Wednesday, January 28, 2004

A bit more regarding Testable Creation...

Ed over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars took issue with my plug for Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana’s upcoming book The Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off and the short response I gave. He was wondering how such an animal (a Scientifically Testable Creation Model) could exist. He’s written two posts so far critiquing my post and Reasons to Believe’s (RTB) model. Before I respond I’d just like to say that one of the advantages of blogging is that it allows quick, short commentaries to be posted to the world. One of the disadvantages of blogging is that it allows quick, short commentaries to be posted to the world. First off there should be no contradiction in what I wrote with what is presented by the RTB model. I did state that life forms appear quickly in the fossil record, while Hugh Ross' refers to the “many “transitional” forms seen in the fossil record.” Yet note that the word transitional was italicized by Ross. He was comparing the many life forms, purported to be transitional life forms by evolutionists, as not being transitional at all, but being the handiwork of the Creator. Ed says, “it appears that both he and Ross use what I regard as a rather anachronistic definition of "testable". The primary focus of the article by Ross that Rusty cites as the "testable creation model" was on how to read modern scientific theories IN to the Genesis account, and the technique used to do it was to take vague statements from Genesis and read an infinite amount of detail into it so that it appears that the bible predicted what we have now found to be true.” Ed brings up a good point in that we need to understand how RTB is using the word “testable.” Perhaps a bit of clarification is needed here. RTB is stating that if we take the Biblical record on Creation – not just the account in Genesis – but all of the Bible’s references to God’s activity of Creation, we can then compare what the data of nature is telling us to that record and we can make predictions as to what we should expect to find in various areas of future scientific research. As to reading in “an infinite amount of detail” into the Scriptures I would disagree. For instance, the text of Genesis states that “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters,” to which Ross responds with, “At its beginning, Earth is empty of life and unfit for life; interplanetary debris and Earth's primordial atmosphere prevent the light of the sun, moon, and stars from reaching the planet's surface.” This is not a translation of the text in Genesis but simply an analysis to see if the text corresponds to what we understand to be the case. In other words, the text clearly states that the early Earth was without life, covered with water, and in darkness. This corresponds to our best understanding of the conditions on early Earth. The claim that this only shows compatibility with our understanding of the facts misses the point that these words have been around for over 2,000 years. In his second post Ed states, “…What they are doing is testing whether or not a particular creation story can be reconciled with a scientific model. That may be valuable in a theological context, but means little in a scientific one. Big bang cosmology, or evolutionary theory, is either true or it is not true, and whether it agrees or disagrees with one's interpretation of Genesis has no bearing on whether it is true or not. Those are models that can be tested against the data and from which inferential predictions logically flow and they are tested solely on the basis of whether they have explanatory power, not on whether they agree with one's religious views.” I would posit that whether a Creation story corresponds with scientific understanding is immensely important. Native American creation myths that propose the earth was formed from the dirt under the fingernails of a turtle are interesting but hardly inspire one to consider anything else they say as true. Contrast that with the consistency of the Biblical record on Creation in accounting for the structure of the natural realm. Ed states, “Nowhere in Genesis 1 does it mention a space-time continuum, nor is there any evidence that the ancient Hebrews had any such conception whatsoever. It says that he created "the heavens and the earth", but it says nothing about "time itself". Nor, I might add, does big bang cosmology say anything about a "transcendent event". I will agree that one can interpret Genesis in a manner that makes it "consistent" with big bang cosmology, but that is not at all the same as saying that it "predicts" big bang cosmology. There is a bait and switch at work here.” In my short post I edited down perhaps a bit too much. Although Genesis does not state that God created time, that data is found in other parts of the Bible. I would disagree that Big Bang cosmology does not posit a transcendent creation event. Ross likes to state that “exhaustive testing affirms general relativity as the best proven principle in physics, and the spacetime theorems derived from general relativity establish a “singular” simultaneous beginning for all the matter, energy, space, and time in the universe. The universe came into existence from a source, or causal Agent, beyond matter, energy, space, and time.” Two major components of the Big Bang model are, according to Ross: 1) the cosmos is traceable in finite time to a transcendent (from beyond the cosmos, i.e. from beyond matter, energy, and even the space-time dimensions associated with matter and energy) creation event and hence to a transcendent Cause, and 2) the universe is expanding (thus, cooling) with respect to time. The Bible describes the cosmos in term compatible with these characteristics. It describes a beginning, it describes a cosmos that has been stretched and continues to be stretched. These are concepts that would be foreign to anyone prior to the recent past. That no one predicted the aspects of Big Bang cosmology prior to Big Bang cosmology does not negate the fact that its attributes have always been in the Bible. This is not a bait and switch. I have not read Quentin Smith so I cannot comment on his argument that Big Bang cosmology leads one to atheism. Suffice it to say that the response of Big Bang opponents in the 20th century to the concept of the Big Bang was primarily due to their understanding that the theory ran counter to atheism. Until I acquaint myself with his work I will consider Smith an anomaly. Yet the model does have more contemporary predictive power. In my post I write, “an omnipotent designer is not constrained to build systems from the simpler to the more complex, as is posited by Evolution,” to which Ed responds: “…that leaves one with some difficulty explaining why the natural history of life on earth DID go from simpler to more complex systems. …The earth is ~4.55 billion years old. The first life appears on earth in strata ~3.9 billion years ago, and those life forms are anaerobic bacteria. Over the course of the next 3 billion years, while the forms of bacteria become more diverse and relatively simple multicellular organisms begin to appear, nothing more complex than algal stromatolites is found on the earth. If, as Rusty claims, "an omnipotent designer is not constrained to build systems from the simpler to the more complex", then why would he propose that an omnipotent and unconstrained designer DID create life from simple to complex? I'm sure the response will be that even bacteria are highly complex organisms, and relative to non-organic entities, that may be true. But relative to the vast increase in diversity and complexity that took place in the last 800 million years, why did this unconstrained designer only work with the relatively simple bacteria and stromatolites for 3.1 billion years prior to that? Surely an omnipotent and unconstrained designer doesn't need to create starting with the relatively simple and working his way up to the relatively complex, but that is in fact how life appeared on the earth. Clearly 3 billion years of nothing but relatively simple bacteria is not a prediction that flows from it having been designed by an omnipotent and unconstrained designer.” The prediction made by RTB’s model is that life, in its earliest and simplest form, will be complex. Here we are considering life in its earliest and simplest form as contrasted with life in its latest and advanced form. For example, contrast the first bacteria with modern humans – simple to advanced. Yet, and here is the catch, the structure of the bacteria is highly complex (as Ed ponders). It is this complexity that is predicted by RTB’s model. Got that? The model is not addressing, here, the issue of life going from simple to advanced; it is addressing the issue that simple life is complex. Ed brings up another good point in pointing out that the first evidence of life appears approximately 3.86 billion years ago. It interesting to note that the late heavy bombardment – that time in our solar system’s history when the inner planets underwent asteroidal bombardment – concluded at approximately 3.8 billion years ago. Up to that point the surface of the Earth is either in a molten state or is subject to sterilization events during the late heavy bombardment. In other words life appears as soon as conditions permit. At 3.86 billion years ago the Earth rotated on its axis in about 8 hours. That means that at the surface of the Earth the wind velocity was 0 mph but at about 6 feet in elevation it was several hundreds of miles per hour! Advanced life forms would not survive – yet. But Bacteria would. Additionally the ratio of heavy metals in the Earth’s surface was too high to allow advanced life forms to survive. Certain forms of bacteria play a role in the removal of these high concentrations of metals. Further the Earth’s surface was not optimally ready for advanced life forms in that it was still susceptible to “snowball” events, did not yet have the right land to water ratio, nor the best atmosphere. One of the hallmarks of a good design is optimal timing. Research continues to show that events orchestrating the appearance of advanced life on planet Earth are optimally timed. Now keep in mind that a reading of the Bible will not cause one to predict that the Cambrian Explosion should have occurred approximately 540 million years ago. If one is looking for that type of testable prediction then they are out of luck. But a reading of the Bible will cause one to predict that life will appear quickly. Here is what Ed responds with, “…A life form either appears or does not appear, "quickly" has nothing to do with it. Fossils freeze a specific moment in time, and the fossil record as a whole (the order of appearance of the various species) can only show trends. That order of appearance, I would argue, is a very powerful prediction made by evolution... this order: fish ---> amphibian ---> reptile ---> mammals and birds…. Evolution says that they appeared in that order because they evolved in that order… If evolution is true, and each of these major animal groups split off from the previous one, then what would we expect?... the order of appearance within those groups should be as conspicuous as the order of appearance in general… if birds evolved from reptiles, then the first birds must have been very similar to reptiles... And what does the fossil record show? Precisely that… The first birds to appear are so reptile-like that they would be classified as theropod dinosaurs if not for the feathers. We now have multiple feathered theropod species to bridge the gap, and they all appear very early and share most of their traits with reptiles, not with modern birds. Over time, they diversified and became less reptile-like... If modern birds appeared all at once in the fossil record, with entirely avian skeletal structure and feathers and fully adapted for powered flight, there would be no way to link them to reptiles… But they don't appear that way, and the order in which they do appear is precisely what evolution predicts.” I disagree with Ed on most of these points. The fossil record although considered not complete is considered adequate. It reveals periods of stasis and then sudden appearance (or extinction). Indeed, Punctuated Equilibrium was posited to address this very issue. The Cambrian Explosion remains an enigma to the evolutionary community for in a period of just a few million years – a short time for evolutionary sequences – we have the appearance of tens of phyla, not just species. That is evidence of appearing quickly. Simply because animal forms appeared on Earth in a certain sequence does not mandate that they are related or transitioned from one to another. Another completely valid explanation is that they were designed that way. What we need to accept the evolutionary proposition is a valid method by which the organisms can change. People need to understand that an animal that appears intermediate in form is not the same as it being transitional in nature. Consider the sequence of automobiles from the early 1900s up until the present. They are intermediate in form but in no way are they transitional (in the evolutionary sense). Design is a valid option. The fossil record does not show us transitional forms with regards to the dinosaur to bird sequence. Dinosaurs with feathers do not qualify. They are dinosaurs. They have fully formed feathers. Where are the dino-birds with scales forming into feathers? The evolutionary model predicts they will be found; the Creation model predicts they won’t. Besides, feathers are not the only requirement for a dinosaur to become a bird. The avian lung is a complete reworking of the reptilian lung. Where are the transitional forms? Better yet, what would a transitional lung look like? Flight needs to be addressed and there is no consensus on how flight is acquired. There is also the issue of the temporal paradox in the fossils claimed to be transitional to birds. The earliest bird fossils date to around 150 million years ago – note they had complete and modern feathers. Yet the earliest dinosaur fossils that best fit into the dino to bird scenario are contemporary with the earliest bird fossils. Where are the transitional sequences? The evolutionary model predicts they will be found; the Creation model predicts they won’t. The fossil record shows species appearing fully formed and functional with long periods of stasis - as the Creation model would predict. Ed states, “True Homo sapiens remains have been dated as far back as 120,000 years, or 2 1/2 times older than Rusty says the bible allows even at its most generous point. And of course all of humanity came from a small group of individuals, that is true of any species whether it was created ex nihilo or whether they split off from an ancestral group... As far as the "Mind's big bang" goes, the fossil evidence shows that there was no "big bang" at all. Upright bipedal primates with big brains didn't just suddenly appear at some point. The hominid fossil record shows a very clear progression in all of the key human traits - brain size relative to body size, bipedality, dentition, the use of tools, and cultural sophistication... Again one must ask why it would logically follow that an omnipotent and unconstrained designer would spend the last few million years tinkering with animals, making a series of species with each one having a slightly larger brain and better adaptation to walking upright than the last one... Was he making rough drafts? That would imply constraint. Was he trying to fool us into thinking that evolution as true? I'm sure that's theologically unacceptable to my correspondent. Lastly, it is simply false to claim that "virtually all genetic links to Neandertals and other primates have been eliminated"... The mtDNA studies on Neandertals show that they are an evolutionary cousin and not an ancestor, but that is a far cry from "all genetic links have been eliminated".” This may just be a definition issue but there is no evidence for homo sapiens (i.e., modern humans) any further back than 50,000 years ago. The point of my stating that humanity came from a small group (e.g., two) of individuals is to point out the fact that such an event in the evolutionary sequence is highly problematic. The chances of extinction rise dramatically with the lower the number of starting individuals. It is a prediction in that the evolutionary sequence posits that groups evolve and not individuals. In reference to the Mind’s Big Bang I again will disagree with Ed. Evidence of the advent of creative expression, ritual burial practice, spirit worship, etc., is recent and can in no way be attributed to any of the primates once thought to have evolved into the human race. The evidence shows that early primate skull size was tiny and limited in its growth over time. The human skull shows a jump in size that is not consistent with the evolutionary sequence. Bipedalism too is shown to appear suddenly and then remain constant. In stating that the genetic links to all early primates have been eliminated I was describing the fact that all early primates, including Neandertals, can now be shown to be unrelated in the evolutionary sense to humans. We did not evolve from Neandertals. Finally I would like to address the issue raised by Ed as to why the Designer would create primates or tinker with animals for millions of years. Unfortunately this type of question is asking for the motives of the Designer. We may have an indication of His motives by what He reveals to us, such as His loving and caring attributes, but we may also be left in the dark with regards to why he created Neandertals or Tyrannosaurus rexes. Conjecture as to why remains that… conjecture. Was He trying to fool us, as Ed thinks, or was He just enjoying the process of creating?

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