Saturday, March 25, 2006

The gods [sic] of cosmology

The gods of cosmology: Questions about why we and the universe exist are worth asking even if there are no answers, The Guardian, Tim Radford, March 21, 2006 ... For the third year running, a physicist has won the Templeton prize. It went on Wednesday to the cosmological polymath John Barrow at Cambridge ... Barrow made a name beyond astrophysics 20 years ago by co-authoring an argument known as the anthropic principle: that the universe looks as though it has been tailored for the emergence of intelligent life. This frames two huge riddles: is there something special about the universe that means intelligent beings will inevitably emerge to understand it? Or does it just appear like that because we look back down the long tunnel of time so of course it would seem to point exactly towards us? Einstein put one version of the same question when he observed that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe was that it was comprehensible. The Nobel prize winner Steven Weinberg put another version when he said, in a 1977 book called The First Three Minutes, that the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless. Most science involves taking a large subject and reducing it to ever smaller, more precise questions. Physics seems to start with precise questions about atomic particles or strong nuclear forces and end up with very big, imprecise ones such as: why are we here? No wonder even physicists who don't believe in God tend to invoke Him. ... Others leave the divine question open; yet others overtly believe in God. This is not quite what anyone expects from science, which got where it has by firmly excluding the supernatural and following the evidence of the natural. But then cosmic physics is the odd science. It can explain, with huge confidence, the entire history of the universe from about the first tenth of a second of time onwards. A few years ago cosmologists were inclined to claim that at any moment they might have the whole answer: they would be able to explain how the universe borrowed energy from nowhere, puffed itself up from nothing, burst into starlight, exploded with supernovae and produced a sludge of elements that finally delivered a creature intelligent enough to read The Da Vinci Code. You hear less of that now. Physicists cannot be sure whether this universe right here is the only one; or one of zillions of universes, one just lucky enough to produce Aristotle and Oprah Winfrey. Perhaps the answers lie within that tiny fraction of time right at the beginning of everything, and perhaps they do not. As both atheists and believers are fond of saying, God knows. The questions are worth asking, even if there are no answers. As Steven Weinberg said in The First Three Minutes: "The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy."... [There is a third possibility: The Universe "looks as though it has been tailored" by God "for the emergence of intelligent life" because it was! This is in fact given by Barrow and Tippler as "the most obvious" consequence of their "Strong Anthropic Principle":

"Strong Anthropic Principle (SAP): The Universe must have those properties which allow life to develop within it at some stage in its history. An implication of the SAP is that the constants and laws of Nature must be such that life can exist. This speculative statement leads to a number of quite distinct interpretations of a radical nature: firstly, the most obvious is to continue in the tradition of the classical Design Arguments and claim that: ... There exists one possible Universe `designed' with the goal of generating and sustaining 'observers'. This view would have been supported by the natural theologians of past centuries .... More recently it has been taken seriously by scientists who include the Harvard chemist Lawrence Henderson [Henderson L.J., "The Fitness of the Environment," (1913); Harvard University Press: Cambridge MA, Reprinted, 1970] and the British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, so impressed were they by the string of `coincidences' that exist between particular numerical values of dimensionless constants of Nature without which life of any sort would be excluded. Hoyle [Hoyle F., "Religion and the Scientists," SCM: London, 1959] points out how natural it might be to draw a teleological conclusion from the fortuitous positioning of nuclear resonance levels in carbon and oxygen:
I do not believe that any scientist who examined the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce inside the stars. If this is so, then my apparently random quirks have become part of a deep-laid scheme. If not then we are back again at a monstrous sequence of accidents.
The interpretation ... is a view either implicit or explicit in most theologies." (Barrow J.D. & Tipler F.J., "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle," [1986], Oxford University Press: Oxford UK, Reprinted, 1996, pp.20-21. Emphasis original)

Yet that possibility is not allowed to be even considered in science. Even when the atheistic alternative renders "the universe pointless" and "human life" at best being "a little above the level of farce," and having only "some of the grace of tragedy"!

But there is nothing new in man imagining that, like the proverbial ostrich, if he puts his head in the sand so he cannot see the approaching danger then that will make it not exist! This reminds me of my reading today about Psalm 2 (in connection with my morning `quiet time' study of Messianic prophecy), where in ~1,000 BC the secular rulers and people sought to rebel against God's (and Messiah's) rightful rule:

Ps 2:1-6: "1Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? 2The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. [Heb. Messiah] 3`Let us break their chains,' they say, `and throw off their fetters.' 4The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. 5Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 6`I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.'"

But such rebellion, while permitted for a season, is (of course) ultimately doomed (Ps 2:7-9). So God's recommendation then (and now) to all such rebels is that the "wise" thing for them to do is submit "with rejoicing" to the rightful rule of God's Son (Christ the King), while they still can (Ps 2:10-12)!]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

"There is yet another point. Vast as may have been the time during which the process of evolution has continued, it is nevertheless not infinite. Yet, as every kind, on the Darwinian hypothesis, varies slightly but indefinitely in every organ and every part of every organ, how very generally must favourable variations as to the length of the [giraffe's] neck have been accompanied by some unfavourable variation in some other part, neutralizing the action of the favourable one, the latter, moreover, only taking effect during these periods of drought! How often must individuals, favoured by a slightly increased length of neck, have failed to enjoy the elevated foliage -which they had not strength or endurance to attain; while other individuals, exceptionally robust, could struggle on yet further till they arrived at vegetation within their reach." (Mivart St.G.J., "On the Genesis of Species," Macmillan & Co: London, Second edition, 1871, p.32)

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