Thursday, April 15, 2010

Physics & metaphysics

I've been interacting with a physics student over at TFan's blog. Since that exchange has gone about as far as it can go, I'll reproduce it here:

steve said...
Yes, it's odd that KTS would voluntarily embroil itself in a wholly avoidable controversy, especially when Coral Ridge went through such a rocky transition after Kennedy bowed out.

steve said...
John Lollard said...

"I have every thing that I know, mathematically, physically, evidentially, about the universe telling me that the universe is billions of years old, that the sun came first, then the earth, then the moon, and then water, and then plants and animals...Will you admit that all of the historical evidence that exists points to a billions-year-old universe and life that dispersed and diversified by evolution?"

Permit me to make a few brief comments:

1. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the earth is billions of years old. That generates a dilemma for the Darwinian. For in that case, fossils are separated from other fossils by vast stretches of time. And in that event it isn't possible to establish lineal succession.

Here's a discussion of the problem by a prominent Darwinian:

So if we accept geological timescales, then ask yourself if we can really construct evolutionary trees.

2. Have you asked yourself what a world which God created ex nihilo would look like? Here's an example of what I mean:

3. Have you studied the debate between temporal metrical objectivism and temporal metrical conventionalism? For a good discussion, read Le Poidevin:

Then ask yourself how we can measure the actual time of natural objects or events.

4. If you haven't done so already, I'd suggest that you read this book:

God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe
~ John Byl

5. Ever since Plato, there's been a raging debate within the philosophy of science over realism/antirealism. A few years ago, Steven Hawking and Roger Penrose published a debate, with Penrose taking the realist side and Hawking taking the antirealist side (in The Nature of Space and Time). If you haven't already done so, I'd suggest you read it.

6. Apropos (5), many philosophers are science are fairly skeptical about the limitations of scientific knowledge. Yet when we get into the creation/evolution debate, it's as if all those misgivings are instantly forgotten. I'd suggest you peruse some reviews of the following book, by a man who's probably the leading philosopher of science in his generation, then ask yourself what scientific theories can actually teach us about the real world:

steve said...
John Lollard said...

“Sadly, I am not right now disposed to acknowledge the argument from unreal time as in any sense compelling or meaningful.”

Well, to characterize prochronic time as unreal assumes that we know what real time is. But as a student of physics, you surely realize that this is a difficult question. Is the block view of time “real” time? Is the “passage” of time real?

Gödel, in his contribution to Einstein’s festschrift, argued for the “unreality” of time.

What is “real” time in quantum mechanics? Are those alternate timelines (alternate histories, alternative futures) equally real?

As you know, better than I, there is still no scientific consensus on the correct interpretation of quantum mechanics.

What is time? Is the A-theory correct, or the B-theory? Which version of the A-theory? Which version of the B-theory?

What about the controversy over temporal metrics? Isn’t that germane to dating?

What about our perception of time? Is that purely receptive, or is there a projective aspect to time perception?

My immediate point is not to endorse the theory of Gosse. Rather, I’m pointing out that even on scientific assumptions, time is very elusive.

“For fiat creation ex-nihilo, I suppose it could look a lot of ways. It might have happened in exactly the way described in Genesis. It might involve a Lion singing as in ‘The Magician's Nephew’. One definite possibility for how creation ex-nihilo could possibly look is in exactly that way that the evidence suggests it happened.”

But if, by your own admission, it could look a lot of ways, then in what sense does it look exactly the way the evidence suggests it happens?

Given creation ex nihilo, can you simply extrapolate from the present to the past along a linear continuum? Did God create a cyclical process by a cyclical process? Or did he create the cyclical process apart from a prior process?

Science uses natural periodic processes to calculate relative and absolute chronologies. Up to a point, I have no problem with that inference. But keep in mind that these natural processes were not designed to tell us the time. That’s just a human application.

And also keep in mind that there’s a circularity to this inference. Can you use one clock to tell if another clock is fast or slow?

During a power outage, all the clocks remain synchronized. They stop at the same time and come back on at the same time. Does that tell you what the time really is? No. You have to reset the clocks by another clock that didn’t lose its power.

steve said...
John Lollard said...

"If you hold to the view of unreal time, or that a false appearance of age is an essential part of God's creation ex nihilo, then could you explain this belief a bit better?"

The adjective "false" is tendentious and invidious.

Strictly speaking, I don't think physical objects present the appearance of age.

Rather, we date objects based on our experience of the aging process. Not the discrete object alone. Not a snapshot, but a motion picture.

Because we're used to seeing the effects of time on physical objects, because we compare earlier stages with later stages, we acquire a sense of what's older or newer. So it isn't just the object. Rather, it's the object in time. Our perception of time. The "passage" of time. Watching things age and die or age and decay. Pass through the life-cycle. That sort of thing.

"Would you agree that past Christians who believed in a flat earth did so based on exegesis of the biblical text?"

That's a serious overstatement:

"If you do agree, could you point out from the Bible alone how such an interpretation is incorrect?"

As scholars like Gregory Beale have documented, the Bible uses architectural metaphors to portray the world as a cosmic temple.

steve said...
John Lollard said...

What doesn't make sense, to me at least, is why the universe would need to have billions of years of false history. Why would Adam need to have a false pedigree going through apes, monkeys, lemurs, and shrews? Having orchard trees already in bloom and producing fruit makes total sense as it immediately lends itself to the survival of God's creation, but how do the billions of years of false history of expansion and cooling of the universe and of gradual genetic drift lend themselves necessary aspects of Adam's creation? What is the purpose of making it look as though all things - not just tree rings and lunches, but everything - had a single origination (as opposed to a bunch of originations) billions of years ago when they did not?

Is it somehow a necessary thing that creation ex nihilo LOOK as though it happened in the manner claimed by scientists, even if it was really enacted in the way described by Genesis? That is, is there something intrinsic about a big bang that necessitates the image of it to appear in God's work of creation?

i) I wouldn't invoke prochronic time to explain everything you cite.

ii) However, you're taking for granted a complete package of assumptions. I'd unpack the package and discuss the individual assumptions.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 14, 2010 4:14:00 PM
steve said...
John Lollard said...

"What doesn't make sense, to me at least, is why the universe would need to have billions of years of false history. Why would Adam need to have a false pedigree going through apes, monkeys, lemurs, and shrews?"

Of course, you're only giving one side of the argument. As Gee pointed out, even on evolutionary terms it isn't possible to simply read off an evolutionary pedigree for man from the fossil record. For it's not as though the fossils are neatly arranged in an evolutionary sequence. Rather, as Gee explains, an evolutionary biologist is using an evolutionary narrative to arrange the fossils in an evolutionary sequence. So the exercise is circular.

And Gee is a Darwinian! That's even before you get around to critics of macroevolution, such as Dembski and Wells in The Design of Life (to cite just one example).

steve said...
John Lollard said...

"I know you're not going to believe me, but we do not need a fossil record to establish evolution. If there were no fossils of anything ever, biochemical and molecular research or presently living organisms are sufficient to point out biological lineage and trace back the generations to a common ancestor."

I'm aware of that argument. Dembski and Wells discuss that type of appeal in The Design of Life (among other things they discuss).

However, there's a deeper problem with your responses. On the one hand, you raise intellectual objections to special creation. On the other hand, you take intellectual shortcuts.

Constructive dialogue is difficult when you when you raise intellectual objections, only to evince intellectual impatience when I try to offer intellectual replies.

For instance, if you're going to bring up conventional dating schemes, then you really can't avoid philosophical debates about the nature of time, the perception of time, and the metric of time.

Likewise, you can't have an intelligent discussion of the scientific evidence if you choose to simply opt out of longstanding and ongoing debates over scientific realism v. antirealism.

But when I respond on your own terms, you act as though you can't be bothered with that sort of thing.

So before I attempt to proceed any further, I think we need to clarify the ground rules. As it stands, I find you careening between rationalism and anti-intellectualism. Sometimes you talk like a physics student, but other times you talk like a naive realist.

Do you want to have a high-level, intellectually rigorous discussion of the issue or not?

steve said...
John Lollard said...

"Here is what I am looking for: I am looking for a scientific explanation of the evidence that we have that relates to life on earth and the origin of the universe. I am not looking for a philosophical explanation for why we can discard the evidence that we have, or for why we can discard the conclusions that we draw from it."

I can't comply with arbitrary restrictions on intellectual discourse. You take the "evidence" as a given, then require that I respond to the "evidence."

Now, up to a point, I don't object to responding to the "evidence."

However, what you call the "evidence" is a very theory-laden intellectual construct. It isn't something that is just "out there."

So why should I be forced to take your stipulative starting point as the correct starting point when, in fact, that disregards some preliminary issues which are quite fundamental to the conclusion?

"If you can explain to me how and why the evidence looks the way it does given a strict interpretation of Genesis - and I mean things like the redshifting of the CBR or the calcium deposits around volcanoes in the Mediterranean or the proportions of iron fusion in distant stars - then I will be satisfied."

There are YEC writers like Kurt Wise, John Byl, and Jonathan Sarfati who go into that sort of thing. I don't even know who you've already read.

BTW, I'd suggest that read some of the online articles by John Byl at:

"I am right now convinced that either God did not create in the exact manner described in Genesis 1 but rather in the manner described in science textbooks, God did create in exactly the manner described in Genesis 1 but made it to look like he created in the manner described in science textbooks, or else God did not create."

"Made it look like" misses the point. You might as well say that God made it look like the earth is flat and the sun moves around the earth. And, in a sense that's true, right? That's what it "looks like" to an earthbound observer.

Or you might as well say that God made it look like I'm seeing a star the way it is when I view it through the telescope–even though astronomy actually tells us that I'm seeing an image that traveled billions of light-years to reach the earth. In that case I'm not seeing the star as it is, but as it was.

On any position you take, whether Archbishop Ussher or Ed Witten, there is going to be a discrepancy between appearance and reality.

"But I am going to need more than a mere rebuttal of some specific explanation for some specific thing, and I will need an actual affirmation from the evidence for your thesis in a literal Genesis 1."

i) I've not been arguing for the literal interpretation of Gen 1. I'm merely evaluating your objections to the literal interpretation.

ii) Whether or not, or to what degree, we interpret Gen 1 literally, is an exegetical question, not a scientific question.

iii) Your objections clearly go beyond YEC. From what I can tell, you find OEC equally problematic. So there's no point in my discussing the pros and cons of YEC in particular.

iv) I also don't share your confidence in what can be known about the world apart from divine revelation. There's an ironic sense in which science undercuts scientific realism.

Take the science of sensory perception. Science tells me that I don't directly see a tree. All I really "see" is encoded information. Electromagnetic information which is converted to electrochemical information.

But if I accept that scientific analysis of perception, then in what respect does my mental representation of the extramental object correspond to the extramental object?

Short of divine revelation, we have no intersubjectival check on perception. So I regard divine revelation as a necessary underpinning for sense knowledge and scientific knowledge.

"Anything less, I feel, would be arguing with the same type of argumentation that Muslims use to deny the Resurrection of Christ."

The truth or falsity of Islam doesn't rise or fall on direct realism or scientific realism. It doesn't turn on a particular theory of qualia, viz. Is the grass really green?

To take just one example, Muhammad destroyed his credibility when, early in his career, he told his followers that his oracles were a continuation and confirmation of the Bible.

As time went on he came to realize that his message was in contradiction to the former revelations. But by then it was too late to take his words back.

Really, you don't have to go any further than that to disprove Islam. Islam disproves itself.

steve said...
John Lollard said...

“Since apparently I can't say anything right, then why don't both of you just go ahead and say whatever you find to be the most compelling argument for creationism. Present as full an argument as you think sufficient to convince someone with a supernaturalist worldview.”

A Blogger combox is hardly an adequate venue to sift through all of the technicalities of the debate. That’s why I’ve referred you to various literature on the subject.

For example, the red shift and cosmic expansion are discussed by Byl and Wise.

“But in my own mind it seems to be because of a disdain for special pleading and special crafted philosophical worldviews for the sake of avoiding an intellectual issue.”


Creation ex nihilo is a prescientific doctrine. It’s not some ad hoc conjecture which 19-20C Christians concocted to save appearances.

So are you suggesting that even if we rightfully believe in creation ex nihilo, and even if that doctrine might have a bearing on the appearance of the world, that we should simply bracket our belief as though it had no relevance to the issue at hand?

Likewise, scientific antirealism isn’t a face-saving position which desperate Christian apologists invented on the fly. So are you saying that even though many secular philosophers of science have been proposing various versions of scientific antirealism, Christians should bracket the relevance of that position to the creationist/evolution debate?

Likewise, how is it special pleading for me to mention the debate between temporal metrical conventionalism and temporal metrical objectivism? Doesn’t dating presuppose a temporal metric? You know…the measurement of time? And if there’s a persistent debate about whether or not our temporal metric is intrinsic or extrinsic to time, then isn’t that directly germane to the actual age of the universe?

Or if you object to “unreal time,” and I bring up the specter of alternate histories in quantum mechanics, how is that special pleading? Isn’t that responding to you on your own terms? Didn’t you say you’re a physics student?

With all due respect, it seems to me that you’re the one who’s been avoiding intellectual issues, not me. For example, I notice that you haven’t attempted to disprove anything I said. You haven’t tried to show that my reasoning is fallacious, or show that my premises are probably false.

A word of advice: I think it might be a good idea for you to take some time out to read the materials I’ve referred you to and mull over some of the arguments that we’ve presented.


  1. "Made it look like" misses the point. You might as well say that God made it look like the earth is flat and the sun moves around the earth. And, in a sense that's true, right? That's what it "looks like" to an earthbound observer.

    Or you might as well say that God made it look like I'm seeing a star the way it is when I view it through the telescope–even though astronomy actually tells us that I'm seeing an image that traveled billions of light-years to reach the earth. In that case I'm not seeing the star as it is, but as it was.

    On any position you take, whether Archbishop Ussher or Ed Witten, there is going to be a discrepancy between appearance and reality.

    Great point.

    However it seems to me that YEC have by and large already lost the debate both within and without Christianity. I'm not saying that I disagree with YEC, but only that the battle has largely been lost in so far as it *seems* (from my experience) that even most Christians, especially coming out of college, are going with a theistic evolutionary view.

    It will be interesting to see where things stand in the next two generations.

  2. He must not have been an Arminian; you were pretty nice to him :)


    "He must not have been an Arminian; you were pretty nice to him :)"

    Shhh! No don't go ruining my carefully crafted reputation!

  4. A few links, FYI, from the pro-evolution side. I'm not endorsing them.

    1.) The Canadian Reformed Church is currently having a dustup over evolution. This is the "Liberated" Dutch movement that helped inspire Norman Shepherd's views on justification. Anyway, here is the anti-creationism side:

    2. Here's Tim Keller's attempt to defend a "bigger tent" view of the Bible and evolution, while holding onto a literal Adam and Eve. Make of it what you will:

  5. I've read Keller's White paper and enjoyed it (if not being entirely sure where to land on its accuracy; I am not well read enough to know).

    I suppose if someone is a creationist, they will reject Keller's approach as fundamentally flawed. Would I be wrong here?

  6. Physics and metapics both study the truth, natural laws while netaphysics focus more on life issues. I am for the cosmic flows which impact lives across the board.A book documents the impacct of cosmic flows with live examples of global celebrities.the book:THE TRUTH OLF UPS AND DOWNS, COSMIC INEQUALITY.