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Feedback archive Feedback 2009

String theory “philosophy” challenged

Published: 13 June 2009(GMT+10)

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This week, Marnix K. From the Netherlands objected to a comment made in Gary Bates’s article about string theory.

Dear Mr Bates,

In your article “Is ‘string’ the next big thing?”, you write: “Evolutionary ideas like string theory start from a worldview framework that there is no God.”

I have two questions about this. First, why do you call string theory an “evolutionary idea”? I’m presuming you are relating string theory to evolution theory in some way, but the rest of the article does not give any further details about such a relation.

Firstly, thank you for your email. The big bang is fundamental to cosmic evolution or the idea that somehow the universe made itself. The article majored on the varying ideas that emanate from big bang philosophy, such as dark energy and dark matter etc. that are used to solve some of the “science” problems of the big bang. It then went on to say that string theory is just another one of these ideas with no basis in experimental science. And as I mentioned and showed in the article it is not just creationists who point out these problems. Late last year a secular conference called Crisis in Cosmology 2: Challenges to Consensus Cosmology and the Quest for a New Picture of the Universe was held to further challenge those struggling to hang onto the untenable big bang.

A quick Internet search using the words “string theory” with “big bang” will reveal the relationship. Some models of string theory attempt to explain the initial conditions of the universe before expansion occurred by saying that the theoretical early universe existed as brane that filled space. A popular physics website explains it like this.

“ … they can use string theory to devise explanations for some grand problems in cosmology, such as the state of the universe—its shape, size, etc.—just after the Big Bang, when quarks roamed freely. Along these lines, a group of theoretical physicists has recently published an interesting string-theory scenario that describes a new way to approach the development of the Big Bang. They propose that the universe began as a type of theoretical space-filling object called a ‘brane.’”1

This is in contrast with the conventional big bang idea that the universe existed as a singularity before expansion. That is, that all space, matter and energy existed at a point that was no bigger than the head of a pin and then for some unknown reason it expanded (or inflated) and energy became matter, stars, galaxies, planets and even the space in which they exist (and ultimately human beings). There are obvious problems with that idea, because the laws of physics actually break down at the point of the singularity—or it would be more truthful to say “the laws of physics don’t even exist” prior to, or, at this point in the development of the universe. Hence the ever-increasing elegant theories that attempt to solve these problems. For example, on a recent radio program, science writer Michael Brooks explained:

“String theory, our best hope for a theory that describes all the forces and particles of nature, is driven by a battle. The fight centres around questions of how string theorists should interpret an anomaly, in this case an observation that suggests the universe's expansion is speeding up. Having failed in every attempt to account for this observation, some string theorists are suggesting that certain aspects of the universe are simply unknowable. Others are horrified by this apparently defeatist attitude. The controversy surrounding the issue has come to be known as the ‘string wars ’. ”2

This is because, quite simply, the big bang operates outside of the realm of operational science and has more to do with a philosophical worldview (see point 2 of your question shortly). But notice that in either the singularity or the string theory model there is a preexisting belief that the big bang occurred. The aforementioned article goes on to say:

“He and his group propose that time began when, via a Big Bang-like event, the brane decayed into closed strings (loops) that propagated off to create the ordinary matter that makes up the universe. This scenario, while avoiding the mathematical problems of a singularity, also helps explain some other issues.”

The universe looks designed

Creationists have long pointed out that the observable universe does not fit the standard big bang model because the universe displays homogeneity.

Creationists have long pointed out that the observable universe does not fit the standard big bang model because the universe displays homogeneity. For example, the famous astronomer Edwin Hubble (after whom the Hubble Space telescope was named), said:

“Such a condition [these red shifts] would imply that we occupy a unique position in the universe analogous, in a sense, to the ancient conception of a central earth. The hypothesis cannot be disproved but it is unwelcome. … But the unwelcome supposition of a favored location must be avoided at all costs. Such a favoured position, of course, is intolerable; moreover, it represents a discrepancy with the theory, because the theory postulates homogeneity [smoothness or evenness].”3

The reason he said that it must be avoided at all costs is because it looked like our Milky Way galaxy might actually be at the centre of the universe, which of course would imply that it was therefore designed. Cosmologist George Francis Rayner Ellis also stated:

“People need to be aware that there is a range of models that could explain the observations. … For instance, I can construct you a spherically symmetrical universe with earth at its center, and you cannot disprove it based on observations. … You can only exclude it on philosophical grounds. In my view there is absolutely nothing wrong in that. What I want to bring into the open is the fact that we are using philosophical criteria [beliefs] in choosing our models. A lot of cosmology tries to hide that.”4

The same physics website that I mentioned earlier also comments on the homogeneous appearance of the universe, but also in an attempt to explain it away. I.e. “It shouldn’t look like this if there was a big bang.”

“For example, to us, the universe looks the same in every direction. Within this brane model, the homogeneity of the universe could be explained as the result of an early universe with homogenous initial conditions, such as a brane that evenly filled space.”1

Notice that they admit that the universe appears homogeneous, but that their string theory model can explain this “problem”, that is, it should not look like this if there was a big bang event. String theory is clearly a subset of a big bang belief system so this also applies to the second part of your question. The big bang, and string theory which is being used to support it, are ideological attempts to explain away the appearance of design in the universe (no first cause etc.) and therefore explain the universe without God. While some Christians think that God may have “lit the fuse” of the big bang, it should be remembered that the big bang itself is “evolving”. For example, the very fact that there are some many differing models of the big bang demonstrates its philosophical nature. Logically, not all theories can be correct and if Christians align their theology with one particular view then they risk having to revise their theology later on when the theory changes or is modified. They will be like the man that built his house on sand whom Jesus spoke about in Matthew 7:26-27.

Second, isn’t it true that “any” science should be accessible and checkable by anyone, regardless of his worldview? For example, I cannot use my Bible as a scientific argument, to show someone else that it is not possible for a kind to evolve into another kind, or that life has not spontaneously arisen from non-life. But I can (and should) use verifiable data, which is then perhaps interpreted differently based on our worldviews. This implies that “God exists” or “there is (probably) no God” both are statements outside of the realm of science.

This is correct up to a point, but it depends on how you define “science”. Many Christians are unaware that their tacit acceptance of the widespread view that “creation is religion, but evolution is science” not only lets evolutionists define “science”, but also leaves Bible-haters a free rein to play “switcheroo” with history. (As every skilled debater knows, whoever defines the terms wins the debate.) You see, the Genesis account is a record of history, and evolution is also alleged history. So when the secularists demand, for example, that creation should not be taught in science classes (but of course they demand that evolution be taught in science classes) they are actually substituting the true account of history with their own (false) version, and calling it “science”. Nobody can know definitively what happened before they were born, unless they have access to (and trust) a true eyewitness account. Consider this advice to Christian students from CMI geologist Dr Tas Walker:

Realize that if the events described were not observed (e.g. if they’re making claims about a time before the researchers were born) then they are telling you a story—an attempt to construct an evolutionary ‘history’ that fits the present evidence. Once you are alert to this you will not be tricked into accepting their evolutionary way of thinking. (Cf. the Scriptures’ emphasis on the importance of eyewitnessesDeuteronomy 19:1-5; Job 38:4,21; 2 Corinthians 13:1.)

There is scientific evidence that is consistent with biblical history, and which does not fit the evolutionary “history” (e.g. carbon 14 found in coal and diamonds, or helium diffusion in granites). The same evidence might also be interpreted within an evolutionary framework. And evolutionists cannot escape the truth of Romans 1:20, e.g. the evidence of the complexity of the cell is consistent with it having being designed. To rely on unknown imaginary forces to create the complex machinery of the cell is surely unscientific, by any reasonable definition! We understand that complex machines require a designer—and there are incredibly complex machines in nature. The anthropic principle suggests there is a designer who must be outside of our time and space and before all things (Colossians 1). Sure, the evidence is still interpreted according to one’s worldview, but it actually points to design, whereas, cosmic or biological evolution seeks to explain away the implications of that evidence just like Hubble above.

So, if I understand things correctly, science is done as if there were no God.

Evolutionists might like to think that. But in fact, the great scientific advances in history were made by scientists like Sir Isaac Newton who in fact accepted that there is a Creator God, and, not surprisingly, found evidence of His handiwork in the things He had made. Also, if you wanted to define “science” to include speculation about what might have happened in the past that resulted in the world we have today, then it ought to be categorised as historical or origins science, which deals with past events that we were not there to observe as opposed to operational science (see next). I can do an experimental test to determine if the theory of gravity works (I can hold a ball and let if fall to the ground). But I cannot go back in time machine to observe or do the same sort of empirical testing for past events.

But doing science in that way, and then concluding “there is probably no god”, is of course saying that the world is pink just because my glasses are.

How does one define science?

I think you have misunderstood the limitations of science and would do well to research this site to better understand how our pre-existing beliefs or worldview assumptions actually influence the way we conduct science. The type of science to which you are referring is better known as operational or experimental science. As Dr Jonathan Sarfati explains in chapter one of his book Refuting Evolution:

“Science does have its limits. Normal (operational) science deals only with repeatable observable processes in the present. This has indeed been very successful in understanding the world, and has led to many improvements in the quality of life. In contrast, evolution is a speculation about the unobservable and unrepeatable past. …

“In dealing with the past, ‘origins science’ can enable us to make educated guesses about origins. It uses the principles of causality (everything that has a beginning has a cause) and analogy (e.g., we observe that intelligence is needed to generate complex coded information in the present, so we can reasonably assume the same for the past). But the only way we can be really sure about the past is if we have a reliable eyewitness account. Evolutionists claim there is no such account, so their ideas are derived from assumptions about the past. But biblical creationists believe that Genesis is an eyewitness account of the origin of the universe and living organisms. They also believe that there is good evidence for this claim, so they reject the claim that theirs is a blind faith.

“Creationists don’t pretend that any knowledge, science included, can be pursued without presuppositions (i.e., prior religious/philosophical beliefs). Creationists affirm that creation cannot ultimately be divorced from the Bible any more than evolution can ultimately be divorced from its naturalistic starting point that excludes divine creation a priori.”

Therefore it is true, but not a negative thing, to say that “string theory start[s] from a worldview framework that there is no God.”

In other words, God is excluded even if the evidence points to Him

I disagree, but please let me explain. Because I have an a priori assumption that God is the Creator of the universe—the One who created space and time itself. Therefore my view is that the quest for knowledge and scientific investigation should be conducted in the light of this belief. I would go even further to say that I think it is not helpful to investigate science, especially origins science, without an understanding of the One who created the very laws of physics by which we exist. Understanding God as our Creator also provides meaning and purpose for very existence, and explain why we live in such a special place in a special universe. In addition, a medical doctor when confronted with the issue of whether to abort a baby or not might be influenced by the evolutionary teaching he learnt at university. Therefore, thinking that an embryo is not fully human he might not realise that abortion is actually killing a child. Contrastingly, administering antibiotics for an infection or developing cures is in the realm of operational science and has nothing to do with his beliefs about origins, and such a belief has no influence on the way he might administer such cures.

To summarize, I believe it would have been better to leave the entire quoted sentence out of this article, since it is not necessary to support the key idea of the article, and indeed detracts from it.

But equally the evolutionist and indeed the string theory advocate would also say that it is unscientific to investigate the universe with the assumption that God is Creator. Hopefully, I have shown you that their type of science is conducted within their own philosophical framework that starts from the assumption that there is no God. In other words, God is excluded even if the evidence points to Him (see Hubble and Ellis quotes above) i.e. the implication of design, and thus, a Creator. To me that is just plain bad science, because good scientific investigation should lead you wherever the evidence takes you, regardless of the implications. I think it was important to point that out in the article.

Thanks,

No problems—all the best.

Gary Bates

Recommended Resources




References

  1. New String-Theory Notion Redefines the Big Bang, www.physorg.com/news63041667.html, 26 May 2009. Return to text.
  2. The Science Show, ABC Radio, www.abc.net.au/rn/scienceshow/stories/2009/2584860.htm, 30 May 2009. Return to text
  3. Edwin Hubble, The Observational Approach to Cosmology (Oxford, UK, Clarendon Press, 1937), p. 50, 51, 59. Return to text.
  4. Gibbs, W. Wayt, 1995. Profile: George F.R. Ellis; Thinking Globally, Acting Universally. Scientific American 273(4):28, 29. Return to text.

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