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

Materialists believe in dark unseen life

Awhile ago I wrote about Lisa Randall, Professor of Science at Harvard University, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, who proposed that the dinosaurs went extinct due to the actions of unseen dark matter.¹ There now appears again an article in the popular science magazine Nautilus with the title “Does Dark Matter Harbor Life? An invisible civilization could be living right under your nose.”² It would appear to be excerpted from Randall’s book Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs. In the article Randall asserts that we may, in fact, be kind of racist against dark matter, well, at least, we are biased towards ordinary matter, where, she claims, in fact, that dark matter is the stuff that holds galaxies together so it is really important stuff.

The common assumption is that dark matter is the “glue” that holds together galaxies and galaxy clusters, but resides only in amorphous clouds around them. But what if this assumption isn’t true and it is only our prejudice—and ignorance, which is after all the root of most prejudice—that led us down this potentially misleading path?

People in foreign relations make a mistake when they lump together another country’s cultures—assuming they don’t exhibit the diversity of societies that is evident in our own. Just as a good negotiator doesn’t assume the primacy of one sector of society over another when attempting to place the different cultures on equal footing, an unbiased scientist shouldn’t assume that dark matter isn’t as interesting as ordinary matter and necessarily lacks a diversity of matter similar to our own.² (emphasis added)

randall-article

Illustration by Jackie Ferrentino from Nautilus article, representing (I assume) dark life.

She goes on to promote the possibility of dark life, invisible creatures living on dark planets around dark stars in dark parts of galaxies. She suggests dark matter may be much more than just amorphous matter, but have a rich life with dark forces and therefore this implies a dark invisible universe of creatures we cannot detect. Sure sounds like good material for a sci-fi story.

Partially interacting dark matter certainly makes for fertile ground for speculation and encourages us to consider possibilities we otherwise might not have. Writers and moviegoers especially would find a scenario with such additional forces and consequences in the dark sector very enticing. They would probably even suggest dark life coexisting with our own. In this scenario, rather than the usual animated creatures fighting other animated creatures or on rare occasions cooperating with them, armies of dark matter creatures could march across the screen and monopolize all the action.

But this wouldn’t be too interesting to watch. The problem is that cinematographers would have trouble filming this dark life, which is of course invisible to us—and to them. Even if the dark creatures were there (and maybe they have been) we wouldn’t know. You have no idea how cute dark matter life could be—and you almost certainly never will.

Though it’s entertaining to speculate about the possibility of dark life, it’s a lot harder to figure out a way to observe it—or even detect its existence in more indirect ways. It’s challenging enough to find life made up of the same stuff we are, though extrasolar planet searches are under way and trying hard. But the evidence for dark life, should it exist, would be far more elusive even than the evidence for ordinary life in distant realms.

Dark objects or dark life could be very close—but if the dark stuff’s net mass isn’t very big, we wouldn’t have any way to know. Even with the most current technology, or any technology that we can currently imagine, only some very specialized possibilities might be testable. “Shadow life,” exciting as that would be, won’t necessarily have any visible consequences that we would notice, making it a tantalizing possibility but one immune to observations. In fairness, dark life is a tall order. Science-fiction writers may have no problem creating it, but the universe has a lot more obstacles to overcome. Out of all possible chemistries, it’s very unclear how many could sustain life, and even among those that could, we don’t know the type of environments that would be necessary.² (emphasis added)

Continue reading

Antimatter matters for the big bang origin of the Universe

In what physicists have called a “technical tour-de-force”, scientists have for the first time made measurements of how antimatter atoms absorb light.1

The ALPHA antimatter experiment at CERN has measured an energy transition in anti-hydrogen.

The ALPHA antimatter experiment at CERN has measured an energy transition in anti-hydrogen. Credit: CERN

Researchers from the ALPHA collaboration team at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory outside Geneva, collected cold antihydrogen atoms in a magnetic “bottle” and irradiated them with an ultraviolet laser to test what frequency of light is needed to excite the antimatter atoms into an excited state. This was done to test to see if antimatter atoms behave the same way as their normal matter counterparts. No discrepancy (a null result) was found with standard theory, which predicts that antihydrogen should have the same energy levels as normal hydrogen.

The null result is still a thrill for researchers who have been working for decades towards antimatter spectroscopy, the study of how light is absorbed and emitted by antimatter. The hope is that this field could provide a new test of a fundamental symmetry of the known laws of physics, called CPT (charge-parity-time) symmetry.

CPT symmetry predicts that energy levels in antimatter and matter should be the same. Even the tiniest violation of this rule would require a serious rethink of the standard model of particle physics.

Cosmological implications

So what? you might ask! Continue reading

The problem with science is that so much of it simply isn’t

This is the opening sentence in an article titled “Scientific Regress” by William Wilson.The article is about science and the repeatability of scientific results in the published literature. (Indented paragraphs are quoted from this article, unless otherwise referenced.)

Scientific claims rest on the idea that experiments repeated under nearly identical conditions ought to yield approximately the same results, but until very recently, very few had bothered to check in a systematic way whether this was actually the case.

A group called Open Science Collaboration (OSC) tried to check claims by replicating results of certain science experiments. They checked one hundred published psychology experiments and found 65% failed to show any statistical significance on replication, and many of the remainder showed greatly reduced effect sizes. The OSC group even used original experimental materials, and sometimes performed the experiments under the guidance of the original researchers.

They found though that the problem was not just in the area of psychology, which I don’t even consider hard science anyway.

In 2011 a group of researchers at Bayer decided looked at 67 recent drug discovery projects based on preclinical cancer biology research. They found that in more than 75% of cases they could not replicate the published data. And these data were published in reputable journals including Science, Nature, and Cell.nature

The author suggested that the reason many new drugs were ineffective may possibly be because the research on which they were based was invalid.  This was considered the reason for the failure–the original findings are false.

Then there is the issue of fraud.

In a survey of two thousand research psychologists conducted in 2011, over half of those surveyed admitted outright to selectively reporting those experiments which gave the result they were after.

This involves experimenter bias. The success of a research program might be all that is required for success in the next funding round. So, what might start as just a character weakness in the experimenter ends up being outright fraud. The article states that many have no qualms in

… reporting that a result was statistically significant when it was not, or deciding between two different data analysis techniques after looking at the results of each and choosing the more favorable.

Continue reading

20 big bang busting bloopers

The_Big_Bang_Theory_(Official_Title_Card)

There is about as much truth in the sitcom as there is in the actual big bang theory. Credit: Wikipedia

The following are 20 conundrums for the big bang theory for the origin of the Universe. These are problems in a universe which had no Creator God, but not in this Universe, created by the eternally existing uncreated One.

1. Where did the Universe come from? “Cosmology is not even astrophysics: all the principal assumptions in this field are unverified (or unverifiable) in the laboratory … .” Cosmologists have become “…comfortable with inventing unknowns to explain the unknown.” Dr Richard Lieu (University of Alabama, Huntsville)

2. How did nothing explode? Universe started in nothing not even space, time or energy. What fluctuated in the quantum vacuum if time did not exist and how do they know which laws of physics applied. Where did those laws come from?

3. How did stars and galaxies form? It is impossible to form a star without dark matter (or a nearby supernova, which is a chicken and egg problem). No stars means no galaxies which means no Universe. Dark matter is pure fiction!

4. The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation casts no shadows in foreground of galaxy clusters. Since the CMB casts no shadows it cannot be from the most distant background source and therefore it is not leftover radiation from the alleged big bang. It logically follows then that the big bang never happened. It is just fiction to say it did!

5. The ‘Axis of Evil’ in the CMB anisotropies. Why a preferred axis? Why aligned with the ecliptic? There should be no preferred axes in the Universe. The CMB data from both WMAP and PLANCK satellites conforms a weird preference for a direction in the cosmos, which aligns with the orbit of the earth around the sun. Why?

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Our eternal universe

Much has been written about the Universe, with its alleged big bang origin 13.8 billion years ago,1 with its expansion forcing all galaxies away from each other. And about two decades it was ‘discovered’ that the expansion is accelerating driven by some very strange form of energy – dark energy – that acts like an anti-gravity force, which is stranger than fiction. Yet the big question remains. What is the ultimate fate of the Universe? Secular cosmology does not have a precise answer, and I describe several of their scenarios below. However I believe that the Bible has the answer to this question. That answer may seem to many to be contrary to known science, but the same could be said of the creation of the Universe from nothing, whether it be by the action of the Creator God, or by secular physics invoking some quantum fluctuation of a metastable false vacuum.

Big bang fate of the Universe

Some believe the Universe will eventually die in a ‘big rip’,2 where space is literally ripped apart. This is alleged to result from the unlimited acceleration of the expansion of the Universe due to an unbounded increase in some very strange stuff called dark energy, for which laboratory science knows nothing. In that theory dark energy eventually becomes so strong that it completely overwhelms the effects of the gravitational, electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces, resulting in galaxies, stars and even atoms themselves being literally torn apart, at their core. See Fig. 1.

Others believe that the Universe will end in a ‘big crunch’.3 “Their calculations suggest that the collapse is “imminent”—on the order of a few tens of billions of years or so—which may not keep most people up at night, but for the physicists it’s still much too soon.”4 The big crunch is theorized to occur when the vacuum energy density (cosmological constant) becomes negative due to a change in some hypothetical scalar field changing sign. Details don’t really matter because it is really just ‘scratchings’ on pieces of paper.

Fig 1

Figure 1: The theorised expansion of a closed universe from a ‘big bang’ to a ‘big rip’ (or ‘big freeze’) and a contraction to a ‘big crunch’.

Yet another option, they say, is that the Universe will end in some unremarkable heat death, where every physical process just peters out. This is known as the ‘big chill’, ‘big freeze’ or ‘heat death’. In that view, the Universe continues expanding while gradually all thermodynamic free energy is dissipated, meaning that all motion eventually ceases. Over a hundred trillion years or so, they say, it comes to a state of maximum entropy at a temperature very close to absolute zero, when the Universe simply becomes too old and too cold to sustain life. All that they expect to remain are cold dead stars, cold dead planets and black holes.

These three scenarios (Fig. 1) are what comprise the secular belief system, the worldview most widely held by cosmologists today. It is based on pure materialism, that matter and energy is all that there is. The atheists believe there is no Creator, no God who loves us or has any personal interest in our destiny. Their beliefs are really pagan philosophy.5 Continue reading

Unicorns are not mythological creatures

New fossil evidence shows that an animal, which could be described as a unicorn, once lived on earth. Quite apart from any folklore about magical horses this means the use of the word ‘unicorn’ in early English translations of the Bible is valid.

Like giants, dragons and cockatrices, as it now turns out unicorns also are not mythological creatures. I believe the notion developed that these are mythological stems from the assumption, born from disbelief, that the Bible is not an accurate record of either history nor of science.

I have already examined the claim that giants, dragons and cockatrices are mythological. Here I examine the claim that unicorns are mythological. And it may surprise you to find that they are not the product of an overactive imagination as people have believed. But we must first separate out the facts from the fiction, which may have developed from folklore, where they are alleged to have had wings and magical powers.

Unicorn

Figure 1: The unicorn isn’t just a myth, but it didn’t look like this either. Credit: GETTY (modified).

The word ‘unicorn(s)’ is mentioned in the King James English Bible many times. See Numbers 23:22 and 24:8 states “He [literally Hebrew El, meaning God] has as it were the strength of an unicorn” (KJVER). It was an extremely strong animal. Deuteronomy 33:17 mentions “the horns of unicorns”, which may indicate a two-horned animal. In Psalms 92:10 we read “But my horn shall You [God] exalt like the horn of an unicorn:” (KJVER). Here it had a single horn. And in Isaiah 34:7 the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; …” (KJV).  Also it is mentioned in Job 39:9,10 and Psalms 22:21, 29:6.

The Hebrew word רְאֵם (r’em) is translated ‘unicorn’ in the earliest English translations. In other (old) language translations: Greek ‘μονοκερωτος’ (LXX, Septuagint, 200-300 BC), Latin ‘monocerotis’ (Jerome’s Biblia Sacra Vulgata Latina, or Latin Vulgate, 405 AD), German ‘Einhorns’ (Luther, 1545), Italian ‘liocorno’ (IDB, Giovanni Diodati Bibbia, 1649). Each of these may be translated ‘unicorn’.

The Hebrew word r’em is given the meaning ‘wild bull’ in the Mickelson’s Enhanced Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary. And in recent Bible translations it generally translated as ‘ox’ (BBE) ‘wild ox’ (ERV, ASV, NKJV, ISV) or ‘strong bull’ (NET) and in footnotes a synonym is sometimes given as a ‘wild bull’. Continue reading