The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself?

Review in brief of the book: “The Big Picture, On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself,” by Sean Carroll a theoretical physicists at the California Institute of Technology. The book is the winner of the 2013 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.

Front cover of book. Published by Oneworld Publications, London, 2016, 470 pages.

On the inside book cover these questions are written:

Where are we? Who are we? Do our beliefs, hopes and dreams mean anything out there in the void? Can human purpose and meaning ever fit into a scientific worldview?

Carroll’s message in this book is that there is no ultimate purpose, we are only the product of matter and material forces, there is no meaning to life, there is no afterlife and meaning and purpose do not fit into any scientific worldview. But the author tries to dress it up saying that it’s what you put into your life that counts. Beauty is found in the observer. But he cannot escape his own bondage because his worldview ultimately does not allow for intrinsic meaning or purpose. He is just dead in the end.

There is nothing new in this book but a lot of atheistic philosophy stemming from Enlightenment philosopher David Hume. The author uses circular reasoning and begging the question. By assuming there is no Creator because He is not needed in the universe, to cause it or operate within it, and by assuming everything in the past evolution of the universe, and life in it, is explained by man’s current knowledge (Darwinian evolution of mutation and natural selection) then everything can be explained how it came to be. The universe needs no reason to exist. It simply is. Life needs no reason, it simply is. There was nothing before time began in the big bang so no question can be asked what was before? There is no First Cause because either the universe came into the existence with the beginning of time itself, or, time is fundamental and always existed so from it and the laws of physics the universe spontaneously arose from some quantum fluctuation. Now that we are smarter we have become to understand this true fact.

He talks of methodological empiricism as the correct way to learn the truth about the universe but he offers no direct empirical evidence for the origin of the universe in a big bang, or for the initial alleged low entropy state it started in, or for the spontaneous origin of life by random chance, or for the alleged Darwinian evolution of living organisms by natural selection over eons of history. We are essentially asked to just believe these as given facts as much as the author seems to. Only he offers up stories to justify his beliefs. As a book alleged to give the Big Picture of the Universe and all life in it, it fails on the very premise the author sets out to use—direct observation of the world to discover the truth. Continue reading

Francis Filament: a large scale structure that is big, big, big bang trouble.

With the development of better and better large optical telescopes there is one big bang problem that is not so often talked about. It is one we call an horizon problem. Not the infamous horizon problem for infrared photons allegedly redshifted down to the 3-degree-above-absolute-zero temperature of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation, but an horizon problem for structure formation in the big bang universe.

As telescopes push the limits and detect more objects at higher and higher redshift they also detect what are claimed to be larger and larger structures. These structures (clusters and long filaments of galaxies) are believed to have formed very quickly after the big bang.

Various structures have been found–one, the Francis Filament of 37 galaxies at redshift z = 2.38, is discussed in the article below. However, since that was published there have been more such discoveries that are allegedly even larger than the Francis Filament: the Huge-LQG (73 quasars) though at a lower redshift (z = 1.27) and hence allegedly seen a billion years later; and another so big it allegedly would take light 10 billion years to traverse it.

The question then arises: How did the matter move across such large distances in the very short cosmological time available after the alleged big bang fireball cooled? Expansion of space is not the answer. But this presents a particle horizon problem for the big bang theorists. The best answer that can be provided is cosmic variance: because we sample too small a region of space, at these enormous distances, there are other galaxies not yet seen and the structures that are apparently seen are just part of the random distribution of galaxies in the wider picture, which cannot be seen as yet. And thus it is alleged that the structures being viewed are not a contiguous structure. But this is an appeal to the unobserved and the belief system that the big bang story is correct. It is used to fill in where the observations fail.

The following is slightly edited from an article more than ten years old now but it illustrates the problem. My original article first appeared as “Francis Filament: a large scale structure that is big, big, big bang trouble. Is it really so large?” in the Journal of Creation 18(1):16-17, 2004.

Image 1: Caption from NASA web article. This is a computer artist’s illustration of a giant but remote galaxy string discovered recently. The fuzzy, bright areas in the cube in Images 1 and 2, represent galaxies discovered about 10.8 billion light-years away in the direction of the southern constellation Grus (the Crane). [Big bang] astronomers believe these galaxies are members of a much larger structure at least 300 million light-years long and 50 million light-years wide. Since light took 10.8 billion years to traverse the distance between the galaxy structure and Earth, we see the structure as it appeared when the Universe was young, just a fifth of its current age. This new structure defies current models of how the Universe evolved, which can’t explain how a structure this big could have formed so early. (emphasis added)

‘From a galaxy far, far away comes a stunning new discovery’ so begins the article of science reporter Rosslyn Beeby of the Canberra Times (Australia), Thursday, 8 January 2004. The article continues with some sensational claims:

Existing theories about the formation of the universe have been challenged by a sensational new discovery—the existence of an enormous string of galaxies 300 million light-years long and 10,800 million light-years from Earth.

ANU astronomer Dr Paul Francis led an international research team which discovered the galaxies … Their discovery defies accepted theories of how the universe evolved. Current theories cannot explain how such an enormous galaxy string could have formed at such an early stage in the evolution of the universe.

Scientists claim the universe was formed during the Big Bang—a cosmic explosion that hurled matter in all directions—about 13.7 billion years ago.

“There simply hasn’t been enough time since the Big Bang to form structures this colossal,” Dr Francis said. “In three billion years matter should be able to move 10 million light years at most—you can’t make something that’s 300 million light years long in the time that’s given … It’s impossible.”

Continue reading

Has the dark matter mystery been solved?

Unseen dark matter has been invoked several times to solve problems in astrophysics and cosmology. Historically the most significant problem has been the rotation curves of galaxies, particularly spiral galaxies. Using the Doppler Effect the speeds of the stars and gases in the disk regions of spiral galaxies can be measured. See Fig. 1.

By now hundreds of thousands of galaxies have been measured this way. What is observed is that the speeds of the stars, and the gases beyond where the stars are observed, are much greater than it would appear Newtonian physics allows for.

Figure 1: Edge on spiral galaxy and a rotation curve. Speeds of stars measured from the centre of a galaxy like this, as a function of distance in light-years. Using carbon-monoxide (CO) as a tracer gas the speeds of gas in the rotating disk can be also measured where there are no visible stars (labelled “No Stars”).

As a result it has been suggested that there is an invisible halo of cold non-interacting matter. This putative invisible halo has the needed gravitational effect on the stars and gases but it cannot be seen, hence it is called dark matter. Dark matter is alleged not to be normal atomic matter, made from protons and neutrons (which are known as baryons), but some sort of slowly moving (cold) exotic non-baryonic matter. Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) were suggested. Continue reading

Intelligent design or the “simple unguided” laws of nature

This year I restarted a hobby that I hadn’t participated in for over 40 years. That is oil painting. One of my fears in restarting to paint was that I would not have the ability I had when I was young and I would just waste my time. Some examples of the art I have been doing in the past few weeks are shown below.

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For the past month, I have been staying in a guest house at the National Institute for Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (A.I.S.T.) in Tsukuba, Japan, while I have been working on some developments of ultra-stable sapphire clocks for the National Metrology Institute of Japan (N.M.I.J.), which is an institute within A.I.S.T.. During my free time, mostly on weekends, I have been oil painting.

TBP coverAlso during this time I have been reading Sean Carroll’s latest book The Big Picture, On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself (2017). In that book, for which I will write a review later, he writes that according to “science” life arose, and has subsequently been driven to evolve by Darwinian evolution, because the apparent design we see has been the natural consequence of available ‘free energy’ (Gibb’s free energy that is available to do work, derived from sunlight), an increase in entropy (the outcome of the Second Law of thermodynamics) and Darwinian natural selection. No intelligence was necessary, he says. The complexity we observe in living organisms is a consequence of the initial condition that we live in certain a time and place in the universe far from equilibrium and the “simple unguided” laws of nature act in a way to produce what we think looks like intelligent design. Continue reading

The coming new heaven and new earth

A study on 2 Peter 3 verses 10 – 18

This is the final part of a 3 part study. Part I and Part II are found here. I ended the last study of this chapter (in part II) with verse 10.

2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

It is worth repeating here that I do not believe that the phrase “the heavens shall pass away” describes the destruction of the starry heavens (all the stars and galaxies in the cosmos), but instead, at most, it describes a renovation of the earth and its atmospheric heavens, at the time Christ returns in judgment and to govern the earth. Read Do the heavens literally pass away or don’t they? and Scientific evidences in the Bible: Information or misinformation?

It seems to be the eschatological position of many biblical creationists that this verse means the destruction of the entire known Universe and that all the heavenly bodies will all be burned up in the final judgment. Then God will re-create an entirely new universe. However the destruction of the starry heavens I argue (as put here) is not necessarily required by the texts. Certainly a new heaven and new earth must mean God re-creates the environment of Earth and brings His heavenly city into the picture, providing real physical heavenly mansions for us all who believe. But that re-creation need not extend beyond our solar system. This is further evidenced by the idea that the Universe may be, in fact, eternal. God introduces His sustaining power to maintain it forever. Thus is not the result of an eternal big bang universe that had no Creator, not the result of the quantum fluctuation of a meta-stable false vacuum, but an eternal Universe sustained by the Creator Himself. So at some stage God reverses entropic decay in the Universe and maintains it forever.

The concept of literal restoration of the perfect creation on Earth and its environment is not incompatible with the biblical creationist message that is illustrated in the figure above. God initially literally created a perfect physical world/universe sustained by His power. But at Adam’s sin God cursed the creation bringing about various difficulties (to say the least) upon mankind and all living species on the planet. The greatest of these difficulties was death, spiritual death followed by physical death.

The death of humans and all living sentient beings has little bearing on the “life cycle” of stars and galaxies, which are little more than an arrangement of hot gases. So it is ill-advised to speak of the death of stars resulting from the Curse. Thus to suggest that supernovae only occurred post-Fall is grossly in error. They are the result of normal operational physics and I believe have little bearing on, or relation to, man’s actions. Whereas the Fall was the direct result of a man’s action to disobey the Living God. As a result we all inherited Adam’s sin. And thus we are in need of a Saviour.

The Universe though is a creation of God, for His own glory (Psalm 19:1). We have evidence in the scriptures supporting the idea that God will maintain the Universe (the Sun, moon and stars) forever. Psalms 148:3-6 and 89:37.  Continue reading

Genesis mission to the sun: Did it confirm the nebular theory of formation of the solar system?

The Genesis spacecraft mission, launched in August 2001 by NASA, was designed to observe the solar wind, particles coming from the sun, entrap a sample of those particles on substrates and safely return them to Earth. The spacecraft travelled to a point about 1.5 million kilometers (or about 1 million miles) from Earth called Lagrange point, L1, where the gravitational force of the earth is matched by that of the sun. At this location the Genesis spacecraft was well outside of Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic environment, allowing it to collect a ‘pristine’ sample of the solar wind. Genesis’ overall flight path resembled a series of loops (Fig. 1): first it circled five times around L1, called Halo orbit, where it remained for 850 days, then it moved back for a short loop around the opposite Lagrange point, L2, in order to position the spacecraft for a daylight return to Earth.

Figure 1: Genesis spacecraft mission trajectory. Credit: NASA/JPL

On board the spacecraft, ions from the solar-wind impacted the collectors at speeds over 200 km/sec and buried themselves in specially-selected materials. These samples were sealed in enclosures for their safe return to Earth in a sample-return capsule (SRC). Then during the return-to-Earth stage something went horribly wrong. On NASA’s Genesis Search for Origins website it is described as follows.1

On 8 September 2004 the SRC entered Earth’s atmosphere as planned, but its gravity switches were oriented incorrectly as the result of a design error and the parachute system failed to deploy. The high-speed wreck compromised the SRC and shattered many of the Genesis collectors.

The samples were scattered and shattered. But all was not lost it seemed.

However, the Genesis Preliminary Examination Team was able to show that, because the solar-wind ions were buried beneath the surface of the collectors, it is possible to detect and quantify elements in the solar-wind.1

Composition of original solar nebula

Thus in March 2005, Johnson Space Center curatorial staff started allocating solar-wind collectors to the international scientific community to see what could be determined from those samples. The purpose was to glean information on the composition of the solar wind, and hence to determine the chemical and isotopic composition of the original solar nebula which it is alleged formed our solar system. See Fig. 2. Continue reading

Why search for life in outer space?

dawn-at-ceres

Figure 1: A gamma ray and neutron detector on board Dawn was used to determine the elements in the subsurface of the dwarf planet. It found water on the dwarf planet Ceres, located in the asteroid belt between Earth and Mars. Ceres. Credit: LA Times

In a recent LA Times news item it was reported that NASA’s Dawn spacecraft mission found life’s building blocks on the dwarf planet Ceres.1  However, the reality is that all that was found are possibly some biochemical molecules, molecules that are pre-cursor molecules to form the more complex chemistry in living cells.

Organic molecules are carbon based molecules and the chemistry of life is a special subset of those but from the spacecraft data no biochemical molecules were identified.  Those would be molecules like carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids.

The news item reports that this new spacecraft

… using its Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer instrument, … has spotted organics lying on the surface.1

That is the only real fact in the report, that organic molecules of some sort have been found on Ceres.

While the scientists aren’t sure exactly what the compounds are, the fingerprint is characteristic of material containing carbon-hydrogen bonds, and may include components like methyl and methylene.(emphasis added)

But they don’t even know what the molecules are, and the research is hyped up in hope that scientists may find life–even just microbes–living on worlds other than our own.

We can now add this dwarf planet Ceres to other ‘space rocks’ that have been so hyped in the past few years in the quest to find life out there in the solar system. Examples are Mars,2 Enceladus (the sixth-largest moon of Saturn),3 Titan (the largest moon of Saturn),4,5 Europa (one of the 4 Galilean moons of Jupiter),6 and the asteroids.7 Continue reading