William M. Briggs

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Philosophic Issues in Cosmology III: Mathematical Metaphysics—Guest Post by Bob Kurland

Believe me, baby. I'm alive.

Believe me, baby. I’m alive.

Bob Kurland is a retired, cranky, old physicist, and convert to Catholicism. He shows that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith.

Read Part II.

Perhaps the best argument in favour of the thesis that the Big Bang supports theism is the obvious unease with which it is greeted by some atheistic physicists. At times this has led to scientific ideas, such as continuous creation or an oscillating universe, being advanced with a tenacity which so exceeds their intrinsic worth that one can only suspect the operation of psychological forces lying very much deeper than the usual desire of a theorist to support his/her theory. (Emphasis added). Chris Isham1

We concluded in the second post in this series with the observation that General Relativity must break down at some point close to the extrapolated t=0, near the big bang, and that perforce, quantum mechanical models had to be used for a theory of creation. As Ellis, Isham and Grib point out, there are fundamental problems in doing so.

A major one is the so-called measurement problem, which is at the heart of difficulties in the interpretation of quantum mechanics. The quantum mechanical state function can be represented as a superposition of several possible states that could be measured—when the measurement is made and a particular state results, then the superposition “collapses” into the state that is measured (e.g. Schrodinger’s cat paradox).

An associated difficulty is the probability interpretation for measurement: the universe state function (wave function) gives probabilities that particular values of dynamical variables will be measured—what does probability mean in this context; are there an infinite number of possible universes (corresponding to various possible measurements) and who does the measurement? To quote Christopher Isham (referring to the measurement problem):

This poses the obvious problems of (i) when is an interaction between two systems to count as a measurement by one system of a property of the other? and (ii) what happens if there is an attempt to restore a degree of unity by describing the measurement process in quantum mechanical terms rather than the language of classical physics which is normally used? There is no universally accepted answer to either of these questions. (Emphasis added). Chris Isham2

That being said, the following quantum mechanical models have been proposed for the origin of the universe (the list is not exhaustive, and only general comments on each will be given; for more information please see the cited articles):

  1. Quantum fluctuations in the vacuum (Tryon, 1979).
  2. Tunneling from “superspace” into “real” space-time (Vilenkin, 1983)
  3. The Hartle-Hawking Block Universe, replacement of t by ti (i=square root of -1) (Hartle, Hawking, 1981)
  4. Chaotic Inflation (Linde, 1986)
  5. The Participatory Universe (Wheeler, 1990)
  6. Creation from non-Boolean logic to Boolean by an “observer” (Grib,1990)

Note that in none of these (except possibly 3 or 5) was the creation “ex nihilo; for 1, the vacuum pre-existed; for 2 the “superspace” (a hypothetical space of multi-dimensions); for 4, previous universes from which a “bubble” universe emerged via inflation; for 6, a hypothetical space of quantum universe states.

Model 1, Quantum fluctuations in the vacuum, is deficient in the following respect. There is nothing in this model to specify a unique time at which the fluctuations to enable creation should occur. Accordingly there might be creation of many universes, interacting with each other, but such has not been observed. And to emphasize again, a vacuum is not “nothing”…there is space, virtual particles, annihilation and creation operators, occupied zero-point energy levels from which the fluctuations occur.

For 3, the Hartle-Hawking model, the replacement of t by ti gives a term t^2 instead of -t^2 in the quantum mechanical equation, which enables the quantum mechanical equation to be solved without a singularity. The variable t becomes space-like, rather than time-like at very early values, and the space-like ti gradually becomes a time-like variable (goes back to t) as the value of t increases. An exact value for the time of origin becomes undefined (where does the earth start, at the South pole?).

The diagram illustrates this (vertical axis is increasing “t”). Note that there is no experimental justification for the replacement of t by ti; the justification is “esthetic”, that is the substitution removes the singularity at t=0. It is said that the coordinate ti “gradually changes” from space-like to t, time-like…how is the gradual change effected? Is the universe a fraction f with ti and a fraction 1-f with t? I have never seen this explained.

In order to understand the significance of models 5 (the Particpatory Universe of John Wheeler) and 6 (the quantum logic model of Andrej Grib), a comment on an interpretation of quantum mechanics that links quantum mechanics to consciousness will be helpful. (A general discussion of the various interpretations of quantum mechanics is beyond the scope of this summary; see also references in my previous posts “Do quantum entities have free will…” and “Quantum Divine Action via God, the Berkeleyan Observer…“)

The Participatory Universe and Quantum Logic models stem from the interpretation, first set forth by Von Neumann, London and Wigner, that since measurement is done by an observer, the final step in the measurement process must be awareness of the measurement result by the consciousness of the observer, which therefore must be an intrinsic part of quantum mechanics.

Wheeler construes the basic relation to consciousness to imply a universe that is information (“It from Bits”), and that by looking back in time, we create the past universe, as symbolized in this famous icon (click here).

Grib’s quantum logic model invokes a reality of non-Boolean logic that we (as observers) convert to Boolean logic situations, which is the only type of logic that our minds can comprehend. Grib speculates that perhaps it was God who made the initial observation to create a “real” universe (one perceived according to Boolean logic). According to Grib, time is a framework (lattice) for arraying the non-Boolean events in a framework that can be scanned as Boolean, and quantum mechanics is the theory for converting the non-Boolean system to Boolean.

Although there are some recent preliminary results from B-mode measurements of the Cosmic Background radiation that support the existence of inflation (not necessarily chaotic inflation), nevertheless it should be clear that none of these models can be confirmed or denied by measurements. Thus they are outside the realm of science, but properly belong to the domain of mathematical metaphysics (my take). As in the Hartle-Hawking model assumptions are made to remove the singularity from the singularity at t=0, R=0. Such models without a singularity are to many physicists more aesthetically pleasing than those with because the absence of a singularity implies (to them) the absence of a Creator.

We’ll explore some implications of these models for theology in the next post in this series, Creatio ex nihilo: Theology vs. Physics.


1Chris Isham, “Creation of the Universe as Quantum Process” in Physics, Philosophy and Theology–A Common Quest for Understanding.

2Chris Isham, “Quantum Theories of the Creation of the Universe”; Andrej Grib, “Quantum Cosmology, the Role of the Observer, Quantum Logic” in Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature–Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action (click on the book icon, and then on the article listed on the right).

Summary Against Modern Thought: What’s God Like?

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

If you haven’t yet been convinced of St Thomas’s argument for God’s existence, re-read all of the posts on Chapter 13, starting with this one. The terminology and concepts we have developed are absolutely necessary to know before continuing on. We have learned that the Unmoved Mover, the Unchanged Changer, must exist, or nothing else could move or change. But that’s all we learned. Today, we start with the consequences of this knowledge. But we’re not doing much in today’s lesson. Is everybody away on vacation?

Chapter 14: That in order to acquire knowledge of God it is necessary to proceed by the way of remotioni

1 ACCORDINGLY having proved that there is a first being which we call God, it behooves us to inquire into His nature.

2 Now in treating of the divine essence the principal method to be followed is that of remotion. For the divine essence by its immensity surpasses every form to which our intellect reaches; and thus we cannot apprehend it by knowing what it is.ii But we have some knowledge thereof by knowing what it is not: and we shall approach all the nearer to the knowledge thereof according as we shall be enabled to remove by our intellect a greater number of things therefrom.iii

For the more completely we see how a thing differs from others, the more perfectly we know it: since each thing has in itself its own being distinct from all other things. Wherefore when we know the definition of a thing, first we place it in a genus, whereby we know in general what it is, and afterwards we add differences, so as to mark its distinction from other things: and thus we arrive at the complete knowledge of a thing’s essence.

3 Since, however, we are unable in treating of the divine essence to take what as a genus, nor can we express its distinction from other things by affirmative differences, we must needs express it by negative differences. Now just as in affirmative differences one restricts another, and brings us the nearer to a complete description of the thing, according as it makes it to differ from more things, so one negative difference is restricted by another that marks a distinction from more things.

Thus, if we say that God is not an accidentiv, we thereby distinguish Him from all accidents; then if we add that He is not a body, we shall distinguish Him also from certain substances, and thus in gradation He will be differentiated by suchlike negations from all beside Himself: and then when He is known as distinct from all things, we shall arrive at a proper consideration of Him. It will not, however, be perfect, because we shall not know what He is in Himself.v

4 Wherefore in order to proceed about the knowledge of God by the way of remotion, let us take as principle that which is already made manifest by what we have said above,[1] namely that God is altogether unchangeable.vi This is also confirmed by the authority of Holy Writ. For it is said (Malach. iii. 6): I am God (Vulg., the Lord) and I change not; (James i. 17): With Whom there is no change; and (Num. xxiii. 19): God is not as a man…that He should be changed.vii


iOED: “The method or process of examining the concept of God by removing everything which is known not to be God; (also) a thing known not to be included in a concept.”

iiThe analogy given earlier is that we can know, say, that infinite numbers exist, and even describe some of their characteristics, but we cannot know everything about the infinite; we certainly cannot experience it. For example, Don Knuth invented the following notation: 10\uparrow 10 = 10^{10} , or 10 billion, where the arrow has replaced the caret, but then 10\uparrow\uparrow 10 , which is 10 raised to the 10 raised to the 10 raised to the 10, etc., 10 times (the arrow iterates the caret) Now that’s a big number! We can write it down all right—Knuth calls it K—but we cannot know it, cannot form a real appreciation for it. It’s too big.

Knuth, a computer scientist, invented the terminology because, as he says in his classic paper, “Finite numbers can be really enormous, and the known universe is very small. Therefore the distinction between finite and infinite is not as relevant as the distinction between realistic and unrealistic.” That’s true for mechanical computer operations, but if you rely, as some are tempted, on “really very big” to replace “infinite”, you’ll go astray. The two just aren’t the same. Even K is still infinitely far from infinity. It is a small number in that sense, but incomprehensibly large to us. But we are not God.

iiiIt’s too tempting not to quote Sherlock Holmes here, expressing a related sentiment: “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
[1] Ch. xiii.

ivaccident: “In Aristotelian thought: a property or quality not essential to a substance or object; something that does not constitute an essential component, an attribute.” OED again!

vFinite minds cannot grasp the whole of the infinite. Most of us cannot even remember what we had for lunch two weeks ago Tuesday.

viThis was proved in Chapter 13. It’s the Unmoved Move, the Uncaused Cause, the Unchanging Changer. It followed from the premise that whatever is moved is moved by another. The Unmoved Mover is not moved by another, and is therefore unchanging. Now we called this necessary force, the Prime Mover, God, but that to modern ears sounded like a cheat. Why call what after all is a physical force “God”? Well, that’s what we’re about to find out. Not uncoincidentally, Ed Feser was talking about the First Cause argument the other day.

viiThere are any number of poor critiques of Biblical passages in which God is shown to have changed, because, for instance, He “changes his mind.” Atheists are awfully prone to read the Bible everywhere literally and, worse, are then satisfied that they have plumbed all possible depths.

Next week we learn God is eternal. Eternal? Change? What’s that? Stick around.

Winners Announced In The Rename “Global Warming” Contest!

The thing that was Global Warming is to the left.

The thing that was Global Warming is to the left.

On 17 July we started the Rename “Global Warming” Contest. This produced 66 entries, which is a record for contests here. Thanks to everybody who participated. I think we’ve done a lot to assist our forlorn environmental brothers and sisters.

Forlorn? Yes. You see, for decades gloomy-eyed environmentalists have been telling us that Global Warming was going to destroy us all. Unless. Unless what? Unless they were put in charge of the world’s economy and the personal habits of each and every citizen of the planet (excepting those peoples excused through mandatory diversity and multicultural requirements, and also excepting those put in charge, of course).

These environmentalists sure scared the bejeebers out of a lot of folks with their talk of ever increasing dangerous calamitous unstoppable tipping point runaway Global Warming. Prediction after prediction of the excruciating horrific pitiless Death By Heat that awaited all of us were made, and were believed.

Only problem was that the weather didn’t cooperate with the forecasts. Oops and drat. And heartache among the enlightened when they realized their old catch phrases could not longer put the fear of Gaia into the congregation.

Thus was born (the tepid) “Climate Change”, a banal phrase that nobody in the world doubts, or ever doubted. And it isn’t even scary. It did have the advantage of being true, which “Global Warming” conspicuously lacked. But it never packed the oomph needed to attract the crowds.

A manic depression settled over the environmentalists, awful to see. The hyperactive melancholy became so bad that even rationalists began to feel sorry for the enviros, and thus, in the spirit of Christian love and brotherhood, was born our contest.

We wanted to find the phrase or phrases that would shake listeners to their core, to frighten them into making rash and stupid decisions like “Global Warming” did in the glory days. Have we succeeded? Let’s see.

Here are the list of notable and winning entries. Winners will be contacted by email and will be invited to write a 300- to 400-word essay on What I Learned From Global Warming, which will appear on this site (we’ll see who replies!).

(Oh, I did ask our pal Gav Schmidt to be a judge, but he never responded. I’ll be sure to let him know about the winning entries, so he and his fellow grant writers can start using them right away.)

Ironic and comical names were excluded automatically. Only the genuinely macabre made the cut.

Runners Up (in no particular order):

  • Mike (with shout out to Frank Hebert), “Global Weirding”
  • Sander van der Wal, “Climate’s Revenge”
  • GS, “Climapocalypse”
  • Mike B, “Anthropogenic Biosphere Calamity” or “ABC”
  • Bob Mrotek, “Ob Calefactionem Mundi”
  • Roadki11, “Anomalous Biospheric Collapse Dynamics”
  • RobR, “Acute Global Climate Poisoning”
  • Anders Valland, “Anthropogenic Climate Disruptive Catastrophe” or “ACDC”
  • vuurklip, “Catastrophic Climate Collapse”

Winners (in rough order of preference):

  1. Will, “Thermageddon”
  2. Bruce Foutch, “Climageddon”
  3. Alan Cooper, “The Anthropaclysm”
  4. Tom Scharf, “Ecopocalatastrophe”
  5. Sundance, “Global Greenhouse Gas Chamber”
  6. John, “Climactic Climatic Calamity”
  7. Yours Truly, “Apoplectic Apocalyptic Anthropogenic Atmospheric Aneurysm”

Another Academic Calls For A Return To Eugenics (To Battle Global Warming)

Trust us. We're academics.

Trust us. We’re academics.

Academic philosopher S Matthew Liao (NYU) and pals are coming to get you. They want to monkey with your genes, kill your unwanted, inject growth-stunting hormones into your womb, poison your food, and hook you permanently on oxytocin. But, hey: it’s for your own good. And it’s going to save the planet.

In the peer-reviewed article Mein Kulturkampf—no! I’m only kidding. It’s “Human Engineering and Climate Change” in Ethics, Policy and the Environment. Our jolly eugenicists set out a Master Plan to create race of genetically superior Supermen, enlightened beings who care deeply about the environment.

How’s it work?

“[P]eople often lack the motivation or willpower to give up eating red meat even if they wish they could. Human engineering could help here.” Solution? Poison the food. Add vomit-inducing chemicals to your chops. Presumably armed government agents would pull up to supermarkets and supervise its administration.

Sadly, “anyone not strongly committed to giving up red meat is unlikely to be attracted to this option.” Solution? Force (he uses the word “encourage”) people to wear poison-release patches that would “induce mild intolerance” (emphasis mine) by causing the immune system to “react” against meat proteins. “[H]enceforth eating ‘eco-unfriendly’ food would induce unpleasant experiences. Even if the effects do not last a lifetime, the learning effect is likely to persist for a long time.” You bet it will.

S Matthew Liao is a little guy. Yours Truly is the opposite. Fellow big men, ever notice how some of our diminutive brothers bark excessively and nip at our heels like small dogs trying to prove their toughness? And how others, enraged by their lack of stature, cherish a hate against our superior manliness? Perhaps this is what accounts for Liao’s next idea.

There are too many tall people, Liao says. Solution? Reduce height via “preimplantation genetic diagnosis”. How? “[I]t would simply involve rethinking the criteria for selecting which embryos to implant.” Implanting embryos? Say, isn’t that the brave new idea Aldous Huxley had? I wonder which government bureaucracy would certify embryos.

Yet Liao, perhaps because of the blindness of jealously, has neglected the obvious solution: since there are more short people than the majestic tall, just eliminate the unsightly short people! This removes unwanted flesh and preserves beauty. For those men less than 6′ who manage to escape the Gene Police or are not killed in the womb, I say after-birth abortion should be considered seriously. And since we need a mechanism for their dispatchment, how about baseball bats upside the head? Let this be our song!

Liao seems to believe only stupid people have kids. Thus he suggests “cognitive enhancement” to lower birth rates. He says “many environmental problems seem to be exacerbated by—or perhaps even result from—a lack of appreciation of the value of other life forms and nature itself.” Solution? Shoot people up with the “prosocial hormone oxytocin” or a “noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor”. And also—you could see this one coming from a mile off—reduce testosterone. Sorry, big men. Liao seems to have it in for us.

All this seem intrusive to you? Not so, says our little friend: “human engineering could be liberty-enhancing.” Liberty enhancing? Yes, sir. Why, “if we were able to scale the size of human beings, then given the same fixed allocation of greenhouse gas emissions, some families may be able to have more than two children.” How generous!

But, say: have these guys thought this all through? Sure, they’re all PhDs at major universities, and therefore are as near to human infallibility as possible, but nobody bats 1.000. Should we be concerned?

Of course not. Human engineering is safer than geo-engineering, say our cognitively superior colleagues. Safer? Yes, sir: safer. Proof? Hey, if their word is good enough for themselves, it’s good enough for us. Besides, their recommendations have been peer reviewed. What more proof do you need?

Liao knows what you’re thinking and says, “examining intuitively absurd or apparently drastic ideas can be an important learning experience”. Amen to that. I learned to steer clear of NYU. Also: “History is replete with examples of issues or ideas which, whilst widely supported or even invaluable now, were ridiculed and dismissed when they were first proposed.”

That’s true. But History is even more replete with lunacies rightly rejected, their inventors tarred and feathered by a horrified citizenry or locked in a small padded cell without their shoelaces lest they come to harm.

That was then. Now we give promoters of the preposterous cushy jobs at elite universities. The end cannot be long in coming.

Update This paper has been rediscovered (YOS had it a year ago; see below) by HotAir and National Review.


Thanks to Mike B. for alerting us to this new idiocy. For more about eugenics, click here.

U Penn’s Latest Conn: Religious Schools Shouldn’t Be Accredited

We sell only the best educations. Trust me!

We sell only the best educations. Trust me!

Tell the truth: English Departments at our “top” universities are stuffed to the quad with (A) Progressives or (B) Conservatives?

Anybody claiming (B) is either ignorant (I mean this politely) of university politics or lying, and probably lying. Does the correct answer, (A), thus imply English Departments contain only leftist ideologues? No, sir, it does not. It does however mean that the majority of the faculty will be slavishly devoted to NPR and Jon Stewart, and that the minority of tradition-minded faculty will have learned to keep their mouths shut, or face being purged.

Here’s another opportunity for truthfulness: would you rather have your offspring learn English from a Department which bases its lessons on books chosen for (A) political correctness and the demographic characteristics and sexual proclivities (and excesses) of their authors, or (B) their intrinsic beauty and cultural importance?

If you said (A), then you’ll be happy to learn that our top universities, each accredited by sober agencies, are just the place. Think of accreditation as a secular imprimatur, an official guarantee that your child will not be able to take her mind off race and sex, even if she wanted to.

But if (B) is your choice, well, you’re running out of options. Best bet is to try a smaller school, perhaps even a Christian one (like many top schools used to be, e.g. Harvard, Georgetown). If you told the truth on the first question, you already know why.

Christian and religious schools are accredited, too. They (think they) have to be. Money is on the line. Our government, in its wisdom, says schools must be accredited else no loans to students, and no money to the schools, either (a simplification, but largely on the mark). If a school lacks accreditation, the credits earned by students won’t be transferable, and degree-obsessed employers might not accept the diploma.

The aptly named Peter Conn, a professor of English and education at the University of Pennsylvania, wants Christian schools to lose their accreditation. He says that any Christian school receives accreditation is a farce, as he writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Conn is upset at the insularity of religious schools. His obvious unfamiliarity with Christianity explains why he doesn’t know Matthew 7:3. Don’t bother to look it up. It’s the one about the plank in the eye.

Conn, a man, says accreditation “confers legitimacy on institutions that systematically undermine the most fundamental purposes of higher education.” Purpose? Hmm. Conn’s school is hosting a talk by Amanda Lock Swarr, “Forcing Sex: Violent Contestations over South African Masculinities.” Where “In preparation, we will be reading the introduction to Sex in Transition as well as ‘Paradoxes of Butchness: Lesbian Masculinities and Sexual Violence in Contemporary South Africa.’”

Or you could attend the Queer Method Conference, but I’m afraid we’ve already missed the ARCH center’s symposium on Addressing Global Rape Culture.

Conn, a man, says, “Skeptical and unfettered inquiry is the hallmark of American teaching and research.” Conn, a man, says, “such inquiry cannot flourish—in many cases, cannot even survive—inside institutions that erect religious tests for truth. The contradiction is obvious.”

At U. Penn, you can sign up for ENGL 090.401, Gender, Sexuality and Literature: Our Cyborgs, Our Selves: “Women’s bodies have also been among scifi’s most persistent objects of analysis…” Or ENGL 390.401, Reproductive Fictions: “fictional narratives often prompt us to consider how and why certain bodies, lives, and social structures are reproduced.”

Conn, a man, says accrediting Christian schools is a “scandal” and a “fiasco” and that it “makes a mockery of whatever academic and intellectual standards the process of accreditation is supposed to uphold.”

At U. Penn, you can take ENGL 769.401 Feminisms and Postcolonialities: “…to explore key intersections of gender and sexuality with the dynamics of colonialism, decolonization, nationhood, and globalization.”

Conn, a man, says, “Let me be clear. I have no particular objection to like-minded adherents of one or another religion banding together, calling their association a college, and charging students for the privilege of having their religious beliefs affirmed.”

Hey, Conn, man, I agree with you. It has “become a melancholy fact of our contemporary cultural life” that university humanities departments have become bastions of asininities and foolish thought.

My advice to tradition- and reason-based schools is to skip accreditation. Do you really want to be in the same camp with Conn’s English Department? Accreditation costs too much anyway. Eschew government money. Do you really want to grip the purse strings of an increasingly immoral Mother?

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