Tag Archives: age of the universe

Observation vs. Belief

Creationist Timeline

Creationist Timeline

Many observers have used the scientific method of observation, measurement, experimentation, and testing of hypotheses in ways that have challenged many of the facts that underlay religious beliefs. This is not to say that they have challenged the religious beliefs themselves–merely that they have made observations that were not what religious believers originally expected. For instance, Galileo’s observation that the Earth rotates around the sun challenged Catholic Church doctrine. Christianity has since adapted to this astronomical fact because the centrality of Earth was really just an assumption that made its way into Christian doctrine, not a core part of the religion.

Other scientific observations have challenged religious doctrines in similar ways. The evidence of billions of years of geologic change, hundreds of millions of years of dinosaur dominance, and the apparent evolution of millions of other prior life forms on Earth seem to contradict biblical accounts of creation. But creation stories don’t have enough detail to be scientifically disproved, only to be analyzed and seriously undermined.

However, scientists do not generally try and test religious beliefs themselves. They have generally explored only the physical universe that surrounds us in a pure quest for knowledge regardless of whether or not the answers challenge religious assumptions or core beliefs. This unwillingness to directly challenge the major religions could either be because they assume religious beliefs are untestable, they do not want to test them because they are religious themselves, or they are cowards because they know that there will be a public backlash against them. Charles Darwin spent years privately developing evidence for his theory of evolution because he well understood that it challenged Christian beliefs and would result in an uproar of disbelief and anger.

For the biblical stories to be disproved, they would have to be converted into theories that are specific and testable. Some religious scholars have already tried to estimate the age of the Earth by counting the number of generations of humans identified in the bible. This was done for religious rather than scientific purposes, but it at least identifies some basic assumptions, such as the average number of years per generation. The theory resulting from this effort is that the universe and Earth itself is only about 6,000 years old. Obviously, archeological evidence shows that humans have existed far longer than this, so this particular theory has been disproved to all except those who believe the bible is literally true despite any evidence to the contrary. Of course, religious believers can simply add more assumptions that change the theory to make it impossible to disprove. For instance, they could argue that archeological evidence is just an illusion of a fictional past.

Archeology is an example of a field of science that can be used to examine the validity of some elements of religious history. Many archeological studies of places and events mentioned in the bible have confirmed the existence of many people, places and many events. But it cannot verify their true nature. Whether events occurred as written, were embellishments of the truth, were completely fictional stories, or were a result of misunderstood natural forces rather than supernatural ones is mostly beyond the reach of the hard sciences (e.g. physics, archeology).

So why not expand the means of scientific analysis in order to undertake a direct study of those other elements of religious belief? I suspect that many scientists do not believe it can succeed or that it should even be attempted and most have not even considered the possibility. This is partly because it will take non-traditional means of observation and analysis similar to those used by the soft sciences (e.g. psychology, anthropology) than by the hard sciences. Theories generated from the soft sciences are more suspect than those of the supposedly more concrete hard ones. But they are the only ones that can deliver the needed evidence.

We need some theories and tests that could be used to scientifically examine specific religious or spiritual beliefs. But first, we have to define new, scientifically-acceptable methods of experimentation and analysis that must be mastered before such an effort can be attempted. These methods may not be traditional, but if they are conducted using the basic principles of the scientific method, they could provide meaningful results. If they are pursued with objectivity, deliver reasonably repeatable observations and measurements, and result in testable theories, then they must be considered valid scientific methods.

Since religion and spirituality invariably deals with life as well as death, we need a way to obtain data from the following situations:

  • Near death experiences
  • Communication with the deceased
  • Memories of past lives
  • Visions of spiritual masters or god
  • Spiritual or non-physical healing
  • Psychic communication between humans (ESP)
  • Communication with animals
  • The effects of prayer and meditation

Data from these situations can be used to test some of the core beliefs of many major religions and to build better theories about the nature of our existence. They can be used to test religious answers to the following questions:

  • Is there an afterlife, and if so, what is the nature of that life?
  • Can a mind exist without a brain?
  • Can memories be stored outside of the brain?
  • Can memories be transferred to another location?
  • Is intelligence just a set of algorithms?
  • Can those algorithms be transferred to another location?
  • Can intelligence be increased with more processing speed or memory?
  • What happens to consciousness immediately after death?
  • How is a mind stored after death?
  • Do human personalities change after death?
  • Do we continue to learn after death?
  • Can spirits (ghosts) be detected and communicate?
  • Do spirits get confused or lie after death?
  • What is the duration of the afterlife?
  • What are the characteristics of the afterlife?
  • Does reincarnation occur and, if so, when and how does it occur?
  • Are people reincarnated in proximity with other close friends or relatives?
  • Does mind-to-mind communication (ESP) occur and, if so, what is its speed?
  • In what circumstances and between which people is ESP most likely to occur?
  • Is there brain activity that can be measured when ESP occurs?
  • Does the body have an aura of energy fields surrounding its physical parts?
  • What is the nature of such energy and how can it be measured?
  • How is body energy linked to body mass or mental activity?
  • Does the body respond to other nearby fields of energy?
  • Can fields of energy be controlled to heal body mass?

Universal Questions

Did the universe evolve naturally? Was it created by a god according to an intelligent design? Does god exist and, if so, is there more than one? What is the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything? You will find the answers to these and other big questions within the posts of this blog if you are bold enough to continue. OK, if you must insist, they are just hypotheses, but enough of that wishy-washy scientific stuff. If we’re going to answer the really big questions, we can’t depend on either science or theology alone.

Let’s get started with the first big question. If the universe was made according to an intelligent design, doesn’t that imply that the design has to be somewhat intelligent? And how intelligent should it be? In other words, if you came across something that looked like a shelter made of twigs, leaves and mud that was full of holes and was partly falling down, would you be able to claim it was the product of intelligent design? Clearly, if some kind of intelligent being put it together, I wouldn’t think too much of its designer. In terms of the Earth, its weather, its geologic structure, and the species that inhabit it, let’s just say that I’m not too impressed with what I’ve seen so far. Whoever or whatever built this place could have done a much better job, to say the least.

Let’s limit our analysis to that of the Earth, since we haven’t been able to get very far from it yet and can’t really say too much about the rest of the universe. Is the Earth really an example of good design? We can’t answer that question until we first figure out the purpose for which it was designed. You wouldn’t say a car was well designed if you thought it was supposed to have been made to serve as a mobile sex-lounge for adolescent teenagers. It might do the job, but not very well. So, what is the real purpose of the Earth?

To answer that, let’s start with the species that inhabit it. I might be wrong to assume that rocks, water, air and other inert substances aren’t important in and of themselves, but I’ve got to start somewhere. Sure, the Earth might just be part of some enormous creature’s giant rock collection. But let’s propose that the Earth is a testing ground for living species. If you believe what archeologists and anthropologists tell us, the planet has been around for several billion years and has gone through at least millions of different species. Many of these have gone extinct in due course or as the result of several mass extinctions due to asteroid hits, massive volcanic activity, plagues, and/or other hypothesized calamities. If you believe the scientific evidence, humans have not been around for very long. The pre-human models, like Homo Erectus and Cro-Magnon, didn’t arrive until fairly recently either and didn’t last very long before they went extinct. Many species, like the Dodo bird, appear to have been ill suited to their environments and, consequently, it was no surprise that they eventually went extinct. What the heck was the point of the Dodo anyway?

Were extinct species all just bad mistakes or part of god’s plan? If we accidentally kill off some more, aren’t we just doing gods work for him? If we kill off the elephants for their ivory, the salmon for food, or the species of the rainforest as we harvest the wood are we bad? We’re the big dogs on the block now and, besides, god made them for us anyway, right? And if you don’t believe that, you’ll probably agree another mass extinction will eventually wipe them out anyway, so why fret about it? Do we really need elephants anymore anyway? They did a great job for Hannibal when he crossed the Alps and attacked Rome, but now all we can do is go to the zoo and watch them wander around in their cages. After seeing the large, realistic-looking elephant-like creatures in The Lord of the Rings, Return of the King, I think that, in the future, we’ll probably just use computers to make virtual zoos. Since I really enjoy a good dish of salmon or tuna, I’m hoping we don’t kill off or poison the entire supply of seafood. Of course, maybe we’re just another stupid mistake on our own way towards extinction. Maybe our massive fishing of the shark population will eventually make way for Age of Aquarius, the evolution of dolphin intelligence and society.

Even the continents have been shuffled around, causing untold problems for the species that have inhabited them. Earth apparently began with a single giant landmass known as Pangaea that has drifted apart on top of a shifting, fluid outer crust ever since. There are periodic earthquakes and volcanic eruptions as plates shift and pressure is released. Global weather has alternated between ice ages and hot spells. Water levels have covered landmasses and receded again. Deserts and rainforests have expanded and receded. All these events resulted in consequences, good and bad, for the inhabiting species. Does such a place make for a stable, nurturing, home environment? I’m sure the dinosaurs didn’t think so when a meteor arrived and wiped them all out. I’m sure that the species that have been driven into extinction by competitors would not have thought so. I’m sure the thousands of people who are killed every year by earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, cold, heat or disease don’t think so either. So no, of course it isn’t a stable environment. But it does make for a good test lab if you want to see which species can adapt to and survive catastrophic changes.

Remember that episode in the original Star Trek series where Captain Kirk was being tested by a being with god-like powers? The Squire of Gothos. Well, he eventually turned out to be just an adolescent child of another race of super beings who was just messing around. Now, I’m not saying that god is an idiot for making the Earth the way he did or that we were created as part of an alien experiment, but it is something to think about. Could there be more fact in science fiction than we would like to believe?

If you believe in a god, you probably believe that he/she/it created the world as described in the bible but made it appear, for some deliberate reason, as though it’s been evolving on its own for a few billion years. Even though we can measure the fact that the continents continue to drift apart, species continue to die off, and new species continue to be discovered, maybe this process of environmental change and evolution was all a purposeful illusion up until god created man. Then, he really made it work the way it appears to have worked all along. Why would he do this? It’s one of the big questions, so we don’t want to give it away too early in the blog–and no reading the last post first!

Another possible theory is that he created the world with some built-in evolutionary mechanisms and let it run for a few billion years while he was busy doing something else or resting. Resting for a few billion years? Why not? After all, we really don’t know how many billions of years may make up one god-day. Maybe calculating the length of a god-day would make for a good National Science Foundation sponsored research project for Intelligent Design “scientists.” Wouldn’t that be a great way to combine the hard physical sciences of physics, math, astronomy, and archeology with Intelligent Design theory?

I’m not a real physicist, I just play one in this blog, but I’m guessing that a simplified version of the problem would be something like this. If god made both the universe and the Earth in one god-day, then we must be able to create a variable space-time equation that proves the age of the universe is equal to the age of the Earth in god-days. If we can measure the current accelerating expansion of space-time and trace it back to the big bang, we can solve the equation.

My guess is that the length of a god-day is a variable that decreases as the universe expands. So, he had a lot more time to kill at the time of the big bang than he does today. Hence, he was able to make all the stars in one day. Pretty soon, however, he’ll have a hard time getting to even the most important prayers. But that’s just a wild-ass guess. I could be wrong. I’ll leave it up to the “Intelligent Design scientists” to figure it out.