Thursday, December 31, 2015

There's Nothing There - Part 8

Wow, that's a lot of Parts. Especially for a universe with nothing in it. You wouldn't think it would take 8 Parts to explain, well, nothing.

Except, as we now know, Nothing Matters. Nothing is really Something. And completely without irony, Everything came from Nothing.

OK. Gravity. And the General Theory of Relativity. And the universe is wildly different than the way that anyone thinks it is.

Here's what we learned - the universe is made of space-time. Space-time can warp and bend, and for a photon, which is a little piece of light, the universe is really really different than it is for us normal, not-going-at-the-speed-of-light people. All the places in the universe are in the same place, and all the events that happen in time happen at the same time. Everything that happens, happens in the same place at the same time.

That's the Special Theory. It's not about Gravity.

The General Theory. That's about Gravity.

And Gravity does the same thing to space-time. It bends it. That's actually what Gravity is. Bent space-time. Looks like this. If you could see space-time. Kind of. Actually, it goes in towards the center of the earth from all directions. But that's hard to draw.

What Gravity is, is rolling down a hill of bent space-time. The earth bends space-time because the earth is made of matter and has mass. Mass bends space-time, creates what you might call a gravitational well. So, for example, when you jump off a diving board, you're just falling down into the gravitational well that the earth creates in space-time.

Weird. True, though.

Even weirder is this. "Down" is not "down" the way you think "down" is.
"Down" is going where time is passing more slowly.


Because the closer you get to the center of the earth (or anything made of matter), the slower time passes.

Are you ready for this?

The more mass there is, the more gravity.

No big surprise there.

But. If you take a lot of mass and concentrate it into a very, very small region, space-time bends into a sphere and collapses in on itself.

We'd call that a "Black Hole". Here's what one would look like if you could see it, which you can't, because light can't get out of a black hole.

And inside a black hole, space and time go away.

In fact, on the edge of black hole, which is called the "Event Horizon", it's just like traveling at the speed of light. If you went there (bad idea), you could see all of space and all of time. In an instant.

In fact again, since time stops at the Event Horizon, it would take you an infinite amount of time (we'll call that Eternity) to enter the black hole. I mean, for those of us watching from outside. We would never see you go into the black hole.

For you, just like a photon, it would only take an instant, and you would see all of time and space.

But for us, you would never go in.

(Einstein didn't say this. He didn't know about Black Holes.
Comedian Stephen Wright said it. Probably.)
In fact again again, what that means is that it would take an eternity for any black hole to actually become a black hole. It would take an infinite amount of time.

So there are no black holes. There are just a lot of things that are almoooooooost black holes, and they get closer all the time, but they never ever will ever become a black hole.

For us, I mean. For the black holes, they instantly become black holes

And both are true. At the same time. Sort of. Since time for us is an infinity, and an infinity for them is instantaneously, it's kind of hard to know how to talk about it.

So black holes are places in the universe where there are no places, and where everything happens at once.

So let me say this again.

What the heck does all of that mean?

It means that the world you look at, live in, and experience is only a tiny, insignificant fraction of the way the universe actually is.

It means that when you try to fit your understanding of God into your understanding of his universe, you come up infinitely short, and make of God something that he is not.

Just in case you forgot.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

There's Nothing There - Part 7

OK, Group the Second. Buckle up.

First, Big Bang. You need to get over it. There's an earlier post I wrote that you should go read. Go ahead. I'll wait.



(Foot tapping)
OK, great. Now.

The good news is that you seem to be here on purpose.

The bad news it that it's not quite the way that you think it is.

Again, let's review.

It's a relational universe. We've proposed then a relational God.

So you are bound up in relationships. That's why you're here.

This universe not only is defined by relationships, it is also not defined by determinism.

Isaac Newton and his contemporaries, and a lot of modern folks, thought, and still think, that it's a "cause-and-effect" universe where everything has a cause. Where nothing happens without a cause. Everything is predetermined by 1) what has come before, 2) the laws of physics, and/or 3) God, depending upon your proclivities.

So that would be a universe without 1) Quantum Theory, 2) Chaos Theory, 3) Free Will and, as it happens, 4) God.

That probably needs explaining. That might take a minute.

It is a universe that is entirely, wondrously, bafflingly, mysteriously and dramatically different than you think it is.

Here's a few paragraphs from Scientific American magazine describing the world of particles. Those are the things that you are made of, you and everything else. Get ready for some serious weirdness. If you don't get any of this, welcome to everybody else, including all (ALL!) the scientists who came up with it and fiddle with it nowadays:

When most people, including experts, think of subatomic reality, they imagine particles that behave like little billiard balls rebounding off one another. But this notion of particles is a holdover of a worldview that dates to the ancient Greek atomists—a view that reached its pinnacle in the theories of Isaac Newton. Several overlapping lines of thought make it clear that the core units of quantum field theory do not behave like billiard balls at all.

First, the classical concept of a particle implies something that exists in a certain location. But the “particles” of quantum field theory do not have well-defined locations: a particle inside your body is not strictly inside your body. An observer attempting to measure its position has a small but nonzero probability of detecting it in the most remote places of the universe. This contradiction was evident in the earliest formulations of quantum mechanics but became worse when theorists merged quantum mechanics with relativity theory. Relativistic quantum particles are extremely slippery; 

... they do not reside in any specific region of the universe at all.

Second, let us suppose you had a particle in your kitchen. Your friend, looking at your house from a passing car, might see the particle spread out over the entire universe. What is localized for you is delocalized for your friend. Not only does the location of the particle depend on your point of view, so does the fact that the particle has a location. In this case, it does not make sense to assume localized particles as the basic entities.

Third, even if you give up trying to pinpoint particles and simply count them, you are in trouble. Suppose you want to know the number of particles in your house. You go around the house and find three particles in the dining room, five under the bed, eight in a kitchen cabinet, and so on. Now add them up. 

To your dismay, the sum will not be the total number of particles. 

An extreme case of particles' being unpinpointable is the vacuum. Look closely at any finite region of an overall vacuum—by definition, a zero-particle state—and you may observe something very different from a vacuum. In other words, your house can be totally empty even though you find particles all over the place.

Another striking feature of the vacuum in quantum field theory is known as the Unruh effect. An astronaut at rest may think he or she is in a vacuum, whereas an astronaut in an accelerating spaceship will feel immersed in a thermal bath of innumerable particles.

If a vacuum filled with particles sounds absurd, that is because the classical notion of a particle is misleading us; what the theory is describing must really be something else. If the number of particles is observer-dependent, then it seems incoherent to assume that particles are basic. We can accept many features to be observer-dependent—but not the very fact of how many basic building blocks there are.

Finally, the theory dictates that particles can lose their individuality. In the puzzling phenomenon of quantum entanglement, particles can become assimilated into a larger system and give up the properties that distinguish them from one another. The presumptive particles share not only innate features such as mass and charge but also spatial and temporal properties such as the range of positions over which they might be found. When particles are entangled, an observer has no way of telling one from the other. At that point, do you really have two objects anymore?

... it seems you no longer have two particles anymore. The entangled system behaves as an indivisible whole, and the notion of a part, let alone a particle, loses its meaning.

So what the heck does all of that mean?

It means that the world you look at, live in, and experience is only a tiny, insignificant fraction of the way the universe actually is.

It means that when you try to fit your understanding of God into your understanding of his universe, you come up infinitely short, and make of God something that he is not.

Let's go with regular ol' Relativity for a minute. Here's the Reality of Relativity. 

The faster you go, the slower time passes.

And the faster you go, the skinnier space gets.

At the speed of light, then, all of time happens at the same time.

And all of space is in the same place.

So to a bit of light, the universe is a single point. It takes no time to travel from one part of the universe to the other because at the speed of light, there is no time and there is no space.

To a bit of light. A photon. But to you, since the best you can do is to be light-headed or light on your feet, the universe is huge and time passes along as it always has.

And both are true. The photon's experience of the universe is true, and so is yours. At the same time.

So here's what that means. It means that space and time, which are really just one thing together, and sort of unimaginatively we call it "space-time", are super flexible. Space-time can bend and warp, and what is really wild is this: space-time can just ... go away.

Space-time does this in two ways. One is by going really really fast, at the speed of light.

The other is when gravity gets into the act.

We should probably mention that space-time is what the universe itself is made of. That means that the universe can just ... go away.

Hold that thought.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

There's Nothing There - Part 6

Here's where it gets interesting.

As if it weren't already. We might have said that once before.

There are two schools of thought, more or less.

One says, the universe is random and arbitrary and indifferent to humans, earth, the Milky Way galaxy, all the other galaxies, any other aliens that might be living out there somewhere, all the other possibly life-supporting planets that exist, any galaxies that they might be in, and itself. The universe and everything in it, including humans, is just a big accident.

That is, nothing matters.

The other school says, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

That is, everything matters.

OK, there might be another school in the middle that says, there is no God, but everything still matters. This school is adorable, but tends to be operating out of a position that says, on the one hand, the universe is a big accident and nothing matters, but, on the other hand, I refuse to believe that I personally don't matter, damn it.

Interestingly, nearly everybody who doesn't believe in God is in the last group. I feel bad, but here's the math: if the universe and everything in it don't matter, and you're in it, then, well, there you go.

The response at that point is usually, well, damn it, I matter to me, and the universe matters to me.

Which is ... adorable. That is, terrible science, but kinda necessary in order to be able survive mentally and emotionally until, um, survival is no longer an option. A convenient, useful, not-optional delusion. To use Dawkins' word again. Turns out we need to pretend that we matter in order to stay sane and get stuff done. Otherwise, you know, what the heck is the point? So we have to act like there's a point.

Even more interestingly, actual science messes up all three groups. The way the actual universe actually is, is incompatible with any of these world-views.

OK, group the first and the second, here's your problem. Group the last, you should pay attention. The universe is not indifferent to the existence of humans or any other intelligent life form that might be out there somewhere.

The universe needs intelligent, sentient, self-aware observers in order for reality to exist.

You don't have to like that, but at the moment, it's still true.

And somehow the universe put itself together in such a way as not only to produce life, and humans, but did so in such a way that the chances of it happening by accident are mathematically and physically non-existent.

It's called fine-tuning. The universe is finely tuned.

That means that the constants of nature are each and every one of them dialed pretty much to exactly what they need to be to produce and sustain human life.

Gravity. Strong force. Weak force. Electromagnetic force. Juuuuuust right. It's so striking that Paul Davies wrote a book about it called "The Goldilocks Enigma" and another one called "Cosmic Jackpot". Because it's not only those four forces, but over 200 more constants of nature that each have to be juuuuuust right. Stuart Kaufmann wrote a book called "At Home in the Universe", and John Gribbon and Martin Rees penned another called "Cosmic Coincidences." (Neither Gribbon nor Rees are big fine-tuning fans, btw.)

Roger Penrose at Oxford calculates the odds of an ordered universe (any order, not just our type of order) appearing by accident at 10**10**30th, and the odds of life (any type of life, not just what we've got) appearing at random at 10**10**123rd.

That's not gonna happen.

As a way out of this conundrum, scientists have come up with the idea of a Multiverse, an infinite number of other universes outside of ours, as the only possible alternative. With an infinite number of universes, 10**10**123 is not a problem - order, structure and life will happen somewhere automatically.

In fact (because Infinity is always bigger than you think it is), with an infinite number of universes, this very exact universe that you live in will happen not once, but an infinite number of times, and every possible variation in any kind of universe will happen not once, but an infinite number of times.

So there would be an infinite number of You out there exactly the way you are right now, plus an infinite number of You, only slightly different, each slightly different version appearing an infinite number of times in an infinite number of places.

But of course, because science is always about evidence, and there is no evidence of any other universe, the Multiverse isn't science yet, and never will be. We don't even know what most of this universe is like, the very universe that you live in, and never will. Detecting other universes - not gonna happen.

Apart from the fact that there will never be any evidence of even one other universe outside of ours, there is still the Observer Problem. You still need an outside observer in order for any reality in any universe to exist, regardless of how many universes you might have.

That's not to mention (although I seem to be mentioning it right now) that the idea of the Multiverse comes from three areas of physics - string theory, inflationary theory, and the Many Worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics - for which there is no evidence in science. They each are pretty cool, but, well, no evidence means they aren't science yet.

The only solution inside this universe is for it to be infinitely old and large.

But Big Bang messed that up nicely. That's the problem, really. Big Bang.

Before Big Bang came along, we could pretend that the universe was infinitely large and old and had always been here and didn't have a starting point and the laws of physics had always been here making stuff happen, and it was all quite lovely and pointless, just the way we like it. Didn't need any observers. Didn't even know about most of the constants that have to be juuuuuuust right.

Dang Big Bang.

So your problem, groups 1 and 2, is that the universe is set up juuuuuuust right to produce humans so that they can look at it and make it be there. That's just good physics.

And what's more, it is, as we have noted, not a universe that is full of things, but a universe that is full of relationships, a universe full of things that interact, a universe where the interactions define and create reality. Reality exists in the universe because of interactions.

It's probably worth mentioning that 1) lots of smart (and some dumb) people don't like the fine-tuning argument at all and 2) make fun of people who do. Normally, people who disagree will 1) use good, real, not pseudo-science but science-with-real-evidence as a rebuttal and 2) not make fun of people. That doesn't seem to happen with fine-tuning. For what it's worth.

(This image is wrong, btw. There are probably not 100 but more like 300 billion or more stars in the Milky Way, and maybe 1 trillion other galaxies instead of just 100 billion. And many more than 7 billion people now. And that's in the observable universe. The rest of the universe may be 10**26 times larger than the part we can see. And maybe it's infinite. Which would make you ... infinitely insignificant. Sorry. I feel bad. "Infinite" is infinitely bigger than "enormously".)

Now, group 3, you have another problem.

PS Those purple spinny things up there come from String Theory, which needs ten or eleven dimensions to work, but we only see three in our universe, so the thought is that there are seven or eight other dimensions that used to be here (at the beginning of time), but aren't anymore, so where the heck are they? That's them. Little 7-dimensional lumps called Calabi-Yau Spaces, one in each elementary particle in the universe. So you've got a ton of them lurking in all of your particles, each electron, each quark, each gluon. If they exist. And we'll never know.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Pause to Think

We'll get back to the science next week. This week, it feels necessary to react to one of the presidential candidates and his comments on Muslims. The following is are excerpts from a book I wrote in the 1980s called One Nation Over God: The Americanization of Christianity ( The excerpts are from Chapter 6:

Chapter 6 - A Free Society Out of Control

Do not say, "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions ... Who can straighten what he has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other..."
Ecc 7: 10, 13b

He stared at him with a fixed gaze until Hazael felt ashamed. Then the man of God began to weep. "Why is my lord weeping?" asked Hazael. "Because I know the harm you will do to the Israelites," he answered. "You will set fire to their fortified places, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women." Hazael said, "How could your servant, a mere dog, accom­plish such a feat?" "The Lord has shown me that you will become king of Aram," answered Elisha. 
2 Kings 8:11-13

       With this in mind, an interesting parallel to the US in the last 20 years is found in the writings of Emanuel Hirsch, a theolo­gian who died in 1972. One of the more profoundly intelligent theologians of the 20th Century, Hirsch found that in his own country, freedom was being abused, to the great detriment of his land and people. Immorality was rampant, economic injustice ruled the day, the government was de­stroying the nation through morally relativistic and secularistic dogma and practices, and liberal thought was eroding Christian and Democratic values. Foreign interests were controlling the land, the industries, and the banking structure, and the influx of foreigners was causing unemployment and suffering among the citizens of the nation.
       Economically the country was out of control; the balance of trade was a disaster, the national debt was beyond repayment, mostly owed to foreign banks and governments, and inflation made it impossible to pay for basic necessities. Educators were no longer teaching the values of patriotism and love of country in the class­rooms. Communists were making inroads politically within the structure of the government. Homosexuals were flaunting their lifestyles. Traditional values were being laughed at and scorned by intel­lectuals, particularly in the film and arts communities. We can easily recognize the striking similarities to problems and stresses within the present day United States.
       As many Christian authors and pastors have written and preached in recent times in our country, Hirsch preached and wrote that his country should return to the traditional values present when his land was strong and powerful, when the economy was healthy and vital, and when the church supported the state. As the Puritans and the Founding Fathers saw God's divine will in America, so he saw that God was with his homeland in a special way, and God desired and ordained his country to become the creation of a New Israel under a state and church dedicated to service of God and people. God had provided them with a new leader, a Christian man who prayed in his speeches to the people, who would lead a state which was intended under his leadership to become a tool of God's grace.
       The horror is that Emanuel Hirsch was writing in Germany of the 1930s and '40s. The nation which he foresaw as this "tool of God's grace", since it "accepts Christianity and preserves order" was Nazi Germany. The leader who was, in Hirsch's view, a heaven-sent Christian leader, was Adolf Hitler; witness what Hirsch wrote in 1933: "No other Volk (people) in the world has a leading statesman such as ours, who takes Christianity so seriously. On May 1 when Adolf Hitler closed his great speech with a prayer, the whole world could sense the wonderful sincerity in that." Yale's Robert B. Ericksen, in Theologians Under Hitler, tells us that "Hirsch believes that God stands with Hitler in this moment of German history..."
       Other German theologians, Gerhard Kittel and Paul Althaus, held similar beliefs. It must be said here that none of the three, not Hirsch nor Althaus nor Kittel, accepted what we in US Christendom term as classic German theology; they were, and remain, respected conservative theologians as far as their non-polit­ical theological writings are concerned. Their own individual tragedies lie in their acceptance of a national theology, which initially seemed to fit their Christian faith, but within a decade had become the epitome of evil on earth.
       It is intriguing to see how closely the observations and complaints the people and in particular the Christians in pre-war Germany and in present-day America parallel each other. It is not true that conditions were necessarily similar sociologically or economically, but somehow the perceptions held by the God-fear­ing citizens in each nation of their life and times manifested themselves in rhetoric and writings which are al­most interchangeable, as is evidenced by the opening paragraphs of this section.

       There were two outcomes of this process, both vitally important to understanding both the Germany of the war, and America of the present. First, as Jesus had been stripped, Germans felt free to dress him in whatever strange and misfitting costumes they whimsied. Eventually, he was clothed in the brown shirts and swastikas of Nazism, co-opted like a loving retarded child into a deadly game. This was done most brutally by the Deutsche Christen, the German Christians, the official Christian and church arm of the Nazi regime. As they violated openly and horribly the most basic tenets of Christ's teachings, there is no doubt that the Deutsche Christen were not Christian; for example, in 1933 (the pivotal year in Nazi history), the Deutsche Christen held a rally at which the call was made for "removal of the Old Testament from the Bible".
       However, the Deutsche Christen were represented by a minority of churched believers in Germany. The vast majority of German churchgoers went along with the excesses of their government for what must have been a variety of reasons, with a rainbow of conflicting emotions. Those might have ranged from quiet outrage and helplessness to quiet satisfaction and subtle cooperation. Most undoubtedly were disquieted, unnerved, but found it easiest and safest to pretend as though the government was indeed, as the Bible teaches, put into authority over them by God, and they should be submissive to its laws and strictures. They found refuge, no doubt, in their theology of individual salvation and personal walk and faith with Christ, and felt as though sermons and religious discussions should avoid politics unless those politics were in support of the state. Frankly, the economics of the street improved immeasurably under the Nazis, and Christians have always been tempted by comfort and bounty, seen as a reward for their piety. They dressed their Jesus in formal robes and put high liturgy on his lips, and stood him on the street corner to pray gratefully, thank­ful that he was not like those Jews. The swastika was worn gracefully around the neck next to the cross, in homage to the state, and the giant red flag slashed in black rested on the podium across from the Christian flag, the church and state once again strong together.

       Both Kittel and Althaus joined Hirsch in support of the National Socialist movement and the Nazi regime in all of its heinous excesses and immorality, despite their sincere and conservative faith and profound knowledge of and familiarity with the Gospel. Kittel wrote that "the Nazi phenomenon was a 'volkisch renewal movement on a Christian, moral foundation'", based upon "Hitler's promise that the Party stood for "Positive Christianity,'" and joined a political party, the Nazis, for the first time in his life, at age 45 in 1933. In 1934, he wrote Karl Barth (a great Christian counter-point to Christian fascism), say­ing that "agreement with state and Fuhrer was obedience towards the law of God."
       Althaus wrote as the opening sentence in a popular book that "Our Protestant churches have greeted the turning point of 1933 as a gift and miracle of God." He goes on to say "...we take the turning point of this year as grace from God's hand. He has saved us from the abyss and out of hopelessness. He has given us--or so we hope--a new day of life." In 1934, writing in response to the Barmen Declaration (created by Barth and others in protest to the Nazis), he says that "we as believing Christians thank God our father that he has given to our Volk in its time of need the Führer as a 'pious and faithful sovereign', and that he wants to prepare for us in the National Socialist system of government 'good rule', a government with 'discipline and honor.' Accordingly, we know that we are responsible before God to assist the work of the Führer in our calling and in our station in life." In 1935, two years into the Nazi regime, he records his thought that "We Christians know ourselves bound by God's will to the promotion of National Socialism..."
       Meanwhile, the Deutsche Christen found comfortable and satisfying a comparison between Jesus and Hitler, made by one of their leading theologians, Julius Leutheuser, who also responded to charges that Nazism has been made into a religion by virtually equating the Reformation with National Socialism. Later, another DC theologian, Siegfried Leffler, "asserts that...Germany has been given a mission from God. The 'leader and prophet' is Adolf Hitler." Althaus attacked this position, accusing the Deutsche Christen of claiming the status of a "New Israel" for Germany. Leutheuser had written that "Whoever gives up hope for Germany, gives up hope for meaning in the world. Whoever does not believe in Germany's resurrection, does not believe in the resurrection of God." To his credit, Althaus ridiculed this idea. But he also wrote about "totalitarianism as a perfectly satisfactory form of government" and noted that " not the best form of government for every nation". He, along with Kittel, supported a mili­taristic state, describing war as "an unfortunate but necessary means for nations to resolve their differ­ences." Above all, he exalted devotion to the Volk, the people of a nation, the people of Germany, as an absolute obligation in obedience to God and His will.
       Hirsch, the true intellectual giant of the three theologians, once quoted Ernst Moritz Arndt: "Belief in God creates men, men of unshakable desire for freedom and genuine faithfulness...and men with warm hearts, who are capable of a complete and strong love for their Volk." Here we see the confusion of loyalties; the desire for a restoration of the things of Christ in society coupled with the longing for a strong and proud state. Somehow the two become as one, and in the unholy union, Christ is lost, crucified again in the 6 million Jews, the 10 million people killed in camps, the 100 million who died world-wide as a result of the idolatry. This is nothing but idolatrous worship of freedom, the same freedom that is blamed for the ills of German society, the same freedom that will be denied to those 6 million, those 10 million, those 100 million. It is this freedom that will enslave others to free those in power from menial la­bor and economic struggle. It is this freedom that will deny others immigration in order to protect a lifestyle, and this freedom that will deport or eliminate those it does not enslave, again to ensure physical comforts and luxuries.

       America now does not stand next to the German example of 1939 or beyond; do we stand with the Germany of 1932, before Hitler came to power, when all Germans were appalled at the state of their coun­try? Are the hard times in America yet hard enough to cause us to consider recalling some of our freedoms, to reign in democracy, to get tough with crime, drugs, illegal aliens, (refugees), foreign investors, and liberal lawmak­ers? In our idolatry of freedom, our worship of America, is it now time to begin to deny freedom to some in America, as we have denied it to people of other nations around the globe? Will the powerful within our shores begin to manifest their anger on the powerless? Who will be the Jews?

(Ironically, at the moment, the Muslims are the Jews. It may be time for us to be having serious conversations about the direction we are heading.)(And to buy and read my book.)(