Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Getting it all wrong

It was with some amusement that I read "Will Science Someday Rule Out the Possibility of God?" My amusement turned to dismay. Not because the article is right, but because it has it all wrong, and some people will actually believe what it says. Let's start with the opening premise.
Over the past few centuries, science can be said to have gradually chipped away at the traditional grounds for believing in God. Much of what once seemed mysterious — the existence of humanity, the life-bearing perfection of Earth, the workings of the universe — can now be explained by biology, astronomy, physics and other domains of science.
But of course science can't explain the existence of humanity, or even decide when humanity came into existence. Of the "life-bearing perfection of Earth", all science has to say is "it must be random" which is code for "we can't explain it" - science offers no explanations or even theories. The workings of the universe (I presume they mean cosmology) are likewise unexplained, except for some theories in want of actual facts to support them.
However, in Carroll's opinion, progress in cosmology will eventually eliminate any perceived need for a Big Bang trigger-puller.
As he explained in a recent article in the "Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity" (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), a foremost goal of modern physics is to formulate a working theory that describes the entire universe, from subatomic to astronomical scales, within a single framework. Such a theory, called "quantum gravity," will necessarily account for what happened at the moment of the Big Bang. Some versions of quantum gravity theory that have been proposed by cosmologists predict that the Big Bang, rather than being the starting point of time, was just "a transitional stage in an eternal universe," in Carroll's words. For example, one model holds that the universe acts like a balloon that inflates and deflates over and over under its own steam. If, in fact, time had no beginning, this shuts the book on Genesis.
So now these explanations are not a done deal but a goal.

I've no idea what Carroll's science chops are, but I can tell you he needs to study history and philosophy. In the early 1900s, with the discovery of quantum mechanics, along with Einstein's theory of general relativity, scientists had finally figured out everything - from atomic particles to the structure of the universe. God was no longer necessary, and the steady state theory neatly explained the origins of the universe. Matter was spontaneously being created from the vacuum, and all was neatly tied up.

Except there were these constants that couldn't be explained. One of them was the cosmological constant, a little number Einstein used to balance his equations. In 1927 Georges LemaƮtre, a priest and professor at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, wrote a paper in which he claimed that the universe had a beginning. Scientists mocked him. Cosmologist Fred Hoyle came up with a ridiculous, derogatory term for it - "Big Bang". We all know how that turned out.

Now cosmologists are theorizing, not on the basis of any actual data, but simply as an attempt to deny God, to return to a variation of the steady state. Matter is created not steadily, but in waves, either through a "multuverse" (multiple universes), a bouncing universe (the big bang becomes a big crunch, which begets a new big bang) or more exotic theories. What Carroll (and others, like Stephen Hawking) ignore (although they are well aware of the work, which was published in 2003) is the Borde, Vilenkin, Guth (BVG) theorum. This is a neat piece of reasoning that shows that any universe of system of universes that has an expansion rate greater than zero (which ours does - Edwin Hubble proved that long ago) has a beginning. Period. The only premise for this theorem is that the laws of thermodynamics are true.

But let's say that Borde Vilenkin and Guth are wrong and that there are multiple big bangs. Does this "shut the book on Genesis"? No, because Genesis does not claim that this universe is the only thing God created. Nor could any scientific understanding of the creation of the universe disprove the existence of God, as there are philosophical proofs, that don't rely on physics at all. Let's suppose that the laws of physics do spontaneously create the universe. Where did they come from? Oh, you say they were always there? Why? How?

The best answer proposed so far is that "the question is meaningless" which is also science code for "you're not allowed to ask that because we can't answer it."

The whole question of "why is there something rather than nothing" is something scientists don't "get". Hawking and Mlodminow, in their book " The Grand Design" state:
Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.
OK, assume they are right why is there a law of gravity? Where did that particular law come from? This is the question. If you're going to posit that laws of physics begot laws of physics, you wind up with "turtles all the way down" (which is a phrase Hawking himself used to mock religious creation stories).

I've seen many otherwise intelligent people argue that well of course matter can spring from nothing, because empty space isn't empty - it is filled with virtual particles that spontaneously create matter (they usually add something like "you idiot you", but in more derogatory terms). What they fail to realize is that I do realize that empty space is not empty - and I also realize that empty space is also not nothing it is something. When I say nothing I mean nothing. Not empty space, not a singularity, not some quantum thingy or string or field or particle or law or constant - nothing.

It is this failure to realize that there exists something other than physics (like logic, for instance) that makes all of these articles so painfully stupid that they are hard to read without feeling shame for the author. If these scientists tried to write articles about, say, baseball, and didn't understand what a foul ball was, they'd be laughed out of existence. But as a society, in general we are so woefully ignorant about philosophy and logic that people actually buy these ridiculous claims hook line and sinker.

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