Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Common Sense...

A lot has been written about the loss of common sense in America, particularly by those on the right. On the surface, the observations seem reasonable. Courts make seemingly outrageous civil settlements, or set vicious criminals free on technicalities. Entrenched bureaucracies enforce laws blindly without regard for individual variations or needs.
 But common sense works both ways. To wit:
Common sense says that the more guns a society has, the more violent it is likely to be. Guns do not make a people violent. But they do give a violent people the ability to kill quickly, easily, thoughtlessly, like a mindless bureaucracy might do. Common sense might prompt us to look at other countries with many fewer guns, and much, much lower rates of violent crime.
Common sense will tell us that if there is a death penalty, innocent people will be put to death for crimes they did not commit, along with the guilty who are executed for the crimes they did commit. Common sense will suggest that if the death penalty is the one punishment that cannot be fixed after the fact, then the death penalty should not be an option for punishment.
Common sense will tell us that just because we assume that a fetus is not human, because it is more convenient for us to make that assumption, that does not make a fetus not a human. Our comfort levels do not redefine reality for us.
Common sense will demonstrate that the reason we have laws which restrict the rights of good people and businesses is because bad people and businesses have forced us to write those laws.
Common sense will look at history to realize that capitalism will not work without the checks and balances found in a good dose of socialism, and vice versa. A healthy society will have the vigor of capitalism, and the wisdom to protect its workers via socialism.
Common sense will show that the way to prevent poor people from illegally entering this country looking for better jobs for better pay is to help the countries from whence these people come to provide better jobs for better pay. That may entail some willing sacrifice on our part, else they will continue to come, and the jobs they seek will flee our own borders into lands with cheaper labor.
Common sense says that if a people suffers racial discrimination for generations, the solutions will be complex, and will require sacrifice by those who descend from the discriminators.
Common sense says that the poor are poor for complicated reasons, not only or even primarily laziness and greed. There are many lazy, greedy rich people. Common sense says that demonizing those least able to defend themselves is demonic. Common sense says that if we do not help the poor kids while they are kids, we will have yet another generation of poor adults having poor kids, and that many of us could find ourselves, through a careless decision or an indifferent society, living poor and homeless.
Common sense says that we need to protect both businesses and the environment from each other.
Common sense tells us that most criminals will eventually be released, and that we need to prepare them to re-enter society, to be able to work and earn a living, to be forgiven with wisdom. A subculture of angry, alienated people will make enemies of the rest of us far more successfully than we will make enemies of them.
Common sense tells us all that living in a country which provides for us will have a cost, and that we each should expect to pay what is required. It also tells us that some will not be able to pay, and that, because we are a good people, we should be willing to help.
Common sense tells us that when we are at our best, we desire a society with no poor, no homeless, no victims of violence or discrimination, a place where the innocent do not suffer and the guilty are both punished and offered rehabilitation, a land of communities where people care for each other regardless of differences. We desire a place where no babies are aborted, no one is addicted, no one beats another, and all are given an equal chance to succeed.

Common sense tells us we will never have such a society. Thus, we must not only care for ourselves, but for each other, and we must both stand firm for what we believe, and be willing to compromise. Above all, we must try to love one another, as trite and simplistic as it sounds.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why Religious People should love Big Bang. Not the show. The Bang.

Let's just start with the answer. You should love Big Bang because the discovery of Big Bang was the most amazing, stunning, unbelievable, extraordinary, mind-boggling, gobsmacking, paradigm-shattering, science-altering event in the history of human thought, and it brought the discussion over the existence of God back onto the table.

You should love Big Bang because Albert Einstein rejected it out of hand as ridiculous, and messed up a perfectly good equation trying to force the universe to, well, not have a Big Bang right there at the beginning. Not only did Einstein reject it, most if not all scientists rejected it. Einstein rejected it even though his own personal General Theory of Relativity predicted it a full decade before there was any evidence that it might be true. This was a big surprise to Albert. He didn't put a Big Bang in there, so it was quite a shock when it popped out. It was really shocking to him when all the evidence started to line up in support of Big Bang. He had to go back and fix his equation, which made it beautiful once again.

You should love Big Bang because British astronomer Fred Hoyle rejected it to the end of his life in 2001, saying in 1982 that "the passionate frenzy with which the Big Bang cosmology is clutched to the corporate scientific bosom evidently arises from a deep-rooted attachment to the first chapter of Genesis, religious fundamentalism at its strongest." He rejected it because it sounded too much like religion.

And many of us reject it because it sounds too much like science.

Ah, the irony.

You especially should love Big Bang because if you don't, if you try to argue for a young earth and universe that are only 6000 years old, not only do skeptics and atheists dismiss that argument out of hand, they think you're an idiot, and you've lost any chance you might have had to talk about the real and serious issues of faith.

Here's the thing - I'm guessing that most Protestant believers reject Big Bang in large part for the same reason that most science-minded skeptics accept it without question. That reason is pretty simple - neither group has the slightest understanding of what Big Bang really is.

So it might be useful to explain it. 1-2-3 go.

We all understand the universe to be the way that Isaac Newton's equations describe it for us. It's logical, reasonable. It makes sense. It is common-sensical. It's a WYSIWYG universe - what you see is what you get. When you look at it, that's the way it is.

Yeah. Not so much.

Scientists had decided that since the universe looked really big and really old, that it must in fact be infinitely big and infinitely old. It had always been there, static, stationary, unchanging. That's what it looked like. That must be the way it is, was, and had been.

Turns out not to be that way. At all.

In 1905 and 1915, Einstein turned our understanding of the universe upside down and inside out. He even turned his own understanding of the universe on its head.

In 1905 in the Special Theory of Relativity, he discovered that time is not a constant. It's a variable. It changes as you get closer to the speed of light. The closer you get, the more it changes. Time has a speed, and its speed slows down as you speed up. The faster you go, the slower time passes.

And if you could reach the speed of light, time would stop altogether. Actually, it's more accurate to say that at the speed of light, things that happen aren't separated by time anymore. Everything happens at once. All of the history of the universe happens at the same instant. Your birth, your life, your death, everything happens at the same time.

What's more, he discovered that space and time aren't separate - they're woven together. The universe is made of space-time. And at the speed of light, space flattens to two dimensions. So not only does everything happen at once, it all happens at the same place. Sort of. I have this physics t-shirt that reads: Time exists so that everything doesn't happen at once. Space exists so that it all doesn't happen to you.

In 1916 in the General Theory of Relativity, he revealed his discovery that space-time is flexible, bendable, warpable. And what bends and warps space-time is matter. Anything made of matter bends and warps space-time. What we call that is Gravity. Gravity is the bending of space-time by anything made of matter. The sun, the earth, the moon. You. Me. Matter of any size and shape. We all bend space-time.

Among other things, this means that the closer you are to center of the earth, for example, the slower time passes. Time passes more slowly at your toes than at your nose.

Among other other things, this means that the more matter you have squished into a very small place, the greater the warping of space-time. Space-time can warp so much that it bends completely around itself into a sphere and cuts off the universe. We call that a Black Hole.

Now it gets interesting. Like, if it wasn't already.

A guy named Georges Lemaître, a Belgian physicist who was also a priest, worked through the math of the General Theory in 1927 and discovered something that Albert himself didn't put there, didn't expect, and didn't want. Lemaître found out that the General Theory predicts that the universe will be expanding as you go forward in time. The universe expands. It doesn't stay the same size. It's not static, stationary, or unchanging.

And if you turn around and look backwards in time, then the universe is getting smaller. It's contracting. And it can only contract just … so … far … before it … disappears altogether.

Fred Hoyle, in trying to explain this on the radio in 1949, called it a "Big Bang." The name stuck. He didn't like it. Nobody else did at first, either. Not the name. The name was fine. The concept. The universe having a starting point.

It was just something the General Theory predicted. There was no evidence for it. Without evidence, it's not science yet, neither true nor false.


In 1929, Edwin Hubble revealed his discovery that in looking at the light of the distant galaxies in the universe, he found that the universe was in fact expanding. It was getting bigger. Lemaître was right, Einstein was wrong. There was a starting point, a place where it all began.


What does THAT mean?

Here's what we tend to think. We tend to think that there was a vast emptiness, dark, an endless vacuum of nothingness, no planets, no stars, no galaxies, no Walmarts, no Starbucks. Nothing but nothing.

That's wrong. It implies that nothing is, in fact, something. That something would be space-time.

But as you go backwards in time, the universe contracts. Space-time contracts. Space-time itself gets smaller and smaller until it just … disappears altogether.

Which means this: Big Bang was that moment when space and time came into existence.

Before Big Bang, there was no … before. No space. No time. No nothing. There was no there there for anything to be there in, no when for anything to be then in.

Then, in a tiny tiny fraction of a second, the rate of expansion perfect to one part in ten to the sixtieth, the universe blew itself into existence. In a moment of a moment of a moment, what we call the Singularity became a universe-sized universe, a cosmos-sized cosmos, the whole process taking far less than one second.

Science thinks that one part of the Big Bang was when the universe expanded from a nano-sized square to 250 million light years across in .000000000000000000000000000000000001 second.

Everything … came from … nothing. In, like, no time.

Space. Time. Energy. Matter. The laws of physics themselves. Everything and the potential for everything else came from … nothing.

I told this to a classroom full of students in Switzerland a few years ago. There was a long, long, quiet pause when nobody breathed and everyone tried to absorb it. They were mostly skeptics, atheists who believed that science has disproved the existence of God, that Big Bang was central to showing that God does not exist.

Then I told them about the Bang. Quiet. And then someone in the back of the room, some atheist, skeptical kid, said one word. He said, "God."


That's why you should love the Big Bang.