email - August 2015

Scientific Predictions

Can science predict the past?

We received a well-reasoned email from John containing three points. The first and third points have been addressed many times in past newsletters, so we won’t address them again. His second point, however, is worth discussion. Here it is.

2) Science does more than merely test theories through experiments. It also makes predictions into the past and future based on current data. These predictions are not always 100% accurate, but it is the scientific community that notices these discrepancies, adjusts prevailing theories to account for discrepancies, and then predicts again. For instance, mankind's initial understanding of gravity was incomplete, but not incorrect. Had there been a person who noticed problems with the initial theory of gravity and dismissed it entirely, he or she would have been wrong (from a scientifically ethical standpoint and a factual one). An imperfect scientific theory (which is really a semantic redundancy) is still useful in the advancement of science toward truth.

John

One might simply dismiss John’s argument by saying that “predict” is Latin for “He says before.” Therefore, predictions can’t be made about the past. Although that is true, it unfairly dismisses John’s point. John is really talking more about expectation than prediction. John means to say that if a theory is true, we would expect to find evidence in the past consistent with the theory.

Inconsistency can disprove a theory, but consistency alone isn’t sufficient to prove one. For example, in a past newsletter about Tiktaalik 1 we pointed out that if one is looking for something hard enough, he will find it—even if it isn’t there. The Tiktaalik example had to do with a search for a “predicted” transitional fossil. We quoted an evolutionary source as saying,

Tetrapods evolved from lobe-finned fishes between 380 and 365 million years ago. Several fossil fragments show isolated body parts in the transition from fins to legs, or gill-breathing to air-breathing, but no one fossil offered a clear snapshot of a complete transitional form.

Hoping to understand this key period better, Shubin and his colleague Ted Daeschler of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, together with Farish Jenkins of Harvard, began searching for fossil-bearing sediments of the right age. After five years of digging on Ellesmere Island, in the far north of Nunavut, they hit pay dirt: a collection of several fish so beautifully preserved that their skeletons were still intact. As Shubin's team studied the species they saw to their excitement that it was exactly the missing intermediate they were looking for. "We found something that really split the difference right down the middle," says Daeschler. 2

Evolutionary expectations might have biased their conclusions. They went looking in rocks they believed were “the right age” for the transition to have occurred and (after five years of looking) found a fossil that looked like what they wanted to find.

But finding what you expect to find isn’t proof. Ken Ham has been widely quoted as saying that, if the story of Noah’s Flood is true, “We’d expect to find billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth. And, what do we find? We find billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth.” If fossil confirmation of expectations really is true, then Noah’s Flood has been proved.

But confirmation of expectations isn’t proof because the expectations might be incorrect, or the confirmation might merely be a coincidence unrelated to the theory. The fossil record truly is consistent with Ham’s expectations—but that doesn’t prove that Noah’s Flood happened.

On the other hand, failure to find confirmation of expectations is strong evidence against a theory. If evolution happens gradually over a long a period of time, one would expect to find many transitional forms in the fossil record, and there should not be such clear distinction between living species. The fact that observations don’t match evolutionary expectations is strong evidence against the theory of evolution.

Continuous Variation

The clear distinction between (living and extinct) species is strong evidence against the theory of evolution.

Some things can be classified easily because they only come in a few certain sizes. Other things (like rocks) come in an infinite number of slightly different sizes. The difference between sand, gravel, cobbles, and boulders is simply size. If a rock is smaller than 2 mm it is sand. If it is 2 mm to 64 mm it is gravel. Who decided that?

The canonical definition of sediment grain sizes [was] defined by geologist Chester K. Wentworth in a 1922 article in The Journal of Geology: "A Scale of Grade and Class Terms for Clastic Sediments". 3

There is no fundamental reason why 2 mm should be the dividing line between sand and gravel. Wentworth just picked it arbitrarily, and other geologists went along with the decision.

If you pick up a tiny rock, about 2 mm in size, it is hard to tell if it is sand or gravel. If it isn’t perfectly round, different people might classify it differently, depending upon how they measure it. When things differ continuously, it can be hard to classify them. (Where does the red part of a rainbow end, and the orange part begin?)

Biological creatures don’t vary continuously. It isn’t hard to draw a line between a cow and a goat. Biologists can divide living things into discrete species because living things fall into distinct categories.

If the theory of evolution were true, and creatures gradually evolved into different forms, it would be hard to divide them into distinct species. Experimental observation does not match the evolutionary “prediction” (actually, the evolutionary expectation).

Changing Predictions

When a mentalist makes a prediction, he writes it down and seals it in an envelope. Then, after the prediction comes true, he opens the envelope to prove he was right. It would not be an impressive trick if he opened the envelope, erased his old wrong prediction, and wrote a new correct prediction—but that’s what cosmologists did in the case of cosmic background radiation.

1964 Penzias & Wilson - the cosmic microwave background radiation
Working with a horn antenna (7.35cm) at Bell Labs, Penzias & Wilson fortuitously discovered an isotropic [that is, “same in every direction”] radio background, a relic left-over from the primordial fireball. This cosmic microwave background radiation is key evidence for the Hot Big Bang model. The temperature of this blackbody radiation is today measured to be T = 2.73K (that is, a rather cold -270C). 4

The fact that no matter where these astronomers pointed their antenna, they measured exactly the same amount of microwave radiation, was hailed as proof of the Big Bang because it matched the theoretical “prediction” (which was actually made after the fact).

If it had really been a prediction, Penzias and Wilson would actually have been looking for uniform radiation, and would not have “fortuitously discovered” it. When they discovered it by accident, they tried to say it was proof of the Big Bang. For 28 years, the fact that the cosmic background radiation is exactly the same coming from all directions was proof of the Big Bang. Then, the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite was launched.

1992 COBE satellite - discovery of fluctuations in the CMBR
In April 1992, the COBE satellite team announced the discovery of anisotropies [differences] in the cosmic microwave background radiation at the level of one part in 100,000. These are thought to be a snapshot at t=400,000 years of the primodial fluctuations that led to galaxy formation. This map of the sky is also the best evidence for the isotropy (or spherical symmetry) of the Universe. 5

The COBE satellite found that the cosmic background radiation isn’t exactly the same in every direction, and guess what! That was predicted by the Big Bang, too! They just opened the envelope, erased the old prediction, and wrote a new “prediction.”

Self-correcting Science

For more than a century, scientists have been changing the “predictions” made by the theory of evolution—and evolutionists (like John) say that is a good thing! They say science is self-correcting. But philosophy masquerading as science isn’t self-correcting—it is self-contradictory. It is proved wrong because it wasn’t true in the first place.

Here’s a medical example: When I was a boy, my father was the esteemed medical director of the William S. Merrell company. Like all the other good physicians back then, he made me take a salt tablet every day because the human body needs lots of salt, and doesn’t naturally get enough of it. Now many products are proudly labeled, “low sodium,” because (it is now believed) too much salt is bad for you.

Here’s my scientific prediction: Within the next few months, a new medical study will come out saying that something that used to be deemed healthy is now unhealthy (or vice versa). You know my prediction will come true because opinions change, and research can always be interpreted to confirm the new opinion.

Real truth, on the other hand, is discovered using the scientific method, and doesn’t change.

Wrong is Better than Nothing

John said, “An imperfect scientific theory (which is really a semantic redundancy) is still useful in the advancement of science toward truth.” He fails to see the distinction between “imperfect” and “wrong.”

Einstein’s theory of relativity does expand our notion of gravity at speeds approaching that of light. The Newtonian concept of gravity may not be as complete as Einstein’s—but it isn’t wrong. Newtonian physics correctly calculates forces and motion at ordinary speeds.

The theory of evolution, on the other hand, is just plain wrong. There is no comparison. A wrong theory is of no value whatsoever.

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Footnotes:

1 Disclosure, May 2006, “A Fishy Ancestor”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v10i8n.htm
2 New Scientist, 8 April 2006, “The fish that headed for land” page 14, http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19025464.600-first-fossil-of-fish-that-crawled-onto-land-discovered.html
3 http://www.planetary.org/multimedia/space-images/charts/wentworth-1922-grain-size.html
4 http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/research/gr/public/bb_cosmo.html
5 ibid.