JISHOU, HUNAN — I began my commentary on Conservapedia’s ludicrous entry on E=mc2 by fisking its opening paragraph. Beginning with the false premise that the equation “purports to relate all matter to light,” the entry then introduces the principle of “Biblical Scientific Foreknowledge” and how BSF makes it clear that any unification theory is doomed to fail.
As I explained in the last post, E=mc2 does not purport to relate all matter to light — in fact, light does come from matter — but it suggests that matter and energy are essentially the same thing. The author of the Conservapedia entry, Andy Schlafly, clearly does not understand this basic fact of physics. I’m not sure he really understands Scriptural analysis, either, as we shall see.
Paragraph 2 of the E=mc2 entry goes like this:
Biblical Scientific Foreknowledge predicts that a unified theory of all the laws of physics is impossible, because light and matter were created at different times, in different ways, as described in the Book of Genesis.
Before I analyze this statement, which incidentally is offered with no further explanation, I need to introduce some terms.
- Cherry picking: selecting only that evidence which apparently supports one’s argument, while ignoring all contradictory evidence.
Quote mining: selecting quotations from a source, usually out of context, so as to support one’s argument, or to denigrate the opponent’s argument by creating a “straw man” position.
- Prooftexting: selectively choosing portions of a text, usually out of context, so as to support one’s argument, though the document as a whole has no bearing on the argument.
Conservapedia (and pseudo-historian David Barton) are guilty, guilty, guilty of all three of these logical fallacies. BSF is one prime example. Conservapedia and its fearless leader, Schlafly, expect us to swallow the assertion that the Bible successfully predicted most of modern science, based on his creative interpretation of carefully selected passages.
The following comes from the BSF entry.
Biblical scientific foreknowledge is how the Bible shows a comprehension of scientific knowledge far ahead of its time. Biblical scientific foreknowledge illustrates what is possible.
Bible deniers — such as atheists and evolutionists — engage in liberal denial about the many truths in the Bible. Their irrational closed-mindedness against the Bible obstructs the advancement of science.
Biblical scientific foreknowledge has another benefit: it facilitates improvements in the translation of verses that describe scientific-related events, such as Jesus’s Calming the Storm and the reference to the universe in Hebrews 1:10.
As I recall from my history classes, there was this period of time in Europe when the only books studied in any depth were the Bible and the lives of the Church Fathers. You remember, “the Dark Ages.” Then, literature from ancient Greece and Rome found its way back into Europe around the 13th century, leading to the startling realization that smart people (pagans, even!) lived long before Jesus was a glimmer in his father’s eye. Eventually all this study of the classics lead people to wonder that maybe the Bible, and the institutions that depended on it — the Church, the scholastics, the monarchy and aristocracy, and all authority in general — were all a lot of hooey. This crazy-ass thinking led to stuff like the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.
None of which is even whispered about in the Bible, which rather favors a more top-down style of human resource management.
Nor does the Bible say anything about airplanes, telephones, automobiles, television, wristwatches, typewriters, vacuum cleaners, nail clippers, DNA, hydroelectric dams, contact lenses, the existence of galaxies outside our own, and a myriad of other things we now take for granted. (Coffee! No one drinks coffee in the Bible. I could reject its predictive ability just on that alone.)
In fact, if scholars had relied on the Bible as the final arbiter of things scientific, instead of rejecting it during the Scientific Revolution, we might not have had any our current scientific and technological advances. So, I find it hard to believe that anyone with any sense can state unequivocally that scriptures written 2,000 to 3,000 years ago can be used as a science text.
Of course, some people do.
We can look back at Scripture — or really any ancient text– knowing what we know now, and say, sure, what they say sounds a little bit like quantum physics or aliens from outer space. Anyone remember von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods or Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision? Or more recently, The Mayan Prophecies? But if we didn’t know anything about quantum physics or modern cosmology in the first place, we still wouldn’t know it by reading the Bible. It’s not a science text. There are no equations, no deductive proofs, no evidence, and no repeatable experiments. (Go ahead, blow that horn and see if my walls fall down. Yeah, and make the sun stop moving across the sky while you’re at it.)
What Schlafly does with his Biblical Scientific Foreknowledge claptrap is to take his pitifully weak understanding of modern science, and scour the Bible to find passages that he avers predict the modern science that he so artfully misapprehends. Likewise, David Barton scours documents from colonial and post-colonial America to find anything, anything at all, to support the contention that the Founding Fathers intended the USA to be a “Christian nation.” [“Look!” he says. “Here’s a form letter signed by President Thomas Jefferson that uses the phrase, ‘in the year of our Lord.’ So, Jefferson wanted a Christian nation. I rest my case.”]
Science relies on logic. There is none of that in Conservapedia’s BSF section. It’s just one logical fallacy after another: quotemining, prooftexting and cherry picking. And a whole lotta creative interpretation.
The entry for BSF is quite long, as it deals with practically every branch of science and mathematics, so I will limit my fisking to only the physics section. It goes on for quite a bit, so bear with me.
Grand Unified Theory (GUT): BSF says it can’t be done, because Genesis says God created first light, then matter on different days. So there. [There is no explanation of why it is impossible. We’re just told that it is.]
The entry claims correctly that billions of dollars have been spent pursuing verification of the theory’s predictions, such as the Higgs boson. The construction budget for the Large Hadron Collider in Europe is about US$9 billion. The annual operating budget of CERN, which operates the LHC, is about $1B a year. So, at least that one teeny part is right.
Otherwise, this section misunderstands both the purpose of the GUT and the relation between matter and light. In fact, light comes from the hopping around of electrons in matter. This connection between light and matter has been an accepted part of physics for the last two centuries, hardly a controversial discovery.
Light and color
Somehow, the separation of white light into its constituent colors has something to do with the intense light being emitted by the transfigured Jesus. I await the connection between the Transfiguration and Pantone, although I suspect Adobe will get there first, copyright it and charge several hundred dollars for the right to use it.
Jesus turned water into wine with a gesture, and healed a very sick person in another town without visiting him. Isaac Newton said gravity works across empty space. See the connection? No, I don’t either.
When Newton derived the law of universal gravitation, he lacked a physical mechanism to explain how the Earth and Moon, for example, pull on each other. Newton was reluctant to publish, but did anyway, admitting that he really had no idea how gravity gets from one place to another. Detractors accused him of witchcraft, but since his equation works exceedingly well, they eventually put out their torches and left him alone.
Scientists are still not comfortable with the idea of action-at-a-distance, which sounds too much like magic, so physics proposes intermediaries to carry forces around. Einstein’s General Relativity states that gravity is a consequence of matter warping space-time, which affects other matter nearby. The Standard Model hypothesizes a carrier particle for gravity, the graviton, which as yet has not been detected.
The entry suggests that quantum physics has found that a-a-a-d does indeed occur, and following the self-referential footnote link brings us (after three clicks) to a very brief and equivocal discussion of quantum entanglement, and again, no further explanation.
Given that Conservapedia is none too clear on the relation of light and matter, we might expect the waters to be even muddier when it comes to quantum physics. We are not disappointed.
Observation of wave function. In quantum physics, this means that photons or electrons, for example, exist as as superpositions of all possible states (a particle or a wave, as an example) at the same time. It is only when we look at them in some way that the state (wave function) collapses into a specific value.
Riffing on this idea, Conservapedia says the water and wine mentioned in John 2 existed in a superposition of states, and the liquid only became wine when the people drank it. There are just a few problems with this notion. First, it contradicts Conservapedia’s own proposal that Jesus turned the water into wine directly (see above). It also completely misunderstands what superposition of states means. Schroedinger’s cat was a thought experiment, not an actual fact. Quantum mechanics deals with the atomic and subatomic world, not macroscopic objects like cats and wedding libations.
Similarly, Conservapedia argues that the storm which Jesus calmed was in a chaotic state, and his observation of the storm made it collapse into a orderly state. This confuses two separate branches of science. Chaos theory deals with large scale, complex multivariable systems (weather or the stock markets, for example). Quantum theory deals with specific variables in submicroscopic systems. Not much relation there.
Matthew 16:19 is also supposed to refer to a collapsing of states into a single bound state, but frankly I can’t see the connection.
The Uncertainty Principle: The Heisenberg UP is likewise misunderstood as our not knowing what will happen until it does happen (Matthew 13:24-30 reference). Well, duh, is all I can say to that. Then, this section says the UP suggests that matter can be formless until somebody pays attention to it. (Genesis 1:2) This sounds suspiciously like something Deepak Chopra — hardly a Biblical authority — would say. In fact, the UP states something quite different: at the quantum scale we cannot measure all variables with the same precision. For example, if we measure the momentum of an electron with great precision, it’s impossible to determine its position with the same exactness. Thus, there is a certain “fuzziness” at the quantum level, which is one reason why Einstein rejected the theory early on.
Wave-particle duality: This section begins with a whopper: “Particles are subject to gravity; waves are not. Wave-particle duality, first discovered in the 20th century, allows for a particle to sometimes be subject to gravity and sometimes not.”
This reminds me of Douglas Adams’ advice that learning to fly like Superman merely involves forgetting to fall. In fact, we can’t turn off gravity. Gravity affects both waves and particles. Gravity bends light. We’ve known that since it was first observed in 1919, three years after Einstein predicted (and calculated) the bending. Gravity also affects the frequency of light waves indirectly by slowing down time.
Then, we are expected to believe that Jesus walking on the water demonstrated wave-particle duality as Jesus (particle) and Holy Spirit (wave). (And what does the Father get to be? Chopped liver?)
Quantum tunneling: This is another subatomic effect, whereby a particle (say an electron) crosses an energy barrier when it is not supposed to. In a sense, it’s a bit like a ball rolling uphill all by itself. More appropriately, we could say the electron is a subway rider without his token, jumping over the turnstile.
Conservapedia says Jesus used quantum tunneling to enter a closed room to appear to the Apostles in John 20:26. Once again, it confuses the quantum world with the macroscopic world (as does Deepak Chopra). A wall is not an “energy barrier.” Jesus, even in his non-corporeal form, was not a single subatomic particle, but presumably a collection of them. (Transfigurons?)
Now, I did see Superman pass through a wall on TV a long time ago. He did it by making his atoms slip in between the wall’s atoms. The Flash does it, too. Seems much easier than quantum tunneling through brick walls, but when I try I just get a bump on my head.
Classical relativity (meaning relative velocities)
Romans 10:6-7 is supposed to demonstrate that there are no absolute reference frames, and that relative velocities are all that matter. I thought that verse was a metaphorical way of saying the righteous should not question either the possibility of heaven or hell, or Jesus’s visits to both places. But I’m a liberal Bible denier, so what do I know?
By the way, I thought conservative Christians preferred absolute truths and condemned relativism.
For a website that scoffs so much at Einstein’s relativity theory, it’s no surprise that it finds no support in the Bible for it. However, the statement “The Theory of Relativity denies the possibility of action-at-a-distance,” is misleading. In fact, classical mechanics and electromagnetic theory also deny action-at-a-distance. It’s one reason why scientists reject the possibility of telepathy or remote healing, or much of anything Deepak Chopra says.
Second Law of Thermodynamics
A self-contradiction in a single entry! Genesis tells us that dark/chaos can never overcome light/order, yet the Second Law states that order tends to disorder, heat goes toward cold, light turns into dark. Then, Conservapedia says that Hebrews 1:10-11 tells us that entropy will lead to the death of the universe. Sounds like chaos wins. (CONTROL needs to call Maxwell Smart on the shoe phone.) Maybe light and order only win after the Second Coming, but the entry offers no clarifications.
The nature of air
Here we are expected to assume that the writer of Job knew air had mass, based on a single word, “weight,” from the King James Version. However, another translation, the New International, uses the word, “force,” to show that God intended the wind to push things around. Perhaps this discrepancy is why Conservapedia/Schlafly is attempting its/his own translation of the Bible to get rid of all the “liberal” parts.
That’s it for the physics section of BSF. My brain is now totally fried. I’ll return to the E =mc2 entry after a suitable recovery period.