The Science of it All

Biblical Biology

Let us start with a simple tale of evolution and how it is turned into an evillutionists point of view. We will use information from two scientific disciplines- entomology and botany (the study of insects and the study of plants). When under attack by leaf-munching insects, many plants start manufacturing special substances that act as chemical signals to attract other species that prey on the leaf-eaters. The advantages to the plant’s ability to survive are obvious, so evolutionists will of course point to natural selection as solely responsible for the phenomenon. Over millions and millions of years the leaf’s (even though the plant itself has no higher intelligence) themselves “evolved” the ability to create a chemical signal that would attract say a wasp to the spot where the caterpillar was eating on the leaf.

So next step in this tale. Chemicals are normally released straight away from any leaf damage and are called green leafy volatiles (GLVs). Some, although not necessarily all of these chemicals, act essentially as plant pheromones. The most commonly known to man is the smell of a freshly mown lawn.

Researchers have been puzzled, however, to discover an unusual aspect to this process in the case of tobacco plants attacked by moth caterpillars.[i] It normally takes a few hours at least for such signal chemicals to be produced. Yet the caterpillar’s enemies, called ‘big-eyed bugs’ (Geocoris spp [plural species]),[ii] came almost immediately, sensing the chemicals normally released straight away from any leaf damage. But the big-eyed bugs only came when the GLV release was caused by caterpillars. So how could they tell the difference?

The GLVs come in two varieties or ‘isomers’, Z and E.[iii] Experiments showed it was the Z/E ratio that enabled the bugs to tell the difference between ‘normal’ leaf damage and a caterpillar bite. So what changed this ratio to alert the bugs? Researchers found that it was not the plant, but the caterpillars themselves that rang the dinner bell for the bugs. The ratio is changed by caterpillar saliva, which converts much of the Z-GLVs to E-GLVs.

A conundrum – no? Why would the caterpillar develop an enzyme that would DECREASE their chance of survival? Kind of runs counter to the theory of natural selection doesn’t it?

Left unanswered in this tale is how the leaf would know that the wasp would be able to detect the scent – maybe the leaf had tried hundreds of thousands of scents. Another puzzle is why would the leaf develop a scent for a damage to the leaf that is different from the scent for damage by an insect. Also unanswered is how the leaf would know that one particular wasp would find this particular caterpillar tasty. And how does the DNA/mtRNA change in the leaf get transported to a change in the spermatogenous (generative) cell of the plant so it may reproduce itself? Those thoughts are such that should not interfere with the truth and facts of mutational evolution according to the evillutionists. It just happens that way according to them.

According to the rest of us it is by an intelligent designer.

This is why creation biology is so important. Since it is based on the Bible, it not only provides a coherent origin for life, but also a coherent history that describes how life has changed in various ways. But if we take the Bible as our foundation, how should we think about biology? What should we think about the origin and history of animals, plants, and microbes?

The Bible says that God created all things biological during the first week of history—Days 3–6 of Creation Week (Genesis 1:11–13, 20–31). Genesis 1 also says He created life according to kinds. These kinds must remain both recognizable and stable through time because they are a part of God’s revelation of his power and character in creation (Romans 1:20). If the message has no consistency, the message would be lost. Therefore, one kind of creature can’t mutate or go changing into something different (even if similar) if we’re to be able to see God’s hand in biology. The pattern was set with the first life forms created, plants, which were to produce “seed, each according to its kind” (Genesis 1:11). That is, the seed produced that allows reproduction is according to the kind that produced it (e.g. a mango seed will produce a mango tree). Then other living things are described (nine times) as being created “according to their kinds”. This is the most established principle of biology, that like begets like: cats produce cats, bears produce bears, palms produce palms, and no one has ever observed anything different such as a mango becoming a manatee becoming a man.

But neither can life be completely static. The Bible says creation was cursed because of sin, which meansthat the Fall allowed things like predation, disease, and suffering. Creation is in bondage to decay (Romans 8:20–21). Moreover, since the Fall there have been some massive environmental changes at different times. Life had to be able to adapt to such changes, sometimes rather drastically and quickly, or it would have all died out ages ago. We will cover things like The fall of man, Noah’s flood, the Ice age, How life works, etc both on a Biblical philosophical basis and a the science behind it in future articles.

Evolution textbooks cite variation as being something upon which ‘evolution depends’.[iv] However, when one examines closely the claimed ‘demonstrable examples’ of ‘evolution’, they actually fall into three categories, which I like to label as the ‘3 Rs’- rearrange, remove and ruin genetic information.

Now, I’m going to use some images (with permission from creation.com) from an article titled http://creation.com/3-rs-of-evolution. I have seen many image sequences to highlight the following, but these are the best. We have all been indoctrinated into the Menedelian Genetics since we were at least in 6th grade. You know the monk who noticed that when raising peas that some came out in a yellow shell, some peas were wrinkled, some were smooth and he made charts showing the lineage in the mid-1880’s.

genes_0

This PROVED the case for evolution, they claimed. Not really, it just showed patterns of inheritable characteristics that could then be tracked – sort of like Ancestry.com. Red hair, blonde (true blonde, not bottle blonde) hair, blue eyes, brown eyes, short stature, large stature, hemophilia, and a whole range of other diseases and physical characteristics can now be traced through a population.

So let us take a look at the first ‘R’ – Rearrange. Careful examination of many purported instances of ‘evolution in action’ shows that such ‘variation’ actually already exists, conferred by genes that already exist in the form of gene rearrangement. Now we will keep it simplified and just claim that long/short hair in dogs are the result of one gene pair (in actuality it may be due to hundreds of genes on several chromosomes). But we have to keep it simple in the hopes that Gomer and Goober from Mayberry High will be able to pass their biology classes. When one of each gene ends up in a pup, then that pup will have medium length hair[v].

genes_1

So the two dogs have four pups. Oh, one more thing we have to assume- isn’t science fun when it is full of assumptions and un-provable facts. We have to assume that the genes are distributed evenly among the four pups. So now we have one pup with short hair, two pups with medium hair and one pup with long hair. The evillutionists would look at this and say that the pup with long hair didn’t exist before so it must be an example of evolution.

Now you can play around with interrelationships with all four pups and play games with what the results would be (assuming that close inbreeding allows for viable pups). But let’s not make that assumption, instead let’s make two others. The original dog pair had another litter with the same distribution pattern and in the first litter the long hair pup was either a male or female and the second litter had a long hair pup of the opposite sex. Now we make another assumption that has nothing do with the scientific facts here- the owner sells the two long haired (male and female pups) and three more to someone who then moves to Northern Alaska near the Arctic circle. This person then breeds the dogs. The medium and short haired dogs die off due to the cold. The dog owner then breeds the remaining long hair pups and has a thriving business.

What about natural selection, adaptation and speciation as the evillutionists call it. The second “R” or Removal of genetic information as we call it.

None of these dogs represent the generation of any new microbes-to-mastiff genetic information. Thus we now have a population of dogs beautifully adapted to its environment. Biologists encountering our ice-bound population of dogs, observing them to be isolated[vi] from other populations of dogs, could argue that they be given a new species name.

So here we see natural selection, adaptation, and possibly even speciation—but no new genes have been added. In fact, there’s been a loss of genes (the genetic information for short-and medium-length hair has been removed from the population).

genes_2

The owner back in the land of warmth keep breeding a variety of dogs, occasional getting the shaggy haired one that he sold to Disney to use in making films.

Note that such examples of natural selection, adaptation and speciation are often portrayed as evidence for evolution, but the only thing this ‘evolution’ has done is to remove existing genes. If this population of exclusively long-hair dogs were now relocated to a steamy tropical island, these dogs would not ‘adapt’ to the hot climate unless someone re-introduced the short-hair gene to the population again, by ‘back-crossing’ a short-or medium-length hair dog from somewhere else.

This is exactly the sort of thing that our crop and livestock breeders are doing. They are scouring the world for the original genes created during Creation Week[vii] but which have subsequently been ‘bred out’ (lost) from our domestic varieties/breeds of plants and animals because of breeders artificially selecting certain characteristics, which means other features are de-selected (lost)[viii].

But such a view is incorrect. The only thing this ‘evolution’ has done is to rearrange existing genes. There’s simply been a sorting out of pre-existing genetic information. There’s no new information here of the kind needed to have turned pond scum into poodles, Pekingese, pointers or Pomeranians.

The third “R” – the Ruination of genetic material. We have shown that the processes known as natural selection, adaptation and speciation are real and some of them can be observed within a human life span. However, they simply demonstrates the rearranging and/or removing of genetic material that was originally present at Creation. (I.e. by the end of Day 6, when God completed Creation, declaring it ‘very good’—Genesis 1:31.)

There are invariably a number of dog genes today which were not present at Creation but have arisen since. Those have not arisen by any creative process, but by mutations, which are copying mistakes (typos, we might say) as genes are passed from parents to offspring. You would expect such accidental changes to wreck the existing genes, and that’s what generally happens. For example, there is something called ‘floppy ear syndrome’[ix] resulting from a mutated gene.

Dogs with this genetic mutation have weaker cartilage and cannot lift up their ears. The ears just hang as opposed to standing upright. As you might expect, dogs with erect ears are far superior to floppy-eared dogs at detecting prey by sound.[x]

Have you ever wondered how such floppy-eared dogs could have evolved and survived in the wild. They didn’t. There are no wild canines with floppy ears- they all have upright ears in order to hear other predators and their food sources. Instead this mutation in the genes has arisen since the original “very good” world (Genesis 1:31) was cursed as a result of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:17–19). The floppy-eared mutation in dogs is but one example of how a post-Fall world is very much “in bondage to decay” (Romans 8:19–22). So common is this mutational defect in modern domesticated dogs that many people naïvely think of floppy-eared dogs as ‘normal’ and ‘cute.’

The above examples of changes in fur length and ear structure of dogs are not evolutionary changes. Rearranging genes, Removing genes, and Ruining genes are not the sort of genetic changes that could have turned bacteria into basset hounds—ever. The ‘3 Rs’ could never add up to mosquitoes, mesquite, mutts and man from microbes (let alone from molecules!).

As we’ve seen in the length of fur example, long hair and short hair can appear in just one generation, arising from the in-built canine genetic variation—variation that was built-in to dogs at Creation. So Noah didn’t need to take on board the Ark multiple pairs of dingoes, Dalmatians, and dachshunds; or coyotes, Chihuahua, and cocker spaniels. He only needed two dogs—just as the Bible suggests (Genesis 6:19–20).

Ok, a brief overview of Biblical biology. We’ve covered tobacco leaves, caterpillars, wasps, short, medium and long haired dogs and floppy eared dogs. We will continue to monitor the evillutionists and atheists web sites and counter their arguments with facts and alternate suppositions for their opinions.

[i] Fields, H., Caterpillars sign their own death warrants, http://www.sciencemag.org, 26 August 2010.

[ii] http://phys.org/news/2012-10-green-leaf-volatiles-biocontrol.html

[iii] Note for the non-chemistry buffs: Z means that the atoms with the highest atomic number are on the same side of a double bond, from German zusammen = together. E means they are on the opposite side, from entgegen = opposite.

[iv] E.g. page 32 of Pringle, L., Billions of years, amazing changes: The story of evolution, Boyds Mills Press, Inc., Pennsylvania, USA, 2011. For a comprehensive page-by-page rebuttal of the claims in that book see creation.com/pringle-review.

[v] ‘Co-dominant genes’ would behave in this manner. The exact genetic basis of hair length is not known yet, but it is something like this, although there could be more than one pair of genes involved.

[vi] Geographic isolation is often used as a basis for a new species to be named. This is consistent with the somewhat arbitrary nature of species names, cf. the biblical ‘kind’

[vii] See Batten, D., What! … no potatoes? Creation 21(1):12–14, 1998; creation.com/potatoes. Not all breeders would realize that this is in fact what they are doing. Sadly, they would pay homage to evolution rather than God.

[viii] http://www.heirloomseeds.com/ or http://www.sustainabletable.org/1383/heritage-animal-breeds-and-heirloom-crop-varieties and also http://creation.com/what-no-potatoes

[ix] Geneticists have now tracked the difference between floppy and erect ears to a single gene region in canine chromosome 10 (CFA 10). Boyko, A., Quignon, P., Li, L., Schoenebeck, J., Degenhardt, J., and 19 others, A Simple Genetic Architecture Underlies Morphological Variation in Dogs, PLoS Biology 8(8):e1000451, 2010.

[x] The selecting of hounds with floppy ears is understandable considering they have to rely more on smell and thus this sense is heightened; hence they tend to be good sniffer dogs (bloodhounds, etc.).

The Science of it All

Life as we don’t know it

The origin of life is not a supernatural event. It may be an event whose cause we cannot even discover or draw a conclusion about. Or one whose explanation our methods are certain to miss. We often hear rhetoric along the lines of “The methods of science can solve the origin of life puzzle!” But science is not a magic wand. We may be seeking information that is irretrievably lost. We may be asking meaningless questions, due to a conflict between our underlying assumptions and reality. More insidiously, we may be satisfied with an answer that meets the demands of an underlying belief system while missing the nature of the reality. Life fascinates us. Recently, a consortium of research institutions paid $840,000 for two lbs. of meteorite ore in which they hoped to find traces of a crash landing from outer space — one that started life on Earth.

This electron microscope image is a close-up of the center part of photo number S96-12301. While the exact nature of these tube-like structures is not known, one interpretation is that they may be microscopic fossils of primitive, bacteria-like organisms that may have lived on Mars more than 3.6 billion years ago. A two-year investigation by a NASA research team found organic molecules, mineral features characteristic of biological activity and possible microscopic fossils such
as these inside of an ancient Martian rock that fell to Earth as a meteorite. The largest possible fossils are less than 1/100th the diameter of a human hair in size while most are ten times smaller. And these were INSIDE a rock that they cracked open, that they think came from Mars somehow, someway.

Yet, curiously, as a special edition of Astrobiology (2011) admitted, “Biologists have been unable to agree on a definition” of life.” NASA took the lead by defining life as “a self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution.”* When chemist Harry Lonsdale offered $50,000 in 2011 for the best explanation of the origin of life on Earth, he adopted that definition. As an atheist, he made his ultimate goal clear: “The world will learn that the laws of chemistry and physics, and the principle of evolution by natural selection, are sufficient to explain life’s origin.” But the years have not been kind to NASA’s definition. It identifies only one trait, which may not even be universal.

For example, life’s simplest cells often evolve by swapping genes, not through Darwinian evolution. The definition of life has reached the point where science historian George Dyson tells us, “Life is whatever you define it to be.” Richard Dawkins has suggested it is “anything highly statistically improbable, but in a particular direction.” And at a year 2000 international “What is life?” conference, no two definitions were the same. Biochemist Edward Trifonov noted that there are 123 definitions available and, undeterred, promptly proposed his own: Life is self-reproduction with variations. Which was just as promptly contested. In a 2012 issue of philosophy journal Synthèse, Edouard Machery concluded that “scientists, philosophers, and ethicists should discard the project of defining life.” Still in the game, astrobiologist Charley Lineweaver proposes a new, non-Darwinian approach to defining life: Many biologists define life as anything that undergoes Darwinian evolution … We pretend that makes sense, but if you look it makes no sense at all. What is the unit of Darwinian evolution? Is it the gene? Is it the cell? Is it a multicellular organism? Is a city evolving? Is that a life form?

Similarly, evolutionary biologist Bjørn Østman asks, Suppose we go to another planet and find one being there, looking exactly like a human being. Everything we can measure about this being confirms that it is just as much alive as you and me. It eats, moves, heals, replenishes, communicates, feels, defecates. Learning more about this being, though, we find that it has no ancestors, and that it does not age. It does not reproduce, and it is the only such being on the planet. Thus, there is no lineage of descent and no population that can evolve. So this being is then not alive? Of course it is. This definition does not work. Come to think of it, he wonders, if R2D2 from Star Wars existed, would he be alive? More provocatively still, in Scientific American, Ferris Jabr ends up concluding that life is just a continuum from non-life and doesn’t really exist as a separate category. If we could see the underlying reality of our planet, we would see … the innumerable atoms that make up everything on the planet continually congregate and disassemble themselves, creating a ceaselessly shifting kaleidoscope of matter. Some of those flocks of particles would be what we have named mountains, oceans and clouds; others trees, fish and birds. The trouble is, we know better. So the first clue about the adventure that we are in for is: Life is a state, an experience, that everyone has and thinks they can recognize in other people and things. A quality we think is very important. Yet no one can define it. Darwin proposed a mechanism for the evolution of existing life — natural selection acting on random mutation — but, a prudent man, he stopped well short of proposing to account for life’s origin. Some of his followers pressed ahead. They
ask us to imagine “self-replicating entities,” protocells, and “prebiotic life” (essentially, pre-life) that somehow evolved their way to life long ago.

PrimordialSoup

At New Scientist, Michael Marshall assures us, Once the first self-replicating entities appeared, natural selection kicked in, favoring any offspring with variations that made them better at replicating themselves. Soon the first simple cells appeared. The rest is prehistory. It must be prehistory. No such chains, protocells, or pre-life are found in a wild state today. And even the fabled “minimal cell” is more complex than expected. Some origin-of-life theorists respond by making Darwin’s natural selection into an intelligent agent, the precise opposite of his intention. Stephen J. Freeland of the NASA Astrobiology Institute attributes the fact that
“life knew exactly what it was doing” to — natural selection. He
tells us, ” … life seemingly did not choose its twenty building blocks
randomly.” Indeed, “We found that chance alone would be extremely unlikely to pick a set of amino acids that outperforms life’s choice.” When materialism governs science, that extreme unlikelihood can mean only one thing: There must be a law.

Some theorists hold that life is produced by a yet undiscovered law of nature. But, unlike other laws of nature, where we have some idea how they work even before we have a succinct statement of the law, we have no idea what this law could be. So, not surprisingly, the law-approach — while immensely attractive in principle — remains a minority choice because it offers so little direction. What about a chance origin of life? In this view, life is an unrepeatable confluence of accidental events

It might be helpful to think of the origin of life in terms of probability. Probability can be represented as a scale from 0 to 1. Events at 0 cannot happen and events at 1 must happen. For an event that has not happened, we face all the gradations of probability in between. The past is different. Event 0 did not happen but Event 1 did. Life is Event 1. However, the probability of life coming into existence by any of the specific series of sub-events currently envisioned (never mind demonstrated) is at or near Event 0. This is not an easy problem. At this point, assuming we still think the origin of life searchable, we can adopt one of the two permitted naturalist approaches: The law approach outlined above starts with Event 1 and delves into the fundamentals of physics and chemistry, hoping to find something basic and comprehensive. But it is far from obvious where we should look. Alternatively, we can join the partisans of chance. We can construct scenarios involving lucky spews from undersea volcanoes or random encounters with rare elements. Chance theories of the origin of life generate almost unlimited creative ideas compared to law-based ones. The world of ideas near 0 is densely populated

Essentially, law theorists assert that a chance origin of life is hopelessly improbable. Therefore, they assume, matter simply forms itself into life at some point, obedient to a law of its nature. The theorists do not at present have any idea what factors underlie such a law or how it has worked. Or why it is not working now, so far as we know (in the sense that new types of life are not self-assembling around us). They know that the law exists because life exists, chance is powerless to create it, and devotion to the philosophy of naturalism rules out design.

University of Chicago cell biologist James Shapiro offers a different, conceptually more attractive approach, a 21st-century theory of evolution as he terms it. He proposes that life forms can in fact organize themselves. He writes: “Living cells and organisms are cognitive (sentient) entities that act and interact purposefully to ensure survival, growth, and proliferation. They possess corresponding sensory, communication, information-processing, and decision making capabilities …”

But can one properly use terms like “cognitive” or “purposefully” apart from demonstrated intelligence? And how does he think living cells and organisms began to exhibit such qualities?

Self-organization theory in general is fuzzy on how a life form gains the intelligence to organize itself. One of the best-known theorists, Stuart Kauffman, has described his work as “alchemy,” a term that famously resists specifics. David H. Koch, wealthy chemist and funder of TV evolution documentaries, tries to help by explaining, “It’s a deeper approach to understanding evolution. They’re not kooky ideas. The concept of self-assembly, for instance, where you put certain chemicals into a beaker or test tube, shake it up and vesicles form.”

At times, it happens. Last October, one group of researchers reported that fatty chemicals formed a primitive version of a cell membrane and “got the chemicals close enough to react in a highly specific manner: “Computer calculations reveal that even by chance, five liposomes in 1,000 could not have trapped all 83 molecules of the assembly. Their calculated probability for even one such liposome to form is essentially zero.” So, they concluded, “self-assembly into simple cells may be an inevitable physical process.”

Now that’s a leap of faith!

The good news is, self-organization might play a role in life forms if some of the great physicists are right: Mind or intelligence, or at worst information, underlie the universe, not matter. As John Wheeler expressed the idea: “It from bit.” In that case, perhaps we can discover laws by which information “self-assembles” into life. But they would be laws of information, not of physics or chemistry.

And those do not seem to be the laws that origin-of-life theorists want to discover. Admitting that there is no general consensus on what life is, the Chemical Reviews survey article nonetheless declares that it is clear that “all the current biodiversity is the outcome of Darwinian evolution from a primitive cellular species.” Darwinian evolution is, famously, blind. Similarly, Richard Egel et al. tell us that their book, Origins of Life: The Primal Self-Organization (2011), “distances itself from any intelligent design/creationist approach.” If the authors are so sure that blind processes drive the subsequent history of life, it is no wonder that they are thought to drive the prior self-organization too. That confidence has survived nearly a century of research whose main discovery is a host of inventive phrases describing dead ends.

The Science of it All

Science equals money

EqualMoney for better science - Einstein

Why does confirming Einstein count as newtheory ? Doesn’t everybody already accept Einstein’s general theory? Well, yes and no. Einstein’s theory has made some profound predictions about the curvature of space time that werevindicated by Eddington’s 1919 eclipse expedition, but it also predicted the existence of gravity waves, undulations of spacetime, gravitons that are emitted, say, from orbiting neutron stars. Unfortunately, no one has ever
observed gravitons, despite an initial flurry when Joseph Weber invented the gravity wave antenna in the 1960s.

Weber also invented the laser, but in both cases the honor
went elsewhere, which in the case of gravity waves is now funding two national laboratories in Louisiana and Washington State that have exquisitely balanced mirrors to measure the subtle tug of a passing gravity wave. Needless to say, the graviton is an elusive prey, and the budget spent looking for it has now exceeded a billion dollars with plans to put it into space to increase the sensitivity. So it would be a major coup indeed if a lowly telescope in the bitter cold of Antarctica has finally captured the beast.

But the inflationary claim is more spectacular because it was even more unexpected. Inflation was Alan Guth’s attempt to explain why the early universe after the Big Bang (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZbPLx_kk4s The full version) was so very
“flat,” which is to say, why the force of the explosion matched the
force of gravity to one part in 10^60. To put this in perspective, there are about 10^80 protons in the visible universe, so 10^20 protons, about one grain of sand, would have unbalanced the Big Bang (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8lNooOiK1g
and interesting graphic overview of the Hadron Collider), causing it either to re-collapse into a black hole, or to expand so fast as to never form stars and galaxies. One grain of sand more, one grain less and we would not be here.

Guth wants spacetime in the very early Big Bang to spontaneously boil and expand faster than the speed of light, which would have
the side benefit of making everything “flat” afterwards, everything
covered in an equal amount of cosmic dust –(different than Tinkerbell’s dust). Nearly all cosmologists accepted this model in one form or another, preferring it to the increasingly disturbing “fine tuning” argument employed by advocates of intelligent design among others. But Guth’s speculation has proved hard to demonstrate. Numerous theoretical problems have sent it back to the drawing board, and it is now in its third or fourth iteration. One theorist bemoaned that the inflation model now needs tuning also, perhaps as great as 1 part in 10^100, making the cure worse than the disease. So it seems as if the model will die a death of a thousand cuts if we don’t give it a data transfusion soon. That is why so many people are seeing this BICEP2 result as Nobel Prize material, because it not only rescues the favored model of cosmologists, but also saves the jobs of a thousand people at two national labs
who are having to justify their expensive failure.

What exactly did the BICEP2 telescope observe? Well just to
clear the air, it neither measured gravitons nor inflatons. What it actually measured was the polarization of light from the Big Bang, the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation. Just as the blue sky is light from the sun reflected by air molecules, so also the heavens are a deep shade of red from the light emitted by the Big Bang, which has cooled for some 13 billion years. And just as the blue sky is polarized — which birds use to navigate and which you may be able to observe with the right kind of sunglasses — so also the CMB
is polarized. The BICEP2 telescope observed this polarization just as you would by rotating your sunglasses by ninety degrees and observing the bright-dim changes.

Now comes the interesting part. What does this observation
mean? It could mean that space is filled with magnetic fields, and that like the polarizing filters in your sunglasses, the CMB becomes more polarized the more magnetic fields it traverses. In fact, this is what was observed in the experiments that preceded BICEP2, with strong polarization being attributed to galaxies. That is why BICEP2 was looking in a part of space that had no galaxies.

Or the polarization might be a result of needle-shaped dust
that reflects the CMB differently depending on angle. Again, this was seen in the experiments preceding BICEP2 so the telescope was pointed away from most of the galactic dust lanes. Aerosols in the air might cause the effect, just as blue sky gets polarized. So BICEP2 was stationed at the South Pole to get the best view of the out-of-galactic, out-of-contamination, away-from-galaxy view
of the CMB. When the data was processed, the signal was still there, and stronger than the scientists had expected. This led to the hope that perhaps it wasn’t an artifact of matter in the universe, perhaps it was actually a property of the CMB itself.

Turning to theorists, the team looked at whether this effect
was predicted by the models. Reconstructing the probable scenario, somebody dragged up a gravity wave model of the early universe and said that if the matter was compressed in one direction, say by a gravity wave, then the CMB light would get preferentially polarized. But the effect was way too small to explain the data. Then somebody else had a brainstorm and suggested that inflation would flatten the background but not the foreground, effectively making the signal stand out or become amplified. Since all these models have three or four dials (or fudge factors built in), the theorists feverishly got to work and found a setting of the dials that matched the data. (One of common pitfalls of all modelers is to confuse curve fitting with prediction — to confuse the assumptions of the model with the conclusions of the fit.)

Now the BICEP2 consortium had the opposite problem. They had
first struggled with too big a signal for the theory, and now they had too important a theory for the signal. They spent another year double-checking, trying out alternative explanations, waiting for confirmation. The replacement for BICEP2, the Keck, went into operation and when it saw the same signal, they felt confident enough to release their paper. Isn’t this the very model of
propriety in science — careful measurement, skeptical modeling, confirmatory measurements, and cautious publication? I give this paper a 1 in 10^60 chance of being correct.

Two independent models that have never been confirmed are
both needed to process the data and arrive at an explanation. Two extremely unlikely chance coincidences — since the two models are not related to each other — are needed to produce the effect. Multiple dials (fudge factors) in each unconfirmed theory having unconstrained parameters have to be adjusted to get the model to agree. There are just too many ways in which the assumptions of the modelers are unconsciously affecting the results for this to be believed.

Roger Penrose opined that the real unresolved question in
Big Bang cosmology was the disparity between the high-entropy particles and the low-entropy gravity, a disparity that only gets worse with inflation. He and others suggested that the “phase transition” that occurred in the Big Bang was a collapse of several higher dimensions down to the four we know today, a collapse that presumably swallowed all the excess entropy in the gravitational field, including all the gravitons. Such a theory would not fit
the BICEP2 model very well at all. So it is one thing when data support a new and controversial theory, but quite another when the data support a decrepit theory on life support.

But hasn’t the BICEP2 consortium looked at all the alternatives and found them wanting? Ahh, this is the great conceit of modelers, that they have included all the physics. As a famous Secretary of Defense once said, “There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are
things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.” It is those unknown unknowns that are the real gremlins in the model. This is why astrophysicists usually wait until the signal is five sigma (in the system of Greek numerals, it has a value of 200) above the noise, the better to beat the gremlins with. In this data analysis, the BICEP2 consortium doesn’t know what the dust density is, and
therefore doesn’t know how much of the signal is due to intervening matter.

What they say in their paper is very revealing: “The main uncertainty in foreground modeling is currently the lack of a polarized dust map. (This will be alleviated soon by the next Planck data release.) In the meantime we have therefore investigated a number of existing models and have formulated two new ones….we find significant correlation and set a constraint on the spectral index of the signal consistent with CMB, and disfavoring synchrotron and dust by 2.3σ and 2.2σ respectively.“

In plain talk, they just said they guessed as to what the dust effect would be and then found a 2.2-sigma signal above that assumed
noise. That means if the dust were to be, oh, three times as bright as they expected, their signal would disappear. With a little studying you can find out that magnetized dust is even more polarizing than regular dust, which for them is an unknown unknown.

Shouldn’t they have waited for a five-sigma effect? Or at least, waited for the Planck data release to give them a dust model? Why the hurry? Because the measurement of CMB polarization is a crowded field, and they wanted to be the first to publish. Then all that noise about waiting a year for confirmation really is about setting an impression rather than setting a precedent. They wanted a ground-breaking theory; they wanted to be the first to publish; they didn’t want to wait for necessary background data; they wanted splash and that is what they got.