Dismissing Inflation

On rare occasion the ICR manages to publish articles on recent news items in an approximately timely manner. Today’s DpSU, “‘Smoking Gun’ Evidence of Inflation?” by Jake Hebert, is one example, attempting to counter the rather inconvenient announcement of evidence supporting the cosmological hypothesis known as inflation.

While quicker than is typical for the ICR, Hebert is by no means the first to comment on this issue. Discovery Institute cdesign proponentsist Stephen Meyer was quoted as saying that

…it’s really odd for people from a Creationist perspective to deny a theory that says the universe began out of nothing physical.

Naturally, many of his fellow creationists have a decidedly different view. As part of a rather anaemic list of objections to the finding – which also included the line that scientists have been wrong before, and that undefined “other mechanisms” could instead be responsible for the observations – Answers in Genesis’ Danny Faulkner wrote that

…the predictions that are being supposedly confirmed are very model-dependent: if the model changes, then the predictions change.

Short of outright saying “these results contradict our beliefs, therefore they must be false” this may well be the worst thing he could have written. There are a number of models that seek to explain inflation, each making slightly different predictions about what should be found in observations such as these. If inflation had not happened there need not be a signal at all, but the one that has been observed points towards one of the less esoteric models being the correct one. This is how science works, after all.

The biggest problem for Faulkner then is that the same reasoning would lead also to a rejection of young Earth creationism. YEC cosmology makes no claims about such observations as these. But if their god created the heavens in the manner they claim it seems quite odd that he would weave into their very fabric apparent evidence that some other, godless process was used. Faulkner disparages “models” because he is afraid to admit that YEC is just another model, and an easily and repeatedly falsified model at that.

But this blog is primarily focused on the Institute for Creation Research, and not the flailing of Ken Ham’s captive phds. Jake Hebert opens by explaining the state of the science as it was about 30 years ago, and then adding that inflation was introduced to solve some of the problems identified at the time. We’ll skip over that, and jump to where he starts to pooh-pooh these most recent results:

Do the BICEPS2 data really show undeniable evidence for cosmic inflation, and by implication, the Big Bang? Not at all.

First, these results have not yet been confirmed, and even secular cosmologists are cautioning that these signals could be caused by factors other than inflation, although they believe this is unlikely.

Here’s the “other mechanisms” claim again, which Hebert, as Faulkner before him, doesn’t elaborate on. The issue seems to be that cosmic dust could produce similar signals, but the scientists believe that they’ve already taken that fully into account and everyone not already ideologically committed to their failure seems to agree.

Second, although secular scientists are very excited by this discovery, they were nevertheless “surprised” by it. Gravitational waves are thought to have caused these swirly polarization patterns. The relative size of these waves is characterized by a parameter called the tensor-to-scalar ratio and indicated by the symbol r. A previous team of scientists who analyzed the Planck satellite data concluded that there was only a five percent probability that r could be greater than 0.11. Yet the BICEPS2 team is reporting that r is most likely about 0.20. Since their reported error bars allow for some wiggle room, these results do not necessarily contradict one another, but there is a bit of a tension between them, as acknowledged by the BICEPS2 team.

This “acknowledgement” reads, for those that are interested:

Subtracting the various dust models and re-deriving the r constraint still results in high significance of detection. For the model which is perhaps the most likely to be close to reality (DDM2 cross) the maximum likelihood value shifts to r = 0.16 +0.06 [/] -0.05 with r = 0 disfavored at 5.9 [sigma]. These high values of r are in apparent tension with previous indirect limits based on temperature measurements and we have discussed some possible resolutions including modifications of the initial scalar perturbation spectrum such as running. However we emphasize that we do not claim to know what the resolution is.

This is, as Hebert concedes, not actually a problem. It may be that before these results came out it wouldn’t have been expected that the value for ‘r’ was as higher as 0.16, but if these results hold up the probability that the answer is that value is precisely 1.

Apparently determined to not land a solid blow, Hebert continues:

In this light, a statement by physicist Marc Kamionkowski is extremely interesting: “Although I might not fully understand it,…this is a signal from the very earliest universe, sending a telegram encoded in gravitational waves.” The fact that a physicist may not “fully understand” the implications of these data might not normally be all that significant, except for the fact that Kamionkowski is one of the scientists who first predicted that inflation should have resulted in B-mode polarization in the CMB! If he doesn’t fully understand the implications of the data, then why should anyone accept the claims that these data somehow prove inflation? Interestingly enough, the candid admission in the first part of Kamionkowski’s statement was quickly removed from the online New York Times article in which it originally appeared, although it did appear in other news outlets.

According to Hebert, an admission that you “might not” understand everything is tantamount to admitting conspiracy. Hebert, you see, knows everything, and so we can trust every word he says.

(Goodness knows why the NYT removed the line – the other news outlets are the ones that copied their article before the change – but this is in no way a valid counterpoint to the evidence. Hebert is hardly the only crank to have seized on it though.)

Finally, other aspects of the CMB data are very problematic for the Big Bang model, despite the positive spin that secular scientists have put on them. One of the fundamental assumptions of the Big Bang model is isotropy, the idea that, on the largest scales, there are no special directions in space. If this assumption is correct, then the CMB should appear essentially the same in all directions. Yet the presence of an “axis of evil” and a cold spot in the CMB data undermine this assumption, as well as the inflation hypothesis itself.

Ah, the old axis of evil. In summary, the CMB – a microwave signal from the early universe which shouldn’t even exist if YEC was true – is very flat, but as predicted was found to be not completely flat, producing the pretty pictures like the one that adorns the top of Hebert’s article. But it has been found that certain parts – the cold spot and the axis, the latter of which is an obvious jab at the Bush administration – are not quite as flat as predicted, and this little gap in the theory has got the creationists very exited that their (rather small) god can fill it.

That really is the issue here: we don’t know everything, and so to the denialists this means that we know nothing at all. Hebert concludes:

So what did cause the CMB? That’s an open question. But since the CMB data are generally inconsistent with inflation (a fact quickly glossed over in Monday’s announcement), it is definitely not “leftover” radiation from an alleged Big Bang. Secular scientists have made many such splashy announcements over the years, announcements which have supposedly proven various aspects of their evolutionary worldview but which have eventually been rejected (often quietly) by evolutionists themselves. This is not the first such announcement, nor will it be the last. Readers should resist the temptation to embrace these ever-changing secular origin stories. The inerrant, inspired, true creation account never changes, however: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

“That’s an open question” is an understatement of the year nominee. The CMB was predicted, by people working on the big bang, to exist and to be found at exactly the frequency that it was discovered at. If it was instead caused by the YEC god, then why does it look like it was formed completely differently? Hebert’s god is a deceiver, which seems quite contrary to the book he claims to consider holy.

For those interested in an explanation of the actual results physicist Ben Tippet (he of the Cthulhu and TARDIS papers) has promised to devote an upcoming episode of his Titanium Physicist podcast to the topic. He generally pairs some form of clueless artist with a panel of physicists, and then attempts to hash out an explanation capable of being understood by everyone. As such when this appears we may all be able to have a taste of the font of infinite knowledge presently in Dr Hebert’s possession.

7 thoughts on “Dismissing Inflation

  1. One of the many problems with YECs is that their god is far, far too small. It is no larger than a couple of thousand sheets of paper usually bound in the skin of a dead animal and imprinted with a translation of a copy of a copy (many times) of variious ancient attempts to make sense of Life, the Universe and Everything. If there is a God and that God created all of time and space then that God must have a form of existence that human beings could not comprehend, anything less would not be God. So it is impossible either to prove or disprove that God’s existence by any form of experiment or by any form of logical argument.
    If such a God has any form of existence then it is possible that God could have created the conditions that gave rise to the Big Bang and its aftermath in such a way that a universe would evolve which itself had the property of being able to one day produce carbon based life.
    There is nothing in science that proves the non existence of such a God and nothing in such a God that might argue with current cosmology, although science acknowledges itself to be provisional.
    The religion of Ken Ham and ICR et al is folk religion. It bears as much resemblance to thoughtful, theologically based religion as hanging seaweed out of the window does to meteorology. They imagine themselves to be the defenders of religion when they are the ones who will bring about its eventual demise.

    • Sapphire: not really following you on that one. A statement which cannot be falsified is meaningless. You’re essentially saying the concept “God” is meaningless, which makes you an ignostic, not an agnostic.

      I am an ignostic myself; however, I do think we can look at some supposed attributes of God and make arguments on that basis (e.g. “God is the source of morality,” “God is the creator of the universe,” etc).

  2. Seriously these “creation scientists” need to up the ante. Wherelse mainstream scientists are continuously conducting groundbreaking research, and supporting their conclusions with data and amazing the world with their astounding discoveries, “creation scientists” are sitting in the background, casting doubt on ANY science that contradicts a hermeneutic interpretation of the Bible. What research have they done, other than the fraudulent RATE experiments?

    I politely challenged CMI directly in their article on the “smoking gun” of the Big Bang by arguing that the Big Bang was a scientific, rather than philosophical perspective that best explained phenomena such as redshifts of galaxies and lack of heavier elements in nebulae. Of course,my comment was never published and Jon Hartnett sent me a personal e-mail linking me to a video where he dismissed the Big Bang theory as a product of belief in evolution, blah blah blah….

    The irony is, of course, the Big Bang theory (although it didnt have that name in the past) was first proposed by Georges Lemaitre, a Jesuit priest. rofl!!


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