AWOL on “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey”


Well, I feel I am somehow doing a disservice and failing at my “job” by not writing much about the new series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson. I love science, and I love writing about it (hence the Works of His Hands articles for the Tomorrow’s World magazine–the newest of which I am currently late in delivering!) and its place and impact in our culture and our faith. Viewing the original Cosmos with Carl Sagan was a watershed experience in my own life as a child. Though it shows its age, the original Cosmos book, a companion to the original series, is still one of the most treasured books in my personal library. I eat this stuff up. The new show is currently a hot topic, and I like it when we have comments and writings on our websites about current, hot topics.

And yet about this whole Cosmos reboot I’ve just been sort of… I don’t know… meh.

Actually, I think that sums it up pretty well: meh.

It isn’t the stink that some Creationists are apparently trying to raise (see the Puffington Host article here — and, as always, caveat navita stans). It isn’t that it will almost surely be presented with an virtually aggressively atheistic, irrational, religion-hating point of view. I’ve come to expect that from some science works and have learned to pick around the garbage for the good stuff.

And, fleshing out that last point, it isn’t that I would be disappointed by Neil deGrasse Tyson expressing extreme ignorance about matters related to God and religious belief. Again, I’ve come to expect that and have become somewhat callused to it. Tyson is clearly an intelligent guy. A worthy successor to the Church of Naturalism’s “Saint Sagan”? He is called that by some, though I’m not sure I would give him that. (Maybe the new series would convince me otherwise.) Still, a very educated guy and, apparently, recognized as a popularizer of science for the masses. But, when it comes to matters related to God, faith, and how it relates to science? He’s an uneducated moron. (And I mean that in the most respectful way possible. I’m an uneducated moron on a number of things. If you’ve read this blog for long, you probably already know that.) He gives criticisms that most philosophers and believing scientists can refute in their sleep. But it sounds good to those of the Church of Naturalism: it plays to the crowd, and, like too many on both sides of issues like this, perhaps that’s all that really matters to him. He can point to the amazing things we see in the discoveries of science, but when it comes to comprehending the implications and interpretations beyond the equations — concerning meaning, philosophy, intent, purpose, and value — he isn’t even mature enough to enter the playground, let alone play in the sandbox.

And it isn’t that I would be shocked to find that the new Cosmos is, in many ways, a chance to selectively choose elements of human history and — whether told straight or perverted here and there with misleading twists — turn them into a winding tale supporting Naturalism as the One True Faith™. Carl Sagan was a master of this in the original Cosmos, and his tales could be woven together into a veritable new book of Acts for the Naturalism Bible. I would expect no less from a Cosmos produced by a new generation in which the attitudes have gotten nastier and the minds of many secularists all the more closed and bitter. I expect the religious sentiment of our greatest scientists to be treated ultimately as hinderances to the true faith of Naturalism instead of any sort of force for good, just as Sagan implied about Johannes Kepler and many atheists imply today (or outrightly state) about Isaac Newton and others. The tapestry woven will undoubtedly be crafted to serve the faith, and tales that disagree will not be welcome or even permitted — banned with the sort of passion and zeal for censorship that such individuals condemn when they believe they perceive such sentiment in religious works but apparently embrace when it serves their own interests.

All of this should be expected seeing that the series is being produced by Seth MacFarlane (as I thought during his Oscars stint: the perfectly reflective representative our culture deserves), who has declared that there is no political motive behind the show (all while explicitly blaming one political party for the country’s scientific ignorance, by the way) and who has praised what the show ostensibly represents: what Ann Druyan (Sagan’s widow & one of the people behind the original Cosmos) has indicated should be a proper marriage of wonder and skepticism. And given the show’s backers, one would be deluded to expect that the romanticized “skepticism” on display will be anything but a narrow, favored “skepticism” wedded to an ironic and complete lack of skepticism as needed to maintain a fundamentally unsupported ideology.

Neil deGrasse Tyson in an image from Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey on FOX (who owns this image). Can't deny it: The images look fantastic.
Neil deGrasse Tyson in an image from Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey on FOX (who owns this image). Can’t deny it: The images look fantastic.

And, finally, it isn’t that I don’t expect the new Cosmos to be anything less than impressive in its explanations, wondrous in its graphics and special effects, and moving and grand in its portrayal of our remarkable universe. Though I find its thumbnail of choice to look a little gross (a human eye surrounded by a reddish nebula that, to me, seems weird and fleshy due to the presence of the eye in the center), I expect that the series will seek to outdo its predecessor in every way, taking advantage of the remarkable abilities we now have to produce CGI images of startling realism and impact. The original Cosmos was a groundbreaker in this area, and if the new one is to stand out, it will have to compete with the seemingly thousands of digital images and video clips that are standard fare now on television programs featured by the Science Channel, the Discovery Channel, etc. The graphics and images seen on a regular basis by the very audience that will be the new Cosmos‘ bread and butter already surpass much of what was seen in the original Cosmos by several orders of magnitude (though, not in the original show’s imaginatively creativity and subtlety, at times). To be a worthy successor, the creators of Cosmos will need to step things up, and I expect them to do so. I am normally a complete sucker for such stuff. And, I admit, the images I have seen (bloody eye mentioned above, excepted) — such as the one of Tyson standing before a window (or whatever) gazing upon a star, perhaps the sun, at an uncomfortably close distance — look fantastic. I expect the best of such things from the series.

So, why am I non-plussed? Why am I so meh?

I don’t know. Meh.

Let me know what you think. Have you seen any episodes so far? What do you think? How does it compare to the original with Carl Sagan? How is Tyson doing? Why do you think I am so meh? Is my mehness justified? I do plan on seeing the series eventually. From what you’ve seen so far, what do you think I should expect?

Positive or negative, your comments below are welcome.

Nice video about the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Just a quick post… I posted a new video I came across on our local congregational website concerning the Kalam Cosmological Argument for God’s existence. I have commented on that argument before here on the blog (specifically, here: “The Kalam Cosmological Argument and Unwin’s Pursuit of P(G)”), and I thought the video by Dr. William Lane Craig’s organization was very well done. It’s concise, it gets the point across without getting lost in minutia, and it is pleasantly and professionally produced.

Feel free and watch it for yourself. And you might use it as a spur to do what I recommended to my congregation: Take advantage of this Sabbath to ask someone why they personally believe that God exists and share your own reasons, as well.

The video is here, below. (And, as with all such links and embeds, the standard caveat applies.)

(And for those who have never read it, please consider our booklet: “The Real God: Proofs and Promises”)

Just another Jesuit, government-owned, mind-controlled goober rediscovering his blog

Howdy! I am not sure (and I am too lazy to look back and tell), but I think this is the longest I have ever been away from my blog! And it hasn’t suffered too much in my absence — there was traffic looking for a number of things, even though I wasn’t writing anything new. I’ll get to that in a moment.

First, let me say that I hope all of you had a wonderful Feast of Tabernacles! Ours at the Lake of the Ozarks was amazing. Many asked me if it would be there again next year, and all I can say is that (1) I don’t know, (2) the overall impression of people who attended is positive, (3) let HQ know if you want it there again, and (4) talk to God about it, since everything depends on where He chooses to place His name (Deut. 14:23, et al.).

The messages were powerful (the ones I heard, I should say; I didn’t listen to my own 🙂 ), and left me really wanting to come home and make of my life something worthy of Christ’s coming Kingdom and something that represents a taste of that Kingdom now. Wherever you were, I hope that your Feast was just as uplifting and edifying as ours was. I’m tempted to dive in and discuss the messages and other highlights of the Feast, but I think I’d rather save those things for another time — give myself time to go over my notes again and work to make what I learned a part of my life and not just my blog posting. However: for the record, it was awesome. My thanks to everyone who came to the Lake of the Ozarks for God’s Feast and my thanks to all who served with me in any capacity at all — you made it a wonderful Feast for my family and for each other, and I pray we take all God gave us and do some good with it!

I also learned during the Feast from my brother-in-law, Wade Brown, that someone out there believes that I am a Jesuit — or, at least, a Jesuit-controlled lackey — due to the fact that our Church falls under 501(c)(3) taxation guidelines (hence the title of this blog post). We laughed about it, because such a thought is, of course, stupid. It’s interesting. The sort of people whose minds are so corrupted and twisted as to swallow “whole hog” the sort of conspiracy drivel that would equate 501(c)(3) with Jesuit control of your church and government ownership of your members are the same sort of minds that you cannot reason with in any way whatsoever. I know. I’ve tried.

For instance, if I don’t make the statement, “I’m not a Jesuit nor am I controlled by Jesuits,” then I will be accused of “admitting” I am by my silence: “See, he didn’t deny it! I’m right!” Yet, if I do make such a statement–in fact, let me do so right now: I am not a Jesuit, nor am I controlled by Jesuits–then the response is “Well, he’s lying, just like Jesuits do!” You can’t win with such people. Their mind is set, and the facts are irrelevant.

Actually, the other response that such conspiracy addicts give is, “Well, he says he isn’t controlled by the Jesuits, but he doesn’t know about the top dealings of his church.” Yes, that’s right. I attend every single Council of Elders meeting, am blessed to be able to speak openly and privately with Dr. Meredith and Mr. Ames and Dr. Winnail and Mr. Wakefield on a regular basis, occasionally sit in (as do lots of folks on their own visits) on Dr. Meredith’s weekly meetings with his executives, and have unfettered access to the individuals who are actually running the Church under Jesus Christ, and yet I have somehow I’ve missed the giggling Jesuit Ninja hiding in the closets of Charlotte, North Carolina. You’re brilliant.


(Oddly, the people Wade mentioned to me don’t seem to care that they slander the person they claim to respect: Herbert W. Armstrong. He placed his corporation sole under the exact same 501(c)(3) taxation status up until the very day of his death in 1986. I suppose he was a Jesuit/Government/Reptilian Overlord/Freemason/Zionist puppet, as well.)

And there was a new one I hadn’t heard before: In the same exchange with my brother-in-law, it was claimed by the accuser that the Council of Elders of the LCG votes on matters and is a democracy. Really? Wow… I’ve been attending all of these Council meetings — both in person and in our phone conferences — and somehow I’ve missed every single vote they’ve ever taken to the point that I had no idea we voted at all! Why, the Council must take those votes when I am taking a bathroom break. Oooo, or maybe when they tell me we are all breaking for lunch, they let me leave the room while they furtively spend a few seconds electing someone or voting for something behind my back! That’s it! Why, those devious Jesuit/Zionist/Alien/Illuminati/Government mind-slaves!

Wait, wait, wait… Maybe there is another, more rational explanation… Maybe I’ve never participated in even a single vote in any decision during my tenure so far in the Council of Elders because we actually don’t vote, because we are actually an advisory council just like Mr. Armstrong’s was, because we actually believe in our own doctrinal positions on voting and government, and because the person who said otherwise has absolutely no idea what he is talking about. Hmmmm… I suspect that is more likely. 🙂

(In other 501(c)(3) news, I notice that one person who said that 501(c)(3) entanglements come with government control and force you to limit your message now takes what kind of donations for his website? Come on, you can guess! That’s right! He has now found a way for him to be comfortable with taking 501(c)(3) donations, himself. Wow — this stuff is like the gift that keeps on giving.)

Enough about all of that. It was good for a laugh at the Feast with my brother-in-law (thanks, Wade!), but, frankly, it is pretty sad. The devil has some people so wrapped up in conspiracy hooey that they not only can no longer think clearly or see straight and not only slander people without even the slightest of evidence, but they have also erected an idol of their conspiracies and don’t even know it. Yes, any time foolishness parades itself, it can be funny (I’ve put on a few parades like that, myself), but knowing that the root of it is an individual caught up in the devil’s deceptions and so entangled by them that they don’t even know the spiritual harm they are doing to themselves is just tragically sad. That’s part of why the lies that some of those individuals say about me don’t really bother me all that much. Just watching them flounder so helplessly in their own spiritual, emotional, and intellectual filth turns my desire, instead, to requesting of God that He do whatever He needs to do to prevent me from ever falling into such a spiritual tar pit.

And requesting of God, too, that He help such individuals in whatever way He can. I’ve spent, literally, hours and hours answering their questions (even though they wrote under an assumed name), and it did no good. I’ve spent time digging through online public archives and have sent them documents with Mr. Armstrong’s signature, and it does no good. God is help them, to be sure, if they are willing. But until then, it’s clear that there’s nothing I can do for them but pray.

Wow — I thought I said “enough about that,” above! Move on, Smith! All that gum-bumping (or, typing, I suppose) from one thing my brother-in-law had a laugh about at the Feast… Sorry about that! Moving on!

In other news, even though this blog has languished in neglect for about two-and-a-half months while I played at various camps (thanks for your prayers for those), did a TWP (which went great! 130 new folks!), taped some new programs (thanks for your prayers for those, too!), and worked on the Feast that has just concluded (woo hoo! the Feast!), the blog still got a good bit of traffic! Searches took people to various posts, and it has been kind of fun looking at what garnered people’s attention while I was away. Here are some of the posts people Googled their way to during the last few days of my absence…

And, perhaps one of the most obscure posts to receive some Google-love while I’ve been AWOL:

Finally, a post I was surprised did not receive much attention while I was gone, since it is usually a regular search engine stopping spot:

Actually, someone even asked me about that question this past week at the Feast, which was a happy moment. 🙂

Traffic on this blog has never been a big thing for me, else I would take the time to do more SEO, keyword analysis, etc., etc., etc., which is what Internet people do. (Though if you are interested in knowing how to do that, talk to an expert!) It has been, as I said way back at the beginning, a chance to keep my writing muscles active, provide a place for my congregation members to hear from me more regularly, and to post some TW news now and then, as well as — I hope — a source of at least a little traffic for the Work’s websites, and But given the weird, eclectic collection of stuff I have rambled on about over the years, it is interesting to see some of what people have been coming across over the last few days given that I haven’t posted anything new for a couple of months.

And speaking of rambling, I’m done! As is probably clear from the title, there wasn’t much of a point to this blog post other than to get my feet wet again, so it has, indeed, been pretty rambly. If that has made it unprofitable for you, please feel free to keep your receipt and request a refund. 🙂

Now that I am back posting, I hope to write again soon — hopefully on something a little more worthwhile!

Invasion of the Boltzmann Brains!

"Wow! I hope I'm not, like, a disembodied brain randomly formed complete with false memories of an existence I never really had, floating in a sea of chaos and disorder. That would really ruin my day..."
“Wow! I hope I’m not, like, a disembodied brain randomly formed complete with false memories of an existence I never really had, floating in a sea of chaos and disorder. That would really ruin my day… Ha! What are the odds of that?!?” Actually, they are much better than the odds for the universe around us if there is no God.

The most recent issue of New Scientist I’ve received (or at least I think it’s the most recent: May 25-31, 2013) had an interesting article on a topic that many people haven’t heard about: Boltzmann brains.

What are Boltzmann brains? I hear (some of) you ask… The Wikipedia entry on the topic is not bad, so you can check it out if you like, but I will try to summarize here. First, assume a universe without God. (Not the best assumption to start with, I know, but bear with me.) As the laws of physics are currently understood, virtually anything can pop into existence spontaneously but according to different probabilities. For instance, electrons and positrons pop into and out of existence constantly with high probability. It is also possible–again, according to theory–for a fully formed 747 airliner to “pop” into existence above your house in a random collision of just the right particles at just the right time. However–again, according to theory–the probability of these particles coming together in such a way as to form that 747 above your head is phenomenally, incredibly, infinitesimally small, such that one would be insane as to actually expect it ever to happen. You may, thus, feel comfortable leaving your umbrella in the closet for now.

So the theory goes that even with this odd “fact” that it is possible for seemingly anything to come together at any moment by a random collision of atomic and subatomic particles, the probabilities for such weird things as 747s above your head or a resurrected George Washington appearing in your living room with all of his memories in tact (again, assuming a purely material world) are so small that they virtually never, ever happen.

However, “virtually never” is not never. This is the problem addressed by New Scientist. Those who believe that the fate of the universe is to continually expand forever, with no “expiration date” as it were, face a universe with unlimited time on its hands. And in unlimited time, even the wildly improbably becomes inevitable. For instance, if you dealt 13 cards from a deck, what are the odds (if you aren’t cheating) that you would deal out the entire collection of clubs in order from the 2 to the Ace? Not likely. (Students, who wants to calculate? Answers accepted below!) However, if you were repeatedly dealing out 13 cards endlessly from a deck that somehow never wore out and if you, somehow, never died on an earth that never disappeared, etc., the fact is that, inevitably, you would deal out the required hand. It might take millions, billions, or trillions of years, but, eventually, you would see the 13 cards sitting in order on your table. Then you can finally go check on the chimpanzee in the next room and see if he has finally finished randomly typing out the works of Shakespeare.

Thus, the Boltzmann brain… We are asked to consider the probability of a fully formed conscious brain appearing out of nowhere due to random collisions of particles. (And, I should say, we are still working in a hypothetical universe in which the spirit in man is not necessary: just atoms and the like.) The probability is very, very, very, very low that such a thing could ever happen. But, according to current theory, it is not zero. Consequently, if the universe were to expand forever in time with no end, the seemingly-but-not-actually impossible becomes inevitable: such a brain, a Boltzmann brain, would be expected to randomly come into existence. In fact, not just one, but many, many, many such brains. In fact, in the words of the article, “Most models of the future of the universe predict that the universe will expand exponentially forever. That will eventually spawn inconceivable numbers of Boltzmann brains, far outnumbering every human who has ever, or will ever, live.”

The issue that the article–“String theory may limit space brain threat”–addresses is the discomfort that scientists have with that, since they want to be able to assume that our “ordinary” sense of the universe is the right one, versus the sense that such future disembodied brains will have in a universe that is much more empty and barren and which would look nothing like our universe today. But if there are virtually an infinite number of future Boltzmann brains out there in the future compared to ordinary observers like us, who are we to say that our view of the universe should have any special precedence or preference?

It is, to a great degree, a silly concern. But, still, it was tackled in a serious manner using possible interpretations of string theory-based multiverses, or multiple universes. (For the record, the Hawking-Hartle model of the multiverse ends up being “overrun with Boltzmann brains” but a newer model allowed “ordinary human-like consciousnesses” to prevail. Hooray for our team, I suppose.)

However, what the article does not bring out is the more fundamental paradox concerning Boltzmann brains, and its direct relation to arguments for and against the existence of God–a role to which I was exposed reading William Lane Craig’s On Guard.

Physics as we currently understand it requires that the entropy–essentially, the amount of disorder–of the universe never decreases. Rather, it either increases or is in equilibrium. The challenge with that if we want a universe without God (like, regrettably, many do–Romans 1:28a) is that the universe we see is, all things considered, relatively orderly, meaning that if there were a Big Bang that started it all out, the universe that resulted must have been in a very highly ordered, low-entropy state. Roger Penrose, the famous mathematical physicist, has calculated that the odds of the universe being in such a low-entropy state is abysmally, inconceivably small. Specifically, he estimates that the odds of it happening are 1 in 10^(10^123). How small is that? Well, 1 in 2 is one-half, or 50%.  1 in 10 is one-tenth, or 10%. 1 in 10000 is one-ten thousandth, or 0.01%. As the “bottom” number of the fraction gets bigger, the probability gets smaller. And the “bottom” number here is a 1 followed by 10^123 zeros. How many is 10^123? Well, that’s a 1 followed by 123 zeros. As Penrose points out, you could take all of the subatomic particles in the universe and write one digit on each one, you still wouldn’t have enough zeros to come close to writing 10^(10^123). And the odds are, according to Penrose, one out of [that frightening number] that such a low-entropy condition could have existed randomly at the universe’s beginning, based on what we see. (You can see this discussion in Penrose’s book The Emperor’s New Mind in the section on “Cosmology and the Arrow of Time.”)

“No problem!” believers in a multiverse cry. If our universe is simply one of many, many, many universes in a huge, continually growing multiverse with new universes coming into existence all the time, then one like ours must eventually turn up, no matter how unlikely–no Creator necessary.

Here’s where the Boltzmann brains invade! The odds of forming a Boltzmann brain, however small they must be are vastly greater than such a beginning to the universe as ours. That is, if someone is arguing that there need be no God because if there are many universes coming into existence all the time then a universe like this will “eventually” happen even if it is improbable, he must face the fact that it is much more likely that the universe around him is an illusion and that he is simply a disembodied Boltzmann brain which formed randomly and with all of his false “memories” and illusions of experiences “pre-installed.” Such a universe, in which all else is disorder and high entropy and the only ordered thing in existence is his Boltzmann brain floating in a sea of nothing, is MUCH more likely to form than the orderly universe we see around us. If he is going to believe that the universe could have just happened even though the odds are so overwhelmingly against it, then to be fully logical and rational he should conclude that there is no universe at all and that he is simply a brain floating in an empty universe merely experiencing the illusion of an orderly universe around him. That “universe”–the one where he is a lone brain in a sea of nothingness experiencing the ultimate “Matrix” illusion as the only orderly object in all of existence–is vastly more probable that a real universe like the one we see around us if there is no God. So, if he’s going by the probabilities and expecting the “many worlds” multiverse idea to allow him to ignore the need for a God, he needs to know that the only rational conclusion he can draw is that he is likely a disemboded brain, and that everything he has ever experienced–everything else he thinks exists–is an illusion.

That’s logic for you. It doesn’t just take you to where you want to go–it takes you all the way to the end, whether you like it or not.

This is one of many reasons why multiverse theories do not do away with the need for a Divine Creator. If we believe that there is no God and that we are simply experiencing the roll of the cosmic dice, then the odds are that there isn’t really much of a “universe” at all–just tiny, disembodied, Boltsmann-brain us, floating in a sea of nothing with fake memories and illusory experiences. If there is no God and we live in a multiverse where the dice roll with each new universe, I am not just stuck philosophically at the famous “dead end” where I can’t prove I am not just a “brain in a vat”–rather, I have to face the fact that I probably am just a brain, without even a vat to keep me company!

Of course, this is stupid. And it should give pause to anyone wanting to avoid the existence of God using the “probabilities in a multiverse” argument. You won’t like where those probabilities lead, my little disembodied friend. 🙂

Do these considerations prove God exists and that we’re not really just disembodied brains floating in a sea of nothingness? No. But they do help to show that those who don’t believe in a Creator and who claim that our improbable universe can be explained by the increasingly popular multiverse theories out there aren’t simply “following the logic” like they think they are. Unless, of course, they do believe they are simply a brain experiencing the illusion of a universe around them. In that case, you might want to find other friends.

An Atheist against Neo-Darwinistic Evolution

Mind & CosmosI have been delighted with what I have read so far of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos. As fully declared by the book’s subtitle–“Why the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false”–Nagel takes the position that evolution (that is, the concept that life on earth is purely the result of natural selection acting on random variations) is simply not true and is insufficient as an explanation for what we see all around us. Going further, he points out that if there can be no materialist reduction life to simple, unguided action by unbiased physical and chemical laws, then there must be something in addition to those physical and chemical laws at work–something that is in some way goal-oriented.

Thomas Nagel is unquestionably an atheist and this makes his conclusions, I believe, all the more damaging to the materialist cause: He has no religious-based objection to evolution and is not interested in defending a deity of any sort. Many who attack the arguments of Christians, theists, or simply design proponents work to discount those arguments by pointing to the religious beliefs or motivations of those putting the arguments forward (whether real or not). Of course, this does not have anything to do at all with the strength of those arguments, which should be considered on the merits of their reasoning and evidence. In the real world, however, knocking the messenger is an effective way to fully discredit the message in the eyes of the public, regardless of whether or not it should be so.

As Nagel is an atheist, the lazy-man’s routine punching bag–faith in a Creator–is not available. Yet even without a “god” to fight for, so to speak, he still finds the “goo to you by way of the zoo” stories of purely materialistic, mechanistic, and mindless evolution to be completely unconvincing. Some might accuse him of simply defending his own philosophical turf from encroaching Darwinists in that he has been arguing for the non-materialist view of mind for decades, but I hope that his arguments are considered on their merits.

I’ve only started the book and am into the second or third chapter (haven’t been able to revisit it in a while). But the introduction was very promising. Let me quote here some selections…

“…I believe there are independent empirical reasons to be skeptical about the truth of reductionism in biology. Physico-chemical reductionism in biology is the orthodox view, and any resistance to it is regarded as not only scientifically but politically incorrect. But for a long time I have the materialist account of how we and our fellow organisms came to exist hard to believe, including the standard version of how the evolutionary process works. The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes. This is just the opinion of a layman who reads widely in the literature that explains contemporary science to the nonspecialist. Perhaps that literature presents the situation with a simplicity and confidence that does not reflect the most sophisticated scientific thought in those areas. But it seems to me that, as it is usually presented, the current orthodoxy about the cosmic order is the product of governing assumptions that are unsupported, and that it flies in the face of common sense.

“I would like to defend the untutored reaction of incredulity to the reductionist neo-Darwinian account of the origin and evolution of life. It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection. We are expected to abandon this naïve response, not in favor of a fully worked out physical/chemical explanation but in favor of an alternative that is really a schema for an explanation, supported by some examples. What is lacking, to my knowledge, is a credible argument that the story has a nonnegligible probability of being true.”

“What is lacking, to my knowledge, is a credible argument that the story has a nonnegligible probability of being true.” That’s good stuff. And the turn of phrase “untutored reaction of incredulity” concerning evolution is appreciated, as well. It puts succinctly a concept that my wife and I struggled to find words for in some long car ride discussions.

Nagel makes clear that he is not motivated by religious belief, which would be clear to anyone familiar with his work as he is a committed atheist. Concerning his belief that the neo-Darwinian/reductionist account of life and evolution is false, he says,

My skepticism is not based on religious belief, or on a belief in any definite alternative. It is just a belief that the available scientific evidence, in spite of the consensus of scientific opinion, does not in this matter rationally require us to subordinate the incredulity of common sense.

Among the things I appreciate in this statement is the idea that one need not accept a bad idea simply because one does not yet have a better one to take its place. Richard Dawkins seems fond of saying that evolution is “the only game in town” — a statement that is not only downright false but also misleading as an argument in favor of evolutionary theory. What if the only game in town is Russian Roulette? Do we still play? To accept a theory simply because one wants to avoid the implications of having a Creator (or even a “little c” creator) and this seems to be the only working way of doing so at this point is truly stupid. If Nagel made only this point, his statement would be of great value.

Even braver, perhaps–though he has defended the scientific nature of their work before–is Thomas Nagel’s giving of credit to some of neo-Darwinism’s critics:

“In thinking about these questions I have been stimulated by criticism of the prevailing scientific world picture from a very different direction: the attack on Darwinism mounted in recent years from a religious perspective by the defenders of intelligent design. Even though writers like Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer are motivated at least in part by their religious beliefs, the empirical arguments they offer against the likelihood that the origin of life and its evolutionary history can be fully explained by physics and chemistry are of great interest in themselves. Another skeptic, David Berlinski, has brought out these problems vividly without reference to the design inference. Even if one is not drawn to the alternative of an explanation by the actions of a designer, the problems that these iconoclasts pose for the orthodox scientific consensus should be taken seriously. They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair.”

Amen to that. While I would disagree that the challenge made by intelligent design advocates is one “from a religious perspective” since intelligent design ideas, in and of themselves, do not describe the implied designer (though I do agree that the men may be motivated by their religious beliefs, as have been many great scientists of our past and, in a way, are all scientists, though that’s a post for another time), I appreciate Nagel’s unbiased view of the gravity possessed by their arguments and evidences. Behe and Meyer are, indeed, abused and scorned by evolutionists with a zeal that one cannot help but feel is religious in its motivation, and it really is manifestly unfair. And to see Nagel reference David Berlinski, as well, is a treat, as I am one of Berlinski’s fans.

Nagel highlights that while he does not find the evidence intelligent designers present in favor of such a designer to be convincing, he does believe that “the general force of the negative part of the intelligent design position–skepticism about the likelihood of the orthodox reductive view, given the available evidence” to be powerful, indeed, and to be essentially strong and intact after much attacking from neo-Darwinian believers:

“Whatever one may think about the possibility of a designer, the prevailing doctrine–that the appearance of life from dead matter and its evolution through accidental mutation and natural selection to its present forms has involved nothing but the operation of physical law–cannot be regarded as unassailable. It is an assumption governing the scientific project rather than a well-confirmed scientific hypothesis.”

In all this, again, Nagel speaks as an atheist. But even in this he garners a level of respect from me. Not that I’ve forgotten Psalm 14:1 or Psalm 15:1, but I respect that he is at least honest in his stance, however wrong it may be:

“I confess an ungrounded assumption of my own, in not finding it possible to regard the design alternative as a real option. I lack the sensus divinitatis that enables–indeed compels–so many people to see in the world the expression of divine purpose as naturally as they see in a smiling face the expression of human feeling”

(He, at that point, adds in a footnote: “I am not just unreceptive but strongly averse to the idea, as I have said elsewhere.”)

Later, he adds, “I believe the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude for challenging a scientific world view that owes some of the passion displayed by its adherents precisely to the fact that it is thought to liberate us from religion.” If only more of that world view’s “adherents” were as honest.

I am still reading the book, and I think I sense the shape of the argument he is going to make. Rejecting both materialist reduction of all of nature to mindless physical law and the idea of a divine intelligent agent behind the physical realm, he will first begin with the idea that mind is beyond the reach of materialistically reductive explanation–protests by zealous reductionists notwithstanding. (I, myself, have talked about the failures of materialist reductionism in this regard in a number of places–among them, here and here.) He will then point out that if purely material explanations cannot account for the human mind–the chief mechanism by which we experience literally everything else–than material reductionism has failed utterly to account for reality in any complete way at all. In this sense, mind did not have to be the failure point, as any failure point would do: you can’t succeed at explaining reality and leave anything out of your scope. Any unexplainable element is sufficient to prove that there must be something more. I suspect he will then attempt to offer some ideas about what must fill the gap, likely something like the existence a set of “non-material” laws of a teleological (goal-oriented or end-oriented) nature, if I have picked up on his hints properly. Actually, this is interesting given some of the writings of James Shapiro, who seems to suggest a goal-oriented factor in evolution–a purposefully targeted creative system of “natural genetic engineering” within the cell–arguing that blind chance augmented by natural selection simply is not sufficient for the task. (See here and a bit of my post here for more on Shapiro and his “true believer” detractors.)

What Nagel will certainly not offer is any idea that there might be a divine Intelligence behind any of the things he is discussing. At the same time, that is what makes his rejection of “the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature” all the more compelling.

While Mind & Cosmos is not likely to be on most people’s reading list, I hope that it emboldens more people to resist being bullied into accepting neo-Darwinists’ account of the history of life on earth or the unfounded idea that there must be a godless physico-chemical explanation for everything. As Nagel argues, the “untutored reaction” of disbelief in the claims of modern evolutionists should not be abandoned so easily, regardless of the chest-thumping and teeth-baring of Dawkins and his tribe.

I’m looking forward to finishing the book. If anyone out there has already read it, feel free to leave your thoughts.

In the Beginning was Quantum Mechanics?

NASA pic
Can science really explain it all?

The current issue of New Scientist magazine has an article titled “Before the Big Bang: Three Reasons Why the Universe Can’t Have Existed Forever.” It is, effectively, a follow up to their earlier “Genesis problem” story which I mentioned in my Tomorrow’s World article, “Where Did the Universe Come From?” and doesn’t add too much new for those who read up on the topic. I did appreciate the reference to Susskind’s conclusion that if inflation is true and that this universe is simply one of a seemingly infinite number of big bangs that have occurred throughout multi-space and multi-time (something I don’t believe, by the way), then even if there were a beginning it may have been so long ago that there is no longer a detectable imprint of that beginning left in the universe we currently enjoy. It seems, though, an encouragement to stop trying to find a coherent theory for the beginning, which would be a shame given what such searches do to press science into confronting its most fundamental questions. (For a similar reason, I like the research on origin of life issues, because it presses biologists and evolutionists in the same way.)

And on those fundamental questions, I like how the New Scientist article ends. (I’d link to it, but it seems not yet available to non-subscribers. You might try the site after a few weeks have passed.) Earlier, Alex Vilenkin makes the same claim that many astrophysicists to: That there need be nothing in existence before the universe since quantum mechanics allows something to come out of nothing:

In the context of known physics, however, Vilenkin and Mithani conclude that, whatever way you look at it, the universe cannot have existed forever so must have had a beginning. But how did it begin? According to Vilenkin, quantum theory has a solution because it permits something to pop out of nothing–with that something being a small universe that starts to inflate, cycle or hang for an extremely long time before inflating.

He makes the same claim in his book Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes — quantum tunneling and all that stuff. It is, essentially, God-avoidance at its best.

But not exactly “at its best” — not really. After all, the “nothing” mentioned by physicists in such statements is never really “nothing,” regardless of anything Lawrence Kraus might say. There’s always a “something” there. And rather than ignore it (or, at least, rather than ignore it completely), in the NS article the author, Marcus Chown, and Vilenkin mention in the closing paragraph what they must admit existed before the universe of their imagination: quantum mechanical law.

Still, cosmologists have plenty of other big questions to keep them busy. If the universe owes its origins to quantum theory, then quantum theory must have existed before the universe. So the next question is surely: where did the laws of quantum theory come from? “We do not know,” admits Vilenkin. “I consider that an entirely different question.” When it comes to the beginning of the universe, in many ways we’re still at the beginning.

While on one hand, I respect Vilenkin’s willingness to avoid explicit philosophical or metaphysical speculation (something many scientists ignorantly don’t avoid these days. See Dawkins, R. or Hawking, S.), he actually fails to avoid it all together. The idea he champions actually assumes a Platonic view of the laws of physics: That rather than being descriptions of the behavior of the natural world, they are–in his view–apparently magically immaterial entities that exist in their own right.

And that is closer to God-avoidance at its best. There is no real basis for believing that the laws of physics would exist when there was nothing material whatsoever for them to describe. The idea that rigid and exacting laws describing the behavior of quarks, gluons, neutrons, electrons, etc. somehow existed in some timeless magical, immaterial nothingness is not physics–it is metaphysics. It is not the realm of science. It is the realm of religion.

It reminds me of Bishop Berkeley’s biting (and effective) mockery of an “infidel mathematician” (apparently Edmond Halley) for his faith in the “Ghosts of departed Quantities”–a rebuke that helped motivate mathematicians to finally ground the calculus firmly and solidly in the limit of Cauchy and Weierstrass and to jettison the useful-but-dangerously-fuzzy ideas behind Newton’s fluxions and differentials. Perhaps Vilenkin, Hawking, or some other luminary can one day show us the realm in which quantum mechanical law existed in nonexistence, waiting patiently to guide an entire zoo of somehow “more nonexistent” future particles and fields. Perhaps they will show us such a preexistent nether realm and explain the ground for the ethereal existence of these ghostly equations. Perhaps they will show us the immaterial parlor where the Wave Equation and the Laws of Thermodynamics sit for nonexistent tea and excitedly discuss all they plan to do once something finally exists.

And until they do, perhaps they will forgive us for not taking such suggestions seriously. To believe in such fantasies of convenience and to claim that science has done away with a need for God’s existence is to be a hypocrite. The dilemma is a reminder of what David Berlinski has pointed out: “No less than the doctrines of religious belief, the doctrines of quantum cosmology are what they seem: biased, partial, inconclusive, and largely in the service of passionate but unexamined conviction.”

Perhaps Vilenkin must see the ridiculous state of such things to some extent. He does seem pressed in some way when he says at the very end of his book:

The picture of quantum tunneling from nothing raises another intriguing question. The tunneling process is governed by the same fundamental laws that describe the subsequent evolution of the universe. It follows that the laws should be “there” even prior to the universe itself. Does this mean that the laws are not mere descriptions of reality and can have an independent existence of their own? In the absence of space, time, and matter, what tablets could they be written upon? The laws are expressed in the form of mathematical equations. If the medium of mathematics is the mind, does this mean that mind should predate universe?

This takes us far into the unknown, all the way to the abyss of great mystery. It is hard to imagine how we can ever get past this point. But as before, that may just reflect the limits of our imagination.

While it smacks of then-candidate Obama’s comment about certain questions being “above my pay grade”, I appreciate the admission at which it hints, intended or not.

Lawrence Krauss, please report to the woodshed…

Image of book: A Universe from NothingI got my own copy of Lawrence Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing for a variety of reasons. For one, physics has always been a love of mine, along with cosmology. Perhaps the most pressing reason, I was writing an article for the Tomorrow’s World magazine that would touch on similar topics. And, lastly, I suspected it would be a polemic against God and an attempt to assault one of the pillars of belief in a God, and it seemed a good idea to poke my head in and see what is the cabal had come up with something new.

On the polemic front, boy howdy, was it ever. But a regrettably silly one, which was both a shame and an encouragement. A shame because Krauss is such an intelligent man, and seeing him step in the middle of such dumb arguments here and there without bothering to note the condition his shoe is in is a disappointment. But it was an encouragement, too, to see how terribly impotent an intelligent atheist of Krauss’ caliber is at addressing the central thesis of his own book–that a universe can supposedly come out of nothing. To see him redefining “nothing” (all while hilariously accusing his philosophical opponents of doing the same and while doing so for apparently the very motivations he ascribes to them) to allow him to “fulfill” the promise of his book’s title produced sort of a weird combination of feelings: the contortions and justifications painful to watch, yet it was satisfying to see how necessary they were for him to go through.

In fact, Richard Dawkins’ triumphant gloating in the afterward (in which his level of praise for the book is nothing short of deeply embarrassing) would come across as comical to anyone who actually realizes just how far short Krauss’ book has fallen of it’s goal. Actually, Dawkins’ afterward comes across to me much like the unintentionally hilarious press conferences from Iraqi Information Minister “Baghdad Bob” during the second Gulf War. Remember some of those whoopers? My feelings–as usual–we will slaughter them all… Their infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of Baghdad. Be assured, Baghdad is safe, protected… Yesterday, we slaughtered them and we will continue to slaughter them. All while, of course, news footage shows American and allied troops marching across Iraq at will and Iraqi forces surrendering in droves.  Richard Dawkins’ afterward is a great “Baghdad Bob” imitation. Yes, Dr. Dawkins, we understand: The infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds at your gate and atheistic cosmology is safe, protected…  Got it.

But, the whole point of my post was not for me to go on and on with my own review (which is all I’ve done so far) but, rather, was to point you to a better one: the New York Times review of Lawrence Krauss’ book, published back in March as an article titled “On the Origin of Everything” and written by David Albert. Credited by the Times as a professor of philosophy at Columbia and the author of Quantum Mechanics and Experience, Dr. Albert effectively takes Dr. Krauss out to the woodshed, exposing in a brief article the fundamental mistakes and pretensions at the heart of Krauss’ book. Like Dawkins before him in The God Delusion, Krauss in his book falls startlingly short of his goal and represents either a willful ignorance or an ignorant will, and David Albert’s review highlights some of the reasons why in a manner more concise than I will even pretend I could do. So if you are interested in getting A Universe from Nothing (and the speculative physics is fascinating even if the metaphysics is terrible) or if you just want to be prepared to defend simply and easily against the latest fashion in atheistic slight-of-hand cosmology, read Albert’s review.

Bayesian thinking and evolution

Coin Collection
OK, I need a fair coin… Any volunteers? I’ll need references. (Photo credit: flash2)

A quick post, today, as pastoral, camp, and festival work is thick! But I read a nice article last night and thought it worth sharing.

It came in my e-mail, through my “Nota Bene” subscription with the Discovery Institute: “Understanding Bayesian Analysis, the Evolution Skeptic’s Friend”

I’ve mentioned the Bayesian approach to probabilities before (here, too), and this article–explaining how natural it is to think in a Bayesian manner and how truly reasonable and rational it is to doubt so many of the claims of neo-Darwinian apostles–does a nice job of giving the feel of it.

My favorite way of summing up Bayesian thinking is to talk about the hypothetical “fair coin” we always talk about when teaching probability. A coin doesn’t remember the results of its previous flip results, so if a truly fair coin is tossed four times and each time “Heads” is the result, what is the probability that a “Heads” will result again?  The answer–assuming a truly fair coin–is 50% (or, as some would say, 50-50). While some want to say, “‘Tails’ has gotta come up after all those heads in a row,” if it is truly a fair coin then, no, the odds are still even. And, sometimes to stress the power of independent trials, the teacher will exaggerate: “What if the fair coin produced a ‘Heads’ 100 times in a row, would that make any difference?” The correct answer is, “No–if it is truly a fair coin, then on toss 101 it is still 50-50, and you have even odds that you will receive a ‘Heads’ or a ‘Tails.'”  Yet, it is only in the hypothetical world of the theoretical math text book that a “truly fair coin” will produce a “Heads” result 100 times in a row (or, perhaps a world somewhere in Max Tegmark’s Ensemble).  Here in the real world, if you see someone call it a “fair coin” and it produces 100 “Heads” in a row, you start to think (actually, you began to think long ago) that the fix is in and something is fishy in Coin-Flippy Town. Consequently, you ignore the claim of “fair coin” and begin hedging your estimated probabilities based on what experience tells you: This coin favors heads.

That is Bayesian thinking. Actually, Bayesian probability gives a methodical means of bringing experience-based levels of confidence into the calculation of probabilities, but what I’m calling “Bayesian thinking” is at the heart of that approach. And the article from Evolution News and Views does a great job, IMHO, of showing how Bayesian thinking is natural to us and how it is the right way to consider the claims of neo-Darwinian apostles. Check it out, and, if you want to read more, you can click through to my older posts about how Bayesian probability analysis has been used to analyze the likelihood of alien life and intelligence in the universe and even whether or not God exists.

Great Berlinski quote

Cover of "The Devil's Delusion: Atheism a...
Cover via Amazon

David Berlinski almost instantly became one of my favorite authors when I read A Tour of the Calculus many years ago. Later reading some of his writings related to the Intelligent Design movement and it’s Discovery Institute (even some writings that needle the movement, which is nice to see, as well) only made me more of a fan.

I have not yet had the chance to read his 2008 book The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, but I most certainly intend to do so. Here is a quote:

“No less than the doctrines of religious belief, the doctrines of quantum cosmology are what they seem: biased, partial, inconclusive, and largely in the service of passionate but unexamined conviction.”

To see Berlinski tear into the pretensions at the heart of much of today’s militant atheism would be a treat, and I can’t believe I only discovered this book recently.

Rerun Night: The “New Atheists” put in their place

Well, if Richard Dawkins' can have a symbol for his "movement," why can't we? Admittedly, this needs the loving hand of a graphic designer to give it a touch of "fancy," but who knows why I picked it? Anyone? Bonus points for a correct answer!

Well, my first partial day here in Charlotte has been profitable, and my scripts are moving along, though–as usual–not as far along as I would like them. One is definitely being titled, “Why Believe in God?” While the other is being titled… something else… 🙂

I’ve really wanted to post on some of my thoughts, recently, but I absolutely must devote all my best brain cells to the task at hand (following my usual prescribed rituals). However, in doing some research just now I was Googling something and I was surprised that the top link that came up was an old blog post of mine: “The ‘New Atheists’ put in their place.” Consequently, I thought that this old post might make for a good rerun while I am in the middle of telecastifacturing (trademark status is pending on that word, by the way).

So, for those who have been irritated by the mudflinging attacks of the so-called “New Atheists” of recent years, I present you a critique given of them by one of their own, Theodore Dalrymple’s article for City Journal, “What the New Atheists Don’t See” — discussed in my own post of 11/14/2007, “The ‘New Atheists’ put in their place.”

I will try to post again a few times while I’m here, but I make no promises–trying to learn to under promise and over deliver instead of over promise and under deliver. 🙂