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Science and Judaism: The Strange Claim of Dr. Schroeder (Part II)
In a prior post (10/18/11), we started to look at Dr. Gerald Schroeder’s argument in The Science of God (“TSOG”)(rev. ed. 2009) that the six biblical days of creation and the billions of years of the evolution of the universe as measured by scientists actually occurred over the same time period. Our focus was on Schroeder’s interpretation of certain biblical passages that he believes show that time is treated differently before and after the creation of Adam. (See, e.g., TSOG, at 52, 54.)
Now we are going to address that part of Schroeder’s argument that rests of physics and mathematics. In the concluding post of this series, we will review the conclusion of Schroeder’s conflation argument.
As we consider Schroeder’s scientific analysis, we do so with two standards in mind. The first standard comes from Schroeder himself. In TSOG, Schroeder stated that he wanted to avoid bending “science to match the Bible.” (TSOG, at 19.) That is an appropriate approach and a fair, if somewhat ambiguous, standard.
But the party seeking to make a case cannot be the one who sets the only standard by which his case should be evaluated. Happily, there is another guideline that may be useful, one that is well recognized, at least in the United States. It is the current standard for the admission of scientific testimony and evidence in litigation in a federal court. That standard was established by the United States Supreme Court in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Phar., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and modified through the common law process in subsequent decisions. Today over half of the states also have adopted Daubert.
The plain purpose of Daubert and its progeny is to keep junk science out of the courtroom. It seeks to bar admission of tendered evidence which is not reliable because it either is not relevant or does not rests on a firm scientific foundation.
In short, Daubert seeks to bar pseudoscience from the courtroom by determining whether a witness can show that his conclusion is the product of sound scientific methodology. Factors relevant to the inquiry include whether the theory or technique has been subjected to testing and is falsifiable, whether it has been subjected to scrutiny within the scientific community, perhaps through peer review and publication, so that flaws could be detected, whether it is within an acceptable rate of error, whether appropriate standards and controls exist and have been maintained, and whether it is generally accepted by the relevant scientific community. Id.
In 2000, Federal Rule of Evidence 702 was amended in an attempt to incorporate the principal elements embodied in Daubert and subsequent cases. The rule permits testimony of a proffered expert if, among other things, the proposed testimony is based upon “sufficient facts or data” and is the product of “reliable principles and methods,” which the witness has applied “reliably to the facts of the case.”
Of course, Dr. Schroeder is not presenting a case to a trier of fact in a courtroom, and certainly not in a United States District Court. And, he did not formally subject himself to prove anything sufficiently to satisfy Daubert or its progeny or Rule 702, however fair and objective those standards may be. But he has sought to present his case in the court of public opinion through his books and other media. Consequently, using Daubert as a supplemental check on the sufficiency of Schroeder’s science does not seem at all unwarranted.
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As set forth in TSOG, Schroeder accepts the current dominant scientific thinking regarding the origin of the universe as we know it today. Standard big bang theory holds that the universe at its origin occupied an exceptionally small volume of space, inflated dramatically in a very short span of time and then continued to expand over a period of billions of years, as we conventionally understand the term years. See Tyson and Goldsmith, Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution (2004)(at 25-45). This general description is, to Schroeder, essentially what was “described” by Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (“Nachmanides”) over 700 years ago. (TSOG, at 58.) Nachmanides did not describe anything, of course, but he did speculate that the universe began as a speck, smaller than a mustard seed. (TSOG, at 58, 62, 184.) Consequently, for Schroeder, Kabbalah and cosmology converge. (TSOG, at 56.)
To make his point that billions of years of cosmic evolution and six days of biblical creation occurred simultaneously, Schroeder must show that time is tolled differently in the two situations. Apparently to lay the groundwork for that conclusion, Schroeder writes about “understanding time” and refers to Albert Einstein’s “law of relativity.” (TSOG, at 49.) The effort is somewhat confusing as Schroeder, who undoubtedly knows better, does not distinguish between Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, published in 1905, and his General Theory of Relativity, published in 1915.
Pursuant to what he calls the “law of relativity,” Schroeder asserts that time passes differently in two different systems relative to each other due to differences in the gravity and velocity of those systems. (TSOG, at 49.) The difference is known as time dilation, Schroeder says. (Id.)
Schroeder then contends that “(e)ach planet, star, each location within our universe has its own unique gravitational potential, its own relative velocity and, therefore, its own unique rate as which local proper time passes, its own age.” (Id. at 51.) How then do you find the appropriate points of reference among the billions of locations in the universe? For Schroeder, the answer cannot be Earth, because according to the Bible, during the first two of the six biblical days of creation there was no Earth. (Id. at 53.) Instead, he asserts: “The only perspective for the entire Six Day period is that of the total universe, one that encompasses the entire creation.” (Id. Emphasis in original.)
This approach raises at least two problems. First, Schroeder’s exclusion of earth as a reference point should only apply to the first third of the week of biblical creation, but Schroeder does not seem to have considered that. Secondly, as Schroeder has recognized, relativity pursuant to Einstein requires two perspectives, time being measured in relationship of one to the other. But Schroeder has rejected Earth and all other discrete points of reference as the location of one of those perspectives. Even assuming that there is a universal perspective, to what will it be compared, if not Earth?
Schroeder attempts to resolve that last problem by claiming that for the purpose of “exploring the brief biblical age of the universe relative to the discoveries of cosmology,” it is erroneous “to view the universe from a specific location . . . .” (Id. at 54.) Because the “clock of Genesis starts with the creation of the universe and continues till the creation of humankind,” the measure of “the relative passage of time” is “not between particular places in the universe but between moments in the universe” as it evolves subsequent to the Big Bang. (Id. Emphasis in original.) That is, “we must maintain the undifferentiated frame of reference that pervaded the universe at its beginning.” (Id. at 55.) That reference, for Schroeder, is the cosmic microwave radiation emanating from the Big Bang. (Id.)
We will return to Schroeder’s cosmic clock in a bit, but notice what Schroeder had done. He started a discussion about understanding time by discussing Einstein and his concept of the relativity of time between two systems, an approach which has been thoroughly tested and proven in the last century. Then he completely abandoned Einstein and relativity based on gravity or velocity for a cosmic clock with a single and undifferentiated frame of reference. (TSOG, at 55.) It is nothing less than bait and switch, with no apparent reason other than to invoke Einstein and his theories initially in order to provide some gloss of respectability for what would follow. At best, this is a disingenuous exercise and cautions the reader as to Schroeder’s credibility.
But let’s persevere. Cosmic microwave background radiation (“CMBR”) is the very real and very measurable remnant of the initial expansion of the universe after the Big Bang. Schroeder notes that the wavelengths of that radiation have lengthened since the Big Bang, and, conversely, that the frequency of those waves, which he treats as a measure of time, has slowed. (TSOG, at 56-57.) This is known as the red shift factor. The result is similar to the Doppler effect with which we are familiar when a train passes by and a change in sound occurs from when the train is approaching to when it is leaving us because the length of the sound waves has changed.
Schroeder next needs to measure the extent of the change of CMBR, but to do so, he needs to pick a start time. The time he picks is called “quark confinement,” that time within the first second after the Big Bang when subatomic particles, called quarks, joined together to form the first protons and neutrons. (TSOG, at 58, 187.)
And what is the scientific basis for picking quark confinement? Actually, Schroeder does not offer any. Instead he relies on the kabbalist Nachmanides who, according to Schroeder, teaches that Biblical time “starts (‘grabs hold,’ in his words) with the appearance of matter.” (TSOG, at 58.) Of course, even assuming that Nachmanides would have equated the start of matter with quark confinement, a topic about which he presumably knew nothing — as quarks were not discovered until the 1960s — relying on a medieval rabbi for this important fact is not exactly a rigorous application of scientific principles and methodology.
Moreover, if the issue is, as Nachmanides put it, the time when matter grabbed hold, Schroeder could have picked the time when those elementary particles, quarks, were formed, not when they were confined. As we have discussed previously (see Post, 7/08/11), science can take us back, if not to the Big Bang itself, then to 10-43 seconds after the beginning of the universe. This is a time, perhaps between a hundred thousandth and a millionth of a second, before quark confinement. Why not start the cosmic clock then? One answer might be that while such an election would push that age of the universe back by only an exceptionally small fraction of a second, it might also changes Schroeder’s ultimate calculations considerably.
With his scientist hat back on, Schroeder says that at quark confinement, the universe was about “a million million times” smaller than it is now. (TSOG, at 59.) And the frequency of radiant energy was a million million (1012 ) greater than today. (Id.) From all of this, Schroeder concludes that the cosmic clock ticks a million million (i.e., a trillion) times slower today than it did at just after the Big Bang. For every cosmic minute, Schroeder argues that a million million minutes passed on earth. Conversely, a hundred and twenty million Earth years occurred in less than a cosmic hour. (Id. at 60, 206, 209.) Schroeder calls the million million factor “(t)he million-million-to-one ratio.” (TSOG, at 209.)
What follows naturally for Schroeder is the simple process of determining how many cosmic days occurred during the billions of years of conventional time. So, Schroeder multiplies 15 billion years by 365 days and divides the resulting number of days the universe has existed by his million-million to one ratio, and thereby “reduces those fifteen billion years to six days!” (TSOG, at 60.) Who would have guessed?
Schroeder moves on quickly from here to discuss the fine tuned nature of the universe and cite to some articles he says have given the stamp of approval to “this approach.” But let’s pause, look at the numbers and do the math. Fifteen billion times 365 divided by one trillion equals 5.475. That’s not exactly six. And given the point that Schroeder is trying to prove, it seems that his argument leaves us in the middle of the sixth day of biblical creation.
Further, in a somewhat bizarre footnote (TSOG, at 60), Schroeder acknowledges that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”) has calculated the age of the universe to be not fifteen billion years old but about 13.7 billion years old. Nevertheless, he insists on using “the nominal value of 15 billion years.” Why would he do that? Well, if you do the math with 13.7 billion years, which Schroeder does not, the result of his simultaneity theory is 5.001 days, just at the very beginning of the sixth biblical day. If, as Schroeder suggests in a footnote to another issue (at 70), the soul of Adam was not created until the middle of biblical day 5, the consequences of Schroeder’s approach, as applied to a 13.7 billion year old universe, are exceptionally problematic. Of course, Schroeder does not address the theological implications of such a result because he failed to do the math required by his own theory!
What is really troubling, though, is not simply that his main mathematical results do not reach six days, complete with an exclamation mark. In fact, Schroeder disclaims without explanation, that the ages he calculates are “more accurate than plus/minus 20 percent.” (TSOG, at 69, 209.) What is disturbing is that Schroeder’s usage or non-usage of mathematics suggests either an intellectual or other kind of laziness or sloppiness or that he is trying to fit the data to his theory. In either event, his approach does not demonstrate appropriate controls or reliability.
Neither do his inconsistent data points. At one point, to find the age of the universe, Schroeder applies his ratio to six days and says that six trillion days equals 16 billion years. (TSOG, at 206.) Actually, the product is 16.438 billion years. Elsewhere Schroeder discusses 15.75 years. (TSOG, at 69.) If he talked about alternative dates, that would be one thing. He does not, though. He just throws out numbers, and, doing so, diminishes his credibility.
But wait, there’s more.
Schroeder believes that the methodology he has developed allows him to allocate portions of this enormous span of time to each of the six biblical days of creation. Indeed, the match of the events reported for each biblical day to scientific discoveries is the test he asserts will show the validity of his approach. (TSOG, at 61.)
Before disclosing his crucial allocation formula, however, Schroeder refers to Bernoulli and Cartesian coordinates and instantaneous ratios and natural logs. (TSOG, at 66-68.) He then presents an equation complete with superscripts and parentheses. (Id. at 68-69.) It is all mathematical mumbo-jumbo, apparently designed either to impress the reader or numb his mind. When Schroeder finally gets to the heart of his case we find that all he is really doing to determine the age of the first biblical day is simply dividing his selected age of the universe by two (2), and then dividing that number by two to reach the age of the next biblical day and so on. (See Id. at 69.)
How did Schroeder decide to divide the entire universal age by two and the subsequent results by two? He does not say. In other words, for the critical mathematical allocation absolutely necessary to support his entire theory, Schroeder does not cite to any science, any peer reviewed work, or indeed anything at all. He just pulled the number out of the blue. With equal, more maybe better logic, he could have divided thirteen billion seven hundred million years by six and claimed that each biblical day approximated 2,283,333,333 conventional years.
Using an age of 15,750,000,000 years, the result in TSOG is that the first biblical day was equivalent to 7.75 billion years. The second day was half as long, and with Schroeder rounding was spread over four billion years. Similarly, the third day took two billion years, the fourth day was one billion years long, the fifth day was half a billion years and the sixth day lasted on quarter of a billion years. On that sixth biblical day, some 5772 years prior to this post according to Schroeder’s understanding of B’reishit, Adam received his soul and time as conventionally measured began. (See TSOG, at 17, 47-48, 52, 54, 72, 143-51.)
Before we move on, let’s note that Schroeder has recently modified his calculation of the age of the universe as originally presented in the 1990s and in TSOG to account for, as he put it, the “increase in the rate of expansion of the universe.” He now states that introducing this rate results in an age for the universe of 14 billion years, not the 15.75 billion he previously used. (See www.geraldschroeder.com/AgeUniverse.aspx. At 5/5. Accessed September 21, 2011.) But Schroeder already knew that NASA calculated the age of the universe at about 13.7 billion years. (See TSOG, at 60.) Astrophysicist David Weintraub in How Old is the Universe? (2011) carefully analyzes the issue from various perspectives and also arrives at 13.7 billion. For some unstated reason, Schroeder chooses to round up the result to 14 billion years.
Maintaining essentially the same approach that calculates the first day of biblical creation as equal to about half of the life of the universe, and each successive biblical day as half as long as the previous one, Schroeder has, consequently, calculated new and shorter biblical days. As of February of 2011 (CE), Schroeder states that the first day lasted 7.1 billion years, the second 3.6 billion, the third 1.8 billion, the fourth 890 million, the fifth 450 million and the sixth day 230 million. The total number of years in this calculation is 14,070,000,000 years. Schroeder offers no explanation for the difference between the gross age from which he starts and the sum of the ages he calculates for each biblical day.
Schroeder assures us that his approach, comparing cosmic time to local time, “has been given the stamp of approval” by “prestigious, peer reviewed journals,” but then he criticizes the articles he cites as based on a “nontruth.” (TSOG, at 61-62.) How this helps Schroeder is not clear. What is clear is that Schroeder’s unique conflation of cosmic time and biblical time has not been subjected to peer review in any recognized journal of physics or cosmology. Indeed, I have not found any reputable physicist who supports the critical components of Schroeder’s approach: use of universal cosmic clock, measurement from quark confinement, division of conventional years into biblical years using a factor of two.
To the contrary, the physics of Schroeder’s work has been criticized by professionals such as Victor Stenger and Mark Perakh. Stenger is an emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii and adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado. Perakh is a former professor physics and materials science at California State University, Fullerton.
Stenger attacks Schroeder’s physics in TSOG and other works from several perspectives including his selection of quark confinement and his red shift factor. He claims to have thought that TSOG was actually “a clever spoof on religious apologetics.” (See http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/stenger_25_2.html.)
Schroeder might respond by noting that Stenger is not only a physicist, but a prolific publisher who specializes in skewering concepts about God. And Schroeder would be correct. Stenger’s books, such as God: The Failed Hypothesis and The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning are uncompromising in their atheistic viewpoint. But such criticism would not address the accuracy of Stenger’s argument to the extent it is based on physics. In fact, I have not seen any formal response by Schroeder, or anyone on his behalf, to any of the criticisms of Stenger regarding Schroeder’s science.
Perakh’s criticisms of Schroeder are more extensive and more detailed. They were originally published in 1999 and updated in 2001. (See “Not a Very Big Bang About Genesis” at http://talkreason.org/PrinterFriendly.cfm?article=/articles/schroeder.cfm.)
Perakh confronts Schroeder on numerous statements that Schroeder makes in his various books. Perakh contends, for instance, that Schroeder distorts and misapplies Einstein’s theory of relativity and is internally inconsistent as well. (At 3-5/18.) He also shreds Schroeder’s conception of a usable independent cosmic clock. (At 5/18.)
With respect to TSOG specifically, among other things, Perakh criticizes Schroeder’s explanation of the diffraction of light waves (at 156-64); Schroeder’s review of the “photoelectric effect” and his comments on the effect of light on metal (at 159-60), his claim that a “maser” can “fire one atom at a time” (at 161), and his discussion of thermodynamics (at 101, 154, 187-90). He also chastises Schroeder for changing certain dates and chronologies set forth in his first book without explanation. In short, Perakh questions Schroeder’s scientific competence and his consequent lack of credibility to harmonize science and biblical creation. (Perakh, at 15-18/18.) His criticism is more pointed, if less antagonistic, than Stenger’s. As before, I have never seen any formal response by Schroeder or anyone on his behalf in response to Perakh’s criticism of Schroeder’s science as displayed in TSOG.
Another professor of physics, this one from the University of British Columbia, questions whether Schroeder’s academic background qualifies him to speak authoritatively on physics and cosmology. (See http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/scott_oser/hidden.html.)
Walter Isaacson relates that at one point Einstein thought that he had resolved remaining issues on his special theory of relativity only to review his calculations and realize that his resolution was seriously flawed. He admitted his error, and went back to the drawing boards. (See Issacson, Einstein (2007) at 189-224.) Making a mistake is not a sin in science, or elsewhere. Failing to acknowledge and correct the mistake, however, is much more serious. Many people would like Schroeder to be correct. They would like science and Genesis to converge. They buy his books and rely on his credentials and purported expertise. If he has erred in his teachings, he owes it to them, to all of us, to respond to the criticism of his science. Does Schroeder have any substantive response to his critics’ primary complaints? So far, as best I can tell, he has not offered any.
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So, does Schroeder’s science meet the Daubert standard or even pass his personal test? Is his analysis based upon sufficient facts or data and the product of reliable principles and methods applied reliably? Or, has Schroeder bent science to fit the Bible?
Initially, Schroeder’s argument is filled with disturbing misdirections, misleading statements and glaring omissions. And Perakh’s precise recitation of specific errors reinforces a general unease as to Schroeder’s credibility.
More importantly, on close analysis, despite various diversions, Schroeder’s claim that that conventional and biblical time are consistent, to the extent it relies on physics and mathematics, actually hinges primarily on a very limited number of factors: the selection of a start time for the age of the universe, an expansion factor of one trillion, the age of the universe, and the number 2. That claim, which originally seemed incredible, now seems not credible.
Relying of Nachmanides’s speculation for the start of the cosmic clock makes little sense scientifically. And, aside from Nachmanides, Schroeder has not justified the utilization of quark confinement for that start time. The trillion expansion factor depends on the start time, so support for it collapses along with the start time. Schroeder’s selections of ages of the universe are scattered and his rounding imprecise. And his glib use of a divisor, the number 2, for the allocation of cosmic years to biblical dates is totally without any scientific basis.
There seems to be, then, no evidentiary reliability to what Schroeder says sufficient for his statements to be admissible under Daubert. To the contrary, Schroeder appears to have bent science in order to match Genesis. He has both selected certain data and avoided the implications of calculations not made in order to squeeze billions of years into six days and, further, a certain number of those years into particular days. Whether Schroeder was successful even there will be the subject of the next post when we will look at each of Schroeder’s biblical days.