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God the Deceiver?
Entry 1227, on 2010-09-27 at 21:03:11 (Rating 3, Religion)
Nothing can ever be proven 100%. Well at least that is true outside the theoretical areas of topics like pure logic and mathematics. Most people know and accept this and it should be enough to demonstrate something with 99% certainty. After all, the whole world could be an illusion and the only thing we know for sure is that we ourselves exist (just as Descartes said) and even that has been questioned (although I don't necessarily accept that argument). So anyone who wants to have any sort of sensible interaction with the world really has to be pragmatic and accept 99% certainty as being enough. Note that the number 99 is purely arbitrary but it makes a good number to work with, at least.
So apart from the fact that any conclusion can be questioned because here is always that last 1% of uncertainty it should be possible to prove certain things: both true and false (contrary to the popular belief that you can't prove a negative).
Now, to get to the point. I have been thinking for a while now about a way to disprove some of the most idiotic ideas some people continue to hold, and what could be more idiotic than young Earth creationism! So in this blog entry I'm going to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that young Earth creationism is wrong.
First of all let me define what I mean by the term. The most common belief is that the entire universe was created by the Judeo-Christian God about 6000 years ago. If I can show that any part of the universe is over 6000 years old then we must reject young Earth creationism. Most people assume that is easy but creationists have spent a huge amount of time inventing ways to make the disproof of their belief less credible so, in fact, it's not as straightforward as you might assume.
There are many ways to show the Earth and the universe as a whole are older than 6000 years: geological evidence, radiometric dating, evolutionary processes, geographical changes, astronomical observations, the list is almost endless. But because of my interest in astronomy I decided to go with an astronomical proof. Here it is...
We know that light travels at a specific speed. That speed has been measured in the lab and in the universe outside. If a star is so far away that its light has taken more an 6000 years to get here then the universe must be more than 6000 years old. But it's actually surprisingly difficult to measure the distance to stars. Direct measurement techniques (using parallax) frustratingly don't work for distances as great as 6000 light years.
Other methods do work for thousands, millions, and even billions of light years in distance (meaning the light has been travelling thousands, millions, or billions of years) and these disprove a young universe, but the indirectness of those measurements leaves them open to attack.
There is a simple way to establish the distance to objects which requires nothing more than common sense though. Galaxies can be resolved into individual stars using modern telescopes. We know how many stars there are and how bright they are, so we can easily determine their distance. The nearest big galaxy is 2 million light years away so the light we see from it has been travelling 2 million years. So the young Earth theory is refuted.
But you can't say "QED" so quickly, there are a few loopholes. First, how do we know the stars in distant galaxies are the same as the closer ones we can directly measure the brightness of? Maybe they are dimmer and much closer than we think. Well they can't be because the processes inside stars are fairly well understood and they require a certain mass and temperature to proceed. Spectroscopic analysis of the light from these stars show the same processes as in local ones, so we know they are the same brightness.
Objection 2: maybe there is something between the galaxy and us dimming the light and making the galaxy seem dimmer and more distant. Actually there is, but that has been taken into account already. Also it's possible to look at the size of the galaxy to establish it's brightness and that isn't affected by dimming.
Next objection: maybe the galaxy is 2 million light years away but is still only 6000 years old because the light was created already in transit to the Earth. I guess that's possible but it does seem like an odd thing for God to do. Also, there are other problems. The spiral arms of galaxies are formed by compression of gases which results in new stars. The arms are tens of thousands of light years wide so they must have existed at least that long. Maybe God created the light in transit to the Earth so that we could see it but how likely is it that exactly the same delusion could be in place regarding star formation? Is God just the great deceiver? And if he is, what else has he deceived us about?
The final objection is that scientists are misreporting their data. In other words, everything I have told you is a lie, either by me or by the scientists I am reporting. In other words there is a global conspiracy involving almost every astronomer on the planet. Again this is possible but it's now fairly simple for amateurs with advanced telescopes to make all the observations I have mentioned. I admit I haven't done them, but others have and I have never heard that they have been assassinated or inducted into the great conspiracy.
So really I think I have disproven the young universe with at least 99% certainty. Anyone who still believes in a young universe is just being willfully ignorant. In other words, they want to be deceived. That's fine, if you're a creationist and want to believe in a young Earth go ahead, believe in a fantasy. But don't pretend for an instant that there is any real validity in that belief.
Comment 1 (2835) by INRI on 2010-10-01 at 23:36:18:
Or possibly light used to travel faster.
Ellis, GFR; Uzan, J-P (2005). "‘c’ is the speed of light, isn’t it?". American Journal of Physics 73: 240–7. doi:10.1119/1.1819929. arXiv:gr-qc/0305099. "The possibility that the fundamental constants may vary during the evolution of the universe offers an exceptional window onto higher dimensional theories and is probably linked with the nature of the dark energy that makes the universe accelerate today.".
After all c= 1 / SQRT(EU) [David K Cheng (1989):Field and Wave Electromagnetics p10] (where E and U are the permittivity and permeability of free space). Who is to say and E and U have not changed since the universe started?
Comment 2 (2837) by OJB on 2010-10-02 at 22:56:57:
There are some serious theories which do propose the idea that fundamental "constants" might change but they are far from widely accepted. Also the amount of difference required to change the age of the universe from 14 billion to 6000 years would be very obvious in many ways.
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