Creation: The Story from Science (Part Ia – The Big Bang)

August 28, 2008

In my last post in the Religion and Science series I discussed astronomical evidences for the antiquity of creation.  As part of the discussion John asked some questions about the Big Bang theory, and I promised to write a post answering his questions and explaining the theory.  So, in a thousand words I will do my best to convey the current model for the evolution of the universe since its creation.

Big Bang cosmology is inherently a general relativistic theory, so I begin with a brief explanation of how this theory relates to cosmology.  In general relativity, mass and space have an intimate relationship.  Space is not a static homogeneous entity as it is in Newtonian theory.  Instead space is capable of being stretched and bent and warped, and in fact any object with any mass will warp space.  In turn, space affects how masses move through it.  When they aren’t undergoing acceleration due to external forces, masses always like to move on the shortest path through space (a geodesic), but if space is warped, then that path will not be a straight line.  This is analogous to the great circles on earth.  The shortest route for a plane to fly from one point on the surface to another is not a straight line but a curved geodesic. So in general relativity space affects mass and mass affects space.  Though it has many bizarre and counter-intuitive implications, general relativity is actually experimentally one of the best-confirmed of all scientific theories.

When one applies general relativity to a really big chunk of space, like, say, the universe, then one can derive a set of equations that govern the behavior of the space and how it is affected by the distribution of mass.  As it turns out, it is difficult to have a static configuration.  The space always either wants to be contracting down or expanding out, depending on how dense of a mass distribution you have.  Einstein found this idea philosophically repulsive, because it meant that you couldn’t have a static universe just sitting there, and consequently it implied that the universe had a beginning.  Consequently, he added a constant, called the cosmological constant, into the equation that would perfectly balance the contraction and create a static universe.  Twelve years later, in 1929, Hubble discovered through observations of galaxy spectra that the further away a galaxy was the faster it was receding from us.  This is precisely the sort of relationship that one would expect if the universe (space itself) were expanding.  The further away something is, the more space there is between you and it, and therefore if space is expanding objects further away will be moving away from you faster than nearby objects.  This was the first physical evidence for an expanding universe.  Einstein later referred to the cosmological constant as his greatest blunder.

If all of space is expanding then it doesn’t take a genius to realize that if you extrapolate back in time eventually everything will be really close together.  Eventually you reach what is called a singularity, where the equations break down and the universe has an infinite density.  This singularity is called the big bang, and when scientists refer to the age of the universe they are talking about the time since the big bang.  The way cosmologists calculate the age of the universe is by carefully adding up the mass within the observed universe and using the equations governing the expansion to extrapolate back the amount of time since the Big Bang.

John also raised an interesting point when he asked, “Where in the universe are we?”  This is an age-old question that historically has often taken a central role in cosmology.  Ever since the Copernican revolution  each successive step forward in scientific theory has taken earth to a less-central place in the universe.  However, with the discoveries made by modern cosmology this progression has reached an end.

Let’s do a thought experiment in order to understand the map of the universe as seen in modern cosmology.  At the beginning of the Big Bang space and time as we know it have just been created.  Therefore light has had no time to travel anywhere.  We can imagine ourselves at some point in this universe looking out into total darkness in all directions.  As time goes on, light has a chance to travel to us from other places.  However, to begin with all of the matter in the universe is so hot and so dense that all you can see is the stuff right in front of your face.  No photons can travel very far without bumping into something else and getting redirected.  Basically, it’s thick as pea soup.  At about 400,000 years after the big bang things have cooled down and thinned out enough that photons can travel on their merry way without getting bumped around to much.  This is the age at which the universe becomes transparent.  Now with each passing second light is able to travel to us from further and further away.  Imagine a sphere.  We are at the center and the edge represents the distance that we can see – the distance that light could have travelled in that amount of time.  As time goes on, the edge of that sphere is moving outward at the speed of light and more and more of the universe comes into view.  Cosmologists call the edge of this sphere the cosmological horizon.  At the horizon we can still actually see that dense pea soup, because the light from the pea soup is just getting to us from those distant locations.  This pea soup light is called the cosmic microwave background radiation, and is another key evidence that supports the big bang theory.  Now we can imagine today’s universe where the horizon has receeded to the extreme distance.  With today’s space-based telescopes we are actually able to see all of the way out to the cosmological horizon.  It is the same distance away from us in all directions.  Thus, we are in the center of the observable universe simply because observations are limited by light travel time.  So far as we know, the universe extends to infinity in all directions.  However, we will never be able to see anything outside of our horizon.  In fact we are at a special time in the universe’s history where it is starting to expand faster and faster.  Because of this the horizon will eventually begin to shrink and the observable universe will get smaller and smaller.  So at this point in the life of the universe we’re able to see about as much as any astronomer will ever be able to see.

There’s actually a nice movie that depicts the current map of the observed universe.  The rainbow colored sphere at the end is the cosmic microwave background and we are at the center of the sphere.  Also the strange pie-shaped structures aren’t real structures but are just the parts of the universe that we’ve observed so far.  There are more details and a newer movie with more galaxies and no narration here.

-Matt, the elder brother

We’re Baaack!

August 23, 2008

Between my trying to finish my PhD, James moving and starting his masters, me breaking my arm, and everything else going on, we’ve been unable to find time to post over the last couple of months.  But, as you can see from the last two posts, we are starting to think about Consanguinity again.  You can expect another post soon that will continue our previous discussion on Science and Religion.  I’ll also remind you that I was planning to discuss some of the scientific arguments put forth by Young Earth Creationists.  This is probably still a few weeks down the line, but so far I haven’t gotten any comments suggesting specific arguments to examine.  I can select my own, but I’d love to respond to ones that interest you the most.

-Matt, the elder brother

City Life

August 19, 2008

Well, I can’t say that my life has been as exciting as Matt’s, but I can say that since being in Dallas, I now know how to make a voiceless post-alveolar lateral affricate with egressive pulmonic air.  Ok, so maybe Matt’s life is slightly more eventful at this point in time.

Allison and I are finally starting to feel “at home” in Duncanville, TX. It has been surprisingly easy to adjust to being in a big city. Most of the time we don’t have to drive very far from our apartment (school is just a few miles away). Probably the biggest disadvantage is that we have to drive about ten minutes to get to Wal-Mart, and we have to wait in line for at least twenty minutes just to check out (we were spoiled living at walking-distance from a Neighborhood Market that was usually fairly empty). On the flip side, there is a movie theater about ten minutes away from our apartment where you get see a matinee for $2.50 (yee haw!).

Another significant change in our lives is that we don’t have internet access in our apartment, a fact that has both pros and cons. Obviously it is inconvenient that we can’t check our e-mail and browse the web whenever we want, and it has made it harder to keep up with Consanguinity. On the flip side (other than not having thirty dollars withdrawn from out bank account every month), we can’t check our e-mail and browse the web whenever we want, and I can’t check Consanguinity stats every half-hour. I don’t think that either of us realized how much time we spent on our computers and on the internet until we have been forced to go without it. We do have access at school, but this situation has forced us to plan and minimize our time on the internet. Being truly “wireless,” we have more time to spend with each other and relaxing in other ways (reading, playing the banjo, and most recently watching the Olympics—in a big city like Dallas, you can get quite a bit on rabbit-ears).

School has been great so far. We have really been learning a lot of practical skills that will apply to when we are overseas. We have been studying phonetics (how to produce and recognize/transcribe all the sounds of the world’s languages), grammar (how to break down words and build sentences within a given language), and sociolinguistics (understanding the relationship between society and language). We have really enjoyed these courses, but the greatest part is that it hasn’t been nearly as oppressive as we heard so many people say that it would be. We are about to head into Session II on Friday (Aug. 22nd), but we still don’t anticipate that it will be as time-consuming as our Senior year at the U of A. This next Session, we will continue phonetics, begin phonology (understanding how a sounds work together in a given language) and start second language and culture acquisition, in which we will begin to learn a second language orally, without being able to use any resources than our language tutor, and we will be putting grammar on hold until Session III.

I am about to take my banjo-playing to the next level, as I will start playing in the school music-team once a week. I am looking forward to broadening my repertoire and learning how to adapt my current skills to a new style.

-James, the younger brother

I went to Lechuguilla and all I got was a broken arm

August 16, 2008

Most of you have probably heard by now of my recent ill-fated trip into Lechuguilla Cave, but I thought I should relate the story in full.  I was slated to be on a 7-person, 8-day expedition into the southwest branch of the cave in late July.  Originally, when I agreed to go on the trip, I planned to defend my PhD dissertation in June, and I thought that this would be great timing.  However, due to scheduling conflicts with my committee, we ended up moving the defense to August 13 (1.5 weeks after I would be getting back from Lech).  This wasn’t too big of a problem, as it just meant I would need to have my dissertation done about a week earlier than I would otherwise.  However, it is a bit non-traditional (to say the least) to head off on a week-long caving expedition right before one’s PhD defense.  I considered backing out, but most of the main objectives for the trip were climbing objectives and I was to be the climber for the trip.  Backing out at the last minute would have left the team in a pretty hard place. When the time to leave for the expedition arrived, I had my dissertation in relatively good shape, so it appeared that all was well.

By the day of the expedition, attrition had resulted in loss of another team member, so we entered the cave as a team of six.  It was my first trip in to the SW branch of the cave so I enjoyed the trip to camp and the new scenery, including the Chandelier Ballroom (arguably the most famous cave chamber in the world).  The next day we returned to the Chandelier Ballroom to push a climbing lead in the Chandelier Maze (above the ballroom).

Matt sorting through climbing gear in the Chandelier Ballroom.

Matt sorting through climbing gear in the Chandelier Ballroom. Photo by Peter Bosted.

The climb, called the Minotaur Climb, was a multi-pitch climb started by Larry Shaffer the previous year.  He had accomplished the difficult and steep first pitch and then run out of time.  We ascended up to the top of his climb and then continued about 20 feet of easy climbing to the top.  This led into a boneyard maze that was completely encrusted in gypsum.  After 200 feet of easy survey we found that the only way on was another climb, which looked like 10 feet of steep rock followed by an easy 20 foot ramp.  We certainly had the gear to accomplish it, so I kitted up for the 2nd climb of the day.

It turned out that there were few good natural anchor placements.  I placed a tricam in a pocket at about head height.  I then clipped an etrier and daisy chain into the anchor.  I started to clip in my belay line and then decided that it was so low it wouldn’t stop a groundfall.  Since I didn’t want unnecessary drag I decided not to clip (in retrospect clipping the belay probably would have prevented me from breaking my arm).  Standing up in the etrier and leaning back on the daisy I searched for other placements.  The options were even worse.  I finally found a calcified crack to stick a cam into, but I knew that the anchor was very dubious.  This didn’t concern me too much since I was only a few feet from the ground.  I tested the anchor by shifting my weight onto it and bouncing.  It held.

Moments before my anchor failed.

Moments before my anchor failed. Photo by Peter Bosted.

I decided to go ahead and shift to the anchor while I tried to find something better.  Without thinking about it, I left my right foot in the lower etrier.  After a couple of minutes of hanging on the anchor and searching for other placements, the cam suddenly popped.  Since my right foot was in the etrier on the good lower anchor, my body rotated as I fell so that I landed left hand first (after at most a 5 foot fall).  Then I rolled backward down the slope until I reached a resting point in a sitting position about 8 feet from the base of the climb.  I thought I was fine…and then I saw that my left forearm was bent about 20 degrees in the middle…and muttered in a perturbed voice, “I broke my arm.”  I knew what I needed to do, and was not yet in pain.  I somehow had the presence of mind to straighten the arm.  Then I began to feel light-headed and knew what was coming next.  I leaned back on the rock and passed out.  For the next few minutes I was in and out of consciousness, and my partners (Bonnie Armstrong and Peter Bosted) were quite worried.  Bonnie could see a little blood on my elbow pad and suspected that it was a compound fracture.

Once I came to, we started the business of putting on a splint.  I knew that we needed to immoblize the joints above and below the fracture.  Bonny rolled her Swaygo pack (which makes a very nice, stiff splint) around my arm, and then used Peter’s ace bandage to wrap around the pack and through my hand to immobilize the wrist.  Then to immobilize the elbow we used a climbing sling to sling the arm around my neck, holding it in place on the pack with some duct tape.  We later found that it was more comfortable while crawling if I also had the arm tied around my waist with some long underwear. I also took four ibuprofen.  A medic later commented that it was the best field splint he had ever seen.

At this point, once I had a chance to settle down a bit, we started the long haul out (around 5 pm).  Peter belayed me with the climbing rope as I rappelled down the two previous climb pitches.  Peter then found a shortcut through the maze that quickly got us onto the trail on the way out of the cave.  Once we reached the trail, Bonny left to notify the others and get food and bivy supplies at camp.  Peter and I started slowly making our way through the somewhat climby/crawly area of the cave called Tinsel Town on the way out of the cave.  We planned to stop at Lake Chandelar to wait for the others before beginning the climb out.

We reached the lake fairly quickly (1 hour?), and I was feeling good and realizing that I could cave fairly well with the one arm.  I also was not in too terrible of an amount of pain.  After a snack and drink break, some more ibuprofen (it had been about 4 hours), and a good rest, we decided to plow ahead.  I thought I could ascend the ropes without help.  I was also dreading an upcoming section of narrow fissure climbs in a passage called the Little White Bastard (a play off of another passage in the cave, The Great White Way).  I was ready to get these over with while I still felt good.

Resting near Lake Chandalar

Resting near Lake Chandalar. Photo by Peter Bosted.

After some delicate moves around the lake (you know that part of the National Geo film where they’re dancing along the wall by the lake…that, with one arm) we reached the ropes.  The first rope was no problem so we continued up.  Once I got about half way up the 2nd rope, Bonny arrived below, surprised to see that we hadn’t waited at the lake.  She had met up with the others as she was coming back through the Ballroom from camp.  They caught up with us right before the Little White Bastard.  For all of the previous drops, I had gone up first while Peter held the rope.  This had worked well, but the next drop was a little tighter and more intimidating.  Since the others were also now there, we had Peter go up first.  He would belay me with the climbing rope from the top in case I needed to pull my chest ascender off of the rope (it uncomfortably interferred with my sling).  Elvis (Mark Andrich) would pull the rope for me from the bottom.  As I ascended, in order to lighten the mood and distract from the pain, I sung the “Ballad of the Renegade Caver.”  It turned out that the drop was exactly the length of the song.

At the top, I took a good long rest before starting out on the next stretch (which was a bunch of easy walking).  Several people ran ahead to EF Junction to cook dinner.  Once we reached there we all sat and ate the freeze dried that Bonny had brought from camp.  From that point, Peter and Shawn Thomas headed out of the cave to alert the park, and let them know we had things under control.  The Rift turned out to be relatively easy with one arm, and according to the others I essentially ran up Glacier Bay to the bottom of Boulder Falls.

Eating dinner at EF Junction.

Eating dinner at EF Junction. Photo by Peter Bosted.

Worried about the long (160 ft) climb and the discomfort of ascending with the rope running very close to my arm, we decided to do a counterbalance haul at Boulder Falls.  There was already a rope at the top for that purpose, and the team was familiar with the technique.  It took a while to set up, but once the haul was going, they had me quickly to the lip of the pit.  At that point, a bit more chaos ensued, as a tangle developed.  We were all tired and bleary-eyed from the long night (it was now about 4 am), and each time we tried to fix it we were only making it worse.  Eventually we came to a solution and everyone was safely extracted from the mess of ropes.  I was able to ascend all of the remaining drops on my own, and we reached the surface at about 6 am, where we were greeted by a caver and medic from Carlsbad.  He and one of the park cave specialists drove me in to the ER in Carlsbad.

Fairly quickly they got me into a bed and got X-rays of my arm.  Not much later the doctor came in to say that he thought the best option was to do surgery on the arm.  I tried to call Elizabeth to notify her (I specifcally told others that I didn’t want her notified until I was out of the cave), but I couldn’t get her at home or work.  Then I called my dad, who was luckily home and agreed to try calling Elizabeth again later. I was also surprised that the other cavers came in to see me that morning (they had been up all night and I assumed they were sleeping).  I had surgery later that day (most of the rest of the day is a blur), and they released me from the hospital the following day.  My friends came to pick me up, got me settled in at the research hut in the park, and then headed back into the cave that evening.  Overall, it was a useful life experience – though not how I would have chosen for things to go.  I feel that there are things I could have done that would have likely prevented the incident, but I also feel that such injuries are going to happen every once in a while.  I was just unlucky to have it happen to me.

-Matt, the elder brother

What’s Up

August 2, 2008

In case you’ve been wondering what’s up with Consanguinity, we haven’t given up on our website.  Matt and I have just both been really busy lately, so we haven’t had time to research or write in our current series on creation.  Hopefully in the next few weeks you’ll start to see some more activity, as Matt returns (with a broken arm), and I get more adjusted to being in school again.

-James, the younger brother