Jesus believe in a flat earth?

2008 May 11 1 comment

>When responding to Tilling earlier, I indicated that as well as discussing the characterisation of knowledge I wanted to correct other false statements in his post. The 2 errors were the flat earth claim and the idea that metaphors would puzzle Jesus. Here I address the flat earth.

The flat earth claim probably is unfounded. That Christianity promoted a flat earth was in large a lie propagated by the likes of Andrew Dickson White in his anti-Christian polemics. Jeffery Burton Russell has discussed this in detail (summary here) and even an atheist site has acknowledged the false claims against the church. The latter’s view of Christianity remains somewhat hostile.

The knowledge of the sphericity of the earth can be currently dated at least as early as ~500–600 BC in Greece. Pythagoras (~500 BC) and Aristotle (~350 BC) believed the earth was a sphere; though spherical claims may have easily predated this, especially in other regions. I am not aware of extant documents that inform us what other empires before Greece which include Persia, Babylon, and Egypt, thought of the earth’s shape. I do dispute the claim that much of Hebrew theology and cosmology derives from Babylon; these ideas are partially based on (what I would consider) false synchronisms. Reviewing knowledge earlier than Egypt, we have Josephus claiming that Abraham introduced astronomy to the Egyptians. I doubt we have enough information to adequately judge Josephus’ claim but the assumption of ignorance of the ancients is tired and likely reflects modernist arrogance. Even the events at Babel suggests that astronomy was a significant feature there.

Given that the Greeks knew the earth was a ball centuries before the Roman empire existed it is highly likely that the Roman world at the time of Christ believed in a spherical earth. The occasional theologian in the centuries after Jesus suggested a flat earth but this was the exception. Perhaps more commonly, opposition arose at times against the idea of the antipodes. One must be careful not to view this as evidence that the person was arguing for a flat earth. There were (false) reasons for arguing against men living on the other side of the earth unrelated to the shape of the earth. Men could hold to a spherical earth and disbelieve in either antipodean lands and/ or inhabitants.

The Bible makes very little comment of the shape and structure of the earth. Most of the passages referenced are poetical. Poetry frequently talks about real events and uses literal wording at times. However features of poetry include the frequent use of symbolism and metaphor. When reading poetry it is important to understand the point being illustrated, not insist on the literal meaning of the underlying wording. If a poem uses a phrase that is intended to be literal or does indeed coincide with reality then it is not unreasonable to use the passage as support that the author understood this particular concept. It is not valid, however, to force literalism on a poetical passage. This is also true with the use of metaphor in prose, though this is generally more obvious.

In summary we have documentary evidence for the knowledge of a spherical earth for more the last 2500 years and it was common knowledge at the time of Christ. The idea of a flat earth has never been seriously held by the majority of people since before the time of Christ and the medieval flat earth myth was invented by infidels in their attempt to discredit the church.

>Biblical versus scientific creationism

2008 April 10 1 comment

>Henry Morris makes an interesting distinction between scientific creationism, biblical creationism, and scientific biblical creationism.

His definitions state that scientific creationism is based on scientific data within a broad creation claim, biblical creationism defends a creation based solely on Scripture, and scientific biblical creationism is the development of the creation model based on Scripture and science.

I was a little suspicious of this when I started the article but on completion I think there may be some merit to this way of thinking. The systems are not contradictory but rather complementary as can be seen by the amalgamation of the first 2 systems in the 3rd.

Here is a summary of Morris’ principles of the systems.

Scientific Creationism

What can be known about the universe thru scientific endeavour—general revelation.

  1. The physical universe was created.
  2. The biological universal was created.
  3. The biosphere was created in bounded kinds and adaptions are neutral or information losing.
  4. Humans were created and have an added spiritual component.
  5. Catastrophism rather than uniformitarianism explains geology.
  6. Natural laws dictate the scientific method.
  7. Physical and biological structures are deteriorating.
  8. An originally perfect and now deteriorating universe implies divine purpose.
  9. Humans can investigate manifestations of the divine in the material world.

Biblical Creationism

What can be known about the universe thru biblical study—special revelation.

  1. The creator of the universe is the triune God.
  2. The Bible is divinely inspired and true in all domains it touches on.
  3. The world was created in 6 days.
  4. Adam had dominion over the earth; the Fall cursed that dominion.
  5. The Flood and confusion of languages are historical.
  6. Alienation of man from God can only be rectified by God, and that in Christ.
  7. God will restore creation in the future and give life to those who accept him and death to those who reject him.
  8. Jesus will return and remove the Curse.
  9. Men should subdue the earth and proclaim Christ.

I am not certain I would choose these specific items or group them this way, but it shows some of what can be known by general revelation and what is added with special revelation. Further, additional ground can be made by marrying the specific to the general: we have much greater insight when it is clear that not only is geology catastrophic (general revelation), most of it was due to a single event over about 1 year (special revelation).

It is also apparent that general revelation is subservient to special revelation. For example if the world was made in 6 days this is not obtainable from scientific endeavour. Even if science can teach us much, such as fixity of kinds and that creation must have been over a short period (symbiosis and ecology), it cannot teach us a 6 day creation. But this information is obtainable thru revelation from the creator who made the world.

Biblical priority is real. Believing this can alter our perspective, which it the topic of my next post.

>Physics is descriptive not prescriptive

2007 October 8 Leave a comment

>It is important to remember the laws of physics come from observations. We observe regular patterns and attempt to come up with mathematical models that explain the data and predict related phenomena. The predictive component is validates the model, it suggests that the model is more likely to represent reality. Explaining anomalous data is less impressive because models can usually be adjusted to fit. Models with simple equations, symmetry and covering more fields are generally favoured.

Kepler and Newton came up with orbital equations and gravitational theory that explained the movement of the the planets. Using gravitational laws we can predict the movements of the moon around the earth to great accuracy.

But the moon does not orbit the earth because of these equations, the moon orbits the earth and these equations describe the movements.

God set up the universe to function how it does. But God also sustains it, this means that it is not wound up and would run without him, if God removed his sustaining power the universe would instantly cease to exist. Anti-theists complain that this means we cannot do science, that we are at the whim of a God. Well we are dependant on him, but that does not mean that the universe is irregular and unpredictable. Leaving aside the fact that an atheist view of the universe gives us no reason to even trust our senses, if God is not capricious, then we can rely on his usual providence. We can therefore examine the universe with an assumption of a constant God who set up the world with a high degree of predictability.

This predictability has been known by all cultures and predates the scientific method—the scientific method gives a tool to gain underlying knowledge and make predictions based on models. As the earliest scientists said, they were thinking God’s thoughts after him. Isaac Newton stated,

This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being.

Because God sustains the universe he can manipulate it at his will. Not that he necessarily does this on frequent basis. This intervention we refer to as (specific) providence if God’s hand guides specific events according to his will, or even at our request; we refer to it as miracle if it involves the overriding of physical law. Both the general upholding of the universe and a specific change to how the world usually operates are of equal ease for him. If God can stretch out the fabric of space then the multiplying of loaves and fish is of little difficulty.

That is why science is unable to disprove miracles. Miracles are not within the domain of operational science. Miracles are God’s specific activity, not his general activity. We cannot observe regularity in miracles to formulate physical law. However they are provable, just via another method: testimony. Proof of miracles is via witnesses.

Miracle is also proof of the supernatural. Science can say the the world operates “like so” under the normal scheme of things. Observations that contradict what we know may be due to miracle and science can say nothing against it—science does not describe specific providence, only the general. Dead men do not come back to life according to biological science, but there is nothing to prevent God doing this in a specific case if he so wishes.

>Skeptical of skepticism

2007 August 29 3 comments

>Biological Research Institute for Theoretical Evolution Studies (Brites) interview skeptic Stan Scanton,

Dr. Stan Scanton, skeptic of all things spiritual for the last four decades, has announced that for the last three years he has been secretly skeptical of skepticism.

Should a skeptical scientist be skeptical of skepticism?

“Certainly,” said Stanton. “Otherwise you are not a true skeptic. You are, at best, a selective skeptic. Scientists skeptical of only spiritual matters are selectively skeptical. Most people who call themselves skeptic are selective skeptics. People of faith who are totally skeptical of all science are also selectively skeptical. Pure selective skeptics learn nothing.”

How is it that pure selective skeptics learn nothing?

“I’m a statistician, and it’s like Type I and Type II errors in statistics. There is a tradeoff. If you want to learn nothing, be 100% skeptical. If you want to believe everything, be 100% gullible. True learning comes from an intelligent judicious tradeoff between the two.”

The article is hilarious including the before and after photos. In fact many of the photos on the site are priceless.

Categories: humour, philosophy, science

>Cool inventions

2007 August 22 4 comments


New Zealand company AgResearch invents mithral.

…demonstration of heat- and stab-resistant fabric that has been developed by AgResearch’s Textiles Group. The fabric is made from a lightweight wool fibre backed with a high-strength gel-spun liquid crystal polymer.

“This fabric can be used as protection in terrorism situations, yet it’s lightweight and gives comfort not provided from the heavy flack jackets normally used in such situations,” says AgResearch Senior Scientist Ian McFarlane.

This wool/ polymer (the polymer is similar to kevlar I believe) blend is heat/ fire resistant. It is a fabric, not a rigid material, yet it is unable to be stabbed thru by a knife. The only negative thing that can be said about it is its name, Natural Easy Care (NEC) fabric.

Aerogel has a multitude of uses. It is light, strong, insulating, made from abundant materials and now is even lighter and more flexible.

Aerogel, one of the world’s lightest solids, can withstand a direct blast of
1kg of dynamite and protect against heat from a blowtorch at more than
1,300C….[It] is made by extracting water from a silica gel, then replacing it with gas such as carbon dioxide.

Potential uses include insulation, sports equipment, limiting explosion damage, and removing pollution.

While the most common form is made of silica it can be made from other materials such as carbon or include other materials such as platinum. Platinum aerogel has potential as platinum is a catalyst for many reactions including hydrogen and oxygen forming water. It can therefore be used in hydrogen fuel cells but apparently it is hoped it can be used in the production of hydrogen from water.

Categories: science, technology

>Solar/ temperature data from 1980 onwards

2007 August 8 Leave a comment

>Martin Durkin defended his documentary the Great Global Warming Swindle after a debate which followed its airing in Australia failed to allow him to adequately respond.

He has modified his documentary several times. I think this is a good thing. There were several criticisms and presumably he sort to address them. He also removed comments by the Professor of Physical Oceanography at MIT, who said he had been misrepresented. Using someone’s beliefs to show consequences in a documentary that they do not support is not misrepresentation nor quoting out of context, it is a situation of using a hostile witness. Of course hostile witnesses hate their ideas being used by the opposition, otherwise they would not be hostile. Using the data of another but putting forward one’s own theory as to the explanation is completely legitimate. Nevertheless Durkin has complied with the request which is honourable given that he didn’t misquote originally.

In a previous post I discussed the sun temperature graph. Merchant made some accusations about data manipulation that turned out not to be true. He initially acknowledged this on his home page but currently just shows graphs of the data extended beyond 1980.

It appears that the new documentary has an updated graph. This one shows data for the 20 years beyond 1980 and shows that the prediction continues to hold.

I am not certain how these graphs line up. Given that Merchant was unaware of how the graph was constructed the first time, I will give Durkin’s men the benefit of the doubt for the time being.

There is obviously far more research to be done on the subject of the sun influencing the Earth’s weather. And we must be careful against making too much of one graph. But the correlation is strong enough to encourage further investigation into solar activity and the weather.

Merchant may have reasons to think that CO2 is a bigger influence on the climate, but the solar data are enough to suggest the sun may have some influence; on the variation that is, everyone acknowledges it warms the planet.

It may turn out that the Earth’s weather is influenced by that enormous object of burning gas in the sky—who would have thought?

Categories: climate change, science