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Archive for the ‘cosmology’ Category

There’s a harrible (okay horrible!) new movie in process of creation. I won’t advertize it more than to say that, and maybe it will never see the light of day, but in case it does, this is my response.

Copernicus Desecrated

Welcome to Sungenis world
Where gravity’s dead and Earth unwhirled
And all the realm of discovery furled.
 
Venus may orbit the mighty Sun,
But we suppose it does so just for fun
While Mars just meanders a blood-stained run.
 
And the stars whirl round us, faster than light
Yet leave no trail of their terrible flight —
For which give thanks; ‘twould sear the sight.
 
…Velvet black is the sky of our night
Rich with the dance of galactic might
Pure and deep, as of infinite height.
 
Not to mention the Hadley cell
That swept ol’ Chris on the ocean swell
Whence the Gulf Stream returned his ships as well.
 
Some may long for world less stunning
A paste-up world, inept at running,
Each motion, the whim of Deity cunning.
 
But give me my ration of Logos Land
Alive in itself, and alight from the Hand
Of a Lord so humble, he lets us stand
 
On our own two feet.
Praise him for bitter; praise for sweet.
Love Him who gives us minds to meet.

Reflections

The importance of gravity is at stake when the motion of the earth is denied. Gravity is what makes the earth circle the sun and what makes all the other planets do the same and what makes the Moon circle the earth. (Ellipse the earth if you will. :)
If Earth does not orbit the Sun, but is stationary in the universe, then it is not subject to gravity which is what makes everything else follow their orbits, which is what makes spoons fall and apples fall (notes from Galileo and Newton respectively) and also makes the moons of Jupiter circle their planet.
Yes, Einstein may have said that observation would not force you to choose one model over another, earth-centered or not, but the quest for an orderly universe (Wisdom 11:20) would. And that is the foundation of the scientific revolution which these blokes would like to upend in favor of an unbelievably brash and careless critique, a real desecration of Copernicus, and a ridiculous defense of the Italian inquisition’s censure of Galileo.
A universe where gravity is occasional! Pathetic!
And all the stars of the universe whirl round us every 24 hours… Spare me! But if it were so, the slightest offset, such as a photograph from a space vehicle, would find a sky with streaks instead of points of light.

Velvet sky

A note about the “velvet” sky. Anyone who has a printer in the modern world knows the difference between flat black, which is what we have with black ink, and that specially rich black from a color printer. Similarly, the night sky is that rich black — it is not flat. You see that when you look. Why?

Well, perhaps we really do see, one photon at a time, all those galaxies that are in the Hubble photos, but, not having a 16-hour exposure, we get only enough photons to make the darkness not flat. Imperceptibly sparkling.

Another thing that is interesting in the sky is that, because the stars lack parallax, seeing them feels like seeing infinity. No matter how long we look, we do not sense the convergence of our lines of sight (from two eyes) and this gives a deepening impression of infinity, the longer we look. Over time, the stars even cross the sky, but still no parallax. Awesome!

The Trades

Another important effect, and therefore evidence, of the earth’s turning, is the several bands of atmospheric motion — the Hadley, Ferrel, and Polar cells which drive much of our weather and are a consequence of our spinning. So is the Gulf Stream, by the way. The Hadley cell drives the trade winds that brought Columbus here, and the Gulf Stream and northern Ferrel cell returned him, all three being direct consequences of the turning of the Earth.

Jupiter also has weather bands similar to our own, but more because it’s bigger.

Logos the Beloved

The Lord has made a world where he may be known partly through his works, which are reasonable and hence worth study. He is the Logos, the Word from our Father whose mind is the source of Rationality and who gave us minds so that we could know him and praise him for his mighty works.

And he is the Beloved.

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God’s image

The universe is in God’s image: it has to be. In what other image could it be made? “Before the universe,” there was nothing, no image to copy, no starting point, no pattern. Serious “nothing” is much emptier than air and space.

Now, the image of God imprinted on the universe does not have the same aspect as the divine image that is imprinted upon us, because we are personal beings, and the universe is not. Let’s think about this a little before going on. When scripture says that we are made in the image of God, it uses a phrase that actually suggests sonship, the way that Adam’s children are in his image. The universe and its elements are not like that, and could not be.

Why not?

Take a minute to recognize that we ourselves could not be persons if our “parts,” – our hands, our feet, or our molecules – were other persons. Who would be in charge? Nor could we be persons if we were part of a planetary person, such as Gaia, because then the freedom to respond to destiny would either be located outside ourselves or else divided with others. That is what personal nature means: the capacity to seek a destiny with one’s whole being. It’s not about free will in the sense of trivial decisions, but about the capacity to seek our inwardly known destiny.

The universe cannot have this personal sense of destiny and still make room for our own. It is not part of God, and we are not part of it. But the universe does reflect the nature of God as the work of any artist reflects his nature and opinions, and for this reason it is always the case that new information about the universe, including new information from the natural sciences, can suggest new perspectives that are of interest to theologians, new ideas about God or deeper insights into his nature. These perspectives are just that, perspectives, not dogmas, and they do not excuse us from examining yet more of the universe. Each perspective has limitations; but each also has a new fund of truth.

But enough of abstractions. Let me give you an example of a perspective that was very quickly offered to counter the concept of an infinite universe which naturally arose in the wake of the Copernican insight that the universe was much, much larger than had been considered.

Olbers’ Paradox

If the universe were infinite, an infinite extension of space filled, or even just sprinkled, with an infinite number of stars, then the starlight converging on any given point of space would be infinite. For the light of an infinite number of stars, however weak, would add up to an infinite amount of light. Therefore the sky would not be black or even dark at any time, day or night.

You are thinking that if the stars were very far away, the light would not be infinite. That is an understandable objection, but it really depends on a sloppy concept of “infinite.” Infinite does not mean “really a lot” or “much more than usual.” It means there is no limit.

Somebody named Olbers pointed this out, and called it a paradox, meaning that he was surprised that these two statements should both be true: that the universe is infinite and that the night sky is dark. Actually, a paradox is only an apparent contradiction; this is a real one, meaning that one of the statements must be false. Since anyone can see that the night sky is dark, the universe must not be infinite.

There is a similar gravity paradox: If the universe had an infinite amount of matter, its gravity would be infinite, and it would disappear in a clap of thunder, or at any rate, a Great Collapse. Well, not even so; it could never break out in a Big Bang if the gravity were infinite. Again, the failure to understand this is the simple failure to understand the difference between “very large” and “infinite.”

One of the ways people try to get around these contradictions is to suggest that: in an infinite universe which is expanding (as ours is) some of the matter will expand so far away that it will move over the horizon of gravity. It will, in terms of relativity, apparently accelerate over the speed of light and its gravity will no longer affect what is left behind. But think about this. Even if gravity goes over such a horizon that it won’t affect you personally, it will affect something halfway between you and the horizon, something that does affect you. How does that work?

The answer is that it would work various ways at various times, and every so often, so much would be pulled together that it could not come apart, and over an infinite time, the Great Collapse would occur, perhaps in stages, but over an infinite time, there would be nothing left.

It could be worse: if the universe is expanding all the time, and if it is of an infinite age (infinite universes are always infinite in time as well as space) all the matter in the universe must already (in its infinite past) been completely scattered so that nothing but a tenuous puff of dust remains. How could there be a planet?

No, no, you say! The universe is constantly being created in the empty places, so its infinity keeps on going.

This is simply hilarious, and again, it is a failure of philosophy, a failure of thought, not of experiment. If the universe is self-generating in all the empty spaces, then there will be an infinite influx of matter coming towards us (towards any given point) from every horizon out there, and we will be crushed. Indeed, we will already have been crushed in the infinite past.

Stop thinking that infinite means “very big” and face it: the infinite is unimaginable. You need to think past your images; you need to use your reason all the way out to the end of the thought.

These two “paradoxes,” these twin impossibilities of infinite light and infinite gravity, were under discussion for hundreds of years, and it was a form of philosophical blindness for people to have gone on thinking the universe infinite. The progress of the natural sciences, which briefly suggested an infinite universe, very quickly turned around to demand a finite universe.

Gravity is not, as the ancients thought, just a condition of earthly things which seek the center of the earth; and light is not just a visually searchable property of celestial beings. Once these two material aspects of the physical universe were better known, once we understood that both gravity and light are law-abiding aspects of the material world and fully subject to mathematical laws, then the habit of assuming the infinity of the universe should have begun to collapse.

Instead, this habit persisted, and this was a religious and philosophical blunder. Indeed, it was a philosophical blunder whose persistence depended on the tenacity of religious unbelief and the consequent determination to avoid anything suggesting creation.

This is not to say that the finity of gravity and light prove the existence of God. We cannot jump from science to philosophy or theology in exactly that way; but the necessary finity of gravity and light do demand respect for the concept of a finite universe and attention to the implications of that finity. In that sense the face of God peers out from the mists of a dawn without a yesterday.

It is hard to be an atheist.

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Sharpless 2-106

One of the steady annoyances I get from the anti-scientific side of the classical renewal is silly remarks about how the romance of the night sky is destroyed by telescopes.

Good grief.

It’s true, there’s something special about looking at the night sky when you can lie back and watch the majesty of the Milky Way and actually sense the infinity of the sky. Not because it actually is infinite; it is not. But because there is no visible parallax, the impression of infinity is inescapable and it is part of the way that the heavens declare the glory of God; they draw us to reflect on the infinite call that does lie within us.

What a pity that relatively few people can see this kind of sky; fogs and smogs and just ordinary clouds often hide this majestic scene, as do buildings and even forests.

It’s a good reason to visit the dry and even the desert lands of this country – just to get a lovely dark sky.

Meantime, however, the telescope has its own stories to tell, its images that are not available without the enhanced vision of our best technology. One of the 2011 images from Hubble is this lovely nebula from some distant corner of our own Milky Way.

Sharpless 2-106

Visions of angels visions in the heavens

 

It’s a star-forming region, a place where new stars are forming as we speak. There are many such, the most famous being the one on the sword of Orion. But this one, called Sharpless 2-106 is about 2,000 light years away, which is to say that the image we now on camera is a record of a light display that was unfolding 2,000 years ago. In this image, the young stars and the light of their birth are recorded as golden light, and the central figure with its background of red rays and trailing ribbons is the consequence of neighborhood dust. There are other images online in which the figure is turned 90º and the golden portion is blue, the usual coloration for young stars. These are more dramatic, but not available for blogs.

It’s the end of the season, the visit of the Magi. I wish you a blessed New Year.

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Creationism

Defining creationism

Defining your terms is the first step in understanding any argument. Like any word with a history, “creationism” has been through several meanings, and is still used several ways, so let’s start with three:

  1. Creationism once meant the belief that man has a soul. Darwin’s work suggesting that man is merely a species of primate was then contrasted with the Christian faith that man is God’s special creation, specially in His image, and spiritual in his nature.
  2. Creationism later came to mean the belief that God made the world, as opposed to the idea that it is here by accident. New insights into historical geology gradually eroded the specific Biblical sense of creation over a short period of time or in the sequence offered in Genesis 1, leading to a split in how creation was viewed:
    • Creationism may mean the idea that God made the world in 6,000 or 10,000 or 12,000 years, occasionally a little more, but never billions of years, essentially on the Genesis schedule. This is sometimes called “young earth creationism.”
    • Creationism may simply mean the idea that God made the world, on whatever schedule. This is sometimes called “old earth creationism” by Christians who sympathize with the young earth creationists and want to be viewed as believers. It may also be called theological evolutionism, because these believers often retain a serious theology,  even though they see things as happening over a long period of time. However, the theology of old earth creationists is more or less ignored by secularists because it does not affect their system and more or less rejected by young-earthers as a faithless compromise.

The soul-based definition has been fairly well superseded by the issue of God’s work in the universe as a whole. The creationist with the short schedule, is universally called creationist; the creationist with the open schedule goes by various names, but since the schedule is open, he may be ignored unless other issues are involved.

What other issues?

Two principal issues cause the old-earth creationist to define himself in more detail, and put him in or out of the “creationist” i.e. young earth creationist camp: the evolution of the universe and evolution of living forms. There are sub-issues and variations, but that’s what it amounts to.

I myself usually use the term creationist to refer to someone who is a young-earth creationist, someone who more or less completely rejects the standard explanation of fossil formation and its implications, and someone who rejects the Big Bang. The old-earth creationist does not strike me as needing a name, because any serious Christian must believe God made the world, and there is thus no explicit reason for a name. As a scientist, an old-earth creationist does not need to distinguish his scientific ideas from anyone who is not a believer; and while he may want to insist to the young-earth creationist that he is a believer, I don’t notice that it matters. We’re all heretics together to the young-earthers.

Maybe I paint with too broad a brush, but that is my impression, and I have had ample opportunity to form an impression.

I have read a fair number of creationist (young-earth creationist) pieces; they share their arguments to such an extent that the material becomes repetitive, but perspectives do vary. There is a Catholic work called Creation Rediscovered. I am not impressed with either the theology or the science, but it has an imprimatur. This means that holding these ideas is not opposed to Catholic theology. My books on the subject (Creator and Creation, Genesis 1 House of the Covenant, and some other things that are more indirect) also have an imprimatur; so they are not opposed to Catholic theology either. The Church does not have a doctrinal position on the age of the universe; and it does not have a doctrinal position on whether our bodies — or the first human bodies — were derived from other primate stock.

The one issue that is very important in Catholic theology is the unity of truth: truth is one, and there is no proposition that is true in science and false in doctrine or the reverse. No compromise here.

In the light of this definition, I will follow up to explain why I see some curricula as creationist and why I view this as a weakness.

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What a mouthful!

But it’s an important theorem, so let me give a brief introduction.

Entropy

First, you may have heard of entropy, but in case it’s not a clear concept, let’s review.

Entropy basically means disorder, and in particular, it means the disorder that energy gets into when work is done. You drive your car, burning the gas. After you drive the car, the world has just as much energy as before, but it’s all scattered around the countryside as heat and fumes, and you can’t use it to drive your car unless you collect it back again, which would take far more energy than you could obtain by that collection. For all practical purposes, the energy is gone, not because it does not exist, but because it is too scattered to do anything for anybody.

This particular kind of disordering of energy is called entropy, and one of the characteristics of the universe as a whole is the increase in entropy. The whole universe is, like my house, getting messier every day. Fortunately, I can eat a good meal, read a good book, get some orderly energy into myself, and clean house, but the universe has nowhere to turn for a new input of order, so it is running down. We have conservation of mass and energy, but not of order, and without order, all the energy in the world – or in the universe — won’t do any work. It’s like those fumes and heat from my car; scattered energy may as well not be there at all.

Increasing entropy

Entropy means time has an arrow.

What does that mean?

Well, some things, like the rolling of a ball, could go either way. If you took a video of a gently rolling ball and ran it backwards, it would look just as real – at least for a while. If you took a photo of a light turning on and off, you could run it backwards; same thing. Even if you took a picture of sunrise or moonrise and ran it backwards, most people would just think you had a picture of sunset or moonset.

But a video of a falling egg would be very funny backwards, because it’s not possible. Or get one of those time-lapse pictures of a flower unfolding from a bud; not the same backwards, eh?

A universe with increasing entropy is like that egg that falls on the floor; you always know which way the arrow of time is going. In one place or another, the universe might be like the rolling ball, which looks the same for a while, but if you see the entire roll, you generally know where the start and finish are.

Because entropy is increasing in the universe as a whole, it follows that the universe cannot be infinite in time. It cannot have an infinite history because when you go back far enough, the energy is in the best possible order for doing stuff, and any change would be more entropy, not less. By the same token, the universe cannot have an infinite future because when the disorder is total nothing meaningful can happen.

What would that look like?

It would look like a puff of smoke, only the smoke is so thin and the puff is so broad that there’s really nothing to see, and as  you approach the end, even though some particles have enough oomph to drift, they still cannot make a difference in how it looks. It’s not that energy and mass are gone; it’s just that they can’t do anything noticeable – my father would say that the power to pass information is gone. The universe as an intelligible system is ended; there’s nothing to know. (And, of course, no place to stand and watch it!)

The multiverse is subject to entropy

We’re almost there.

Father Spitzer has a new book out, (New Proofs for the Existence of God) explaining that there is now (since 2003) a theorem – the Borde-Vilenkin-Guth Theorem — which shows that even if Hawking’s multiverse were real (there is no specific evidence for it), the laws of entropy would still prevail and the multiverse would come to an end — and would, for that matter, need a beginning. Thus Hawking’s multiverse does not open up the possibility for a universe infinite in time; it just offers a universe context that can hang around unimaginably (which is not the same as infinitely) longer than the one we know.

Reference:

I have not read Spitzer’s book; I have only heard him talk about it. You can listen too by going to http://www.magisreasonfaith.org/ and choosing the video clip from EWTN. Around the 18th minute, he gets to the Borde-Vilenkin-Guth theorem. Note that there are also clips that say something about Larry King Live. These are not from the TV show but are follow-ups to such a show, and interesting in their own right. Enjoy yourself!

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How Grand a Design?

You may have noticed that Stephen Hawking has a new book out, The Grand Design, and the world is full of comment on the cosmic assertions therein. He and his co-author have apparently stated that you don’t need God to create the universe, because the laws of gravity and a certain version of quantum physics suffice to make it inevitable (!) that the universe will create itself, out of nothing, in an infinite variety of forms; and given an infinite variety of forms, a segment or sub-universe friendly to mankind is bound to develop, no design needed, grand or not.

Odd title, then.

In one way, this is like the old joke in which a scientist challenges God to a creation-of-life competition and then, like God, picks up some dirt to start his work. “No, no,” says God. “Go get your own dirt.” Even supposing that Hawking is correct and that gravity and quantum physics suffice, that’s a pretty large “given.” It doesn’t seem like much because it’s invisible and immaterial, but that doesn’t actually make it a given.

In fact, it’s not necessarily even a “given” in this universe. The laws of quantum physics are in the hypothesis stage. They answer a lot of questions, but they leave a lot of new questions open, so it is not certain that they are “the truth” about physics.

You might ask: how could they not be?

The fundamental problem is this: the physicist sees certain things in the world. He can’t understand them because they are a bit counter-intuitive, but of course the world is full of counter-intuitive stuff. There was a time when the flight of the bumble-bee seemed physically impossible, but of course it was taking place. So things can be counter-intuitive even when they are correctly observed. Still, it’s confusing, so the physicist is mulling it over, and along comes a mathematician (maybe just the physicist’s alter-ego) who says, “Wow! What an interesting pattern!”

“Interesting!” says the physicist. “To me, it’s just confusing. I can’t figure out what’s next.”

“Oh, well,” says the mathematician, “I can construct a mathematical system that perfectly parallels the patterns you are seeing. Maybe that will help.”

So the mathematician does his job, and suddenly they both notice that the pattern implies certain things that were not obvious in the physical world, but sure enough, the physicist finds them when he looks. Or at least, he doesn’t see anything that falls outside the pattern, and the nice thing about the pattern is that everything that looked so confusing and impossible now has a certain order to it, with names for all the patterns and paths of activity.

But as every detective knows, having a solution that accounts for the facts is not the same as having the right answer. There might be three suspects whose character and actions suggest they could have committed the crime; but at most, only one of them did it and maybe someone else after all.

Quantum physics is like that. It’s a hypothesis that has been very helpful in offering a pattern that brings order to many observations, but it remains unproved. Furthermore, it is so profoundly counter-intuitive that the connection between the quantum world and the world as we experience it – full of bumblebees and clouds and elephants and things — is seriously problematic. Why should it look so much like an elephant if it’s “really” just an accidental conglomeration of random quanta?

This leads to a consideration of the deeper problem: it seems as if the physicists have started saying that the math is the physics. But math is only a pattern; it is not a reality. Even such a simple mathematical entity as “two” is not real. There is no “two” in the world. There are two apples, two waves, two stars, two electrons, but no “two.” An elephant, on the other hand, is real. Get out of the way or you won’t have any thoughts at all.

Believing that the patterns are “real” and the physical things are just odd shadows of those patterns has a name in philosophy: idealism. Plato thought that the patterns were the reality and the things we bump into were just odd and distorted shadows of those patterns. He was an idealist, and he was very smart; nevertheless, other smart people were not idealists, for example Plato’s most famous pupil, Aristotle.

If your Mom had been a Platonist, attending to the ideals and ignoring physical realities, you wouldn’t have survived; and if the Trinity had been a Platonist association, Jesus would not have become incarnate. So there is a lot at stake in philosophical idealism, and there’s a big hoopla about Hawking right now.

In case you’re not a mom or a Catholic, however, there is something else to consider about philosophical idealism: it’s really schizophrenic. If you were standing in front of a charging elephant, you would not consider that it was a random conglomeration of quanta that might do anything, you would step behind a large tree. What we want from philosophers is a way of looking at the world that takes all our experience into account, not a way that urges us to ignore philosophically what we certainly will not ignore practically. Nobody standing in front of a charging elephant is an idealist, so why should anyone else be?

Math is not physics. That’s the point. It’s Jaki’s point, again and again. Calling math physics is a philosophical decision, not a scientific one; it is philosophical idealism and knowing its name helps you to see it more clearly.

Housekeeping:

A few readers have told me that links on my pages were not working. They were being directed to an edit function instead of a link from which they could comment. I have spent a few days fixing all the links on the pages, and many (hopefully all!) of the links on the blogs. I hope everything works properly now, but if not, let me know. Thanks for your interest.

If you disagree with me and wish to comment, that’s fine, but you need to be informative and polite.

I’ve also been traveling and leaving my camera behind or my computer cord and stuff like that so that things are never quite in order to blog. I thought the travel would just be an interlude, but it will probably continue for a while.  I’ll get better organized next trip.

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On pages 76-7 of his “Is There a Universe” Jaki has this interesting passage:

It should be observed, parenthetically, that Munitz [whose work on cosmology he has been critiquing for a few pages] is wrong in thinking that the idea of a cosmos “as an ordered totality that binds all phenomena in a universal scheme and whose details are accessible to patient rational enquiry” is a bequest of the Greeks of old to human civilization. For all Greek philosophers, and notably for the greatest – Plato and Aristotle – among them, the universe was partly ordered, partly disordered. Emphatic insistence on the full orderliness of the universe first appears only centuries later, in the anti-Arian writings of Athanasius. It was he who claimed that a fully ordered universe could alone issue from the creative power of a fully divine, and therefore infinitely rational, Logos.

It’s just an unavoidable fact that the idea of a Creator-God who is all-powerful is linked to the idea of a universe in which all parts are related, and that this in turn is linked back to the idea of God who is all-wise. When the idea of God is not the idea of an all-powerful One, then the universe is not conceived to be a genuine and meaningful totality. If God is not real or is irrational, then so is the universe not quite real or not quite rational – therefore not fully subject to rational study. No matter what anyone says about an accidental and survivalist evolution of the universe, it always turns out that this irrational concept is linked to an empty concept of God and then also to an empty concept of his children, a denial of human dignity.

So it was a saint fighting a heresy about the nature of Jesus who clearly saw that when St. John said, “In the beginning was the Word… and all things were made through Him” he thereby laid the foundation for a certainty that the entire universe is rational. It’s hard to understand, but it’s rational. It’s big, but it’s ordered throughout.

The universe, simply the totality of material reality, is such an overwhelming idea that people who don’t habituate themselves to the vast by thinking about God simply can’t face up to it. They look as far as they can, and then they say that beyond that horizon is the void, if not of material reality, of ordered material reality.

Beyond my vision, chaos. How silly is that?

Jaki quotes Bertrand Russell as saying that the idea of the universe was “a mere relic of pre-Copernican astronomy.” In other words, Russell was saying that there could be no possible way of conceiving of a genuine totality, and everyone who thought there was had been out of date since the mid-16th century. Copernicus – and presumably Bruno – had made nonsense of totality.

Russell said this in 1917, just as Einstein was offering a coherent definition of space. In other words, he said it just at the moment when it was shown to be certainly wrong. And way back at the beginning of rational cosmology, it was a saint and a theologian who had the ability to see out to the edges of the universe and affirm its rationality.

There is a universe, Bert.

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