Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Creation Watch - Norman Nevin - God and the Cosmos

This is an analysis of a sermon given by Professor Norman Nevin OBE, who is named by the Centre for Intelligent Design in Glasgow as it’s president.

First a little background.  “Intelligent Design” was invented in the US in the last decade or so to try to get creationism into publicly funded schools were it is prohibited by the US constitution simply because it is religious.  The creationists decided to evolve their approach and so changed the name and dropped any direct reference to god, replacing the word god with the phrase “intelligent designer”.

The UK government has no such constitutional reason for stating that ID can’t go into schools as science, instead they confirm that it can’t be taught in school science lessons simply because it isn’t science.

This is an analysis of a sermon in a church and so it would be inappropriate to analyse anything other than the scientific claims made, so we haven’t.

On the other hand we are sure that Professor Nevin would not claim any lower standard of care or respect for the truth ina church compared to a classroom.  We would certainly agree that truthfulness and accuracy are vital when talking about science whether your audience are sitting in a church or a classroom.  So let’s look at the scientific claims he makes and see if they hold any water.

BTW you can download the mp3 for yourself, if you have 45 mins to spare, from here.

Alternatively our transcription of the sermon (a little rough and ready in places) is here and takes perhaps 5 mins to read.
OK let’s start with a deep breath and an open mind.  Let’s simply asses the scientific claims on their own merit.  Quotations from Nevin are in italics.
The questions that Napoleon Bonaparte asked of Laplace “When I think of Isaac Newton and his thesis, he made great play of God as the creator, I have read through your thesis and there is no mention of God.”  Laplace’s famous reply was sad, “I have no need of that hypothesis”.

OK this isn’t a biggy but there is a basic fact error here; there is, in fact, no mention of Newton in the quotes we could find for this.  We are not really sure why he would add it in either.  Perhaps he didn’t expect anyone to fact check him?

You see the battle that is taking place at the moment is a battle between the veracity, the truthfulness of the word of god and that of science.
If that isn’t anti-science I don’t know what is.  This kind of language and the position it describes does not agree with the position of most churches on this topic;

The Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts: "Methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things the of the faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are".

From the CofE web site; "Good religion needs to work constructively with good science – and I dare to suggest that the opposite may be true as well."

 Last year was the 400th (SIC) anniversary of the birth of Darwin and there were many celebrations, and the voices of many atheist and theistic evolutions  were heard very frequently on the media and the sad thing today is that many christians are also turning away from the word of god and saying that what we see in fact is the consequence of natural selection and Darwinism. 
Basic fact error;
Last year was the 150th anniversary of the publication of “On the Origin of Species” and 200 years from Darwin’s birth.

And I sat down and I was thinking about why do I believe the first eleven chapters of Genesis as the word of god and as historical fact.

So a six day creationist.  Genesis is historical fact.  These kinds of comments suggest that he might need to deny many different scientific disciplines and not just biology, lets see shall we.

Let’s first of all look at the reasons he gives for this position;

First of all Genesis is the foundation of God’s word and I believe that it is crucial to our understanding of the rest of scripture. 
He is building the position that if genesis is not literally true then he can’t believe the rest of the bible.  Such a position is widely criticised as bad theology by most mainstream churches.

Re Genesis;
If it were a book of myths , if it were a book of legends, would indeed new testament writers make historical reference to that book and those particular sections? 
. . .
 Indeed the eleven chapters, the first eleven chapter of the book of genesis, are referred to in the new testament.  So the book of genesis is foundational to the word of god. It indeed is referred [SIC] by many writers in support of arguments that they put forward.  But for me, more importantly is the Lord Jesus Christ, his attitude to those frost eleven chapters of the book of genesis, at least on six different  occasions, the lord jesus christ refers to one of the first seven chapters of the book of genesis.  I’ll just highlight some of those, for example, when he talks about marriage and divorce he makes reference to Adam and Eve, not as mythical figures but as historical realities.
. . .
So the lord Jesus christ looked upon Adam and Eve, he looked upon Able and Cain as historical figures, not as mythical legends that we are supposed to believe, and when he discuss the flood and noah, when he  discusses the question of him returning again he paints the picture that just as society was degenerate in Noahs day and had turned their backs upon god , so that before he comes, society will suffer a similar change.  So the lord Jesus Christ looked upon these early chapters as historical fact, so over the next 4 weeks we are going to look at some of those aspects those first 11 chapters.
Yet no mention of any of this on the C4ID web site.  What a coincidence that the other members of the C4ID share these views?  Could this really happen just by random chance or is there the mind of a designer(deceiver?) behind this?

OK Astronomy, it’s your turn;
I just want to look at two groups of stars because to me it conveys something of the accuracy of the world of god.  We read in Job chapter 38,and I have put it down in 3 translations because it is important, “cans’t though bind the sweet cluster of pleiades or loose the bands of  orion”, remember that word bind.  These two words occurred in the new king james version; bind pleiades and loose orion, and again in the NIV version, bind pleiades or loose the cords of Orion.  Now what was Job trying to convey?  Now I find this absolutely amazing, on the right hand side of the screen you see pleiades a cluster of stars, now that cluster of stars is so overcome with gravity that the stars can’t expand, they can’t break the bonds, they are bound by gravity.  Bind beautiful pleiades, and when we look at Orion which you can see in the sky, and you will recognise the belt of orion the three stars there in a line, what is happening to them, they are steadily expanding, they are being loosed.  So what a confirmation of , and what a wonderful display of accuracy of gods word. 

From wikipedia re the Pleiades; Also, like most open clusters, the Pleiades will not stay gravitationally bound forever, as some component stars will be ejected after close encounters and others will be stripped by tidal gravitational fields. Calculations suggest that the cluster will take about 250 million years to disperse, with gravitational interactions with giant molecular clouds and the spiral arms of our galaxy also hastening its demise.

So dead wrong there then.

What about Orion?

From wikipedia re Orion’s belt;  The Belt of Orion is an astronomical asterism in the constellation Orion. It consists of the three bright stars ζ Ori (Alnitak), ε Ori (Alnilam), and δ Ori (Mintaka). Alnitak is approximately 800 light years away from earth and considering ultraviolet radiation, which human eye can not see, Alnitak is 100,000 times more luminous than the Sun. Alnilam is approximately 1340 light years away from earth and shines with magnitude 1.70. Considering ultraviolet light Alnilam is 375,000 times more luminous than the Sun. Mintaka is 915 light years away and shines with magnitude 2.21.
. . .
Like constellations, asterisms are in most cases composed of stars which, while they are visible in the same general direction, are not physically related, often being at significantly different distances from Earth.
 So dead wrong again.

Two scientific facts given, both totally inaccurate.

The next bit of Astronomy is also bogus;

Now earth is in the right galaxy, its in a spiral galaxy and only 5% of all of the galaxies indeed are spiral.  Not only is it in the right galaxy but it has got the right star, the sun and this is about one hundred and fifty million km from the sun now that distance is important because if it were closer to the sun, life could not exist, if it were further away from the sun, life could not exist, it is just in the right position within a fraction of a percentage, and if it were to move either way, life would not exist.
Ok here we have some straight forward and unambiguous scientific claims.  And they are false.  As this video extract from Thunderfoot’s video “Why do people laugh at creationists part 1”, demonstrates;


You can find the whole video here.

Surprise, surprise we are now on quite a run, a run of consistently false and/or inaccurate scientific claims.  You would think Nevin might get the odd scientific claim right now and again, just by accident wouldn’t you?

Now think about that for a moment.

Yes the nature of his actions actually seems to imply he is doing this on purpose.  And he wants to gain recognition of ID as a science?  The C4ID has already confirmed that it will be speaking in Scottish schools as quoted in the Herald;

“We are definitely not targeting schools, but that doesn’t mean to say we may not produce resources that go to schools,” Dr Noble said, adding that he had already been asked to speak in Scottish schools, and agreed to do so.

Anyway back to the scientific claims from Nevin.

If in fact we were closer to the moon than we are, earth would be flooded, if we were further away then the earth again would degenerate simply because of the cleansing effect that the moon has on the earth. 

I’m not going to waste your time digging into these here, they are simply garbage, the moon was closer to the earth, it is receding slowly due to the way gravity works.  I have no idea what this cleansing effect of the moon is that he talks about.


We’ve got the right planets near us because we are very near to the meteor belt and if we didn’t have the right planet such as Jupiter between the meteor belt and ourselves the life could not exist because it would be destroyed by meteors.

Here is a diagram of the solar system,  Jupiter is not in-between the earth and the meteor belt.  It is the other way around.  Doh!

The earth is the only place in this universe that indeed life could exist.

Wow, I wonder how he knows this?  We don’t know how he knows it and he doesn’t give us any evidence.  Such a claim isn’t scientific unless he backs it up with evidence.

Next he quote Hugh Ross as an “astrophysicist”, but he doesn’t mention that Ross is a creationist.  Why would he not want to admit that?  

OK next up, claims that the moon is 400 times further from the earth and also 400 times smaller than the sun can’t be a coincidence.  Now he is entitled to think what he likes and he is particularly free to say anything he likes, especially in church, but he would not be entitled to make such claims in science classes because this isn’t science.

Let me give you one or two quotes from scientists who are not christians.
OK fire away.

Paul Davies - OK fine.

Next a quote from Bernard Carr, who happens to believe in Psychic powers and that they can bridge the gap between science and religion;

Next we have Roy Peacock, who is a christian.

Not sure why would Nevin not know this?  Or is he deliberately trying to mislead people?

Next up we have the foundational theoretical (used in the scientific sense of the word) framework of Cosmology and Astronomy, the Big Bang.  I wonder what he thinks of that?

I know that many christians say yes there must have been a point when god created and thats the point at which the big bang occurred.  I just want you to pause because there are a number of reasons why I think this theory is totally flawed, first of all it cannot explain how matter came to be, it says that at a point in time matter became so compressed that it exploded, they can’t answer the question, what is the origin of the matter.  Where did it come from , how did it arise.  I think if you ask your science teachers these questions I think that you will get a stony silence.  
Well there is plenty to look at here, Big Bang doesn’t explain the origin of matter.  Wrong again,  it does explains how matter condenses from the energy present at the moment of the big bang, it even explains how long after the “bang” this happens.  Where does the energy come from?  Well science isn’t sure, but one explanation being investigated is that the total energy in the universe is actually zero so it didn’t have to come from anywhere.  Another is that colliding higher dimensional universes can explain it, but as I said none of these explanations are well supported enough to be counted as theories (in the scientific use of the term, again).  Either way, making the false representation that science doesn’t have a clue and suggesting that science teachers might be embarrassed or annoyed by such questions is plainly mischievous

It can’t explain why stars are born and why stars are decaying.

No it can’t, but this is because it doesn’t cover this issue.  Strange that he would want to imply that it does.  Unless he just wants to make he audience think it doesn’t work and he doesn’t much care about how he goes about it.

Ok this next bit is straight out of the creationist's playbook;

So there’s a scientist who actually arguing against the current theory of the big bang, he says it is astounding that the big bang hypothesis is the only cosmological model that physicists take seriously.  

Debate and discussion is normal in science.  It is done with evidence and logic.  It is part of how science progresses.  Simply quoting such debates as evidence that science is wrong is disingenuous.  Taking this a step further to imply that, “therefore creationism must be true”, is simply logically unsupportable.

Next we get a gross misrepresentation of  the privately funded project SETI;

SETI, fifty years, millions of pounds spent on this project and what they are doing is they have sent out messages into space and they are still waiting for message sot come back.

Well no, that isn’t what SETI does actually.  They just watch and listen.  Have a look for yourself.


Lots of mistakes.  Or are they?

Is he really so ignorant of a subject he pretends such knowledge of?  Or is he trying to mislead people?

Either way do you want the nonsense he is promoting as “science” taught in your school to your kids?

1 comment:

  1. I like Norman. I really do. He is a former colleague and mentor to me, and I find it painful that he is promoting such a load of old nonsense. Unlike many people, I do not admire people who stick to their "beliefs" - far more admirable is to be able to challenge *yourself* and to subject your dearly-held biases to harsh scrutiny.

    This creationist claptrap is a blight on Northern Irish society, and Christianity in particular - and now we're exporting it to the poor people of Scotland. I recently participated in a panel with Norman and a Christian minister, who is an evolutionist and marine biologist. Norman's arguments have not changed from basic bog standard Discovery Institute pap, and did not stand even the most cursory analysis. The audience agreed. However, when you speak in a church, the congregation are not likely to contradict you, such is the power of the pulpit. That needs to change, and well done to the BCSE for highlighting this.