Science on the brain, today…
Tonight, Ken Ham of the Creation Museum just south of us in Kentucky and Bill Nye of “The Science Guy” fame will debate the question “Is creation a viable model of origins?” I had hoped to get tickets, but given that they sold out in two hours, that wasn’t going to happen. However, it is apparently going to be broadcast live (sign up at debatelive.org, where I think it will be broadcast), so I will watch if I can.
I don’t think the truth of “origins” will come out in the debate — I subscribe to an old earth but a young mankind, created at the re-creation of the earth, which neither men subscribe to. Ken Ham is a Young Earther and Bill Nye is an Evolutionist, so I think both miss the boat. And I should add: I’m open to learning I’ve missed the boat, as well. Since I can’t swim, successfully making it to the boat is important to me. However, the Old Earth/Young Mankind model is the best I’ve seen so far in reconciling all the data as thoroughly as possible while leaving open vast possibilities for new details to be discovered, and I am glad that is what we teach. Actually, some of the first few posts I made on this blog were about such things, now that I think about it. Here they are, in all their ignomin… er, I mean glory:
- Life on Mars, Part 1 – Asking the Question
- Life on Mars, Part 2 – Understanding Genesis 1:1-2
- Life on Mars, Part 3 – Before Adam
- Life on Mars, Part 4 – Implications for Mars
But I am still interested in the debate. I am also interested in how they conduct themselves. The inability of some to discuss/debate such matters with civility is irritating. Christian apologist William Lane Craig always impresses me with his ability to be respectful and courteous, even under harsh conditions (such as the first few “discussions” with physicist Lawrence Krauss in Australia, recently). I’m curious to see, given the formal structure of the debate, if Ham and Nye are able to keep the discussion respectful and courteous — and ditto for the audience.
But that’s actually not what I was going to write about! (Editorial Department at TW: I appreciate you!) I was reading in New Scientist this past week about the u-bit, a theorized entity in one particular maverick strain of quantum mechanics. New Scientist loves sensational cover blurbs (and they are pretty good at writing them), and the u-bit was the cover story, with this tease: “To make quantum theory real, we must create the most powerful entity in the universe.” Great tease, huh?
The article is worth a read for those who can stomach science content. I think its a good one. Here is a link–“From i to u: Searching for the quantum master bit”–but you might need to register to read the whole article (since I have a subscription, I don’t always see “please register” pages). Here is a (poorly condensed) summary of the idea…
Quantum mechanics–one of the most successful-yet-counterintuitive scientific theories in history–relies on the presence of poorly named “imaginary numbers.” I have discussed these on the blog before (see “About that equation…”), but to put it very briefly: an imaginary number is one that produces a negative number when you square it (that is, multiply it by itself). When you square positive real numbers or negative real numbers, the result is always a positive number (since “a negative times a negative is a positive”–the old rule from your school days, proven to be true here). So, since all “real” numbers are never negative when you square them, any numbers that would be negative when you square them must be “not real”–or imaginary. So, we have the number i, where i² = -1 just like 1² = 1.
Because they aren’t like the “regular” real numbers, many people assume that the imaginary numbers are just that: purely imaginary entities. However, we discover their presence in many applications and physical theories in our very real universe. As the New Scientist article describes: “In geometry they appear in trigonometric equations, and in physics they provide a neat way to describe rotations and oscillations. Electrical engineers use them routinely in designing alternating-current circuits, and they are handy for describing light and sound waves, too.”
Still, there has been something dissatisfying to many in their use in quantum mechanics–the currently reigning King of the Theories in describing physical reality–and in calculating its related and ubiquitous (and highly confirmed by experimental evidence) probabilities. Consequently, some have undertaking the challenge of recasting quantum mechanics in a form that uses only real numbers and has no imaginary number component whatsoever. Apparently there hasn’t been much success–coming close, but still needing the existence of something to “play the role of the imaginary unit.”
The theory that Dr. Bill Wooters and his students Antoniya Aleksandrova and Victoria Borish have come up with dispenses with the need of the imaginary unit, but only works if one hypothesizes the existence of the u-bit. The u-bit would be some element of reality that, in some way, is entangled with every other bit of information about every other particle, wave, field, etc. in all of existence. Mathematically, it would be represented by a two-dimensional vector, which is probably what gives it the ability to replace the imaginary numbers, since combinations of imaginary and real numbers, called complex numbers, are two-dimensional numbers by nature. But physically, the theorists have no idea what in the world the u-bit would actually be. Their theory only says that whatever it is, if it exists, it is rotating very at a great rate. (What sort of science is this where the only thing you can discover about an entity’s existence is how fast it must be spinning? Welcome to theoretical physics! 🙂 ) And, as the article describes, this entity could successfully act as an “omnipresent conduit of information” tying all things together.
Dr. Wooten’s speciality is in the information side of quantum mechanics, and that clearly influences the theory.
One familiar with the Psalms may not be able to help himself from recalling Psalm 139:7-12,
“Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me,’
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.”
The idea of information being at all times and from all places available to an omniscient and omnipresent God seems like an idea of pure theology. Yet, here we have a purely physical theory of the universe that involves a theoretical artifact that smacks of the same sort of omniscience and omnipresence.
That doesn’t mean that the u-bit, in fact, exists. Hardly! Drawing that conclusion so quickly would be both bad science and bad Bible study. 🙂 Let the experiments be designed! Let the searching begin! Frankly, I think the odds are not in the u-bit’s favor, though I’m open to discovering I’m wrong–actually, I would be delighted to discover I’m wrong. And if it is found to be real–whatever it actually is–I’m not saying that we would have somehow discovered physical evidence of God’s Spirit in the universe. There be dragons in such thinking, unless there were to be powerful cause to conclude such (and it is hard to imagine cause powerful enough to dogmatically conclude such a thing). Yet, it is still fascinating! Knowing that there is a spirit in man and that, yet, his mind represents–as best we understand it–the union of a physical brain with the human spirit, I’ve often wondered how that interaction occurs–how it actually takes place. The ideas of Roger Penrose and others about the quantum-level dymanics that must exist in the brain, with Heisenberg uncertainties, wave function collapses, etc., and their possible relationship to consciousness and free will have always been a fascinating possibility in my opinion for enabling the spirit/brain interface, but, still, who knows? I won’t pretend to. And the possible existence of an entity, the u-bit, that is entangled with every single bit of information in the entire universe? As New Scientist describes it, “interacts with everything else in reality, dictating its quantum behavior”? OK–that is fascinating.
And the potential theological flavor of such an entity, of course, would make some nervous. Let me discuss that last…
New Scientist, which is sometimes rather assertive in it’s proactively anti-God stance, anticipates thoughts such as those above and tries a preventative measure in the early part of their magazine, where they publish editorial/promotional introductory essays about the current issue (p.5 in the print edition). In a small section (a couple of paragraphs) titled, “The u-bit may be omniscient, but it’s no God particle” (the print edition simply titles it “Not the God particle”), they write:
“Now we have an entity more befitting of the title [God particle]: the omniscient, omnipresent and unseen ‘u-bit’… Some will pounce on the fact that science needs such an entity to explain the universe. But the existence of a u-bit would be no more profound than the existence of natural laws. Let’s leave God out of it this time.”
There’s a lot of worldview packed into that statement, but to unpack just one element, “leaving God out of it,” here, is what some scientists would like to be done but which simply cannot be done–not completely. And scientists’ commitment to such a sentiment has clouded their judgment, before. The idea of a universe with a beginning was long fought against primarily because it had positive theological undertones–frankly, more than undertones, but outright theological implications. The idea that some get physicists get upset when people see theological implications in their work seems all the more weird when, in cases like the Big Bang theory, it was their own aversion to theological implications that delayed their own acceptance of a theory now taken as common understanding. Do they fault the public for noticing the same things they did–theological implications–or for not sharing the same distaste for those implications?
Of course, the theological biases of the past shouldn’t be held against the scientists of the present (unless they reproduce then), and major contextual ideas shouldn’t be overturned on a fad. And, frankly, I sympathize with the sentiment of some scientists who worry that the statement “God did it” will cut off scientific research. Understood wrongly, I see how it can do exactly that.
For instance, if we discovered a Big Bang was the beginning of it all and claim “God did it,” what more would we fail to learn? Should those scientists currently exploring what may have prompted the Big Bang or preceded it simply stop their research? Is there no more to learn beyond that? I guess what I am saying is that it would be a shame if the statement “God did it” was a means of cutting off study and research into “How God did it.” Does that make sense?
For instance, consider gravity. If we simply looked at the planets and saw them orbiting the sun in such a wonderful order according to beautiful laws, and then we–rightly–gave God credit for what we saw, knowing that the “ordinances of the heavens” (Job 38:33) bring Him glory, should we stop there with the understanding that “God did it”? Isn’t a natural desire to what to continue to learn, if possible, how He does it? Is gravity simply communicated by a particle, like the graviton, or is it a field? Is the idea of gravity as a distortion of the fabric of space-time the best way to look at it? I believe there is much wonder to be seen in continuing the process of discovery–that is, if anything, knowing that God did it should drive us all the more to explore it and learn about it, knowing that the works of His hands are truly worthy objects of our attentions. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2). When we explore such things–strive to understand them more fully–aren’t we participating in the glory of kings? Isn’t the knowledge that “God did it” terribly motivating?
For another example, consider instinct. We marvel at the way animals make vast migrations having never been taught the way, how salmon return to spawning grounds to which they have no map, and how a vast amount of living information is transmitted from generation to generation in the animal kingdom through instinct. Yet, we still do not have a grasp on how this works. As someone once said, “instinct” is a good example of how we can give something a name and, by doing so, think that we understand it when, in reality, we haven’t a clue. Clearly, we’re seeing a wonderful element of design in God’s Creation when we see instinct in action, yet is that the end of the exploration? Is there no reason to explore further to see how instinct works? Recognizing that “God did it” should not be the end of exploration and experimentation–it should motivate us to wonder how He did it, and how it works.
Science is a noble practice, and just because some do it without a full understanding of the truth is no reason to beat up on them so. To be sure, I fault many of them for being willingly blind to the implications of their discoveries (he says, knowing he has many faults of his own). As I have said before, it is a human endeavor and thus suffers from human faults. Yet, at the same time, it is a marvelous pursuit. And scientists don’t have to fear the statement “God did it” if it is a spur to further investigation as opposed to and end to all questions.
I really have no dog in the hunt when it comes to the u-bit. I am comfortable in accepting the imaginary numbers and complex numbers as denizens of our very real world if they are needed. As I’ve mentioned, my favorite equation has i as part of its beating heart. But I am also fascinated at the possibility of discovering some additional element in the universe that may rid quantum mechanics of the need for them while displaying such fascinating qualities, knowing that the spirit realm and the physical realm must interact in some way. Is there such a thing as the u-bit? I have no idea whatsoever. But whether its for very real prey or very imaginary snipes, I am enjoying the hunt.
And, regardless of however irritated the editors of New Scientist may become, let’s not leave God out of it.