Tuesday, April 05, 2011
The YEC Cosmology: an unintelligible pastiche.
This is the summing up part of my previous posts in this series. The other parts can be found as follows: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
In the first part of this series we saw how Ken Ham much prefers to talk about a “mature creation” or a “fully functioning creation” rather than a creation with the “appearance of age”. According to Ken age cannot be determined from an object. However, this nuancing is a piece of evasive chicanery on behalf of the “Answers in Genesis” supremo, because when all is said and done it becomes clear that Ken and AiG are forced to acknowledge that there is such a thing as an “appearance of history” if not an “appearance of age” and this leads to conflicts, contradictions even, within the YEC movement. For Ken and his friends want the imprimatur of doing some science and so when an object displays blatant evidence of having a history they are obliged to explain it - in terms of history, of course. History is a sequence of events and the structure of many objects - such as the layers we see in archeological and geological sedimentation, like the leaves of diary – are difficult to interpret in any other way than as a sequential assembly spaced out over time. YECs will, in many cases, admit this interpretation but it is then down to the YEC theorist to squeeze that sequence into less than 6000 years. For example, YECs have tried to cobble together “naturalistic” cosmological histories that avoid the “bogus history” accesses of some of the early YECs who claimed that star light was created en-route. They also admit that continental drift is a real phenomenon although of course they require it to take place much faster than in mainstream drift theory; similarly, for the cooling of magma intrusions and the formation of lake varves. All this is amounts to a getting away from naive “God made it just like that” beliefs.
An excursion into the science of origins has forced AiG theorists to make informal decisions as to which objects are historical (that is, objects which display evidence of having a historical sequence in their formation) and which objects are a-historical (that is objects which display no evidence of having a history): If AiG are to remain committed to a rational and coherent world they are obliged to explain historical objects, whereas a-historical objects can be claimed to have been created “as is” without violation of evidence of historical sequencing. In making such strenuous efforts to explain the evidence of star light, continental drift, magma intrusions and the like, AiG has effectively cut across Ken’s views: They are admitting that objects do betray at least evidence of history if not an evidence of age. AiG are courting a very basic contradiction within their organization: On the one hand they will deny the evidences of age and yet on the other AiG theorists are busting a gut to explain how blatant evidences of history are consistent with a 6000 year time scale. Their denial that there is such a thing as an “appearance of age” is a piece of self-deceiving sophistry that is belied by their efforts to mobilize AiG technical resources to explain historical objects. Yes, AiG certainly do care about an “appearance of history” in spite of what they may tell you. They care enough about it to have banned Adam’s belly button at AiG!
The AiG policy of making informal decisions about which objects show evidence of an historical sequence that needs interpretation and which do not, is particularly difficult to implement in cosmology. The trouble is AiG only has 6000 years to play with – in fact, probably a lot less than that in many cases. This creates big problems in the heavens where huge objects like galaxies have dimensions thousands of light years across. As we saw in the last part in this series ultra-fundamentalist John Byl betrays the problems his fellow YECs are facing. For example, Byl points out that galaxies appear to have distant parts apparently in gravitational interaction, but with only light speed signaling being available it is difficult to account for these objects without recourse to bogus history theory. But Byl tells his fellow YECs to relax and face the inevitable; some measure of bogus history theory will simply just have to be accepted by YECs, says Byl – it’s the only way to do it and besides its perfectly moral for God to create in this way: For, says Byl, God is using the heavens to justifiabley deceive unbelieving scientists into believing in an old Cosmos. According to Byl the whole cosmic shooting match is an intended sham and scientists have only got themselves to blame for not seeing through it. Byle’s vision is of an incoherent and irrational postmodern universe that ultimately undermines science. His religious devotion to his sect’s belief in a 6000 year old cosmos overrides all other consideration to the point of irrationality.
Deciding whether an object is truly a-historical is extraordinarily difficult given that form in our cosmos so often betrays evidence that is not easily interpreted as anything other than a sign of a sequential assembly. In fact the general AiG concept of a “fully functioning creation” is itself suggestive of history. For the physical algorithms of a functioning creation, when plainly interpreted, are easy to read as evidence of a cosmos that has existed as far back in time as the algorithm can be extended. But, and this is the important point, not all algorithms can be extended indefinitely into the past any more than halting algorithms can be indefinitely extended into the future: In the attempt to reverse an algorithm a point may be reached beyond which the behavior of the algorithm is undefined. At that point we really do have an object which is truly a-historical and has no bogus history that has to be brushed under the carpet; such an object can be created "as is" with creative integrity remaining intact. The alternative is that we follow the AiG line and simply wait on their decisional fiat as to what is a-historical and therefore can be created ex nihilo, and what is historical and therefore demands an historical theory in order to preserve the integrity of creation science.
But let me at least hand it to them: AiG are busting a gut to be scientific and as a result they are getting embroiled in some deep and difficult questions. To some extent I’ll give them credit for it; they are trying to be consistent. But I fancy you will find YECs out there who feel very uneasy about this engagement with science – these are Christians who sense the crypto-gnostic sentiment that authentic spirituality is naturally adverse to science of any kind because it is “man’s knowledge” and therefore profane. The fideists won’t like it: “ …the creationists have fallen into the trap of being Greeks looking for Wisdom and trying to compete wisdom vs. wisdom” I read on one Christian web site. As if to echo the fideist sentiments of Gnostic Christianity, John Byl, in his book “God and Cosmos” says:
In conclusion, while it is clear that various creationist cosmologies can be constructed, it must be acknowledged that most of these models are rather ad hoc, have not been worked out in much detail and often have few distinctive observational implications. As such they are unlikely to convince skeptics (You bet – ed) …..Almost all creationist models ultimately draw upon the concept of mature creation. While this notion may be logically, observationally and theologically unassailable (because God is allowed to deceive us in Byl’s view – ed) it does have one notable scientific deficiency. It offers very little in the way of detailed explanation for specific features of astronomical observation, other than affirming that that is just how God made things. In that sense Big-Bang cosmology, with all its shortcomings, at least attempts to develop a coherent explanation of many observational features. (p 201)
That is the nearest admission I’ve seen from a YEC that the “God did it, just like that” paradigm ultimately undermines the integrity, coherence, and intelligibility of the observational world; even to the point that it can be regarded as a form of divine deception. It is also an admission that Big Bang Theory is a lot better than YEC cosmologies, although he goes on the imply that modern Big Bang theory has “illusory explanatory powers” and is therefore effectively a simulacrum. He also talks about “divinely revealed facts” and yet fails to see that his undermining of the coherency and intelligibility of the cosmos ultimately undermines the integrity of all revelation whether that revelation is based on an interpretation of Biblical writ or the interpretation of any other part of the observed creation.
But like all YECs Byl’s religious egotism prevents him from identifying the nest of wood boring weevils in his own wood pile – namely, his sect’s interpretation of Genesis 1 which he presumes to call “the supremacy of God’s Word”. To hold close to their breast an insidious incoherence is the challenge that a teeth gritting faith sets before itself. It is the badge of an ostentatious piety that they shout from the roof tops. To sectarian minds this is taken as a sign that sets them apart as God’s privileged remnant.