Tag Archives: Science

Stephen C. Meyer and Marcus Ross lecture on the Cambrian explosion

Cambrian Explosion
Cambrian Explosion

Access Research Network is a group that produces recordings  of lectures and debates related to intelligent design. I noticed that on their Youtube channel they are releasing some of their older lectures and debates for FREE. So I decided to write a summary of one that I really like on the Cambrian explosion. This lecture features Dr. Stephen C. Meyer and Dr. Marcus Ross.

The lecture is about two hours. There are really nice slides with lots of illustrations to help you understand what the speakers are saying, even if you are not a scientist.

Here is a summary of the lecture from ARN:

The Cambrian explosion is a term often heard in origins debates, but seldom completely understood by the non-specialist. This lecture by Meyer and Ross is one of the best overviews available on the topic and clearly presents in verbal and pictorial summary the latest fossil data (including the recent finds from Chengjiang China). This lecture is based on a paper recently published by Meyer, Ross, Nelson and Chien “The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang” in Darwinism, Design and Public Education(2003, Michigan State University Press). This 80-page article includes 127 references and the book includes two additional appendices with 63 references documenting the current state of knowledge on the Cambrian explosion data.

The term Cambrian explosion describes the geologically sudden appearance of animals in the fossil record during the Cambrian period of geologic time. During this event, at least nineteen, and perhaps as many as thirty-five (of forty total) phyla made their first appearance on earth. Phyla constitute the highest biological categories in the animal kingdom, with each phylum exhibiting a unique architecture, blueprint, or structural body plan. The word explosion is used to communicate that fact that these life forms appear in an exceedingly narrow window of geologic time (no more than 5 million years). If the standard earth’s history is represented as a 100 yard football field, the Cambrian explosion would represent a four inch section of that field.

For a majority of earth’s life forms to appear so abruptly is completely contrary to the predictions of Neo-Darwinian and Punctuated Equilibrium evolutionary theory, including:

  • the gradual emergence of biological complexity and the existence of numerous transitional forms leading to new phylum-level body plans;
  • small-scale morphological diversity preceding the emergence of large-scale morphological disparity; and
  • a steady increase in the morphological distance between organic forms over time and, consequently, an overall steady increase in the number of phyla over time (taking into account factors such as extinction).

After reviewing how the evidence is completely contrary to evolutionary predictions, Meyer and Ross address three common objections: 1) the artifact hypothesis: Is the Cambrian explosion real?; 2) The Vendian Radiation (a late pre-Cambrian multicellular organism); and 3) the deep divergence hypothesis.

Finally Meyer and Ross argue why design is a better scientific explanation for the Cambrian explosion. They argue that this is not an argument from ignorance, but rather the best explanation of the evidence from our knowledge base of the world. We find in the fossil record distinctive features or hallmarks of designed systems, including:

  • a quantum or discontinuous increase in specified complexity or information
  • a top-down pattern of scale diversity
  • the persistence of structural (or “morphological”) disparities between separate organizational systems; and
  • the discrete or novel organizational body plans

When we encounter objects that manifest any of these several features and we know how they arose, we invariably find that a purposeful agent or intelligent designer played a causal role in their origin.

Recorded April 24, 2004. Approximately 2 hours including audience Q&A.

You can get a DVD of the lecture and other great lectures from Access Research Network. I recommend their origin of life lectures – I have watched the ones with Dean Kenyon and Charles Thaxton probably a dozen times each. Speaking as an engineer, you never get tired of seeing engineering principles applied to questions like the origin of life.

The Cambrian explosion lecture above is a great intermediate-level lecture and will prepare you to be able to understand Dr. Meyer’s new book “Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design“. The Michigan State University book that Dr. Meyer mentions is called “Darwin, Design and Public Education“. That book is one of the two good collections on intelligent design published by academic university presses, the other one being from Cambridge University Press, and titled “Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA“. If you think this lecture is above your level of understanding, then be sure and check out the shorter and more up-to-date DVD “Darwin’s Dilemma“.

Stephen C. Meyer: does the Big Bang cosmology disprove the existence of God?

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

Here’s the 66-minute video featuring Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, who holds the Ph.D in philosophy of science from Cambridge University, and other degrees in the hard sciences.

The lecture starts really, really slowly. You can just fast-forward to the 12 minute mark, or you might die of boredom.

Topics:

  • Up until the the last 100 years or so, everyone agreed that the universe was eternal
  • This is at odds with the traditional Christian view that God created the universe
  • Materialism, the view that matter is all there is, requires eternally existing matter
  • Discovery #1: Hubble discovers that the universe is expanding (redshift observation)
  • The expanding universe was resisted by proponents of the eternal universe, like Einstein
  • Some naturalists even proposed speculative static models like the steady-state model
  • However, not of the speculative models fit with observations and experimental results
  • Discovery #2: Penzias and Wilson discover the cosmic microwave background radiation
  • Measurements of this background radiation confirmed a prediction of the Big Bang theory
  • The steady-state theory was falsified of by the discovery of this background radiation
  • The oscillating model was proposed to prevent the need for an absolute beginning
  • But the oscillating model is not eternal, it loses energy on each “bounce”
  • A paper by Alan Guth and Marc Sher from 1982 proved that our universe will not bounce
  • In addition, experiments reveal that the universe will expand forever, and not contract
  • The beginning of the universe is more at home in a theistic worldview than an atheistic one
  • The beginning of the universe fits in well with the Bible, e.g. – Genesis 1, Titus 1, etc.

In case you are wondering about what the evidence is for the Big Bang, here are 3 of the evidences that are most commonly offered:

Three main observational results over the past century led astronomers to become certain that the universe began with the big bang. First, they found out that the universe is expanding—meaning that the separations between galaxies are becoming larger and larger. This led them to deduce that everything used to be extremely close together before some kind of explosion. Second, the big bang perfectly explains the abundance of helium and other nuclei like deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen) in the universe. A hot, dense, and expanding environment at the beginning could produce these nuclei in the abundance we observe today. Third, astronomers could actually observe the cosmic background radiation—the afterglow of the explosion—from every direction in the universe. This last evidence so conclusively confirmed the theory of the universe’s beginning that Stephen Hawking said, “It is the discovery of the century, if not of all time.”

By the way, Dr. Meyer also does a great job of explaining the problem of proteins, DNA and the origin of life in this lecture. And you can hear him defend his views in this debate podcast with Keith Fox and in this debate podcast with Peter Atkins. He does a great job in these debates.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Was atheism or Christianity responsible for the Scientific Revolution?

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

First, here’s an article from the blog of the peer-reviewed journal Nature, probably the best peer-reviewed journal on science in the world.

The article is written by Dr. James Hannam. He has a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge and is the author of The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution (published in the UK as God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science).

Excerpt:

Few topics are as open to misunderstanding as the relationship between faith and reason. The ongoing clash of creationism with evolution obscures the fact that Christianity has actually had a far more positive role to play in the history of science than commonly believed. Indeed, many of the alleged examples of religion holding back scientific progress turn out to be bogus. For instance, the Church has never taught that the Earth is flat and, in the Middle Ages, no one thought so anyway. Popes haven’t tried to ban zero, human dissection or lightening rods, let alone excommunicate Halley’s Comet. No one, I am pleased to say, was ever burnt at the stake for scientific ideas. Yet, all these stories are still regularly trotted out as examples of clerical intransigence in the face of scientific progress.

Admittedly, Galileo was put on trial for claiming it is a fact that the Earth goes around the sun, rather than just a hypothesis as the Catholic Church demanded. Still, historians have found that even his trial was as much a case of papal egotism as scientific conservatism. It hardly deserves to overshadow all the support that the Church has given to scientific investigation over the centuries.

That support took several forms. One was simply financial. Until the French Revolution, the Catholic Church was the leading sponsor of scientific research. Starting in the Middle Ages, it paid for priests, monks and friars to study at the universities. The church even insisted that science and mathematics should be a compulsory part of the syllabus. And after some debate, it accepted that Greek and Arabic natural philosophy were essential tools for defending the faith. By the seventeenth century, the Jesuit order had become the leading scientific organisation in Europe, publishing thousands of papers and spreading new discoveries around the world. The cathedrals themselves were designed to double up as astronomical observatories to allow ever more accurate determination of the calendar. And of course, modern genetics was founded by a future abbot growing peas in the monastic garden.

But religious support for science took deeper forms as well. It was only during the nineteenth century that science began to have any practical applications. Technology had ploughed its own furrow up until the 1830s when the German chemical industry started to employ their first PhDs. Before then, the only reason to study science was curiosity or religious piety. Christians believed that God created the universe and ordained the laws of nature. To study the natural world was to admire the work of God. This could be a religious duty and inspire science when there were few other reasons to bother with it. It was faith that led Copernicus to reject the ugly Ptolemaic universe; that drove Johannes Kepler to discover the constitution of the solar system; and that convinced James Clerk Maxwell he could reduce electromagnetism to a set of equations so elegant they take the breathe away.

Given that the Church has not been an enemy to science, it is less surprising to find that the era which was most dominated by Christian faith, the Middle Ages, was a time of innovation and progress. Inventions like the mechanical clock, glasses, printing and accountancy all burst onto the scene in the late medieval period. In the field of physics, scholars have now found medieval theories about accelerated motion, the rotation of the earth and inertia embedded in the works of Copernicus and Galileo. Even the so-called “dark ages” from 500AD to 1000AD were actually a time of advance after the trough that followed the fall of Rome. Agricultural productivity soared with the use of heavy ploughs, horse collars, crop rotation and watermills, leading to a rapid increase in population.

I don’t know about you, but the first thing I do when I am trying to find a game to play is ask “is it well designed?” If it’s not well-designed, then I will not take the time to learn the rules and practice playing. That was the situation before science started. The non-scientists thought that the universe was chaotic, that there were no rules, and so there was no point in trying to learn the rules. It was the idea that the universe was made by an intelligent Creator and Designer that made the first scientists start to do science. If there are rules to the game, then it’s worth it to learn them. But that’s a belief that’s more at home in a theistic worldview, not in a pagan or atheistic one.

Robin Collins lectures on fine-tuning for discoverability from particle physics

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

Here’s the lecture:

This lecture is 29 minutes long, the Q&A is 15 minutes. I highly recommend this lecture to all audiences of all levels of ability, for the simple reasons that apart from the content, this lecture is a how-to clinic in the tone, body language, slides and so on for you to use when trying to be persuasive when making your case. Science is king in this lecture. The scientific method is defined and applied in a winsome way. Making science understandable should be the bread and butter approach to Christian apologetics, and this lecture rivals the Mike Strauss lecture at Stanford University and the Mike Strauss lecture at the University of Texas – Dallas as the ideal lectures for showing that. It’s not just the scientific material that makes this lecture by Collins work, it’s the narrative and the style that make the lecture work.

About Robin Collins:

Robin Collins (PhD, University of Notre Dame, 1993), is professor of philosophy at Messiah College, Grantham, PA specializing in the area of science and religion.  He has written over twenty-five articles and book chapters on a wide range of topics, such as the fine-tuning of the cosmos as evidence for the existence of God, evolution and original sin, the Doctrine of Atonement, Asian religions and Christianity, and Bohm’s theory of quantum mechanics.  Some of his most recent articles/book chapters are “Philosophy of Science and Religion” in The Oxford Handbook of Science and Religion, “Divine Action and Evolution” in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology (2009)  “The Multiverse Hypothesis: A Theistic Perspective,” in Universe or Multiverse? (Cambridge University Press), and “God and the Laws of Nature,” in Theism or Naturalism: New Philosophical Perspectives (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).  He recently received a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to finish a book that presents the case for design based on physics and cosmology,  tentatively entitled The Well-Tempered Universe: God, Cosmic Fine-tuning, and the Laws of Nature.

His thesis in one slide:

Fine-tuning for discoverability
Fine-tuning for discoverability – the DLO thesis

Summary:

  • Thesis: the universe is more intelligible than we would expect it by chance
  • The regular fine-tuning argument says that complex embodied observers are very rare
  • But the number of highly-discoverable universes that have complex embodied observers is rarer still
  • Why do we exist in a highly-discoverable universe?
  • Can we quantify and test discoverability?
  • Yes: by varying fundamental parameters and seeing how it affects discoverability
  • Conclusion of his calculations: The Discoverability-Liveability Optimality range is an even smaller range within the Liveablity Optimality range of the standard fine-tuning argument
  • Fine-tuning #1: the fine structure constant, governs the strength of the electro-magnetic force
  • If larger, wood-burning fire becomes impossible because fires won’t stay lit, and therefore forging metals becomes unlikely
  • If smaller, wood-burning fires won’t go out, e.g. – from lightning strikes, so that wood would be less accessible
  • Other constraints: smaller value decreases effectiveness of light microscopes, drastically lowers efficiency of transformers and motors
  • Fine-tuning #2: the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR), radiation left over from the Big Bang
  • humans need to discover the CMBR in order to confirm the Big Bang creation out of nothing, and it depends on baryon/pothon ratio
  • his calculations show that the actual value of CMBR is exactly at the peak for detectability by humans
  • if baryon/photon ratio larger, CMBR is less discoverable
  • if baryon/photon ratio smaller, CMBR is less discoverable
  • Fine-tuning #3: parameters related to subatomic particles are fine-tuned for their discovery and usefulness, e.g. – the bottom quark, the charm quark, the tau lepton and the Higgs Boson
  • the lifetime of the particles affects their usefulness to scientists who want to investigate the Standard Model of physics
  • decay rates of these subatomic particles are related to several of the finely-tuned parameters
  • for example, the mass of the bottom quark is finely-tuned for its discoverability by scientists
  • the tau lepton and the charm quark are similarly fine-tuned for disoverability
  • the mass of the Higgs boson is finely-tuned for discoverability and for making further discoveries
  • Conclusion: the DLO thesis is strongly confirmed – this is an even greater degree of fine-tuning that the already astonishing probabilities of the fine-tuning for complex, embodied intelligent beings
  • The formalized version of the philosophical argument based on this evidence is impervious with some of the traditional objections to the standard fine-tuning argument
  • #1 multiverse/selection effect: it is not subject to multiverse / observer selection objections
  • #2 normalizeability: it is not subject to the McGrew-Vestrup objection because the range of possible values is finite not infinite
  • #3 falsifiability: it makes falsifiable predictions, and in fact Collins’ earlier calculations of the CMBR discoverability contained an error that falsified the thesis – until he found the error and corrected for it
  • #4 usefulness: it gives clues about the Creator’s purpose for us, namely that the universe was created for us to be able to do science and find evidence of the Creator’s existence – there is no expectation for us to exercise blind faith, trust in God is meant to be a plausible deduction from the progress of experimental science

Sample slide:

Fine-tuning of the bottom quark for discoverability
Bottom quark lifetime is finely-tuned for discoverability

And another:

Higgs boson mass is finely-tuned for discoverability
Higgs boson mass is finely-tuned for discoverability

Earlier, I blogged about a Robin Collins lecture on the fine-tuning that allows complex, embodied life to exist. Another must-see lecture. If you are looking for something to study in university, and you have funding, then physics, mathematics and philosophy are the best places to be for a Christian scholar.

William Lane Craig lectures on naturalistic alternatives to the Big Bang

William Lane Craig lecturing to university students
William Lane Craig lecturing to university students

Here’s the lecture, which was given in 2004 at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

This lecture might be a little advanced for beginners, but if you stretch your mind first, you shouldn’t tear anything. (Note: standard disclaimers apply if you do tear something!)

The description of the video states:

This is quite simply one of the best lectures William Lane Craig (a philosopher of science) has given. Craig explores the origins of the universe. He argues for a beginning of the universe, while refuting scientific models like the Steady State Theory, the Oscillating Theory, Quantum Vacuum Fluctuation Model, Chaotic Inflationary Theory, Quantum Gravity Theory, String Theory, M-Theory and Cyclic Ekpyrotic Theory.

And here is the description of the lecture from Reasonable Faith:

A Templeton Foundation lecture at the University of Colorado, Boulder, laying out the case from contemporary cosmology for the beginning of the universe and its theological implications. Includes a lengthy Q & A period which features previous critics and debate opponents of Dr. Craig who were in attendance, including Michael Tooley, Victor Stenger, and Arnold Guminski.

Craig has previously debated famous atheists Stenger and Tooley previously. And they both asked him questions in the Q&A time of this lecture. Imagine – having laid out your entire case to two people who have debated you before and who know your arguments well. What did they ask Craig, and how did he respond?

The scientific evidence

The Big Bang cosmology that Dr. Craig presents is the standard model for how the universe came into being. It is a theory based on six lines of experimental evidence.

Scientific evidence:

  1. Einstein’s theory of general relativity (GTR)
  2. the red-shifting of light from distant galaxies implies an expanding universe
  3. the cosmic background radiation (which also disproves the oscillating model of the universe)
  4. the second law of thermodynamics applied to star formation theory
  5. hydrogen-helium abundance predictions
  6. radioactive element abundance predictions

It’s probably a good idea to be familiar with these if you are presenting this argument, because experimental science is a reliable way of knowing about reality.

Published research paper

This lecture by Dr. Craig is based on a research paper published in an astrophysics journal, and was delivered to an audience of students and faculty, including atheist physicist Victor Stenger and prominent atheist philosopher Michael Tooley, at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Here’s the peer-reviewed article that the lecture is based on.

Here’s the abstract:

Both cosmology and philosophy trace their roots to the wonder felt by the ancient Greeks as they contemplated the universe. The ultimate question remains why the universe exists rather than nothing. This question led Leibniz to postulate the existence of a metaphysically necessary being, which he identified as God. Leibniz’s critics, however, disputed this identification, claiming that the space-time universe itself may be the metaphysically necessary being. The discovery during this century that the universe began to exist, however, calls into question the universe’s status as metaphysically necessary, since any necessary being must be eternal in its existence. Although various cosmogonic models claiming to avert the beginning of the universe predicted by the standard model have been and continue to be offered, no model involving an eternal universe has proved as plausible as the standard model. Unless we are to assert that the universe simply sprang into being uncaused out of nothing, we are thus led to Leibniz’s conclusion. Several objections to inferring a supernatural cause of the origin of the universe are considered and found to be unsound.

The whole text of the article is posted online here.

If you want something to post on your Twitter or Facebook that is much shorter than this lecture, then you should check out this quick 4-minute explanation of the kalam argument.