Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hunting for Creationism - Round 1 - We're the Center of the Universe

I'm on the hunt for evidence for Creationism/Intelligent Design (hereby C/ID). Here, I set the ground rules and mission.

Our first stop, icr.org
More specifically, their "physical sciences" branch of evidence. They have a strange branching tree of points, but it's difficult to actually get to any data.

I'll start with "The universe has a center". I've honestly never heard that argument. (link to page)

The Argument

Our solar system appears to be near the center of the universe. Galaxies look the same, and are moving away from us in the same way, in all directions. 
I'm familiar with what they're talking about and... no.

This is a misrepresentation of what science has figured out. It appears as though everything is moving away from us, but that would be true for any point in space. Let Mr. NASA Guy below explain. There was a more visual explanation I had found once, but this video explains it sufficiently.



The cosmic microwave background radiation comes to us very uniformly from all directions. 
That's true for the above reasons - it relies on a misconception about how the universe works.

These and other data strongly indicate we are located at a very special location by design.
What other data? Your first "data" was twisted. Further, "by design"? Even if what you said was true, how have you demonstrated that it would be "by design"? You don't get to merely throw on an assertion without supporting evidence.

Instead of accepting the obvious, recent models of physical cosmology assume the earth is not special and that everywhere in the universe the exact same observation of receding objects would be seen. 
Ah, okay, so they are familiar with the actual model. They just accept just only the parts that confirm what they're trying to demonstrate, and dismiss all the other aspects of the same model, that are equally demonstrated, as "assumptions".

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Actually, I've been poking around for awhile trying to figure out how to answer this question. It's looking like the creationist argument may have a point. Then again, the internet is notorious for only providing superficial answers.

I'm trying to answer the basic questions, "how do we know the universe doesn't have a center?" and "how do we know we aren't the center of the universe?" (and different variations of these questions), and am not finding much.

One article from NASA literally comes out and says they "suppose" the position of Earth isn't special (which I'd agree is most likely the case - normal is more common than special). Surely, though, we have actual empirical testing to determine this?

A Universe Today article explains that the residual temperature of the universe would be non-uniform if the Big Bang exploded from a central point like a firecracker, and when we "point our detectors" in any direction, we find the temperature essentially uniform. That's true, but it's also appear to be the case if we were the center of the universe, and the explosion was away from us.

The closest thing I've found for a possible empirical explanation is from some random Yahoo! Answers post from some random person on the interwebs - basically saying that whatever galaxies/etc we look at from any distance away have the same microwave background radiation, when we'd expect further galaxies (looking further back in time, due to speed of light) to be hotter...  but we don't see that, so it suggests a uniform expansion (or something like that).

I'm disappointed in you, science and/or internet. This was way too messy.

Here's some more people attempting to explain it.

Going back to the original argument...

Instead of a universe with an age measured in thousands of years, this assumption leads to billions of years.
I wish they'd explain this one. Whether Earth was the center of the universe or not wouldn't really affect the approach we take for measuring its age... because some the methods look at the expansion of the universe away from us. Like geological dating methods, there are a number of different ways of calculating the age of the universe. (link to article talking about dating the universe)

It sounds like they're throwing the baby out with the bathwater - that since the question of whether we're the center of the universe is up in the air (as I've learned is still empirically pending), that therefore the Big Bang and supporting evidence isn't true? Aren't they then dismissing the very evidence that they're using to support their creationist argument?

In contrast, creation cosmologies explain the data better by starting from biblically-based axioms: the cosmos has a unique center and a boundary for its matter, beyond which there is at least some empty space; and on a cosmic scale of distances, the earth is near the center.
... and this is where the argument goes off the deep end. They've taken one point and ran with it.

But to say that it explains the data better... that it establishes that the universe has a unique center...? I think it's time for our meta analysis.

Meta Analysis

It's time to vet this evidence against the broader scope of knowledge. One consistently reliable way to determine whether an asserted conclusion to evidence is valid or not is to see how well it jives with the broader body of knowledge.

For instance, if you claim that a black hole ate your homework, we do know that black holes would be fatal if within range of Earth... so to make that assertion, and cite the missing homework as evidence, would be to throw a large portion of what we know about physics out the window... which basically implies that the assertion is false.

I'll grant that, on a superficial level, the evidence can support a us-centric universe.

Supposition

While the NASA article honestly and blatantly admitted that they're supposing the Earth is not specially located, and therefore the model works... the creationist argument also must suppose something about the positioning of the Earth - that it's special.

To re-state, there's two positions:

  • Suppose the Earth isn't special, and the centerless expanding universe works
  • Suppose the Earth is special, and the Earth-centered expanding universe works

However, all things equal, which is more likely, something being special/unique, or something be mundane and normal? Right on the surface, a little common sense (I just threw up a little) and statistical analysis indicates that the centerless model is astronomically more likely based on this alone.

Compatibility with the Preponderance of Evidence

This sentence itself:
In contrast, creation cosmologies explain the data better...
This is painfully incorrect.

First, I notice that the argument specified "our solar system" is the center of the universe. They would have been a laughing stock if they claimed that Earth was the center of the universe (as opposed to a heliocentric solar system). Since it's incontrovertible at this point that the Earth orbits the sun. Of course, they're going to shoot themselves in the foot by taking that road.

... but it's odd, because it sort of undermines the point of the argument.

Even if I were to grant, in full, that it's established that the solar system is the center of the universe, it's still a tenuous connection with creationism. Us being the center would only be a symbolic gesture - not a requirement. Could God not create a universe, then pick an arbitrary spot and start building life? Given that we're talking about incredibly fringe competing concepts that have little to no supporting empirical evidence, we could equally state that our "Mental-Centric" model of the universe is correct - that we're the center because our minds created the universe and we're looking outwards (especially for fringe explanations, the Exclusion principle of evidentiary standards would be violated - one conclusion must be supported distinctly and strongly above the others).

If us being the center of the universe were symbolic only, why would God sabotage it by making Earth not the center of the solar system? Why would he set it up in such a way that is indistinguishable from natural physics doing its thing? The argument also stated "near the center" - so the whole point of the argument is... almost relevant?

The argument contradicts itself conceptually.

Further, while we may not have a good visual of what our galaxy looks like from the outside, we've pretty well empirically established where we are within the galaxy - and wouldn't you know it? We're not in the center of the galaxy (link to article). If we're the center of everything, why would be be plunked down in an arbitrary mundane location in a spiral arm of a empirically confirmed model of physics that establishes he spiral movement of galaxies? If we were the center, that would mean those stars, and the rest of the galaxy as a whole, would be moving around us instead of us around the center of the galaxy - and the physics goes straight to hell.

Further, the very evidence they're presenting to support their solar-centric universe argument fails the "Why the fuck would God do that?" test. What's the point of having an ever-expanding universe (and increasing rate of expansion)? It's like pointing out that it's nonsensical, that if God is responsible for creating species on this planet, it would be utterly OCD to create an estimated 250,000 to 350,000 species of beetles. It stops making any sense under the creationism model, but makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective (every generation spawned has a change of being different - leading to an ever-increasing diversity of creatures, especially when we're talking about high-reproductive-rates species).

So, not only would we have to throw out whole bodies of rudimentary physical models, well supported by scientific fact, that can be intuitively understood and don't require a speck of magic to explain, but we'd now be establishing phenomenon and observations that stop making a lick of sense under the creationist model... all for the sake of trying to use some data to support a conclusion that can only work if we make an unfathomably statistically unlikely supposition in the first place, that astonishingly begs the question.

Conclusion

My hat's off to you.

While it's true that the "centerless model" of the expanding universe is not well empirically established versus a "centered model", in order for your interpretation to be true, you've managed to fail the Verification Versus the Preponderance of Evidence Evaluation ("VVPEE"?) - and managed to do so, to a truly legendary degree.



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