New WMAP Results

WMAP 9yr resultsJake Hebert is also the author of today’s article, Do New Measurements Confirm Big Bang Predictions? The subject is a NASA press release about the 6th and final release of WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe) data, which opens:

The WMAP science team has determined, to a high degree of accuracy and precision, not only the age of the universe, but also the density of atoms; the density of all other non-atomic matter; the epoch when the first stars started to shine; the “lumpiness” of the universe, and how that “lumpiness” depends on scale size. In short, when used alone (with no other measurements), WMAP observations have improved knowledge of these six numbers by a total factor of 68,000, thereby converting cosmology from a field of wild speculation to a precision science.

(Emphasis original) Predictably, Hebert says of this:

Of course, this is a tacit admission that cosmology up until now has been wild speculation! Why, then, have Christians been browbeaten to accept these admittedly speculative origins stories?

Whether that comment was really ‘tacit,’ or if it was ment to be relative (or a joke), is not evident. Issues like whether the big bang happened – especially vs a 6000-year old universe – are not “wild speculation,” but perhaps it could be claimed that the many variants on the basic theme of inflation have been somewhat speculative.

Although such an increase in the precision of these numbers is technically impressive, the heart of the origins debate is in the assumptions used to interpret the data, not the precision of the measurements themselves. Even high school science students are taught that measurements can be precise without necessarily being accurate. A classic example is the archer whose arrows consistently cluster closely together, albeit four feet left of the target. The archer is precise but inaccurate.

The archer analogy however is imperfect here. Hebert’s position is not that the archer is consistently missing the target, but that the target itself is an optical illusion. That’s a very different story.

The press release claimed that the WMAP measurements had confirmed specific predictions of the simplest version of “inflation,” a hypothesized accelerated expansion of the universe that was invented in order to alleviate fatal problems in the original Big Bang model. The claim of support for inflation is based upon the fact that fluctuations in the CMB have properties predicted by the simplest model of inflation. At first glance, this might seem to be good news for the Big Bang model and inflation theory.

The quote from the press release is the following:

Remarkably, WMAP’s precision measurement of the properties of the fluctuations has confirmed specific predictions of the simplest version of inflation: the fluctuations follow a bell curve with the same properties across the sky, and there are equal numbers of hot and cold spots on the map. WMAP also confirms the predictions that the amplitude of the variations in the density of the universe on big scales should be slightly larger than smaller scales, and that the universe should obey the rules of Euclidean geometry so the sum of the interior angles of a triangle add to 180 degrees.

That is indeed good news. You’ll never guess how Hebert tries to get around it:

However, although the press release claims that the results “support” inflation, it does not state that inflation itself has been confirmed, and for good reason. Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University, as one of the world’s leading inflation theorists, has produced another version of the Big Bang model that makes similar (and in some cases, identical) predictions about fluctuations in the CMB, even though his model does not include inflation.

His argument, in short, is that an alternative model makes similar predictions – or at least did in 2004, and exactly how it stacks up with the new data is not explained by Hebert.

If two different Big Bang models (one with inflation and the other without) make similar predictions about fluctuations in the CMB, then the confirmation of such predictions cannot be used as an argument for inflation.

Yes and no. Assuming that Steinhardt’s model really does make the same predictions here we can say that both inflation and his model get a point. This makes for no net gain of one over the other, so in this competition it’s true you can’t say that this is evidence for inflation. This is all very well for the physicists, but I’m not all that interested in that contest. Saying that this is not a gain for inflation over it’s competitors disguises the fact that creationism – which earns no points here, as it makes no predictions and explains nothing – falls further behind. Why is it that the predictions of the supposedly illusory, speculative idea are being confirmed in the first place? Nevertheless, Hebert insists:

Thus, the announcement of these precise measurements is really a non-event, as far as the creation-evolution controversy is concerned. Big Bang cosmologists are still getting the wrong answers, but they are now getting those wrong answers to many more decimal places.

So tell me, why are these the wrong answers? Just because you don’t agree with them?

2 thoughts on “New WMAP Results

  1. Firstly, a big thank-you to Dr. Jake Hebert for bringing this important piece of research to the attention of the creationist in the pew. As is clear from reference [3], he is an expert in cosmology – as anyone in the pew that has even attempted to read that paper will readily agree. That being so, his criticism of the research seems surprisingly weak; in fact it contains absolutely nothing of any substance whatsoever. No doubt this will also be obvious to the followers of the ICR. So, well done doctor in sowing seeds of doubt in your congregation.

    Alternatively, the learned doctor may not have a clue about the contents of Paul J. Steinhardt’s paper and the fact that the paper is highly mathematical and the writer is from the Department of Physics and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University is merely to impress. Certainly, it would discourage anyone with the temerity to question his arguments, weak as they are.

    ICR seems to be a dying organization. Usually it is just old stuff recycled. But if this is the best they can do with something new, they really look on the point of giving up altogether.

    Science progresses, creationism is just marching on the spot.

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