The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself? Part 11

Part 11 and the final part of my review of the book: “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself,” by Sean M. Carroll. Part 10 is found here.


In the last section of the book titled “Caring” he opens the first chapter with a quote from Carl Sagan’s wife. In response to people who knew Sagan was not a believer, seven years after his death his wife, Ann Druyan, wrote:

“We knew we were the beneficiaries of chance … That pure chance could be so generous and so kind … That we could find each other … in the vastness of space and the immensity of time….  The way he treated me and the way I treated him… that is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don’t think I’ll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.” (pp.387-8)

This then leads to the question of the afterlife. Being a naturalist Carroll does not believe in such. He states though that he would like to continue living in some fashion after death, but only if it was pleasant and if he was not “tortured by ornery demons” (p.388)

And he writes that it takes courage to face up to the finitude of and the limits on our existence. Thus he agrees with Druyan that it was only chance that she met Sagan. The message here is that man is just another animal and not any more important that a sea slug. By chance we meet our spouses—there is no more meaning in our existence than chance.

“Ideas like ‘meaning’ and ‘morality’ and ‘purpose’ are nowhere to be found in the Core Theory of quantum fields, the physics underlying our everyday lives.” (p.389)

But he tries to add meaning by saying that these are emergent ways of talking about our human-scale environment. Nothing more.

“The source of these values isn’t the outside world; it’s inside us.” (p.389)

We could discuss where such ideas have ultimately led to. In the 20th century alone at least one hundred million people were killed, directly or indirectly, by atheistic despotic regimes, which were the invention of man’s values. Nazi Germany eliminated the handicapped because of ideas from inside the mind of man—ideas that were based on humanist Darwinian thinking.

Carroll tries to save the atheist position with

“If you are moved to help those less fortunate than you, it doesn’t matter whether you are motivated by a belief that it’s God’s will, or by a personal conviction that it’s the right thing to do. Your values are no less real either way.” (p.391)

That is true. But in a culture that developed from the Judeo-Christian mind-set it is not surprising that altruism in part remains in the society, even among atheists. But what is their motivation. It would seem they would be acting contrary to their selfish Darwinian belief system.

Figure 1: Christ Pantocrator mosaic in Byzantine style, from the Cefalù Cathedral, Sicily, c. 1130. Credit: Andreas Wahra – Wikimedia commons

Most societies that developed aid to the poor or the handicapped did not arrive at those ideas using man’s values. Most hospitals, aged care homes, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and other outreaches (the anti-slavery movement, for example) began with Christians desiring to follow Christ’s admonition. (Matthew 25:37-40)

The unsaved sinner did not just think it would be a good idea to help the poor themselves. History tells us—Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, to name a few—that man’s ideas are decidedly selfish and destructive. The scriptures tell us (James 4:1-2) that it is from lust (or desire) that many undesirable actions and even wars result.

But according to Carroll,

“[d]esire has a bad reputation in certain circles. But that’s a bum rap.” (p.392)

And he tries to give it a positive spin, but not by mentioning any of the negative traits that desire or lust lead to. He says once we have provision of food and shelter we challenge ourselves to show some accomplishments.

“That makes sense, in light of evolution. An organism that didn’t give a crap about anything that happened to it would be at a severe disadvantage in the struggle for survival when compared to one that looked out for itself, its family and its compatriots.” (p.392)

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The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself? Part 9

Part 9 of my review of the book: “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself,” by Sean M. Carroll. Part 8 is found here.

Purpose without a Creator

The next chapter entitled “Emergent Purpose” is about finding some sort of ‘purpose’ as an emergent property of evolution. He is quite clear that evolution itself is undirected but suggests that we humans can find some purpose in it.

He starts out with a question “Why do giraffes have such long necks?” and gives 4 possible answers, 3 of which evolutionist would believe. Option 1 he declares incorrect, which is Lamarckian, yet actually closer to Darwin’s original idea. Options 2 is the common way of explaining neo-Darwinian evolution, with mutations conferring better fitness. Option 3 is about sexual selection and option 4 is in line with his overall message of the book.

“Given the laws of physics, and the initial state of the universe, and our location in the cosmos, collections of atoms in the shape of long-necked giraffes came into existence 14 billion years after the Big Bang.” (pp.291-2)

None of this sentence has any credibility. Only by assuming everything to be true in the evolution story from the big bang to current day could you write this. So it is not a science statement but a theological statement. He says it avoids any particular evolutionary story, but it is not hard to imagine that the words “came into existence” does not mean at the hands of the Creator, but rather is a big bang. Otherwise there would be no need to start in the big bang, nor include the words “our location in the cosmos”. He says this is a poetic-naturalism way of speaking about emergent properties of the biological world. But that could only be true if you could demonstrate experimentally that each requirement in the statement is true.

Then from this sort of story, which he calls “the fundamental description of reality” (p.292) because of the big bang, expansion of the universe and the increase in entropy with time, he says

“… these emergent pictures invoke words like ‘purpose’ and ‘adaptation,’ even though those ideas are nowhere to be found in the underlying mechanistic behavior of reality” (p.293)


“How could evolution, which itself is ultimately purely physical, bring these utterly new kinds of things into existence? It’s a natural thing to worry about. The process of evolution is unplanned and unguided.”

“There is no general principle along the lines of ‘new kinds of things cannot naturally arise in the course of undirected evolution.’ Things like ‘stars’ and ‘galaxies’ come to be in a universe where they formerly didn’t exist. Why not purposes and information?” (p.293)

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The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself? Part 6

Part 6 of my review of the book: “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself,” by Sean M. Carroll. Part 5 is found here.

The Core Theory

Carroll spends several chapters discussing the quantum mechanical framework for the Core Theory, as he calls it. Quantum mechanics has been an extremely successful physical theory exquisitely predicting with enormous precision some parameters in particle physics. But what many people have heard of quantum theory is more about the various interpretations applied by physicists (e.g. Bohr’s abstract physical description, or, Everett’s many-worlds) to the way the theory might work beneath what we can measure.

Regardless of the correct interpretation it has enjoyed enormous success as a theory of physics in what is called the standard model of particle physics. The second very successful theory is general relativity—Einstein’s theory of gravity. Both work extremely well in their respective domains of operation, but outside that, in the realm of what is called quantum gravity neither operate nor has a theory been found to unite them. But that is exactly what Stephen Hawking and others have been seeking, to have the Universe begin in a quantum fluctuation of a meta-stable false vacuum.

But even though we have this limitation, in the realm of what humans can measure, Carroll has faith and writes:

“What we can do is show that physics by itself is fully up to the task of accounting for what we see.” (p.179)

However he admits that one class of particles not part of the current Core Theory are those that make up “dark matter” in the Universe. Such alleged weakly interacting putative particles are allowed for in the Core Theory because they are so weakly interacting with normal atomic matter that they are hard to detect. I would argue that dark matter and other dark entities are a philosophical construct used to keep the standard big bang cosmology from being discredited.1 Dark matter was first needed to explain the dynamics of spiral galaxies. Now it seems that it is no longer needed, when standard physics is applied correctly.2 Continue reading

Lecture: A biblical creationist cosmogony in Japan

An illustrated lecture I presented on March 19th, 2017, at Saidaiji Christian Church in Okayama, Japan. It was translated into Japanese by Mr Toru Yasui. The lecture covers the issue of the need to assume a worldview before we can interpret any observational data from the cosmos. Two worldviews are contrasted: The biblical creation worldview and the pagan big bang worldview. Biblical creation cosmogonies are explained and how they provide an answer to how we see distant starlight, from galaxies billions of light-years distant, in a 6000 year old universe. Running time 1 hour 14 minutes.

Recommended Reading

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More on our eternal universe

Journal of Creation Volume 31 Issue 1 2017

In Our eternal universe I laid out the biblical and scientific case for an eternal created universe sustained by the Creator.  That article was published in the Journal of Creation 30(3):104–109, December 2016, which has a wider readership than here, my personal web/blog site. And it attracted some comments via Letters to the Editor.

The ‘standard’ biblical creationist view has been that at the New Heaven and New Earth stage at some point in the future God wipes out the whole starry heavens and recreates a new universe of stars and galaxies. I am convinced the Creator will renovate the earth and its atmospheric heavens in that event but what do the scriptures really tell us?

Below I reproduce the letters arguing against my hypothesis and my responses.

Letter I

J. Creation 31(1) page 41 and page 42

Letter II

J. Creation 31(1) page 43 and page 44

After you have read both sides of the debate I welcome your comments below.

Related Reading

A world without WIMPs

There was talk over lunch and coffee of dark forces, dark photons, and dark neutrons.1 (emphasis added)

This is the extent of what is actually known about dark matter and any other entities from the dark sector of particle physics.  At a workshop where more than 100 physicists took over the University of Maryland, titled “US Cosmic Visions: New Ideas in Dark Matter,” attendees were encouraged to think more broadly to solve the vexing problem of the non-detection of dark matter particles in all experiments that have ever been tried for the last 40 years, at least.

They spoke of axions and other dark-matter candidates so lightweight that they would be detected as waves, and of particles so heavy that they would clump together and encounter Earth only occasionally as a vast invisible glob.1

Despite impressive sensitivity, dark-matter detection experiments such as Large Underground Xenon (detector array above) have not found any evidence of WIMPs. Credit: C. H. Faham/LUX

A recalibration for the dark-matter community

For decades physicists have been fixated on the putative WIMP, a Weakly Interacting Massive Particle, which allegedly has a tendency to intermittently mingle with ordinary matter via the weak force. WIMPs have been alleged to inhabit our part of the Galaxy but all experiments, like the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) detector array, have failed to find any trace of their existence.  Theorists developed ideas that WIMPs might be the lowest mass yet stable supersymmetric particle, called the neutralino but experimentalists with vast, exquisitely sensitive underground detectors such as the LUX array or using the powerful particle accelerator the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) found no such particles though they were meant to be constantly streaming stealthily through our planet. Now, Continue reading

The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself? Part 1

Part 1 of my review of the book: “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself,” by Sean M. Carroll a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, and an outspoken atheist (not to be confused with Sean B. Carroll, an evolutionary biologist). The book was 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 by 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 come 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