Discovery Institute — Infinite Brilliance

The Discoveroids are giving us another “scientific” reason for divine — ooops! — we mean scientific creationism. This time they’re talking about the origin of the universe. Their new post was written by Kirk Durston, whom the Discoveroids introduced in this earlier post by telling us:

Dr. Durston is a scientist, philosopher, and clergyman with a PhD in Biophysics, an MA in Philosophy, a BSc in Mechanical Engineering, and a BSc in Physics.

That’s an impressive résumé! Because we’re told that among his accomplishments, Durston is also a clergyman, we respectfully refer to him as rev Durston. The last time we wrote about one of his posts was Discovery Institute Proves Life Is a Miracle. His latest post at the Discoveroids’ creationist blog is Why Past History Cannot Be Infinite: There Must Be a Beginning. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

The evidence from science points to a beginning for the universe. Some atheists, understanding the possible theological implications of a beginning, prefer to set aside science and assert that the past is infinite either in terms of the number of years this universe has existed, or in terms of a fantasized infinite series of universes in a multiverse.

There’s a bit more to it than atheists opposing the theological implications of a beginning. In News of the Universe, we discussed the, ah, evolution of scientific thinking since just prior to the Big Bang theory (when the universe was generally believed to be of infinite age), through a period when there were versions of a cyclic model of the universe, with an eternal series of oscillations, each beginning with a Big Bang and ending with a Big Crunch.

The oscillating universe was a widely accepted view until recently. It was assumed that if the mass of the universe were sufficient, the expansion that we now see would eventually be halted by gravity. Then there would be a contraction phase ending in the Big Crunch, followed by another Big Bang, then another contraction, ad infinitum.

There are still cyclical models floating around, but the observed acceleration of the universe’s expansion in 1998 has mostly put an end to the oscillating universe (at least for now). We now seem to be living in a universe that began with a Big Bang (how or from what, we don’t yet know), and which is expanding at an accelerated rate. It will come to an end, dissipating into what will essentially be nothingness, in maybe 100 billion years.

So for almost the last 20 years, we’ve been living with the idea that the universe isn’t eternal. It’s what one might call a cosmic one-night stand. The universe began to exist, and it will eventually expand to the point where it’s virtually nothing. Then it’s over.

The multiverse is a whole different thing, and we don’t know why rev Durston even mentioned it in this context. Anyway, being a Discoveroid creationist and a preacher, he likes the idea of a universe with a beginning. He mentions a few current proposals about an infinite universe and then says:

This is certainly no problem with mathematical models, but in the real, physical world, it is impossible to “count down” an infinite number of actual years, one at a time, from minus infinity to the present. Most people find the discussion of infinities somewhat difficult to wrap their minds around, so I will keep this discussion clean and simple.

How very thoughtful of the rev! This is his clean and simple reasoning:

In the real world, an infinite past means that if you were to set the current year as t = 0 and count back into the past, there would never be an end to your counting, for there is no year in the past that was the “beginning.” No matter how long you counted, you would still have an infinite number of years ahead of you to count and, if you were to look back at the set of years you have already counted, it would always be finite.

Everyone knows what “infinite” means. What’s the point of this? Let’s read on:

Why is this a problem for an infinite past? … [I]f the past is infinite, actual history would never, ever make any progress at all in getting closer to the present, or any other arbitrary point in time. There would always be [an infinite number of] years to go before any historical event could occur. Yet here we are. The only way this can be possible is if the past is not actually composed of [an infinite number of] years. The set of years in the past is finite (as opposed to infinite) and there was a beginning, as science also seems to indicate.

[*Begin Drool Mode*] Ooooooooooooh! [*End Drool Mode*] If the past were infinite, it would have been impossible for time to get to the present. Brilliant!

The rev goes on for a bit, but that’s pretty much his argument. The universe can’t be infinite. He doesn’t say it, but he certainly implies, that the universe had to have a creator. Impressive, huh?

It doesn’t really matter, but your Curmudgeon still likes the idea of an eternally oscillating universe. Maybe that will come back into prominence, if we can ever figure out how the currently observed accelerating expansion will end with a contracting phase. Yes, there would have been an infinite number of cycles before our own, but that doesn’t matter. For us, time began with the latest Big Bang.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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22 responses to “Discovery Institute — Infinite Brilliance

  1. You say that everybody knows what infinity means.

    I think that we have seen a counter-example to that.

  2. waldteufel

    My take on the rev is that armed with his junior high school understanding of cosmology, he hasn’t a clue about the concept of infinity. He fits well into the Discoveroid pool of general scientific incompetence. That said, I’m sure that his stringing sciencey sounding words together impresses the drooling donors.
    Again, the Tooters have abandoned any notion of trying to have impact on the scientific world in favor of waving their arms to keep the cash rolling in.

  3. Derek Freyberg

    Why is this a problem for an infinite past? … [I]f the past is infinite, actual history would never, ever make any progress at all in getting closer to the present, or any other arbitrary point in time. There would always be [an infinite number of] years to go before any historical event could occur. Yet here we are. The only way this can be possible is if the past is not actually composed of [an infinite number of] years. The set of years in the past is finite (as opposed to infinite) and there was a beginning, as science also seems to indicate.

    The rev appears to have led himself into a sophistimacated version of Zeno’s Paradox involving countable infinities instead of infinitesimals.

  4. Two questions:

    1. Given a multiverse would Jesus always be Jewish and have to be crucified over and over and again?

    2. How long is a piece of string theory?

  5. Why is this a problem for an infinite past? … [I]f the past is infinite, actual history would never, ever make any progress at all in getting closer to the present, or any other arbitrary point in time. There would always be [an infinite number of] years to go before any historical event could occur.

    That’s actually quite an interesting argument — and several levels above what you usually expect from creationists; Derek Freyberg’s jest about Zeno’s paradox is misdirected, because the argument has nothing to do with infinitesimals. I suspect it’s accidental that Durston has hit on it, because he clearly has no notion that saying the time between the Bog Big Bang and us isn’t the same as saying that an infinite amount of time has elapsed since the Big Bang.

    It’s also irrelevant, of course, since cosmologists haven’t talked about an infinitely old universe since the demise of the Steady State theory. (The Oscillating Universe theory, by the way, faded not recently, by the way, but more like in the 1980s.)

    I’ve always been puzzled as to why creationists are so fraught about the notion of an infinite past, whether we’re talking about our own universe or the multiverse of which it’s a part. (Yes, yes: but all the science seems at the moment to point towards a multiverse.) Surely if God — or The Designer — is infinitely old and has been omnipotent all that time, then it’s entirely within His powers to have created a multiverse that, even if younger than He is, is still infinitely old.

    Or, bearing in mind the omnipotence factor, there’s no reason at all why He shouldn’t have created a universe older than himself.

  6. Aaaargh! Not, the Bog Bang. But I kinda like the term . . .

    [*Voice from above*] Fixed, but as you wish, your blunder has been preserved.

  7. Mike Elzinga

    Durston has a pretty shallow understanding of time and its connection to the processes taking place in the universe. His concept of time is outmoded.

    Time has no meaning with no universe and no processes taking place in a universe. With nothing changing in a universe, there would be no “clocks.”

    Clocks are physical systems against which other physical systems are compared; and that comparison can only take place within more complex condensed matter systems that have heirarchies of memory that can “remember” and juxtapose events coming “before” with other events that came “after.” “After” events are larger sets of phenomena than “before” events.

  8. realthog says: “Derek Freyberg’s jest about Zeno’s paradox is misdirected”

    No, I think he nailed it.

  9. Well, I don’t.

  10. Every single theistic rendition of the Big Bang suffers from the Conjunction fallacy.

  11. michaelfugate

    So God hasn’t always existed?

  12. Doctor Stochastic

    Actually Durston’s comment is bit like the Stadium Paradox (or Vilenken’s infinite hotel paradox). It’s also has a bit of the Dichotomy Paradox (that one cannot get anywhere because one must first get halfway there.)

    Zeno’s paradoxes are not hard to refute empirically but refutation of his arguments is rather difficult.

    Just to add to the problem, in Minkowski Space (or a real space with time as the fourth dimension), the entire universe is static.

  13. Ken Phelps

    As always, the creationist brain tries to mix a still-early-in-the-game math based understanding with intuition based confusion, and comes up needing a super person-thingy that is a lot like them to float above it all. Oh, and to care about them. Really, really, care.

  14. What I like about this rev is that he shows how close WC Craig is to IDiocy.

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-and-infinity

  15. Durston says “Some atheists, understanding the possible theological implications of a beginning, prefer to set aside science and assert that the past is infinite” Perhaps, but then some religious fanatics who confuse their religious beliefs with science prefer to set aside science in order to invoke a supernatural entity. One wonders why this supernatural entity wants us to be spinning through space at 1000 mph at the equator, rotating at 66,000 mph around the sun, zinging around our galaxy at 483,000 mph and zooming across the universe at 1.03 million mph. When Durston comes up with a miraculous improbability equation for that set of numbers, perhaps his argument for a miraculous event caused by a supernatural entity will resonate more loudly in drooler world.

  16. It is fascinating how well supported is evolutionary biology. In order to avoid it, one seems to be drawn into stupidities in everything that one touches.

  17. It is my rather simple understanding that time itself came into being with the big bang, at least in our universe. If that’s true, then to speak of something happening before the big bang has no meaning.

    Also, and perhaps more importantly, if the universe continues to expand and cool, does that mean that eventually the lake of fire will freeze over?

  18. Ed says: “It is my rather simple understanding that time itself came into being with the big bang, at least in our universe. If that’s true, then to speak of something happening before the big bang has no meaning.”

    There are different ways to think about this. I don’t know what it means that “time itself” came into being. Time is the sequence of events, from cause to effect. But if there are no events, it’s appropriate to say that there is no time. In that sense, because we have no idea what, if anything, was going on before the Big Bang, we can say that time began when the Big Bang occurred. But, of course, if there have been oscillating cycles, then there was a “before.” But it all got crunched, so from our viewpoint, everything began with the latest Big Bang. Maybe no one else will agree with what I just said, but that’s how I see it.

  19. I acknowledge that I am about to take issue with an argument in an incomplete form. However, there are so many baseless assumptions and simply inaccurate or imprecise explanations that I feel compelled to respond, if only to check if I am the one who doesn’t get it:
    1) “…the possible theological implications of a beginning…”
    a. the claim that something may be mathematical possibility doesn’t exactly set the world on fire, does it? Haven’t we heard this ruse before? Plenty of times. “You can’t absolutely,mathematically rule out the possibility of a creator!” Nor can I absolutely rule out the possibility that the cat snoozing next to me is the billions of times reincarnated creator of everything. But I can sure derive some killer statistical models that make the assertion completely asinine.
    b. even if we were to somehow identify THE beginning of the universe, there is still no reason whatsoever to assume that said beginning was the result of effort by a sentient creator. This, for my money, is one of the most infuriatingly arrogant and dishonest assumptions that theists make, no matter the flavor: beginning = creator. It is a tacit assumption so powerful not only because it has been inculcated for over 2,000 years, but that in the almost immeasurably smaller perspective of our everyday lives, we use that tacit assumption all the time as a way to get through the day in one piece. If we see a bus headed for us, do we really stop to ponder about the causal nature of the origin of the bus, the overwhelming units of force that are hurtling towards us, and the mathematical possibilities that we will be reincarnated? NO, we get the hell out of the way, and reflect later.
    c. that said, why is the good revDur so opposed to the infinite? Isn’t “god” himself infinite? Wouldn’t the idea of an infinite universe be so cozy with the long-held belief of a creator that has always been there? Why not?

    2. It is the “counting down” part of his argument which actually makes me question myself: I want to believe that a man of his educational pedigree can’t possibly be guilty of such a moronic, utter disaster of an argument. He gives a brief, hollow nod to “mathematical models,” but then makes a bizarre return to the physical world, saying that it would be impossible to count backwards to negative infinity years. Finally, the assertion that if the past is infinite, then we would never make any progress to the here and now is, literally, the most ass-backwards thing I have heard in a long, long time (not infinitely long, but long).
    a. In the real, physical world, nobody would do this anyway. But on the conceptual level, the statement is irrelevant at best. Time, if you will allow me to give it some basic physical qualities for now, is always moving forward. For that reason alone you would never reach the infinite past, because we are always moving away from it.
    b. how can I demonstrate that time is always moving forward? Thanks to Einstein, it is shockingly simple. He demonstrated, among other things that I can’t even begin to mouth, that time, whether a heuristic device, a theoretical construct, or a practical Existential necessity, can only be understood in its inextricable link with space, hence the concept of timespace. In other words, time is DEFINED as the distance between two objects: we don’t say, even in the abstract, that something is “two hours.” Nor in physics does the concept of time exist on its own. Time is always bound to the measurement of something, and without that something there would be no categorical need for the concept. This, at the ontological level, completely undermines his assertion about the impossibility of moving forward in an infinite past. It is not possible to begin with for objects to move “backward” in time. They can reverse course, retrace orbits, but they cannot go back to the actual ten seconds ago, if we are to adhere to the idea that even movement away from an object is still movement ahead in time. The very idea of counting backwards to the infinite past is itself utterly preposterous, as we are still moving forward in the attempt. To use it as the basis for dismissing the idea of an infinite past fails on a…cosmological scale, if you will. Even if the past is infinite, the forward movement of the interaction of objects is quite unimpressed or interested. And on the human level, which the good revDur seems not to have a terribly nuanced grasp of either, there is a rather poisonous social phenomenon that rears its ugly head, especially in the political arena, far too often: the notion of the “good old days.” If we could just get back there…but indeed, it is not hard to extrapolate that, not only can we not go back there, that “there” isn’t what we think it is now, in part because we can’t possibly be aware of all of our movement forward ever, including during the “good old days.”

  20. @Ed

    It is my rather simple understanding that time itself came into being with the big bang, at least in our universe. If that’s true, then to speak of something happening before the big bang has no meaning.

    That’s not a simplistic understanding at all. So far as our universe is concerned, time did indeed come into existence at the Big Bang; that was when spacetime, of which time is a component, came into existence.

    If you think of our own universe as being merely a quantum event within the context of a multiverse (which, as I understand it, is where all the science points), then of course the idea of there having been time before the Big Bang makes sense — probabilistically, ours could hardly be the first universe to pop up from whatever spacetime-equivalent the multiverse might have — unless, of course, the multiverse is constructed entirely differently from our universe (which is obviously not just possible but likely, because the physical laws we recognize by definition apply, so far as we can know, just to our own universe).

    Just to add to the general puzzlement, if our universe is a quantum event within the multiverse, then its duration is essentially zero, as measured by multiverse time (whatever that might be). In that case, all the events that we, stuck here inside the universe, regard as being separated by enormous periods of time, are in fact contemporaneous. That has huge consequences for our concept of free will: if our universe is such that in effect everything that can happen is enshrined in the single instant of the universe’s existence, then all things are already determined and free will is a myth.

  21. I was talking to my students about the cosmological argument, which as someone also pointed WL Craig uses this “absurdity” of infinite time to get off the ground. I asked my students, if we are on an infinite timeline, what time is it? They responded in unison — “now.” We don’t “get” anywhere on a timeline, it is always now.

  22. Eric Lipps

    [I]f the past is infinite, actual history would never, ever make any progress at all in getting closer to the present, or any other arbitrary point in time.

    And if there are an infinite number of fractions between 0 and 1 (there are), then it’s impossible to count from 0 to 1.

    More seriously, infinite time is a bugaboo creationists have conjured without understanding.

    Suppose the universe, including time, had a “beginning,” What came before that? Even if God, er, the Intelligent Designer created it all, He would have had to exist before that–which implies that time existed already. And that suggests the universe did as well, though likely not in any form we’d recognize, since time is a meaningful concept only if there is measurable change and if the universe were totally empty there would be nothing to measure–so there’d be no time.