A.D. 1879

by Jimmy Akin

in Science

What happened in 1879?

Well, the California Constitution was ratified.

The Anglo-Zulu War began.

Madison Square Garden opened.

Doc Holliday killed his first man.

The apparition at Knock, Ireland occured.

The Pirates of Penzance was first performed.

Thomas Edison demonstrated incandescent light to the public for the first time.

AND A BUNCH OF OTHER STUFF.

Oh, and something else happened . . .

HR_8799_planetary_system_photo

The light captured in the above photograph was released.

You're looking at a picture of the year 1879–a picture that was only just taken.

How's that?

It's because the light captured in the picture left the star system cataloged as HR 8799, some 129 light years from earth.

Why do I say "star system" instead of just "star"? Because, while the star is the center blob in the picture, the three small dots are actually planets.

This is the first extra-solar planetary system to be observed and photographed directly.

The planets are about 2 to 2.5 times the size of Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, and they orbit the star in periods between 100 and 460 years.

We have this view of them because we're apparently oriented so that we're looking down at the plane of the HR 8799 solar system.

There could be terrestrial planets closer in to the star, but not much chance for life there. The star is too young and too variable, but it's so cool have visible light pictures of another star system.

MORE INFO HERE.

Oh, and THIS SYSTEM ISN'T THE ONLY ONE TO BE PHOTOGRAPHED.

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{ 72 comments }

Mark November 18, 2008 at 9:17 am

Albert Einstein was born in 1879, too!

Tim J. November 18, 2008 at 9:31 am

“You’re looking at a picture of the year A.D. 1879…”
Ah…
That explains why it’s in black and white. ;-)

SDG November 18, 2008 at 10:14 am

What is cooler than that?

The Masked Chicken November 18, 2008 at 11:28 am

Dear SDG,
You write:
What is cooler than that?
Well, since the two stars containing the exoplanets are relatively new, they are also fairly hot, so quite a lot are “cooler” than that :)
There are seven temperature bands (types) for stars, depending on temperature:
O Blue over 25,000 K
B Blue 11,000 – 25,000 K
A Blue 7,500 – 11,000 K
F Blue to White 6,000 – 7,500 K
G White to Yellow 5,000 – 6,000 K
K Orange to Red 3,500 – 5,000 K
M Red under 3,500 K
The Chicken

Matheus (a. k. a. Rotten Orange) November 18, 2008 at 11:32 am

And what’s cooler than TMC?…

The Masked Chicken November 18, 2008 at 12:24 pm

Dear Matheus,
You wrote:
And what’s cooler than TMC?…
Does this mean I have to start wearing black leather jackets (shudder), start sporting slicked back feather (yikes), and start riding a motorcycle (cool! but dangerous – chickens have skinny feet)
The Chicken

Matheus (a. k. a. Rotten Orange) November 18, 2008 at 12:47 pm

Dear TMC

Does this mean I have to start wearing black leather jackets (shudder), start sporting slicked back feather (yikes), and start riding a motorcycle…

No, not at all. But if you want be really cooler, you should perhaps consider the motorcycle, because if you’ve seen The Great Escape, on it Steve McQueen is always in the koola!.

Thomas E. Vaughan November 18, 2008 at 1:07 pm

Warm or Cool
On the one hand, a young planet is likely warmer than an old planet of
the same mass because the young planet has not radiated away the
gravitational binding energy released in its formation.
On the other hand, a young (zero-age main-sequence) star is likely
cooler than an old star of the same mass, according to the standard
models.

Mumon November 18, 2008 at 6:37 pm

So you’re not Young Earth Creationist (YEC) then???

LJ November 19, 2008 at 5:00 am

Karl Marx was 61.

The Masked Chicken November 19, 2008 at 5:43 am

Dear Thomas Vaughan,
True, the star was probably not a class O or B star, but that leaves many colder stages to go after it gets done with its birthing process. So, while the star may have been “cool”, it could have been “cooler” – maybe get some “shades” (American slang for sunglasses) and a nice glass of port. :)
The Chicken

Thomas E. Vaughan November 19, 2008 at 11:37 am

Dear Chicken,
Perhaps I am missing most of the humor in your posts. (As my wife has
on many an occasion forcefully implied, I am rather dim :^). So please
be patient with me. I think that describing the basic evolution of the
standard model is cool.
I can imagine how one who follows this thread might, from your last
post, mistakenly infer that the sequence OBAFGKM would represent shades
of cooling. After all, this is a sequence of spectral types arranged
from hottest to coolest in the surface temperature of the star of the
corresponding type.
However, according to the standard models of star formation and
evolution, a protostar does not cool during formation as it approaches
the main sequence (as it dims roughly isothermally on the Hayashi track
or increases in temperature at roughly constant brightness on the Henyey
track), nor does a star cool over its life on the main sequence (as it
increases in luminosity and temperature over its main sequence life).

The Masked Chicken November 19, 2008 at 3:04 pm

Dear Thomas,
Yes, I was being humorous (attempting?) with the double use of cool as in “with it” and cool as in temperature. SDG said earlier, rhetorically, “What is cooler than that,” relating to the awesomeness of the exoplanet. I just tried to explain that things could be “cooler” (temperature-wise: the planets could be surrounding a different star type, etc.) or “cooler” (even more awesome). I was not attempting to do an analysis of the life-cycle of a main sequence star as it relates to the exoplanets.
I guess if one has to explain the humor, one has failed. I hang my beak in shame and retreat.
The Chicken
P. S. I am interested in astronomy, so the life-cycle of stars is “cool” in and of itself.

Thomas E. Vaughan November 19, 2008 at 3:47 pm

Dear Chicken,
You should hold your beak high. You cannot be responsible for my being dim-witted. :^)
The Inertial Mass

The Masked Chicken November 19, 2008 at 4:27 pm

Dear Thomas,
You just gave me a great idea for a new handle (or is it self-description?):
The Inertial Mess!
I would love to talk about science and religion. We haven’t had a blog post about that in maybe a year.
Of course, I could just do comedy riffs for the next ten minutes, but the last time I did that, I had the telephone operator almost on the floor, laughing (which must have looked weird to her co-workers as she fell out of her chair) and then she asked me if I wanted to meet her daughter…(true story)
Please, save the blog from Chicken humor…another post from our intrepid posters, please :) Hurry…I feel a joke coming on…This is called extortion by threat of humor, in law, or at least it should be.
The Chicken

Leo November 20, 2008 at 5:38 am

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Ps 19:1 (NIV).
The vastness of the universe and the time it takes for the fastest thing in the universe (light) to travel to us is awe-some.
Apparently the furthest object visible to the naked eye is the Andromeda galaxy. We see it as it was 2,000,000 years ago. We see the sun as it was 8 minutes ago …
I remember the only time I made significant progress with a young earth creationist was by a light-speed/travel-time argument.
Fortunately he was studying electrical engineering and knew enough science to appreciate:
-how the closer stellar distances could be measured by parallax;
-why the universe must be extremely big to accommodate all the visible objects (ie the majority) beyond parallax measuring distance without causing gravitational problems and too many black holes by them being too close together;
-the consequences to physics, chemistry and biochemistry (e=mc2, electron energy shells, chemical reactions) if in the last 10,000 years the speed of light had varied by more than a barely measurable amount.
He also believed that God was good and rational and would not deceive us.
Although he still maintained that planet earth was “less than 10,000 years old – tops”, he eventually conceded that the rest of the universe must be “at least millions of years old”, because of the speed of light and astronomical observations.

Paul November 20, 2008 at 11:03 am

A quick note to The Masked Chicken:
I did find it funny hearing people referring to you through this conversation as TMC, like the Taurus Molecular Cloud that I work with.

Thomas E. Vaughan November 20, 2008 at 1:00 pm

Dear Leo,
I have had some similar success in using the speed of light to show that the simplest interpretation of the observational data is an old universe.
In my (limited) experience, however, the problem with the young-earth or young-universe advocate is his reasoning about the nature of scripture. In his view, if it were admitted that the literal sense of scripture is not always the sense in which God reveals truth to man, then scripture might as well be abandoned (and Christianity along with it). That is, without an agreed-upon authority to say where in scripture the literal sense certainly represents a revealed truth and where it is permissible to entertain the possibility that the literal sense does not directly represent revelation, he feels that a critical approach to scriptural interpretation effectively eliminates the possibility of sola scriptura, which he is unwilling to abandon. What’s really going on, of course, is that, as Karl Keating points out in _Catholicism and Fundamentalism_, the fundamentalist has implicit and explicit doctrines that in most cases (but not in every case) are consistent with some form of biblical literalism.
Another approach that I have taken is two-fold:
(1) To admit up front that, regardless of what one may read or hear in the popular media, science does not advance theories that can be proved true. Science only advances theories that can be proved false. (At least in so far as the theory is a candidate for the true description of reality.) The best theories—like general relativity and quantum mechanics—are just the ones that haven’t (yet) been proved false. It’s good at this point to mention Galileo and his philosophical error that played a part in his confrontation with the Church. Galileo insisted that he could prove true the Copernican theory (perfectly circular orbits and all). It’s also good to mention that, similarly, the “creation scientists” make exactly Galileo’s mistake of thinking that a scientific theory can be proved true.
(2) To focus on how the Christ is portrayed in the Nicene Creed. Through Him all things were created. If we look at the Incarnation as the focus of creation, then the narrative of the creation account in Genesis is put into its proper perspective. We are also reminded that creation is not just a single event isolated in the distant past but rather has an eternal aspect. There is a sense in which creation is on-going, as God by thinking about everything holds it in being through time. By drawing attention to the fact that the Incarnation is the focus of creation, some of the importance of a particular model for the detailed physics of the earliest times may be diminished.

The Masked Chicken November 20, 2008 at 2:52 pm

Dear Thomas and Leo,
I also teach my students that science can never prove something true. Its purpose is to find out what is false and eliminate it. It is like trying to find the bullseye on a dart board. One doesn’t try to find out where the bullseye is, one tries to find out where the bullseye is not and eliminate that portion of the dart board. Science is an eliminative process. Science hopes that whatever is left is either the truth or closer to it, but in reality, it never knows, for sure. This completely eliminates the scientism that atheists are often heard to support. Science says nothing about truth in an absolute sense. That is not its job.
I do think that the idea that young-Earthers are afraid to give up the YE hypothesis because they are afraid to give up, sola scriptura, has a great deal of merit to it. Here is where things start to get sticky, however: the Church has not definitively stated that Scripture cannot be taken literally, with regards to the Creation account. This puts me in the position of having to say that I hold that God created the universe and the earth, but the how is a bit fuzzy. I can go as far as agreeing with the YEthers that God created the earth, but I cannot say anything definite beyond that, since questions beyond this can only be partially answered by anyone at the present time.
One problem I see in using the speed of light to argue for an old universe is that we have no guarantee that the speed of light has been constant throughout time. That would be Dirac’s Large Number Hypothesis. If, however, the speed of light slowed down along with expansion then it would change the age of the universe, dramatically. One day of creation might not even have been a consistent unit.
I am happy if the YE and I can at least agree that God created the earth. At that point, argument on how he did it would have to be suspended, since we do not speak the same language past that point.
The Chicken

The Masked Chicken November 20, 2008 at 3:04 pm

Hmm…actually, a constant speed of light is a property of Einstein’s cosmology, not Dirac’s. Dirac said that the speed of light or the gravitational constant (they are able to be related) could vary as a function of time.
The Always-Willing-to-Argue-with-Myself Chicken

Thomas E. Vaughan November 20, 2008 at 4:55 pm

Dear Chicken,
One of the main points that I try to make in conversing with YE is that God not only has created the earth (or universe) in the past but also is creating it in the present (and will hopefully continue to create it in the future). There seems to be an unwitting tendency toward deism in YE’s approach, and that should be pointed out to him. The fact that God allows for things to change through time in such a way that we can comprehend the change reflects both God’s intelligence and God’s mercy, but we should not in reaction to this conceive of God’s creative act as limited to a single point at the beginning of time.
Also, recall Leo’s point about the complex fine-tuning problem involved in allowing the speed of light to change over time. Although possible in principle, it seems hardly tenable.

The Masked Chicken November 20, 2008 at 6:37 pm

Dear Thomas,
You wrote:
but we should not in reaction to this conceive of God’s creative act as limited to a single point at the beginning of time.
Agreed, but most YEs do not argue that God rested after seven days in the sense that he stopped all creative processes, merely that of creating earth-related things, even though the text actually says that he rested from all of his work of creation. Obviously, even on the seventh day, he continued to create animals and plants, if only for food, since man had been created by then. On what day he began to talk to Adam is not known, so one cannot say if it were on the sixth day or on the eighth day. Scripture continues to talk about God’s creating and ordering things all of the way to the end of the Book of Revelation, but it does not talk about planet making past the first chapter of Genesis.
One problem with this line of attack for a YE is that it requires the use of extra-biblical evidence which is not divinely inspired, so they may accept it for argument sake, but they would probably only hold the evidence contingently, all the while looking for clarification from scripture.
I actually have a YE in my class, right now. This student started out as a believer in theistic evolution but became a YE when he/she found out how closely (to them) the YE narrative matched the descriptions in the Bible. I am afraid that current science would just be re-interpreted to fit a biblical narrative, the same way that rapture-believers interpret the political events of modern time to fit their notion of the unfolding of history.
One possible way out of this is similar to a way that Fr. Stanley Jaki takes- he shows that science may suffer from the defects inherent in Godel’s Incompleteness theorem. One could argue to a sola scriptura believer that such a stance meets the criteria for Tarski’s Undefinability Theorem, and so to say that the Bible is the sole rule of faith actually introduces a paradox which must be resolved by an outside agency who can make meta-statements about the truth status of particular passages of scripture. In fact, sola scriptura, in order to avoid being paradoxical and thus containing no truth content, must require a Magisterium. No matter how a sola scripturist attempts to argue the matter, the internal dynamics of the logic of the position must lead to a Magisterium in order to avoid contradictions.
As such, basing a YE argument on sola scriptura makes the entire argument defeasible because the principle leads to a contradiction and thus, they lose any rights to a consistent argument about the creation of the earth.
In other words, if sola scriptura can be weaked to the Catholic position, then various hypotheses can be considered. Until this roadblock is broken, extr-biblical arguments probably won’t work. There is too much self-reinforcement in the sola scriptura view of creation.
Thoughts?
I realize that complex fine tuning (the anthropic principle and all of that) argues against a changing speed of light, but it is one of the arguments on the table in astrophysics for resolving the speed up of galaxies as they recede from earth. I am not espousing the idea, simply stating one possible argument a YE might try to make to account for the light speed problem that Leo mentioned.
Most YE do not try to resort to physics, from the start, but usually settle in on the biochemistry/geological components of modern science in looking for things to support their position and weaken that of natural science.
Although I study YE writings as well as the evolution controversies, I have found that it is really hard to have a dispassionate discussion even with my scientific colleagues. After a while, it almost seems that positions become more and more set in stone because the issue becomes personal. I try to stay away from connecting science to personal beliefs wherever possible, but in this area, where science and theology intersect, it is hard to do.
The Chicken

The Masked Chicken November 20, 2008 at 6:39 pm

Let me back away from this statement I made, above:
Obviously, even on the seventh day, he continued to create animals and plants, if only for food, since man had been created by then.
I need to think about what I really mean to say.
The Chicken

cmbe November 20, 2008 at 7:38 pm

I am a YE Creationist that thinks we need to stop waffling on our position regarding the Bible. YE believe that the Bible was inspired by verbal plenary inspiration and can only be interpreted by the historical-grammatical. Not an approach that includes either the 4 senses (Philo, Origin, or Augustine) or the historical-critical method.
Consequently YE see the following evidence for a young Universe:
1.Helioseismology – The core of the sun produces deuterium from hydrogen fusion at 5 million degrees K. The heat is transferred from the core by convection currents so it could reach surface in days, not a million years. It also leads to an age for the sun based on the deuterium/hydrogen ratio of the local interstellar medium of 6,000-12,857 years.
2.Comets:
For years creationists have indicated that there are too many bright, low-period comets to support an old solar system. The idea given is that a comet gets burned by the sun, and hence the shorter the period the fewer passes a comet can withstand before dying. As there is no observed mechanism for replacing dead comets, the solar system should have already run out of comets.

Thomas E. Vaughan November 20, 2008 at 9:08 pm

Dear Chicken,
You wrote: I try to stay away from connecting science to personal beliefs wherever possible, but in this area, where science and theology intersect, it is hard to do.
I agree. One thing that helps me is to remember that no scientific theory is a proper object of belief.
Dear cmbe,
As a Catholic, I am obligated to accept that the Church permits a range of interpretations of different portions of scripture. The right authority for determining which are the best theories for describing the structure and evolution of stars is the community of observers and theorists who publish on the matter (in particular, the observers who make the best, cutting edge observations and their theorist partners who invent models consistent both with those observations and, more generally, with the entire standard model of cosmology).
The standard astrophysical models do not contradict any teaching of the Church on matters of faith and morals. The fact that the best theories do contradict the literal interpretation of some parts of scripture should give any honest and humble person pause when he considers the truth value of that interpretation. Anyone who would say that, on the matter of stellar structure and evolution, the consensus of those who publish in the _Astrophysical Journal_ is not authoritative simply has a false view of authority.
Right authority in human affairs always rests in a community (or single person) of some sort. Authority cannot rest in a book. Right scientific authority does not properly assert the truth of any scientific theory, but it does assert the truth that, at a particular point in history, a certain scientific theory is the best one for describing a certain aspect of nature. In practice, there is no such assertion when the community itself does not form a consensus.
(1) Nevertheless, there is consensus about the structure of the sun, whose core is radiative and whose outer shell is convective. Multiple lines of calculation (some more refined than others) suggest that the sun is about 4.5 billion years through a ten-billion-year fuel supply.
(2) I have never studied the outer solar system in depth, but it seems to me that the distribution of space velocities of stars and, in general, Galactic differential rotation would give rise to gravitational perturbations in the vicinity of the solar system with some frequency. Cometary observations would then support the hypothesis of Oort’s cloud.

cmbe November 21, 2008 at 3:42 am

Mr. Vaughan let me ask you a simple question. Do you believe that a man named Noah, who was on a ark with his sons and their wives, existed? Or do you believe this is an allegorical story?

The Masked Chicken November 21, 2008 at 5:38 am

Dear CMBE,
I suspect that both Thomas and I both have no problem in believing that there was a literal man named Noah with the ark and all, however, this does not go so far in arguing to a young earth. Imagine an archeologists 5000 years from now: he knows there was an actual man named Neal Armstrong who walked on the moon, but how he got to the moon may not be so clear. Did he fly in a rocket, was he teleported, etc. There may be evidence for many explanations.
In other words, at some points, the Bible involves actual historical figures, as in Noah, and there was a literal first man named Adam, but how he got to the Garden of Eden is a little murky, given the nature of the description in the text and the observation of available phenomena.
I do not know if you are Catholic (I suspect not), but the Church has no objection to allowing believers to hold to either the literal six-days of Creation or some modified version which sounds closer to current scientific explanations. The Church is agnostic on this point because it simply does not understand the truth in this matter and does not require a definitive stance as a dogma of Faith at this time. While we know the answer is in the body of Faith, we have not been able to tease it out with anything approaching the certainty that would give the Magisterium the ability to pronounce on it.
As a scientist, I appreciate consistency on a theory. I hold scientific knowledge as contingent. Whichever model best fits the data is the one that science should use. As such, these sorts of debates are always welcome as long as they are conducted in charity. The problem is that these debates often become polarized by personal beliefs (on both sides of the fence). It has made progress towards a suitable resolution between Creationists and Non-Creationists difficult. As I say, I have no problem with either explanation. All I ask is that it be consistent and true.
The Chicken

cmbe November 21, 2008 at 5:54 am

Chicken,
Your reply is greatly appreciated, and like you I am a scientist with degrees in Physics and Electrical Engineering. Like you I appreciate consistency very much.
Analyzing the text of Genesis exposes some interesting conclusions if one believes in a literal Noah. First one must then believe in a literal flood that covered the earth between 3000BC and 2500 BC( based on the list of genealogies between Noah and Abraham). Secondly Noah’s ancestors names are mentioned. This then requires the reader to conclude that there is a genealogy between Adam and Noah.
Next question: Do you believe in a literal Adam and Eve?

Leo November 21, 2008 at 6:12 am

Dear cmbe
Thomas Vaughan can answer for himself. But if I may impertinently give my answer and risk going off-topic.
In common with most Catholics, I do not believe that Noah’s flood was global. I personally would not insist on a literal Noah – for me the significance of the story is more allegorical than historical. There probably were severe regional floods in the Tigris-Euphrates basin where people survived on covered rafts with their families and livestock. Some ‘Marsh Arabs’ in Iraq still do this or did this until recently. The point seems to be God’s salvation of all life and His promises which are unique for Near-Eastern Flood myths.
I do not believe that God intends us to read the Noah story as strict history or science, one reason being that it has contradictions within the same book eg Genesis 6:20 & 7:14-15 say there were two of each kind of fowl and clean beasts, yet Genesis 7:2-3,5 says they came in sevens.
God also gave us sensory apparatus and minds, “truth cannot contradict truth”.
For a long accessible discussion of the problems with a global flood eg ice cores in Greenland, Antarctica, high mountain glaciers in Bolivia and China, oldest dating back 850,000 years, show no evidence of flooding in those regions.

cmbe November 21, 2008 at 6:56 am

Leo,
I understand your position. However the Church believed in a literal Adam, Eve and Noah until around 1850. Thus the Tradition of the Church and the Church Fathers is to believe in a literal worldwide deluge. The account of Noah is demonstrated even in the ancient writings of the Chinese. Thus I claim the Church has become intimidated by outside forces and unnecessarily and unwisely weakened Her position regarding YE creation.

Thomas E. Vaughan November 21, 2008 at 7:03 am

Dear cmbe,
Your wrote: Do you believe that a man named Noah, who was on a ark with his sons and their wives, existed? Or do you believe this is an allegorical story?
This reminds me of the question asked by the advocate of scientism, “Do you believe in evolution?” My usual response when asked that question is to say that, first of all, there are two distinct senses in which “evolution” has meaning. First, it refers to an observational fact, that forms evolve in the geological column. Second, it refers to a scientific theory, usually expressed in terms of random mutation and natural selection. As to the first, yes I believe in the observational facts because they have been independently verified over and over again and published in peer-reviewed journals. As to the second, no particular evolutionary theory—nor indeed any scientific theory—is a proper object of belief, though it is something that can be admitted as one possible explanation, at least until the observational facts rule it out.
Like a scientific hypothesis, I regard each hypothesis about Noah as a possibility, not as a proper object of belief. On the one hand, it certainly seems possible that God spoke to a man in the deep past, told him to build a boat, and told him to save his family and some animals from a coming flood. Further, it seems possible that the man was the only just man of his day and that God acted to preserve his family and certain other creatures for his sake and for the sake of his children. On the other hand, it seems very unlikely to me that literally every kind of animal was preserved on the boat, and it seems very unlikely that water would cover every bit of land on earth. It seems somewhat unlikely that, if the man existed in history, he called himself “Noah”; that is our name for him. Noah is to be contrasted with Abraham, who was an actual, concrete historical figure, and with Adam, whose actual, historical existence is dogmatically asserted by the Church, even if Adam was not an historical figure per se. The writings that we have about Abraham are historical documents in a conventional sense, but the writings that we have about Noah and Adam are not.
In any event, the story of Noah does certainly contain revealed truth about the relationship between God and man. Noah provides the type of the just man. He teaches us about what it means to be just. He freely does God’s will. God preserves the just man and orders nature toward him.

cmbe November 21, 2008 at 7:21 am

Mr. Vaughan,
I did not ask if you believed in evolution. I simply asked if you believe in the historical Noah. I think you answered my question in a round-about way. Again I claim that an honest scholar would see that the internal evidence of the Bible clearly indicates that Noah is a historical figure like Abraham.
Furthermore as a scientist and mathematical physicist, I think that the evidence shows a young earth is much more probable then an old earth. But that debate is for another forum.

Thomas E. Vaughan November 21, 2008 at 7:32 am

Dear cmbe,
You wrote: Thus I claim the Church has become intimidated by outside forces and unnecessarily and unwisely weakened Her position regarding YE creation.
You seem here to be jumping to an unwarranted conclusion.
In the first place, there is a difference between (a) a common opinion in the Church on a matter that is not central to the doctrine of the Church and (b) an infallible teaching of the Church. The Church infallibly teaches the reality of Adam and Eve, the first persons, as the true parents of the human race, for this teaching is integral to the Catholic faith, as can be seen from several different points of view. The story of Noah surely has revelatory content, but, at least to my knowledge, the Church does not teach about Noah in the same sense as she teaches about Adam.
In the second place, St. Augustine in the fourth century, for example, entertained an idea about evolution of the human body over very long periods of time, and he is a doctor of the Church. It’s not as though the idea of a very old earth was only recently considered by the mind of the Church.
In the third place, teaching on matters of natural philosophy—for example, concerning the best theory for the age of the earth—is outside the sphere of the Church’s own competency. The Church does not see herself as having authority to teach definitively outside of her own realm, which directly concerns only what must be believed by every Catholic and how every Catholic should behave.
Of course, I share your concern about the Church’s being intimidated by outside forces, but we should focus our attention primarily where this is really happening. The fact is that the best scientific theories present some interesting challenges to traditional interpretations of Genesis, but they do not directly challenge any infallible teaching of the Church. However, much of the atheist propaganda spewed forth by certain scientists and their cheerleaders does directly challenge the infallible teaching of the Church, and we should fight that. In all of this, we must remember that no scientific theory is the enemy; rather, the non-scientific, bad philosophy of many scientists is what we need to combat.

Thomas E. Vaughan November 21, 2008 at 7:53 am

Dear cmbe,
You wrote: Furthermore as a scientist and mathematical physicist, I think that the evidence shows a young earth is much more probable then an old earth.
As one who earned his Ph.D. in physics (with an emphasis in astronomy), I disagree. I don’t put myself forth as an authority; these days, I do astronomy for engineering purposes to pay the bills.
I think that the standard model of cosmology is consistent with all known observations. Further, the standard models of stellar structure and evolution are consistent with standard cosmology and with all observations of the sun and other stars. In the context of the standard models, the most natural hypothesis for the time of the formation of the earth is a few hundred million years after the formation of the solar system, which seems to have occurred about five billion years ago. I have seen no convincing observations that would lead one to rule out the standard models. That’s in fact why the standard models are standard. They fit the observations. So we disagree on this.
Either you know of some good observations that have somehow been kept as secrets from the astrophysical community, or else you disagree with the community’s judgment on a matter that is in fact within the community’s sphere of competence. In the latter case, the problem is one of proper humility in the face of authority. But it is inappropriate to appeal to the authority of the Church here. The Church is not the authority for the review of scientific theories and their fitness against the observational data. The scientific community is the authority, and the authority disagrees with you.
That doesn’t mean that you are wrong, but it does suggest that you take a humble approach and consider the onus to be on you.

cmbe November 21, 2008 at 7:54 am

Mr. Vaughan,
I think it quite illogical to believe in a literal Adam and Abraham and then refute the account of Noah as non-historical. Using the historical-grammatical approach to hermeneutics does not allow such disjoint conclusions.
Therefore I think the Church should revisit the account of Noah and make some pronouncement that Noah and the universal deluge are historical. BTW there is more evidence for the flood then any evidence on global warming.

Thomas E. Vaughan November 21, 2008 at 8:13 am

Dear cmbe,
You wrote: I think it quite illogical to believe in a literal Adam and Abraham and then refute the account of Noah as non-historical. Using the historical-grammatical approach to hermeneutics does not allow such disjoint conclusions.
I am not a scholar of scripture. I can’t speak to this with any real competence. My intent is only to be as faithful to the Church’s teaching as I know how to be, while being as helpful as possible with regard to my formal training and experience.
I would, however, note that from the beginning of Genesis and up through the account of the Tower of Babel, the stories have a timeless, once-upon-a-time feel. Starting with the story of Abraham, however, my impression is that we have events and persons that can be at least somewhat firmly placed in history in a way that generally agrees with archeology. That’s what I mean by conventional history.
You wrote: BTW there is more evidence for the flood then any evidence on global warming.
Heh. On this we might just agree, if by “global warming” you mean “human-induced global warming”. But that really is an issue for another thread. :^)
The Inertial Mass

cmbe November 21, 2008 at 9:07 am

Mr. Vaughan,
I have a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering/ Non-linear Optics so I am not an Astronomer and a Masters in Theology. However I took several Astronomy courses and realize that models wax and wane in their popularity. I have greater confidence in the veracity of the Bible then I do scientific understanding of past events.
Science requires everything to be observable and reproducible. Hence most of Cosmology and Evolutionary Biology are not observable or reproducible, thus violating the very definition of what is science.

Thomas E. Vaughan November 21, 2008 at 9:55 am

Dear Dr. cmbe,
You seem not to have learned from your course work that a cosmological theory does make predictions that are verifiable by repeatable observation. Lots of cosmological theories have been ruled out by repeatable observation.
Further, a given theory can wax only so long as observations are consistent with its predictions but then must wane when new observations are inconsistent with its predictions. When these new observations are repeated by independent teams, the theory is ruled out. It can never return, and so we make some progress. At least, we don’t go backward.
The “veracity of the Bible”, when considered apart from an objective interpreting authority, is not something in which anyone should have confidence. After all, learned and honest men of good will can on their own disagree even about foundational issues treated in scripture.

Thomas E. Vaughan November 21, 2008 at 9:59 am

Erratum
I should have written,
You seem not to have learned from your course work that a cosmological theory does make predictions that are *testable* by repeatable observation.
The Inertial Mass

Leo November 21, 2008 at 10:12 am

Dear cmbe
please forgive my curiosity, but are you a Catholic?

cmbe November 21, 2008 at 10:17 am

I know that Cosmologists ‘claim’ to make predictions that are ‘testable’. I however claim that their conclusions about the Origin of the Universe are NOT testable. The Origin of the Universe can never be ‘testable’, by the very definition that nobody was there other than God. Thus cosmological theories are only conjecture which can be explained in a multitude of other plausible ways.
Again I wish the Church would be more rigorous in defining positions regarding the Noah, the flood, and other contemporary issues.( This whole Ecumenical meeting with Muslim leaders has me quite bothered at the moment. But that is a separate discussion! )

cmbe November 21, 2008 at 10:27 am

Leo,
I am trying to be Catholic. However, some of the boneheaded decisions from some of our leaders has given me pause. Without going into details, I am amazed at the number of leaders who are enthused by the new messiah ‘Obama’ and this new found ecumenism with Muslims. I feel like a spirit of cowardice has crept into the church and we need to reclaim the TRUTH!

Thomas E. Vaughan November 21, 2008 at 10:40 am

Dear Dr. cmbe,
If light takes time to propagate, then we are always being bombarded by signals from the past. Some of those signals, originating from objects at great distance, appear to come directly from very near the beginning of time. By looking at very distant objects, we can in the present perform observations of the deep past. Cosmological theories just predict what one should observe when one looks into the deep past. The famous steady-state cosmological theory, for example, was ruled out by Edwin Hubble’s observations, which were very repeatable.
If the speed of light be finite, then the deep past is in fact present to us now for regions of space at great distances. Yes, for nearby locations, the deep past is forever gone, but for far away locations the deep past is our present. One of the fundamental principles of the philosophy of science is the principle of natural uniformity. According to this principle, the essential properties of our own location in the distant past are the same as those of a distant location in the distant past. This can never be demonstrated, but it and other principles of the philosophy of science must be true if God in his mercy creates the universe in a way comprehensible to us through science.
You can wish what you want, but the fact is that the Church, which is the right authority on scriptural interpretation, does not see a conflict between the standard models of cosmology and the Christian faith.

Thomas E. Vaughan November 21, 2008 at 10:49 am

Dear Dr. cmbe,
You wrote: I am trying to be Catholic. However, some of the boneheaded decisions from some of our leaders has given me pause. Without going into details, I am amazed at the number of leaders who are enthused by the new messiah ‘Obama’ and this new found ecumenism with Muslims. I feel like a spirit of cowardice has crept into the church and we need to reclaim the TRUTH!
Believe me, I feel the same way, but you are missing the target when you try to argue against right authority.
The scientific communities *are* right authorities, each in its own sphere. It is a mistake for us to argue against legitimate scientific theories, such as the various standard models of cosmology and stellar evolution, even when many of the proponents of these legitimate theories also promote illegitimate philosophical positions.
We must give credit where it is due, and we must respect authority where it is due.
Of course, we must also argue against scientism and other heresies, but our own credibility and effectiveness is compromised when we do not respect what is legitimate in the secular sphere.
The Inertial Mass

Thomas E. Vaughan November 21, 2008 at 2:30 pm

Erratum
Edwin Hubble did not rule out the steady-state theory with his observation of red shifts around 1929. Rather, he ruled out the static model, in which Einstein famously introduced his cosmological constant. I was thinking of the static model in my mind, but my fingers wrote “steady-state”. Rats.

The Masked Chicken November 21, 2008 at 4:27 pm

Dear Thomas,
I just want to jump in on what is shaping up to be a fascinating discussion (although I can’t say for the other blog readers). You wrote:
It is a mistake for us to argue against legitimate scientific theories, such as the various standard models of cosmology and stellar evolution, even when many of the proponents of these legitimate theories also promote illegitimate philosophical positions.
That may be a bit strong. In one of my areas of research, legitimate authority had a theory in vogue for many years that almost everyone accepted. I came along and proved the theory wrong with a single sentence. The field has been slow to change, but the counterargument is irrefutable. Authority is a tricky word in some fields of science. This is observable in the medical field. When has an authority become a real authority? How many years does it take for common knowledge to become truth?
This is not to say that specialists do not have a right to generally make claims to a higher wisdom in their field than outsiders, but there have been cases where blind trust in authority has led to mistakes.
Ultimately, only God is entirely trustworthy. Authorities should be held in some esteem, but some even apparently reproducible results have been shown to be caused by factors unknown that, once removed, changed the results.
I think that one should, in general, surrender to the wisdom of authorities in natural matters, unless there is a strong reason not too. Sometimes, those reasons are hard to articulate. In the end, both sides are responsible for searching for the truth, together. One thing that is sure: the search for truth is almost never a singular effort.
I see no contradiction between the faith and science, if both are properly done. The problem is that both involve fallible humans and things don’t always work in the way that unifies truth.
The Chicken

The Masked Chicken November 21, 2008 at 4:33 pm

Dear Dr. Cmbe (do you prefer this or another appellation?),
You wrote:
Again I wish the Church would be more rigorous in defining positions regarding the Noah, the flood, and other contemporary issues.
The Church can only pronounce on an issue when the time is right. Some of these issues are being studied by archeologists, theologians, historians, etc. The Church has not yet found it prudent to make definitive statements on some of these issues at this time. The believer must wait. That, too, is an act of faith.
The Chicken

Thomas E. Vaughan November 21, 2008 at 4:56 pm

Dear Chicken,
I agree that my remark about the error of arguing against a legitimate scientific theory reads a bit harsh. However, the remark was intended to rebuke criticism that originates from outside the community that has established the theory as the standard model. The point is that one who either does not appreciate the reasoning of the expert community or chooses a non-scientific basis for his criticism has no standing.
Perhaps there is a better way of expressing the idea, but I do firmly believe that there is an issue of authority that must be respected. The authority of a scientific community may certainly be challenged by one who is familiar with the standard model, its predictions, and the observations to date, but in gaining such familiarity, the challenger becomes a part of the community. I suppose that another way to express my point is this: If one wishes to oppose the standard model, then one first has the responsibility to become a real member of the relevant community. Otherwise, one should in most cases defer to authority out of a proper sense of humility.

Thomas E. Vaughan November 21, 2008 at 6:26 pm

Dear Chicken,
The authority that I’m talking about is just the authority of the scientific community to say what the best theory is. The community of course has no authority to say that the standard model is true. So I’m sure that in my previous messages I’ve just worded the idea incorrectly.
Further, I’m not arguing that because the standard models are inconsistent with it, one is obligated to throw out a YE view. My point is merely that in adopting the YE view, one should just honestly admit that one is disregarding a scientific view of the cosmos. This is not necessarily a wrong thing to do, for science in the end is not about establishing the absolute truth of any particular theory.
What is wrong to do is to adopt the YE view for religious reasons and then to pretend without proper standing that one has rejected the conflicting standard scientific model on scientific grounds.
The Inertial Mass

The Masked Chicken November 21, 2008 at 6:55 pm

Dear Thomas,
You wrote:
If one wishes to oppose the standard model, then one first has the responsibility to become a real member of the relevant community. Otherwise, one should in most cases defer to authority out of a proper sense of humility.
I agree, for the most part. I have seen both sides of this issue, as an expert and an outsider. In one of my fields of study, people keep showing up with, “look at my theory,” when in fact, such a theory either already exists or has been discarded. All it proves is that some people think that theorizing is easy and they won’t take the time to read the existing literature. It is very frustrating and I have known at least one colleague to lose his temper when such things are posted on research boards.
On the other hand, I have known of cases where doctors have overlooked evidence that completely contradicted their diagnosis and would not listen to the simple layman. In some cases, the layman was correct.
What about the intermediate case where a doctor makes a claim about some interpretation of a graph to a mathematician or a claim about an enzyme to a biochemist? Who has authority in those sorts of cases.
As I say, I agree that authority should be respected. I just think that authority should also be humble enough to know its own limits. That is not always the case, especially when power and prestige is at stake, as it often is, in science.
This is not a statement in any way about the standard model in astronomy. In a sense, astronomers act as modern, “keepers of the mystery,” that ancient storytellers used to hold. The measurements of astronomy are reproducible. Some astronomers go beyond the data to make philosophical statements that are insulting to common sensibilities, as you point out. In those cases, Chesterton was probably correct: any good theory or speculation must, eventually, be able to look common sense in the eye. Common sense, in its usual sense of “what everybody knows,” is often wrong. Chesterton meant, by common sense, something like, “that quality of knowledge that stands to be judged by all men”.
Here is a particularly telling quote (from:Orthodoxy, Chapter VI: the Paradoxes of Christianity):
Now, actual insight or inspiration is best tested by whether it
guesses these hidden malformations or surprises. If our mathematician
from the moon saw the two arms and the two ears, he might deduce
the two shoulder-blades and the two halves of the brain. But if he
guessed that the man’s heart was in the right place, then I should
call him something more than a mathematician. Now, this is exactly
the claim which I have since come to propound for Christianity.
Not merely that it deduces logical truths, but that when it suddenly
becomes illogical, it has found, so to speak, an illogical truth.
It not only goes right about things, but it goes wrong (if one
may say so) exactly where the things go wrong. Its plan suits
the secret irregularities, and expects the unexpected. It is simple
about the simple truth; but it is stubborn about the subtle truth.
It will admit that a man has two hands, it will not admit (though all
the Modernists wail to it) the obvious deduction that he has two hearts.
It is my only purpose in this chapter to point this out; to show
that whenever we feel there is something odd in Christian theology,
we shall generally find that there is something odd in the truth.

The Chicken

The Masked Chicken November 21, 2008 at 7:02 pm

Dear Thomas,
Can your comments may be related to one of an issue of domain? Scientists do physical science; theologians do spiritual science. A conflict can occur when spirit and nature are confused and one side offers a spiritual reason where a physical on is needed or the other side offers a physical reason where a spiritual one is needed.
Am I close?
The Chicken
Going to bed. More comments in the morning…

cmbe November 21, 2008 at 8:10 pm

Gentlemen,
It is not possible to divorce science from philosophy, hence the title of Doctor of Philosophy in Electrical Engineering or Astrophysics. After my studies I realized that logical positivism was the underlying metaphysics of my research. This form of metaphysics was inadvertently affecting my faith. BTW logical positivism was immensely influential in the philosophy of language and represents the dominant philosophy of science and academics since World War I. Therefore our Magisterium needs to understand this philosophy is affecting every American college student. They must understand that science has always been subordinate to Philosophy, while Philosophy must always be subordinate to Theology. Unfortunately Joe Slightly Above Average Catholic has falsely made Theology subordinate to Logical Positivism. Thus it is imperative for the church to rigorously explain a Catholic Worldview!
So again I state that it is foundational( not optional) to believe in a literal Adam and Noah so that one can more precisely analyze the data and come up with more precise theories on the origin of the Universe.
My friends call me: He who does not suffer flaccid fools gladly!

Hans November 21, 2008 at 8:58 pm

I think, Thomas, that another way of expressing TMC’s point, is that while scientific communities are the proper authorities, they are not (even in something like the restricted sense that the Church is) infallible. My experience as a physicist (PhD, solid state physics [magnetic materials]) has been that even in science there are fads. I don’t think that it’s a fundamental flaw in the scientific method (as cmbe seems to imply), but it is a result of the fact that science is done by people, who bring both strengths and weaknesses to the work.
That being said, I’ve never seen any YE evidence that I thought didn’t overstretch credulity. My favorite demonstration of the large age of the earth is the growth rate of the Atlantic, which runs up to some 180 million years old at the edges. Not only do the seafloor rocks show the usual signs of age (e.g., decay products of radioactive materials), but they show alternating anomalies in the magnetization of the seafloor itself, anomalies that are remarkably symmetric on either side of the mid-Atlantic ridge. That magnetization can only happen under certain conditions that are only met at the active part of the ridge itself in the Atlantic. So unless the condition of the seafloor changed considerably in the relatively short time before about 2000 years ago, and the earth’s magnetic field reversed frequently in that same time (something it has stubbornly refused to do in the most-recent 2000 years or so), or the Atlantic seafloor must be quite old, yet quite young by earth standards.

Hans November 21, 2008 at 9:19 pm

Thus it is imperative for the church to rigorously explain a Catholic Worldview!
It seems to me that the Magisterium has explained the Catholic Worldview to the level that it sees fit under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In a very large sense, these matters are in the hands of the Holy Spirit, and they will not happen before the Holy Spirit sees fit, but when that happens, whatever explanations are needed will be given.

The Masked Chicken November 22, 2008 at 8:46 am

Dear Dr. Cmbe,
You wrote:
BTW logical positivism was immensely influential in the philosophy of language and represents the dominant philosophy of science and academics since World War I.
That was true until the 1950′s. Logical Positivism has been shown by Willard Quine in the 1940s and 1950s and Pierre Duhem in the early 1900s to be too simple an explanation for how science works. Essentially, each physical theory is based on a set of interlinked underlying assumption. During the course of testing the theory, it is impossible to know, a priori, the underlying priority of each assumption in the interlinking scheme. Because of this, testing one hypothesis might accidentally and in unknown ways, be stressing another hypothesis that has an unknown higher priority. Thus, experimental proofs for theories tend to be underdetermined. Logical Positivism says that single a measurement can be used to prove a theory. The Quine-Duhem Thesis (also called Confirmation Holism in a link in the Wikipedia article) says that this can only happen in rare circumstances.
That many scientists do not understand the limitations of science is evidence of poor pedagogy about the philosophy of forming theories and experiments. Scientists are, still, by and large, formed very much by a master/apprentice dynamic in graduate schools. They are not given courses in experimental design that also include the philosophy behind experiments.
You do have a point about the contamination of science by positivistic ideas, but the limitations of positivism are known and can and should be made more widely available. Certainly in this day and age, when mathematical chaos indicates that some experimental systems may have sensitivity to initial conditions, logical positivism is even more discredited, in certain cases.
Logical positivism is not entirely discredited, nor can it be, because in a simple enough observational system, such as cataloging birds, it does hold. The more complex the phenomenon, the less likely it is to hold.
Unfortunately, and please correct me where I am wrong (as I might be), to assert, without sufficient proof (since the poofs are sketchy), the existence of a literal Adam and Noah, is precisely a form of inverse theological logical positivism – these exact persons must be there (must exist), so I assert that they are there (exist)- where the assertion takes the place of experimentation.
I am not arguing that there is not a literal Adam or Noah, just that the Church has not been able to make this assertion rise to the level needed to pronounce on it. Indeed, such care is a defense against logical positivism, because it requires that the assumptions be allowed to manifest themselves, over time, so that the structure of the logic and assumptions behind the assertion becomes known. Then, the Church can judge on the totality of assumptions and evidence, as they should.
I have no problem with one holding for a literal Adam and Noah (as I happen to do), but I cannot say that anyone else has to hold to anything but a weaker form of this assertion (that Adam and Noah are markers for specific people involved in the events) until the Church is satisfied to make a pronouncement on whether or not the assertion belongs in the deposit of Faith. So, I can certainly discuss things from your perspective. I just can’t demand that anyone else hold to the conclusions.
The Chicken

Tim J. November 22, 2008 at 9:42 am

Just FYI, I can’t contribute a great deal to this conversation from either the theology end or the science end… but I am really enjoying it. Keep it up as long as you want.

Thomas E. Vaughan November 22, 2008 at 10:15 am

Dear Chicken
You wrote:

On the other hand, I have known of cases where doctors have overlooked
evidence that completely contradicted their diagnosis and would not
listen to the simple layman. In some cases, the layman was correct.

The concept of authority that I have been referring to is so limited as,
arguably, not to apply to your example above. The authority held by a
scientific community exists only where the community exhibits a
consensus about what the best theory is. In the case of a physician’s
diagnosis, he is, at best, applying established theoretical principles
to a particular set of symptoms. Even then, the standard model may
admit several different interpretations of those symptoms. When the
symptoms or recommended treatments are severe, the patient prudently
seeks more than one opinion, but he does not thereby challenge the
principle of scientific authority as I see it. In some cases, there is
not even a relevant medical theory established by consensus in the
community.
Dear cmbe,
You wrote:

So again I state that it is foundational( not optional) to believe in a
literal Adam and Noah so that one can more precisely analyze the data
and come up with more precise theories on the origin of the
Universe.

Although you appealed to the hierarchy of knowlege, your statement
appears not to follow from the hierarchy of knowledge. Surely the
propositions of theology are of greater importance than the propositions
of philosophy, but truth does not contradict truth. Theology requires
the literal existence of Adam in history, but theology doesn’t specify a
detailed historical context. The details, even if they could be
specified, would need to come from other disciplines, each of which has
its own legitimate autonomy. Certain questions can be answered only by
appeal to theology, and other questions can be answered only by appeal
to natural philosophy. So far as I am aware, theology does not require
that the revealed truth in the story of Noah lies primarily in the
literal sense.
My friends call me: He who does not suffer flaccid fools gladly!
To respect the legitimate autonomy of natural philosophy is not to be
flaccid. To admit the limits of theology and of Magisterial competence
is not to be flaccid. On the one hand, flaccidity is certainly a real
danger, and I hope that the bishops and lay persons alike will stand
firm in defense of Christian morality, which is grounded in the theology
of the human person. On the other hand, just as one can err by failing
to combat the bad philosophy of those who would expand science beyond
its legitimate boundaries, so too can one err by rigidly specifying in
the name of theology that which properly belongs to natural philosophy.
Dear Hans,
Concerning scientific authority, the view that I have been promoting has
fallibility built right in. A scientific theory is never assumed to be
true, though it can be proved false. The authority of the scientific
community is just the community’s consensus on what the best theory at
the moment is. Of course the community can be mistaken even about that,
for example if no one has caught a fundamental mathematical
inconsistency in the standard model. Anyway, I am the last person who
would argue for the infallibility of any merely human organization.
A side note about my many posts yesterday:
Although it was fun, I found myself embarrassed afterward for writing
too boldly, too frequently, and without sufficient self-criticism. I
suppose that this is a natural hazard for the medium and for a
personality like mine. I am grateful that those who have been patient
enough to read have also been charitable enough to overlook some of my
foolishness. :^)

The Masked Chicken November 22, 2008 at 11:45 am

Dear Thomas,
You wrote:
The concept of authority that I have been referring to is so limited as,
arguably, not to apply to your example above.

This is true for the case of the doctor/patient I cited, since the doctor is failing to investigate properly (which can short-circuit the scientific process). My point was that even an authority can fail to act like a proper authority, from time to time. That does not invalidate the authority of the community, only the exercise of authority of the individual.
You also wrote:
Although it was fun, I found myself embarrassed afterward for writing
too boldly, too frequently, and without sufficient self-criticism. I
suppose that this is a natural hazard for the medium and for a
personality like mine. I am grateful that those who have been patient
enough to read have also been charitable enough to overlook some of my
foolishness. :^)

I suppose I should say, “ditto”. There are few outlets for Catholic scientists to truly be both Catholic and scientist. When the chance presents itself, things just seem to burst out. I think we have provided some amusement for the regular readers, here. I have to deal with these issues on a daily basis, because I am surrounded by scientist/colleagues and students who have a strictly naturalistic approach to creation. I sometimes feel like I have my hands tied behind my back because I am not allowed to discuss theology and science, together, while teaching or during, “official,” hours. All students ever hear is a one-sided treatment of things. Those students who do bring a religious perspective to the discussion have to be ignored or the discussions have to be done in private.
One-hundred years ago, the situation would have been about 50/50; two-hundred years ago, the situation would have been 50/50 in the other direction; three-hundred years ago, the situation would have been about what it is, today, only reversed: 90/10 theology/science.
Science has been gaining ground because of economics (it excites the animal passions for exploration and conquest) and because it produces objects. The problem with theology is that it is hard to tell when progress is being made. In science, a device can be seen to be a new development. The same with theory. In theology, science is being done backwards (and rightfully so). Since its fundamental axiom is an omega axiom or reality (God), theology attempts to work out the implications of this in smaller and smaller terms. Natural science starts with an alpha axiom (senses and observation) and attempts to work out the implications in larger and larger terms. It is easier for people to synthesize than divide. This natural tendency makes it difficult to tell when a new theological advance really is an advance. This is another reason why a Magisterium is needed. A Magisterium not only safeguards the deposit of Faith, it also acts as the Churches memory and sense organs. It is skilled at detecting changes that uncover more of the deposit of faith. In this sense, theology is a bit like a geologist in search of the site of an earthquake even as the tremors are being felt.
This is not to say that theology can’t start with small axioms and work upwards or that natural science can’t start with grand schemes and work backwards, but neither way is the natural habit of either discipline. These reverse trends do, occasionally, produce results, but they require great skill and only a few people can do them.
I am afraid that most of these philosophical/theological ideas are never looked at in a traditional science program. They should be. Many scientists do not have enough respect for paths that should not be explored because they violate the dignity of man (Frankenstein’s monster? or Eugenics?). It is a great time to be alive, but I fear we are on the cusp of profound changes. What those changes will produce, I do not know, but I fear that this is the final age of homo sapiens. Darwin was wrong. Evolution has an end. Its name is man.
The chicken

Hans November 22, 2008 at 3:17 pm

Let’s just say, Thomas (because I haven’t time for more) that my impression was that you and TMC were beginning to argue much the same point with different ways of expressing the same or very similar ideas, though I thought on this point (about fallibility) you could be a bit more explicit. So I thought I would step in and point that out, as I have some experience with doing just that sort of thing. I think sometimes it’s easier when a third party does so.
I recall one discussion I had with a Lutheran fellow, and he would say ‘a’ and I would say ‘A’; eventually I pointed out the similarities in our arguments, but he just couldn’t accept it.
Or, in a somewhat funnier episode, a colleague and I once argued for an entire day over the shades of meaning of ‘thus’ and ‘hence’ and which we should use at a certain point in the paper we were working on.

Anon November 22, 2008 at 5:20 pm

It is a good thing we are finding new planets because soon we won’t have enough space for all the idiots on Earth!

Anon November 22, 2008 at 5:23 pm

In the End, this science vs. faith thing is going to be settled by the Theology of Beauty. You take what is theological and scientifically acceptable and put it under the prism that God is incapable (loose wording) of doing something that is not beautiful, therefore it eliminates a series of plain ugly and unsplendorous theories.

The Masked Chicken November 22, 2008 at 6:50 pm

Dear Hans,
You wrote:
Let’s just say, Thomas (because I haven’t time for more) that my impression was that you and TMC were beginning to argue much the same point with different ways of expressing the same or very similar ideas, though I thought on this point (about fallibility) you could be a bit more explicit. So I thought I would step in and point that out, as I have some experience with doing just that sort of thing. I think sometimes it’s easier when a third party does so.
Point taken.
The Chicken

Thomas E. Vaughan November 23, 2008 at 6:50 am

Yes, thanks, Hans.
By the way, I hope that I never find myself arguing against The Chicken on any issue of substance and that every apparent dispute would be a short-lived matter of definition.
With respect to the anonymous comment about beauty, I wonder if Tim Jones would have something interesting to say.

Hans November 23, 2008 at 1:22 pm

Not a problem. It’s been an interesting conversation. (In my world, ‘conversation’, ‘discussion’, and ‘argument’ can be used more or less interchangeably.)
It is a good thing we are finding new planets because soon we won’t have enough space for all the idiots on Earth!
I hope we aren’t close to reaching critical-idiocy any time soon, Anon. Even as close as this stellar system is, it’ll be quite some time before we get there.
In the End, this science vs. faith thing is going to be settled by the Theology of Beauty. You take what is theological and scientifically acceptable and put it under the prism that God is incapable (loose wording) of doing something that is not beautiful, therefore it eliminates a series of plain ugly and unsplendorous theories.
There is a certain amount of controversy in the physics community about what role beauty and ‘simplicity’ (somehow my students never see it that way) should play. I’m on the beauty-and-simplicity side, myself. I figure if a theory is too complicated, it’s because we don’t know enough yet, and history seems to support that position, but there are those who argue that that’s because that’s what people were looking for. I’m not convinced.
I have to deal with these issues on a daily basis, because I am surrounded by scientist/colleagues and students who have a strictly naturalistic approach to creation. I sometimes feel like I have my hands tied behind my back because I am not allowed to discuss theology and science, together, while teaching or during, “official,” hours.
I’m in much the same boat, TMC, though I’ve always felt somewhat freer if a student brings up the subject. And there are other things that can be done (if you’d like some ideas).
This last Friday a student who didn’t know how to answer a question said, “Because God made it that way.” I replied, “Yes, but our goal here isn’t so much to worry about that he said it, but what he made happen.” [Or something like that.] Not the best answer, perhaps, but I think it got the point across. I also had an interesting opportunity in class this fall on Guy Fawkes Day (which usually my students have never heard of).
In addition, I have a couple Marian holy cards standing on a shelf in my office, which has sparked some conversation. I try to be active when I can at the campus Newman Center, which some students have noticed also. (I just wish the NC weren’t so inept/absent in its outreach.) And then just in general my teaching style involves me getting to know something about my students (starting with their names, perhaps 80 a semester) and making it clear that if they have questions they can come to see me.
There has been some effect to this effort (not that it is really my doing). For instance, there is one former student of mine who comes around to chat now and then and who is Catholic (and went to a Catholic HS) I convinced he should go back to Mass, at least now and then. There are others who I have convinced to keep an open mind, at least.
The most important thing is to remember is to go softly softly. You don’t want anybody to confuse you with a ‘crazy fundie’, because then they will just dismiss you as a nut. As it is, I’ve had other physics faculty ask me theological questions from time to time, and they have been surprised by the reasonableness of the Catholic answer; it wasn’t at all what they’d expected.
Forgive me if that’s a bit jumbled, but I’ve already spent more time than I have …

Thomas E. Vaughan November 24, 2008 at 7:41 am

Dear Hans,
Those are some interesting comments, especially about going softly.
Because I did not pursue the academic route after receiving my Ph.D., I cannot comment about the approach to students from the professor’s point of view, but I remember being a student.
When, as an undergraduate, I occasionally attended Mass at the university parish, I recall seeing one of my physics professors there, and just seeing him there was a great encouragement. Of course, I had been so poorly catechized as a child as at that point in my life to be Catholic only in having received the sacraments and in weakly associating myself with the name, “Catholic”.
One thing that kept me from completely turning my back on the Church is that I did not want to disappoint my parents. They were both practicing scientists, who taught and did research at a medical school. Surely Catholicism couldn’t be all that bad if they accepted it. Another thing is that I had the impression that there had been some bold and advanced philosophy developed by Catholic geniuses—especially St. Thomas of Aquinas—in the Middle Ages. At least, my father had tried to get that point across when I was growing up.
What pulled me away from the Church, however, were the powerful ridicule of religion from every direction and the perceived inconvenience of a strict moral code. There was a sense in which I wanted to be Catholic, but I did not have the tools necessary to defend the faith even from my own mind, much less from other minds wholly disconnected from any desire for the faith.
I finally was able to find some ground to stand on when, as a graduate student, I decided to represent the physics and astronomy department at a periodic debate and discussion event with the Student Creation Society, a student fundamentalist organization on campus. In my preparation for that, I decided to find out what the Catholic position is on evolution.
I was shocked, surprised, amazed!
The Church’s position seemed completely reasonable.
I was still able to represent the physics and astronomy department in good faith, but I ended up being able to have a much deeper and more meaningful discussion with my opponents because, for example, of being able to distinguish between the human body and the human soul in relation to the requirements of the Christian faith on any theory of evolution.
After this experience, I decided to make a list of everything that I suspected the Church got wrong. Next up was Galileo. I dug into the history and was again completely surprised by the fact that, despite the apparent errors of some in the Church, Galileo made a huge philosophical error that Cardinal Bellarmine, as head of the Inquisition, recognized and rightly chastised Galileo for. Not too long after that, and before I defended my dissertation, I had become convinced of the infallibility of the Church on every matter of real importance to the faith.
The relation of all this to your comment about going softly is that, in my mind, at least at the beginning, fundamentalism represented a great evil in the world, and I was opposed to it. What kept me around was the sense that the Church was not fundamentalist. Still, I did not subscribe to any idea of infallibility and authority because those ideas struck my mind as a kind of fundamentalism. After I had dug into the Church’s teaching a bit, I picked up Karl Keating’s book _Catholicism and Fundamentalism_. I wish that I had read it much earlier, because I went to confession for the first time in at least a decade very soon after reading it. Then I was on to Newman’s _Essay_.
These days, I’m still working on converting various aspects of my life, but the false perception of fundamentalism in serious Catholicism was something that did in fact require a soft approach from authority, particularly from my parish priest.

The Masked Chicken November 24, 2008 at 8:03 am

An interesting new study on the relationship of beauty to truth, at least in mathematics.
The Chicken

Thomas E. Vaughan November 24, 2008 at 8:32 am

Dear Chicken,
I was drawn toward physics instead of biology (my parents’ field) primarily because, after I had a taste of each, physics seemed easier. At least part of the reason for which physics seemed easier is that all I had to do was to remember a small number of beautiful mathematical ideas, from which I could easily derive anything else that I needed, whether it be for homework or even for taking a test. Beautiful ideas are particularly easy to remember because I end up thinking about them for enjoyment. I’m almost never bored because when there’s nothing else to do I can just contemplate a beautiful piece of mathematics and do some work on it in my head.

Mark Scott Abeln November 24, 2008 at 9:13 am

I studied Physics at Caltech partly because it is very deep subject, but became discouraged when I realized that many of its practitioners were practicing theology without a license!

Matthew Warner November 24, 2008 at 10:40 am

I love scientific stuff like this. Way cool! Thanks for sharing. God is awesome!

Hans November 24, 2008 at 10:48 pm

Well, Thomas, my thoughts were primarily directed to TMC, because of the apparent similarity of our situations, as he is apparently at a university, but no doubt they have application in other areas as well.
As for ‘softly softly’ (a Briticism), my inspiration for that is St. Paul’s determination to be “all things to all, to save at least some.” (1 Cor 9) Of course, with some people other approaches might be better, but those depend on how well you know that person. A few people I know well enough that I can growl at them when they are going in the wrong direction, but many never get beyond the kid gloves.
One of my problems with the CA Forums, for instance, is that so often respond angrily (not that I don’t sometimes fall into that trap myself) to strangers with strange views. It’s just so often counterproductive to our purpose.
Sometimes the most important thing is being there while ‘being Christian’. Today, for instance, I was praying in the NC chapel and when I stood up I was standing right next to one of my students, who was in (I was told by someone else later) an RCIA group. We’ll see if anything comes of that.

Serena November 27, 2008 at 8:24 pm

YEC is part of Fundamentalism because both come out of a fear of disorientation. That’s my personal experience. To acknowledge that “a day” can be more than one thing is to acknowledge that time can be flexible and perspective affects everything. To the YEC Fundamentalist, this can seem like the beginning of losing all sense of time and place and clarity, and is frightening.

Hans November 28, 2008 at 6:27 pm

That’s a good observation, Serena, though as with most things there are a few exceptions.

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