Friday, January 28, 2011

ARJ begins fourth year with a (big) bang!

Readers will recall my dissatisfaction with two papers published last year in the area of astronomy. Of Lisle's "Anisotropic synchrony convention," I had this to say:
And so ends my assessment of Lisle's solution to the speed of light problem. It just isn't science. As he seems to freely admit, anisotropic synchrony convention is all about logical possibility, but it doesn't actually help us understand or explain galaxies or pulsars or redshift or cosmic background radiation. He seems content to assume God made the universe exactly as it is for whatever inscrutable reasons He had. Talk about ad hoc.
Of DeYoung's "Mature creation and seeing distant starlight" (J of C 24(3):54-59), I had this to say:
If I read that correctly, DeYoung seems to have a low view of what science can do for us and prefers to base his solution to the starlight problem on a logical possibility that is essentially impervious to testing and therefore irrefutable.
Now the latest paper from Answers Research Journal agrees with me. Written by one James Upton (an occasional commentator on creationist astronomy), the paper "Beyond Distant Starlight: Next Steps For Creationist Cosmology" tackles a host of difficult issues for the young-universe style of creationist astronomy:
  • Oscillations in the cosmic microwave background
  • Detailed features in the clustering of galaxies
  • The large-scale structure of the universe
  • Galaxy properties and environment
  • Interacting galaxies
  • Structure of galaxies
  • Streams of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy
  • Clusters of stars
For the full details, see his paper. For each of these, Upton explains how the conventional big bang model explains the data.

What I really liked about the paper was Upton's discussion of explanation:
...for E to be an explanation for D [the data], it must be the case that D follows necessarily from E. follows that explanation is a stronger condition than consistency or accommodation. For example, the statement, E: "God created galaxies and God loves variety" can easily accommodate the observation, D: "most large galaxies have either spiral morphology or elliptical morphology"; the statement and the observation are entirely consistent. But, in this example, D does not follow logically or necessarily from E, so E does not qualify as an explanation for D. To express this in another way, an explanation E must be sufficient to answer the question, "Why do we observe D rather than not-D?" This is something we would intuitively expect from an explanation. But, in this case, E would not be sufficient to answer that question, because E is equally consistent with not-D, the (false) statement that "most large galaxies have morphologies that are neither spiral nor elliptical."
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? So what does Upton have to say about DeYoung's and Lisle's proposals?
The idea of special creation, most simply understood, is that the Universe we see is the universe God created ex nihilo on Day 4, and that it has not changed significantly since that time. ... this idea does not actually explain any of those phenomena, in the way explanations were described earlier. ... Two specific forms of this idea of special creation are the creation of light in transit (DeYoung 2010; Whitcomb and Morris 1969, p. 369) and a model using an alternative convention for synchronizing clocks (Lisle 2010; Newton 2001), under both of which the universe we see is the universe essentially as it was when God created it 6,000–10,000 years ago.
So neither Lisle nor DeYoung have provided a true explanation of the features of the universe. It's nice to see that blunt evaluation of Lisle's synchrony convention right there in AIG's very own journal!

But fair is fair, right? I think it's reasonable for us to turn Upton's explanation criterion on the big bang explanations that he affirms "provide plausible proximate explanations" for the phenomena listed above. For example, here's what he says about streams of stars in the Milky Way:
The SMC [i.e., big bang] explanation for this is that the Milky Way Galaxy (as any large galaxy) has “swallowed” many smaller galaxies during its lifetime. The remains of some of these smaller galaxies would still be observable as distinct streams of stars in the Galaxy.
Here's my question: Is that really an explanation in the sense that the data (streams of stars) follow necessarily from the explanation (galaxies swallow other galaxies)? Just because the big bang cosmology predicts that some galaxies swallow others and have remnants, does it necessarily follow that our galaxy would be one that swallowed other galaxies? If we go with Upton's version of explanation, I think historical theories that rely on contingency might have a tough time qualifying. In other words, if explanations require logical necessity, then are explanations that rely on chance happenings (our galaxy just happened to swallow another) really explanations? I suppose they could be if the historical event predicted necessary and specific attributes that we could still observe in the present, but Upton doesn't really elaborate on that.

By now, some might think that Upton is really an evolutionist in disguise(!!!), advocating the big bang in our own creationist journals! I think that conclusion would be pessimistic and foolishly conspiratorial. Upton and I seem to have something in common: a dissatisfaction with inadequate creationist theories. And we both really want to see the situation improve for creationists. So check out his article. It's very thought-provoking. I'm eager to see if it generates any formal, meaningful discussion in the creationist journals (I certainly hope it does).

Upton. 2011. Beyond Distant Starlight: Next Steps For Creationist Cosmology. ARJ 4:1-9.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.