The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself? Part 4

Part 4 of my review of the book: “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself,” by Sean M. Carroll. Part 3 is found here.

Understanding the World

Carroll devotes a few chapters to assessing how well we understand the world. He introduces us to Rev. Thomas Bayes who, in the latter part of his life, studied probability. He was published posthumously on the subject. His work has become widely used in mathematics, principally statistics, and also in physics. The subject has become to be known as Bayesian inference or Bayesian probability.

Bayes’ main idea involves how to treat the probability of a proposal being correct in the light of new evidence becoming available. In physics we rely on what we already know, or what we think we have established as foundational and we build upon that. When we get new information that could change our view we need to update what we believe is the probability of the hypothesis being correct in light of that new information. That probability is what is called a credence, or the degree of belief that we hold that we are correct.

So Bayesian inference attempts to apply a quantitative value to what we might infer from our attempts to explain the physical world. It is the basis of scientific investigation. In terms of experimental discoveries it is easy to see how this might apply. We can never prove any hypothesis or theory correct. All we can hope to do is update our credence, meaning to increase the probability of a theory being correct.  In physics a threshold is established of 5σ (5 sigma) above which it is said that a discovery has been made. Statistically that is like saying there is only 1 in a 3.5 million chance that the signal isn’t real and thus the theory is wrong. That is a very low probability indeed. But some discoveries have been made at the level of 3σ or less.I know of one hypothesis that had a 6σ probability yet it turned out to be wrong.2

But things don’t always work out to be correct, even with a statistical probability above 5σ. Any hypothesis may be refuted but it can never be proven. Do you remember the claim of faster than light neutrinos in 2011? The OPERA team’s experimental results indicated a 6σ level of confidence, which is much higher than the 5σ usually required for new particle discoveries. But in the following year, as many expected (because we don’t expect any particle to break the speed of light limit), an error was found in the experimental analysis resulting from a loose fibre optic cable, and that meant those neutrinos obeyed the universal speed limit. When the new information came in the Bayesian credence could be updated to nearly zero. Continue reading

Comments on Dark Matter and Dark Energy

A reader of my article Big bang fudge factors wrote the following comments:

Dark matter has been detected: neutrinos fit the definition of Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, as they have such small probabilities of interacting with atomic matter that it takes several moles of neutrinos to achieve the same probability of a single interaction as a single neutron or photon. Though individually nearly massless and invisible to matter, the sheer number of neutrinos surrounding us makes it possible to detect them, and makes their combined energy a significant component of the mass of the Universe.

Likewise, Massive Compact Halo Objects are quite ordinary matter. They are planetary and sub-planetary bodies, producing little or no light, and so hard to detect. To these, we add black holes, neutron stars, and brown dwarfs, which also emit little or no light, despite their mass.

Neither should the existence of dark energy be any surprise to Christians. After all, the Bible say, “The heavens are stretched out like a curtain.” Dark energy is the energy of the vacuum state, less than 1 microjoule per cubic meter, distributed uniformly. Only because of the vastness of space are we able to observe its effects. Even so, were this tremendous amount of energy somehow liberated, “the elements shall be consumed by fire.” The decay of the vacuum state, unleashing the tremendous amount of energy stored in it, could very well be the means by which the Lord transforms the Universe at the end of the age.

My responses are below. Continue reading

The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself? Part 3

Part 3 of my review of the book: “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself,” by Sean M. Carroll. Part 2 is found here.

Naturalism

Carroll defines naturalism saying it comes down to three things (p.20) and that “the only reliable way of learning about the world is by observing it”. But how can he know that if he is not God. Suppose for a minute that there really is a Creator God and He gave us a revelation in His written Word. But because man cannot, by definition, observe God, since He is a spirit and outside the realm of detectability by science, how can he know that what God has written is not a reliable way of learning about the world? And this is another self-refuting claim: what observation did he make, or even could he make, that reliably showed that observation is the only reliable way of learning?

His form of naturalism – poetic naturalism (after David Hume) – is just standard atheistic naturalism, but he adds that man has responsibility and freedom (p.21).

“The world exists; beauty and goodness are things that we bring to it.”

He means there is nothing intrinsically good or beautiful. He writes that there are

“No causes, whether material, formal, efficient, or final” (p.29).

Extending the idea of Laplace’s Demon, he writes

“Realistically, there never will be and never can be an intelligence vast and knowledgeable enough to predict the future of the universe from its present state.” (p.34)

In the chapter titled “Reasons Why” he says that Leibniz’s Principle of Sufficient Reason is a mistake. That principle states that “For any true fact, there is a reason why it is so, and why something else is not so instead” (p.40). And he points out that

“Hume noted that conceiving of effects without causes might seem unusual, but it does not lead to any inherent contradiction or logical impossibility.” (p.41)

This leads to his belief that the universe needs no reason to be; it simply is.

“… there are facts that don’t have any reasons to explain them”. (p.42)

He implicitly believes a big bang origin for the universe 14 billion years ago, and says that there are some questions for which we may not get answers. Continue reading

The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself? Part 2

Part 2 of my review of the book: “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself,” by Sean M. Carroll. Part 1 is found here.

Introduction

In the Prologue the author writes:

“We have two goals ahead of us. One is to explain the story of our universe and why we think it’s true, the big picture as we currently understand it. It’s a fantastic conception. We humans are blobs of organised mud, which through the impersonal workings of nature’s patterns have developed the capacity to contemplate and cherish and engage with the intimidating complexity of the world around us. To understand ourselves, we have to understand the stuff out of which we are made, which means we have to dig deeply into the realm of particles and forces and quantum phenomena, not to mention the spectacular variety of ways that those microscopic pieces can come together to form organized systems capable of feeling and thought.

The other goal is to offer a bit of existential therapy. … By the old way of thinking, human life couldn’t possibly be meaningful if we are ‘just’ collections of atoms moving around in accordance with the laws of physics. That’s exactly what we are, but it’s not the only way of thinking about what we are. We are collections of atoms, operating independently of any immaterial spirits or influences, and we are thinking and feeling people who bring meaning into existence by the way we live our lives.” (p.3)

The latter he must say because later he says that the material world is all there is. He argues that there is no such thing as a spirit or a soul that is not part of our material body. When we die that is it, there is nothing beyond life.

Carroll is a student of many philosophers, mostly atheists, or who are at least those who challenge a conservative Christian worldview of life.  For example he mentions, Descartes, Nietzsche, Laplace, Hume, Leibniz, Spinoza, Lewis (not C.S.), Russell, Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard and others. But it would seem that the author relies more strongly on the so-called Enlightenment philosophy of the atheist Scotsman David Hume.

Continue reading

Wow! mystery signal from space finally explained

Forty years ago a signal–called the Wow! signal–was obtained from space. Some speculated that it might be from an intelligent alien source. Read Wow! Communications from little green men?

Now it is argued that that it was not from little green men, but from a comet. Such is the hype around detection of a signal from aliens that common sense is ignored. Well, time, real science and cool heads have won out. The original source has been found.

Wow! mystery signal from space finally explained

Location of the two comets shown on the sky by pink ellipses. Credit: The Center for Planetary Science

The comets, P/2008 Y2(Gibbs) and 266/P Christensen, which were not known back 40 years ago when the Wow! Signal was first obtained, appeared again in the night sky from November 2016 through February of 2017.

An online news site reports from the astronomy team.1

The team reports that radio signals from 266/P Christensen matched those from the Wow! Signal 40 years ago. To verify their results, they tested readings from three other comets, as well, and found similar results. The researchers acknowledge that they cannot say with certainty that the Wow! signal was generated by 266/P Christensen, but they can say with relative assurance that it was generated by a comet.

Continue reading

A new Little Ice Age is predicted for 2030

Diminishing solar activity may bring new Ice Age by 2030! This is the headline of the press release from the Lomonosov Moscow State University published online 17 July 2015.1

Figure 1: This image of the Sun was taken by NASA Solar Dynamics Observations mission on 15 July 2015, at a wavelength of 304 Angstroms. Note: No sunspots are visible. Credit: NASA Solar Dynamics Observations.

The arrival of intense cold similar to the one that raged during the “Little Ice Age”, which froze the world during the 17th century and in the beginning of the 18th century, is expected in the years 2030—2040.1

This is the conclusion of research presented at the National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno in Wales, by Professor V. Zharkova (Northumbria University) and a team of other well qualified scientists.

The sun has its own magnetic field, which varies in both amplitude and spatial configuration over time. The changes in the strength of the magnetic fields in the solar atmosphere results in changes of electromagnetic radiation from the sun, changes of the intensity of plasma flows coming to Earth, as well as the number of sunspots appearing in the photosphere (the visible lowest layer of the atmosphere which might be called the surface of the sun). They studied the changes in sunspot number, with a cyclic structure varying approximately every 11 years, which also has an impact on Earth’s environment. Continue reading

New planet discovered hotter than most stars

Astronomers from Ohio State University and Vanderbilt University have discovered a planet with a surface temperature hotter than most stars. The planet KELT-9b has a surface temperature of 4600 K, only 1200 degrees K (about 2000 degrees F) cooler than the sun. The planet must have a warm yellow glow.

Astronomers at The Ohio State University and Vanderbilt University have discovered a planet that is so hot, its temperature rivals most stars. Credit: Robert Hurt, NASA/JPL-Caltech

The astronomy team presented their results in the journal Nature and at a presentation at the American Astronomical Society spring meeting (2017). They found the planet, which is 2.8 times more massive than Jupiter, but only as half as dense, to be continually bombarded by stellar radiation from the nearby star. As a result its day side is so hot that molecules such as water, carbon dioxide, and methane can’t form there. It is not known what the night side is like. It is speculated that molecules may be able to form there, but probably only temporarily. The planet is tidally locked to the central star KELT-9, which, at least, shields the night side from the intense radiation.

The environment of this planet is a far cry from the ideal environment God has created for life on Earth. Certainly life as we know it could not exist on a planet such as KELT-9. And considering that its atmosphere is constantly blasted with high levels of ultraviolet radiation it is unlikely a place to find any sort of life.

Reference

  1. A planet hotter than most stars, ScienceDaily, June 5, 2017.