The Open Mind

Cogito Ergo Sum

Archive for the ‘Universe’ Category

The Properties of God: Much Ado About Nothing

leave a comment »

Having previously written about various Arguments for God’s Existence, including some of the inherent flaws and problems with those arguments, and having analyzed some of the purported attributes of God as most often defined by theists, I decided to reiterate some of the previous points I’ve mentioned and also expand further on the topic. Specifically, I’d like to further analyze the most common definitions and properties of God as claimed by theists.  God is often defined by theists as an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent being that is also uncaused, beginningless, timeless, changeless, spaceless, and immaterial among other attributes.  God is also defined by many as some form of disembodied mind possessing free will.  Since this list of terms is perhaps the most common I’ve seen over the years within theological circles, I’ll simply focus on these terms to analyze within this post.

Omniscience, Omnipotence, Changelessness, and Free Will

The property of omniscience is perhaps the single most significant property within this list because if it is taken to be true, it inevitably leads to the logical impossibility of some of the other attributes in this list.  For instance, if God’s knowledge includes complete knowledge of the future, then God is unable to change that future.  That is, whatever future that God would be aware of must happen exactly as it does, and God would not have the ability to change such a fate (otherwise this God would have failed to know the future without error).  This leads to the logical impossibility of God possessing both omniscience and omnipotence, as God loses the ability to enact any kind of change whatsoever that isn’t already pre-ordained or known by this God in advance.  God would not only know the future of all events occurring within the universe (presumably mediated by the very laws of physics that this God would have created) thus eliminating any possible free will for all of humanity, but this God would also know the future of all his other actions, thoughts, intentions, etc., and thus God wouldn’t be able to have free will either.  One can try to preserve the theological property of omnipotence or free will by denying that of omniscience (by limiting God’s knowledge of the future in some way).  However, even if this God didn’t have the ability to know the future with 100% certainty as implied with omniscience, the absence of omniscience wouldn’t negate the possibility that this God may still have no choice or ability to act any other way (even if this God doesn’t know ahead of time what those actions will be).

Even if we accepted that God doesn’t have omniscience, and if we also ignored the possibility that God may still lack free will or omnipotence even in the absence of that omniscient foreknowledge, one must still explain how a definitively changeless being could ever instantiate any kind of change at all, let alone to create the entire universe, space, and time (which is dependent on change).  Is it even logically possible for a changeless being to instantiate change?  That is, could a being possessing a de facto property such as changelessness simultaneously possess a modal property or capability of change?  Even if it were logically possible, there doesn’t appear to be any way at all for the modal property to ever be self-instantiated by a de facto changeless being.

An outside causal force may be able to instantiate the change in the previously changeless being, but I see no way that this could be accomplished by the changeless being itself.  One may try to resolve this dilemma by positing that one aspect or component of the changeless state of God was the constant or changeless intention to eventually cause a change at some future time x (e.g. to eventually create the universe), but this attempted resolution carries with it the problem of contradicting the supposed theological property of timelessness, since there can’t be some future moment for any change to occur in any kind of timeless scenario.  This would suggest that some kind of temporal delay is occurring until the change is eventually realized, which is logically incoherent in a timeless scenario.  Thus, I see no reason or logical argument to support the claim that a de facto property of changelessness could ever co-exist with a modal property or capability of self-causing any kind of change, and thus a timeless or changeless being would be causally effete thereby negating the property of omnipotence.

Omnibenevolence

One major problem that I see regarding the property of omnibenevolence, is that the term itself isn’t well-defined.  Sure, one can easily grasp the basic concept of being all-loving or all-good, but exactly what standard is one using to define goodness, or love, since these are not objectively defined concepts?  Another way of describing this problem, within the context of Divine Command Theory, is known as Euthyphro’s Dilemma (from one of Plato’s dialogues), where one must ask: Is something good because God says it is good, or does God say something is good because of some other quality it has?  If the standard of goodness comes from God (i.e. “it’s good because God says so”), then it is entirely arbitrary and this would also mean that the definition of omnibenevolence is circular and therefore invalid.  If the standard of goodness comes from some other cause or being, then that means that goodness is dependent on something other than God and this would also undermine the idea that God is uncaused or beginningless, since the property of God’s benevolence (even if omnibenevolent) would have been dependent on something other than God.  Beyond these problems it would also undermine the idea of God being omnipotent since God wouldn’t have the power to self-instantiate this standard of goodness.

Another problem with positing that God is omnibenevolent, is the oft mentioned Problem of Evil, which ultimately refers to the problem of how to reconcile the supposed existence and omnibenevolence of God with all of the suffering that exists in the world.  If God was truly omnibenevolent, then how can one explain the existence of any “evil or suffering at all?  If God doesn’t have the ability to create a universe without any suffering, then this is another argument against God’s omnipotence.  If God does have the ability to do this but doesn’t, then this is an argument against God’s omnibenevolence, assuming that the elimination of all suffering is in accord with the standard of goodness, as one would expect.

Some philosophers have attempted to form various theodicies or defenses to reconcile the Problem of Evil with the idea of an omnipotent and/or omnibenevolent God, but they are ultimately unsuccessful.  For example, some attempts to resolve this problem involve asserting that good simply can’t logically exist without evil, implying that they are relative to and thus dependent on one another, which basically reasserts the old adage “you can’t have the sour without the sweet”.  The problem with this argument is that, if taken further, it would also imply that an omnibenevolent being (as God is often defined as) is also logically dependent on the existence of an equal but opposite omnimalevolent being, or at the very least, that it is dependent on the property of omnimalevolence.  This would mean that if God is indeed omnibenevolent, then this property of God is logically dependent on the existence of omnimalevolence, and this is another argument showing that God is not uncaused or beginningless, because this particular property of God wouldn’t even be a possibility without the existence of something that is definitively not a part of God (by definition).

Beyond all of these problems mentioned thus far, there seem to be at least several possible solutions that God (if omnibenevolent and all-powerful) could employ to eliminate suffering, and if these possibilities exist, the fact that none of them have been implemented argues against God being omnibenevolent.  For example, why couldn’t God simply feed our brains (even if just a brain in a vat) with a sensory input of nothing but pleasurable experiences?  Even if pleasure was dependent on some kind of contrast with less pleasurable experiences in the past (or if we would unavoidably become desensitized to a particular level of pleasure), God could simply amplify the magnitude of pleasurable sensory inputs with each subsequent moment of time indefinitely, thus producing an experience of nothing but constant and equally potent pleasure.

Moreover, if the God that most theists propose truly exists, and some kind of heaven or eternal paradise is within God’s capabilities (filled with a bunch of disembodied minds or souls), then there’s no rational reason why God couldn’t simply create all of us in heaven from the very beginning of our existence.  This is basically the case already with many miscarried or aborted fetuses (if theists assume that fetuses have souls and go to heaven immediately after their death), since many of these fetuses aren’t even alive long enough to have developed a brain with any level of consciousness or ability to experience any suffering at all.  Thus, they would represent a perfect example of individuals that only experience an eternity of pleasure completely void of any kind of suffering.  One would think if this is already a reality for some individuals, God should have the power to make it the case for all people, so nobody has to suffer at all.  This is of course if God couldn’t simply create all humans in heaven from the very beginning and skip the creation of the physical universe altogether.  If God lacks this ability, it is yet another argument against this God being omnipotent.  In addition to this, if it were the case that any conscious being created by God is ever destined to any kind of eternal torture (i.e. some version of “hell”), due to no chance of forgiveness after death, this would be perhaps the strongest argument against this God being omnibenevolent.  So as we can see, if eternal paradise and/or eternal damnation are actually real places created/mediated by God, then their very existence argues against God’s omnibenevolence and/or God’s omnipotence since we’re not all created in heaven from the very beginning of our existence, and/or since there are people destined to suffer for eternity.

Another attempt to resolve this Problem of Evil is the argument that humans wouldn’t be able to have free will without the existence of “evil” or suffering.  However, this makes absolutely no sense for a number of reasons.  For one, as mentioned previously, classical free will (i.e. the ability to have chosen to behave differently, given the same initial conditions, less randomness) is already impossible based on the laws of physics and our level of causal closure, and this is the case whether our physical laws are fundamentally deterministic or random.  So this attempted resolution is a desperate objection at best, because it also requires us to assume that we’re constantly violating the laws of physics and causal closure in order to be causa sui, or self-caused intentional agents.  So we’d have to grant one absurdity in order to explain away another which doesn’t solve the dilemma at all, but rather just replaces one dilemma with another.

Finally, if “heaven” or some form of eternal paradise is still a possible product of God’s power, then the free will argument is irrelevant in any case.  After all, presumably we wouldn’t have free will in heaven either, for if we did have free will to rebel or cause “evil” or suffering in heaven, this would contradict the very idea of what heaven is supposed to be (since it is defined as an eternal and perfect paradise without any “evil” or suffering at all).  If one argues that it is still possible to have free will in a heaven that is guaranteed to be void of evil or suffering, then this simply shows that suffering isn’t necessary in order to have free will, and thus the free will argument to the Problem of Evil still fails.  If we didn’t have free will in heaven (which would seem to be logically necessary in order for heaven to exist as defined), then we can see that infinite or maximal “goodness” or eternal paradise is indeed possible even in the absence of any free will, which would thus negate the free will argument to the Problem of Evil (even if we granted the absurdity that classical free will was possible).  So no matter how you look at it, the property of omnibenevolence appears to be ill-defined or circular and is thus meaningless and/or it is incompatible with some of the other purported theological properties used to define God (i.e. uncaused, beginningless, omnipotent, etc.).

Omnipresence

If God was omnipresent, one would think that we would be able to universally and undeniably detect the presence of God, and yet the exact opposite is the case.  In fact, God appears to be completely invisible and entirely undetectable.  In cases where there are theists that claim to have actually experienced or detected the presence of God in some way, it is always in a way that can’t be validated or confirmed by any physical evidence whatsoever.  Science has demonstrated time and time again that when people experience phenomena that do not correlate with reality, i.e., phenomena that do not occur outside of their minds and thus that can’t be independently verified with physical evidence, they are the result of perceptual illusions and other strictly mental phenomena (whether they are full blown hallucinations, delusions, mis-attributed emotional experiences, etc.).  In general though, the basic trend exemplified by theists is that whenever they have an experience that is seemingly unexplainable, they attribute it to being an act of God.

Unfortunately, this is an extremely weak position to take (and increasingly weak as history has amply shown) simply because this “God of the gaps” mentality has been demonstrably proven to be fallacious and unreliable as science has continued to explain more and more previously unexplainable phenomena that were once attributed to one god or another.  So in Bayesian terms, the prior probability that some unexplainable phenomenon is the result of some kind of God is infinitesimally small, and that probability has only decreased over time and will only continue to decrease over time as scientific progress continues to falsify supernatural explanations and attributions by replacing them with natural ones.

So unless we are talking about some kind of Pantheism (where God is basically defined as being equivalent to the universe itself), then we have theists claiming that God is everywhere when this God in fact appears to be nowhere at all.  The simple fact that nobody has been able to demonstrate or verify the existence of God with any physical evidence whatsoever, is a strong argument against the omnipresence of God (if not an argument against the very existence of God).  Ultimately, the theological property of omnipresence is a meaningless term if this type of presence is one that is completely undetectable and unfalsifiable, which would make sense regarding a being that doesn’t possess any properties of space, time, or material, but unfortunately it also means that this term doesn’t adhere to any reasonable convention of what it means to be present, and it also means that the property of omnipresence is incompatible with the properties of being spaceless, timeless, and immaterial.  If the type of omnipresence is that which is claimed to be experienced by theists from time to time, experiences that have been shown to be strictly mental with no correlation to the external world, then this is actually nothing more than a limited type of presence (and one that is strictly mental), and one likely resulting from mis-attributed emotions combined with various inherent human cognitive biases.

Abstract Objects, Disembodied Minds & God

Perhaps the most interesting thing I’ve discovered regarding these theological properties pertains to the subset of properties that specifically describe God to be uncaused, beginningless, timeless, changeless, spaceless, and immaterial (which I’ll now abbreviate as simply UBTCSI).  These terms have also been formulated by theists in various arguments for the existence of God (such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument), with theists trying to argue that the origin of the universe must have been brought about by a cause having this particular set of properties.  What I find most interesting is that contemporary philosophers of ontology have ascribed this set of terms to certain abstract objects such as numbers and properties.  It is also notable that these properties seem to result by way of negation, that is, by removing all (or nearly all) aspects of our perceived reality.

The fact that these terms are used to describe the properties of abstract objects in general, which are almost universally agreed to be causally effete, actually supports the idea that God is nothing more than an abstract object.  Even if abstract objects have some kind of ontological existence independent of the brains that most likely produce them, they have still been shown to be causally effete.  If abstract objects do not have any kind of ontological existence independent of the brains that most likely produce them, then they are actually the product of brains which possess the converse of the UBTCSI properties, that is, they are the product of brains which possess the properties of being caused and thus having a beginning, as well as the properties of time, change, space, and material.

If abstract objects are nothing more than constructs of the brain, then we may expect that the minds that produce these abstract objects would have similar properties ascribed to them as well.  Sure enough, many philosophers have indeed also used the aforementioned UBTCSI properties to describe a mind.  So, if it is true that abstract objects as well as the minds they appear to be dependent on are ultimately products of the physical brain (with the latter being well-nigh proven at this point), then ultimately they are both produced from that which possesses the naturalistic properties of causality, beginning, time, change, space, material, etc., thus arguably challenging the claim that either abstracta or minds can be defined properly with the UBTCSI properties.

Many theists have taken advantage of the aforementioned “ontology of mind” and posited that God is some kind of disembodied mind, thus presumably adhering to these same UBTCSI properties, yet with the addition of several more properties that were mentioned earlier (i.e. omnipotence, omniscience, etc.).  However, one major problem with this tactic is that the term, disembodied mind, is simply an ad hoc conceptualization, and one that doesn’t make much if any sense at all when thought about more critically.  After all, if the only minds that we’re aware of are those demonstrably produced from the underlying machinery of physical brains, then what exactly would a disembodied mind entail anyway?  What would it be composed of if not physical materials (and thus those which lie in space)?  How would it function at all if the only minds we know of involve an underlying machinery of constantly changing neuronal configurations which subsequently cause the mental experience that we call a mind?  How can this mind think at all, when thinking is itself a temporal process, known to speed up or slow down depending on various physical variables (e.g. neurotransmitter concentrations, temperature, Relativistic effects, etc.)?

These questions illustrate the fact that the only concept of a mind that makes any sense at all is that which involves the properties of causality, time, change, space, and material, because minds result from particular physical processes involving a very complex configuration of physical materials.  That is, minds appear to be necessarily complex in terms of their physical structure (i.e. brains), and so trying to conceive of a mind that doesn’t have any physical parts at all, let alone a complex arrangement of said parts, is simply absurd (let alone a mind that can function without time, change, space, etc.).  At best, we are left with an ad hoc, unintelligible combination of properties without any underlying machinery or mechanism.

So the fact that there exist strong arguments and evidence in support of abstract objects being nothing more than products of the mind, and the fact that minds in general are demonstrably the product of physical brains and their underlying complex neuronal configurations, illustrates that the only things in our universe that philosophers have ascribed these UBTCSI properties to (minds and abstract objects) are in fact more accurately described by the converse of those very properties.  It would then logically follow that God, claimed to possess the very same properties, is most likely to be nothing more than a causally effete abstract object — a mere mentally simulated model produced by our physical brains.  This entails that the remaining properties of omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnibenevolence, which are themselves abstract objects, are ultimately ascribed to yet another causally effete abstract object.

Much Ado About Nothing

As we can see, the properties commonly ascribed to God suggest that this God as described is:

1) Ill-defined since some of the properties are ultimately meaningless or circular, and

2) Logically impossible since some of the properties contradict one another, and

3) Likely to be a causally effete construct of the mind.

So overall, the theist’s strenuous endeavors in arguing over what the properties of their purported God must be, has ultimately been much ado about nothing at all.

Advertisements

The Kalam Cosmological Argument for God’s Existence

with 20 comments

Previously, I’ve written briefly about some of the cosmological arguments for God.  I’d like to expand on this topic, and I’ll begin doing so in this post by analyzing the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA), since it is arguably the most well known version of the argument, which can be described with the following syllogism:

(1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause;

(2) The universe began to exist;

Therefore,

(3) The universe has a cause.

The conclusion of this argument is often expanded by theists to suggest that the cause must be supernaturally transcendent, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and perhaps most importantly, this cause must itself be uncaused, in order to avoid the causal infinite regress implied by the KCA’s first premise.

Unfortunately this argument fails for a number of reasons.  The first thing that needs to be clarified is the definitions of terms used in these premises.  What is meant by “everything”, or “begins to exist”?  “Everything” in this context does imply that there are more than one of these things, which means that we are referring to a set of things, indeed the set of all things in this case.  The set of all things implied here apparently refers to all matter and energy in the universe, specifically the configuration of any subset of all matter and/or energy.  Then we have the second element in the first premise, “begins to exist”, which would thus refer to when the configuration of some set of matter and/or energy changes to a new configuration.  So we could rewrite the first premise as “any configuration of matter and/or energy that exists at time T and which didn’t exist at the time immediately prior to time T (which we could call T’), was a result of some cause”.  If we want to specify how “immediately prior” T’ is to T, we could use the smallest unit of time that carries any meaning per the laws of physics which would be the Planck time (roughly 10^-43 seconds), which is the time it takes the fastest entity in the universe (light) to traverse the shortest distance in the universe (the Planck length).

Does Everything Have a Cause?

Now that we’ve more clearly defined what is meant by the first premise, we can address whether or not that premise is sound.  It seems perfectly reasonable based on the nature of causality that we currently understand that there is indeed some cause that drives the changes in the configurations of sets of matter and energy that we observe in the universe, most especially in the everyday world that we observe.  On a most fundamental physical level, we would typically say that the cause of these configuration changes is described as the laws of physics.  Particles and waves all behave as they do, very predictably changing from one form into another based on these physical laws or consistent patterns that we’ve discovered.  However, depending on the interpretation of quantum mechanics used, there may be acausal quantum processes happening, for example, as virtual particle/anti-particle pairs pop into existence without any apparent deterministic path.  That is, unless there are non-local hidden variables that we are unaware of which guide/cause these events, there don’t appear to be any deterministic or causal driving forces behind certain quantum phenomena.  At best, the science is inconclusive as to whether all phenomena have causes, and thus one can’t claim certainty to the first premise of the KCA.  Unless we find a way to determine that quantum mechanics is entirely deterministic, we simply don’t know that matter and energy are fundamentally causally connected as are objects that we observe at much larger scales.

The bottom line here is that quantum indeterminism carries with it the possibility of acausality until proven otherwise, thus undermining premise one of the KCA with the empirical evidence found within the field of quantum physics.  As such, it is entirely plausible that if the apparent quantum acausal processes are fundamental to our physical world, the universe itself may have arisen from said acausal processes, thus undermining premise two as well as the conclusion of the KCA.  We can’t conclude that this is the case, but it is entirely possible and is in fact plausible given the peculiar quantum phenomena we’ve observed thus far.

As for the second premise, if we apply our clarified definition of “began to exist” introduced in the first premise to the second, then “the universe began to exist” would mean more specifically that “there was once a time (T’) when the universe didn’t exist and then at time T, the universe did exist.”  This is the most obviously problematic premise, at least according to the evidence we’ve found within cosmology.  The Big Bang Theory as most people are familiar with, which is the prevailing cosmological model for the earliest known moment of the universe, implies that spacetime itself had it’s earliest moment roughly 13.8 billion years ago, and continued to expand and transform over 13.8 billion years until reaching the state that we see it in today.  Many theists try to use this as evidence for the universe being created by God.  However, since time itself was non-existent prior to the Big Bang, it is not sensible to speak of any creation event happening prior to this moment, since there was no time for such an event to happen within.  This presents a big problem for the second premise in the KCA, because in order for the universe to “begin to exist”, it is implied that there was a time prior in which it didn’t exist, and this goes against the Big Bang model in which time never existed prior to that point.

Is Simultaneous Causation Tenable?

One way that theologians and some philosophers have attempted to circumvent this problem is to invoke the concept of simultaneous causation, that is, that (at least some) causes and effects can happen simultaneously.  Thus, if the cause of the universe happened at the same time as the effect (the Big Bang), then the cause of the universe (possibly “creation”) did happen in time, and thus the problem is said to be circumvented.

The concept of simultaneous causation has been proposed for some time by philosophers, most notably Immanuel Kant and others since.  However, there are a few problems with simultaneous causation that I’ll point out briefly.  For one, there don’t appear to be any actual examples in our universe of simultaneous causation occurring.  Kant did propose what he believed to be a couple examples of simultaneous causation to support the idea.  One example he gave was a scenario where the effect of a heated room supposedly occurs simultaneously with a fire in a fireplace that caused it.  Unfortunately, this example fails, because it actually takes time for thermal energy to make its way from the fire in the fireplace to any air molecules in the room (even those that are closest to the fire).  As combustion is occurring and oxygen is combining with hydrocarbon fuels in the wood to produce carbon dioxide and a lot of heat, that heat takes time to propagate.  As the carbon dioxide is being formed, and the molecule is assuming an energetically favorable state, there is still a lag between this event and any heat given off to nearby molecules in the room.  In fact, no physical processes can occur faster than the speed of light by the principles of Relativity, so this refutes any other example analogous to this one.  The fastest way a fire can propagate heat is through radiation (as opposed to conduction or convection), and we know that the propagation of radiation is limited by the speed of light.  Even pulling a solid object causes it to stretch (at least temporarily) so the end of the object farthest away from where it is being pulled will actually remain at rest for a short time while the other end of the object is first pulled in a particular direction.  It isn’t until a short time lag, that the rest of the object “catches up” with the end being pulled, so even with mechanical processes involving solid materials, we never see instantaneous speeds of causal interactions.

Another example Kant gave was one in which a lead ball lies on a cushion and simultaneously causes the effect of an indentation or “hollow” in the cushion.  Again, in order for the ball to cause a dent in the cushion in the first place it had to be moved into the cushion which took some finite amount of time.  Likewise with the previous example, Relativity prevents any simultaneous causation of this sort.  We can see this by noting that at the molecular level, as the electron orbitals from the lead ball approach those of the cushion, the change in the strength of the electric field between the electron orbitals of the two objects can’t travel faster than the speed of light, and thus as the ball moves toward the cushion and eventually “touches” it, the increased strength of the repulsion takes some amount of time to be realized.

One last example I’ve seen given by defenders of simultaneous causation is that of a man sitting down, thus forming a lap.  That is, as the man sits down, and his knees bend, a lap is created in the process, and we’re told that the man sitting down is the cause and the formation of the lap is the simultaneous effect.  Unfortunately, this example also fails because the man sitting down and the lap being formed are really nothing more than two different descriptions of the same event.  One could say that the man formed a lap, or one could say that the man sat down.  Clearly the intentions behind the man were most likely to sit down rather than to form a lap, but nevertheless forming a lap was incidental in the process of sitting down.  Both are describing different aspects of the same event, and thus there aren’t two distinct causal relatum in this example.  In the previous examples mentioned (the fire and heated room or ball denting a cushion), if there are states described that occur simultaneously even after taking Relativity into account, they can likewise be shown to be merely two different aspects or descriptions of the same event.  Even if we could grant that simultaneous causation were possible (which so far, we haven’t seen any defensible examples in the real world), how can we assign causal priority to determine which was the cause and which was the effect?  In terms of the KCA, one could ask, if the cause (C) of the universe occurred at the same time as the effect (E) or existence of the universe, how could one determine if C caused E rather than the other way around?  One has to employ circular argumentation in order to do so, by invoking other metaphysical assumptions in the terms that are being defined which simply begs the question.

Set Theory & Causal Relations

Another problem with the second premise of the KCA is that even if we ignore the cosmological models that refute it, and even ignore the problematic concept of simultaneous causation altogether, there is an implicit assumption that the causal properties of the “things” in the universe also apply to the universe as a whole.  This is fallacious because one can’t assume that the properties of members of a set or system necessarily apply to the system or entire set as a whole.  Much work has been done within set theory to show that this is the case, and thus while some properties of the members or subsets of a system can apply to the whole system, not all properties necessarily do (in fact some properties applying to both members of a set and to the set as a whole can lead to logical contradictions or paradoxes).  One of the properties that is being misapplied here involves the concept of “things” in general.  If we try to consider the universe as a “thing” we can see how this is problematic by noting that we seem to define and conceptualize “things” with causal properties as entities or objects that are located in time and space (that’s an ontology that I think is pretty basic and universal).  However, the universe as a whole is the entirety of space and time (i.e. spacetime), and thus the universe as a whole contains all space and time, and thus can’t itself (as a whole) be located in space or time.

Since the universe appears to be composed of all the things we know about, one might say that the universe is located within “nothing” at all, if that’s at all intelligible to think of.  Either way, the universe as a whole doesn’t appear to be located in time or space, and thus it isn’t located anywhere at all.  Thus, it technically isn’t a “thing” at all, or at the very least, it is not a thing that has any causal properties of its own, since it isn’t located in time or space in order to have causal relations with other things.  Even if one insists on calling it a thing, despite the problems listed here, we are still left with the problem that we can’t assume that causal principles found within the universe apply to the universe as a whole.  So for a number of reasons, premise two of the KCA fails.  Since both premises fail for a number of reasons, the conclusion no longer follows.  So even if the universe does in fact have a cause, in some way unknown to us, the KCA doesn’t successfully support such a claim with its premises.

Is the Kalam Circular?

Yet another problem that Dan Barker and others have pointed out involves the language used in the first premise of the KCA.  The clause, “everything that begins to exist”, implies that reality can be divided into two sets: items that begin to exist (BE) and items that do not begin to exist (NBE).  In order for the KCA to work in arguing for God’s existence, the NBE set can’t be empty.  Even more importantly, it must accommodate more than one item to avoid simply being a synonym for God, for if God is the only object or item within NBE, then the premise “everything that begins to exist has a cause” is equivalent to “everything except God has a cause”.  This simply puts God into the definition of the premise of the argument that is supposed to be used to prove God’s existence, and thus would simply beg the question.  It should be noted that just because the NBE set must accommodate more than one possible item, this doesn’t entail that the NBE set must contain more than one item.  This specific problem with the KCA could be resolved if one could first show that there are multiple possible NBE candidates, followed by showing that of the multiple possible candidates within NBE, only one candidate is valid, and finally by showing that this candidate is in fact some personal creator, i.e., God.  If it can’t be shown that NBE can accommodate more than one item, then the argument is circular.  Moreover, if the only candidate for NBE is God, then the second premise “The universe began to exist” simply reduces to “The universe is not God”, which simply assumes what the argument is trying to prove.  Thus if the NBE set is simply synonymous with God, then the Kalam can be reduced to:

(1) Everything except God has a cause;

(2) The universe is not God;

Therefore,

(3) The universe has a cause.

As we can see, this syllogism is perfectly logical (though the conclusion only follows if the premises are true which is open to debate), but this syllogism is entirely useless as an argument for God’s existence.  Furthermore, regarding the NBE set, one must ask, where do theists obtain the idea that this NBE set exists?  That is, by what observations and/or arguments is the possibility of beginningless objects justified?  We don’t find any such observations in science, although it is certainly possible that the universe itself never began (we just don’t have observations to support this, at least, not at this time) and the concept of a “beginningless universe” is in fact entirely consistent with many eternal cosmological models that have been proposed, in which case the KCA would still be invalidated by refuting premise two in yet another way.  Other than the universe itself potentially being an NBE (which is plausible, though not empirically demonstrated as of yet), there don’t appear to be any other possible NBEs, and there don’t appear to be any observations and/or arguments to justify proposing that any NBEs exist at all (other than perhaps the universe itself, which would be consistent with the law of conservation of mass and energy and/or the Quantum Eternity Theorem).

The KCA Fails

As we can see, the Kalam Cosmological Argument fails for a number of reasons, and thus is unsuccessful in arguing for the existence of God.  Thus, even though it may very well be the case that some god exists and did in fact create the universe, the KCA fails to support such a claim.

Here’s an excellent debate between the cosmologist Sean Carroll and the Christian apologist William Lane Craig which illustrates some of the problems with the KCA, specifically in terms of evidence found within cosmology (or lack thereof).  It goes without saying that Carroll won the debate by far, though he could certainly have raised more points in his rebuttals than he did.  Nevertheless, it was entertaining and a nice civil debate with good points presented on both sides.  Here’s another link to Carroll’s post debate reflections on his blog.

The Fermi Paradox

with 7 comments

For those less familiar with this term, this paradox is the apparent contradiction between our expectation of intelligent life throughout our universe and the lack of communication or contact from said intelligent life.  That is, if we are not the only intelligent life in the universe, then why haven’t we received distinguishable radio signals from these other intelligent beings?  In a section of a previous post, I briefly discussed this paradox and I decided it should be addressed in more detail.  That will be the purpose of this post.  Most of the ideas I will be discussing are well-known to those familiar with the topic, but I hope this post will encourage the onset of new ideas from those that haven’t given the topic as much consideration.

Expectation of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence

Many scientists estimate that our solar system may be but one of many billions in the galaxy, let alone the entire observable universe, let alone the entire unobservable universe.  The estimated number of stars in the observable universe is around 300 sextillion (3 × 1023) which as you may notice is on the same order as Avogadro’s number.  So with all of those solar systems out there, it seems reasonable that a fraction of them may be suitable for supporting life.  The number of civilizations capable of communicating with us can be calculated by what is known as the Drake equation.  While we don’t know which numbers to plug in to this equation, it at least gives us a mathematical view of the variables involved to accomplish such a calculation.

Another factor to look at is the age of our Sun relative to other stars in the universe.  The Sun is relatively young as it was formed a mere 4.6 billion years ago whereas most stars are between 1 and 10 billion years old clocking the average star at around 5.5 billion years old.  Either way, we can see that there are presumably a lot of stars out there that are older than the sun and this means that in many cases, intelligent life could have more time to evolve (and potentially much more time than we’ve had on Earth).  So this means that not only are there a large number of solar systems, but many of them are likely to be a billion or more years older than our own.   If any of those solar systems have supported intelligent life with radio technology, then we may expect to detect some radio signals which have already been traveling toward us for a billion or more years.  This would mean that if a radio transmission had enough energy behind it (enormous amounts of energy at that), it may have already traveled billions of light-years in which case we could detect those signals now — even if they are detected long after the originators have become extinct.  It would support the idea of intelligent life existing (or having once existed) elsewhere.

These reasons basically summarize our expectations for receiving communication from extra-terrestrial intelligent life.  Next, I will discuss several factors compatible with two ideas: intelligent life existing elsewhere in the universe, and the lack of evidence for receiving any communication from said intelligent life.  In other words, I will discuss several ways to resolve the Fermi paradox.

Resolving the Paradox

It seems to me that the paradox can be resolved by examining a number of factors including: the statistically small concentration of intelligent life in the universe, self-destruction by technologically-advanced species, the assumption of extra-terrestrial intelligent life behaving in certain ways based on anthropocentric views (including the assumption of extra-terrestrial life desiring contact with outsiders), human’s relatively short time span with post-radio technology, problems with radio signal propagation, the Hubble constant, and other various reasons.

Small Concentration of Intelligent life in the Universe

Life requires a very narrow range of conditions, and so we’d only expect it to exist if there was a planet at the appropriate distance from a star, and for that planet to contain the correct elemental starting materials (e.g. carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous, etc.).  If these conditions are within some range of acceptability, Brownian motion, favorable chemical bonds, and an input of energy from a neighboring star could lead to amino acids, proto-cells, DNA, etc.  Basically, we need particular planetary conditions necessary for abiogenesis (whatever that range of conditions may be).  What this means is that we have at least two variables with opposite effects on the outcome:  a large number of prospective solar systems, and a narrow range of conditions suitable for life.  Thus, one would expect that there are a large number of solar systems that are inhabited by life, but this would constitute a tiny percentage relative to the entire population of solar systems.

On top of this, the conditions needed to support intelligent life are even scarcer, especially after we consider that out of the 3.7 billion years of life on this planet, only in the last several thousand years have we had a form of life capable of developing advanced technology (namely radio technology).  Several factors contributed to intelligent life evolving from simple living systems in order to produce advanced technology.  Among them are: a habitable terrestrial environment, a moon with consequential tidal forces that catalyzed ocean-life’s migration onto land, writing systems & language, opposable thumbs, etc.  If we lacked any of these factors, it’s easy to see how the evolution of intelligent life capable of manipulating its environment in order to develop advanced technologies would be extremely unlikely.

So it is difficult to say how likely it is to have conditions suitable for life, let alone intelligent life.  However, I think it is safe to say that the concentration of intelligent life would be rather small, that is, out of the minute concentration of life-supporting solar systems, we’d have an even smaller concentration of intelligent life-supporting solar systems.  In the next section, I’ll discuss why this minute concentration of intelligent life is also compounded with a limited window of time for the species potentially able to send radio communication (due to the eventual extinction of these intelligent species).

Self-Destruction by Technologically-Advanced Species

If there are indeed many regions in the universe that are presently supporting or have previously supported life, then we must ask ourselves another question:  How long do we expect those species to thrive before they self-destruct?  In other words, if all or most technologically-advanced species inevitably get to a certain point in their evolution whereby they either exhaust all of their resources, succumb to nuclear or biological warfare, lose ecological sustainability (some may call this a Malthusian check/catastrophe), etc. — is it very likely that they will be in existence long enough to design and transmit interstellar radio communication?  Or to ask another follow-up question, if those species are alive long enough to design and transmit interstellar radio communication, how long do they have before they become extinct and their radio communication comes to a screeching halt?  The reason why this is important is because intelligent life able to communicate with us in theory may only have a relatively small window of time before the species becomes extinct.  If this happens after just a few hundred or a few thousand years of developing radio technology, then any radio transmission heading our way would only last for this same time duration.  If we are not in existence to receive it (whether it reached Earth before we evolved into intelligent beings or if it reaches us after we’ve become extinct) then we would have no record of it, even if radio transmission has occurred or will occur one day when we are long gone.  In other words, not only are extra-terrestrials with radio technology a necessary prerequisite for receiving a signal on Earth, but we also have to be alive and able to receive it during a particular relatively narrow window of time.  If the average star is older than ours, than only those solar systems at the appropriate distance would have a window of radio communication capable of reaching us.

Time Span of Radio Technology

In 1879, David Edward Hughes discovered that sparks would generate a radio signal, thus leading to the spark-gap transmitter.  Shortly thereafter in 1888, Heinrich Hertz, utilizing a more rigorous scientific approach than Hughes, was the first person to prove and demonstrate that radio waves could be transmitted (and detected) through free space.  This paved a large path for Marconi,  and after conducting various experiments in the 1890’s, he finally produced a technically and commercially viable form of radio technology.

So we can see that radio technology ultimately surfaced in the last 150 years.  Human civilization as we define it today (e.g. the utilization of agriculture, writing, weapons and other advanced technologies) has been around for about 10,000 years.  This means that only in the latter 1.5% of our time as civilized human beings, did we possess radio technology.  Relative to the 50-100,000 years of Homo sapiens’ existence, this is but the latter 0.1%.  Relative still to the 3.7 billion years of having any form of life on this planet, it is a mere blink of an eye.

So in short, we can see that radio technology wasn’t available to us until very, very recently.  What does this say about the Fermi Paradox?  Well it tells me that once intelligent life has evolved, it can take many tens of thousands of years (or longer) for advanced communicative technologies to exist.  Moreover, it tells me that intelligent life may exist elsewhere in the universe, even if extra-terrestrials have yet to discover radio technology (e.g. electromagnetic wave transmission).  After all, intelligent life seems to require many special conditions in order to develop radio technology, including: writing systems, opposable thumbs (not necessary but it makes it much easier), a terrestrial environment (it’s difficult to fathom how our level of technological progress could be attained in an aqueous environment), etc.  It’s easy enough to see that humans may have never discovered radio technology, as many special conditions were needed in order to do so.  Only very recently were all of those conditions met.

Radio Wave Propagation in Space

Due to the inverse square law (of electromagnetic radiation passing through free space), radio waves tend to become indistinguishable around several light years.  They may be clearly transmitted as far as a few hundred light years (if the signal is amplified and aimed in a specific direction), but radio waves require extremely large amounts of power (on the order of gigawatts) for transmission over distances as short as several light-years.   What this means is that many terawatts of power are most likely needed to send a clear signal over the distances required to reach intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.  So not only must we assume that this extra-terrestrial intelligent life has discovered radio wave technology, but also that it has the energy resources available to propagate radio wave signals over vast interstellar distances of many thousands or even millions of light-years.  The key thing to note here is that the radio wave signal has to be strong enough to overcome the average background noise that we’re already receiving constantly.

Radio waves can also be reflected, refracted, diffracted, absorbed, polarized, scattered, etc., by various materials in between its trajectory and our planet.  So in addition to the energy needed to propagate these radio waves, we must also assume that the waves have a free path so there is little or no information lost during its propagation to Earth.  Now we mustn’t forget that the mean free path of outer space, that is, the average distance a photon can travel without being affected (by matter), is around 10 billion light years.  So I’m willing to admit that the idea of radio waves being absorbed or affected by matter in any significant way is unlikely.  However, there is still bound to be constructive and destructive interference between any radio waves sent and any other electromagnetic radiation it crosses paths with.  If there are radio signals being sent from all over the universe and some were heading in our direction, how many of them have interacted with other waves with varying frequencies, amplitudes, etc.?  I think it is safe to say that regardless of the mean free path in space, the true mean free path, that is, the average distance a photon can travel without being affected (by matter OR electro-magnetic radiation) is probably closer to zero.  The universe is full of radiation moving in every (or just about every) direction.  This ultimately means that any radio transmissions sent from afar would most likely be distorted and changed dramatically.  If this was the case, we may end up receiving radio signals that are comparable to the microwave background radiation we detect now, that is, we may detect signals that don’t appear to carry much (if any) information at all.  So we may just have trouble separating “noise” from potential “information”.  For all we know, any and all radio signals sent in our direction may partially constitute the cosmic microwave background radiation.  If this is the case, then there is little or no hope of receiving any true information.

The Hubble Constant

As it turns out, cosmologists have determined that the observable universe is expanding.  Not only is it expanding, but it is also accelerating.  This rate of expansion is represented by the Hubble constant.  One important thing to realize is that space-time itself is expanding, not just the distance between galaxies within that space-time.  This is important to realize because space-time is actually believed to be expanding faster than the speed of light.  While many may think that this would violate Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, it is actually completely compatible.  According to Special Relativity, one consequence is that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light within space-time.  Within the field of cosmology, the general consensus is that space-time itself is expanding faster than the speed of light, thus not violating any physical laws.  Since this cosmic expansion does not allow information to travel faster than light, we are further assured that it adheres to all known physical laws.  This expansion is creating a light cone which incidentally puts a boundary on the observable universe from any point of reference.  That is, due to space-time expanding faster than the speed of light, there is a maximum observable distance from any point in the universe.  Past this distance, electro-magnetic radiation that is being transmitted toward the observer is never able to “outrun” the expansion rate of space-time, and thus it is never able to actually reach that observer.  What this ultimately means is that any potential radio waves that are being transmitted beyond this “observable universe” (i.e. the light cone) will never be able to reach that point of reference (e.g. an observer in the center of that light cone).  It does not matter how much power is used for transmission, it is physically impossible for information to reach us if it is transmitted beyond this point.

If we account for the Hubble constant, it turns out that our observable universe has a radius of approximately 46 billion light-years.  Past this point we can’t see anything (including radio signals).  If we take into account various theories of inflation, it is believed that the true universe (that which our “observable universe” is a constituent of) is many orders of magnitude larger.  So even if the universe had intelligent life distributed at a concentration of only 1 planet per “observable universe”, we would still have billions upon billions of intelligent civilizations in existence and yet there would be no possible way to know about their existence.

Summary

So it appears that there are numerous factors that can account for and resolve the Fermi paradox.  Does this mean that there is undoubtedly intelligent life elsewhere in the universe?  Of course not.  It seems clear to me however that the vast size of the universe (especially the unobservable universe) and the degree of homogenization we’ve observed thus far indicates that the probability of extra-terrestrial life is extremely high, regardless of whether or not we have received a radio transmission from them.  So in my opinion, the “Fermi paradox” doesn’t appear to be much of a paradox at all.

Consciousness and the Laws of Physics

with 4 comments

When most people hear the word “consciousness”, they tend to think of what I refer to as “mental consciousness”, that is, the mental process of awareness, self-awareness, or experience in general.  However, I prefer to think of consciousness as a fundamental type of awareness (i.e. an ability to respond to stimuli).  On top of this, I believe this property of awareness applies to “non-living” systems as well.  One idea I’d like to discuss in this post is the idea that “consciousness”, or a “universal consciousness” exists as some driving force in the universe such that experience, awareness, response to stimuli (e.g. physical motion), etc., precipitate from it.  In a nutshell, I equate this universal consciousness with the laws of physics.

Traditional Consciousness

If we look at the traditional view of consciousness, it seems to be the “I” (a combination of an unconscious and conscious driver) or more appropriately the “me”, that is, it is some concept of “self” that subsequently experiences and/or drives all of the constituent processes that constitute our experience.  If we look at consciousness from a physicalist perspective, we are led to the idea that consciousness is nothing more than particular physical processes produced and mediated by the brain.  What is important here is that the fundamental physical processes that produce and mediate consciousness, are processes which are ultimately driven by the laws of physics.  That is, the motion of all molecules, atoms, electrons, ions, etc., which are intricately interacting to produce this mental consciousness, are all governed by the laws of physics.

Mental Consciousness

Looking at mentally conscious beings such as ourselves, we have incoming sensory data/stimuli leading to perceptions which eventually coalesce with our pattern recognition systems such that cognitive processes (e.g. concepts/thought, language, problem solving, learning, memory, etc.) begin to drive our behavior based on our brain’s response to not only this incoming information, but also to its relationship with any information that has been previously acquired.  We could summarize this by saying that we have conscious thoughts or motivations (as well as unconscious motivations) serving as complex stimuli which we physically respond to by behaving in various ways.  In other words, we started with elementary stimuli which led to more complex stimuli finally driving our behavior as mentally conscious beings.

Consciousness of Fundamental Living Systems

If we then look at brainless organisms (e.g. bacteria, etc.), we see some similar properties of responding to stimuli thus driving micro-scale motion and any other aspects of behavior at that scale.  We seem to have lost the possibilities of perception and self-awareness with this type of organism, but the property of sensation and awareness, that is, the ability to respond to its environment (through electro-photo-chemical signals), is conserved.

Consciousness of Non-Living Systems

Finally, if we look at energy quanta (e.g. photons, gravitons, etc.) as well as the smaller-scale constituents of matter (e.g. atoms, electrons, subatomic particles, etc.), we see that they respond to the fundamental forces governed by the laws of physics.  If the magnitude and direction of those forces change, the response changes.  Once again, the property of awareness (i.e. an ability to respond to stimuli) is conserved.

An Evolving Consciousness

Looking at this in terms of consciousness evolution, we started with particles and energy quanta that were fundamentally “aware” of the fundamental forces.  When organized a particular way (given a particular environment), this led to a higher level of awareness (e.g. electro-photo-chemical sensation) as seen in cellular organisms.  Then upon further organization, an even higher level of awareness was reached (e.g. perception and thought) as is seen in the multi-cellular organisms that possess brains.  Eventually, this led to particular brain configurations which yielded the highest level of awareness we’ve observed thus far (e.g. self-awareness).  It is at this point (self awareness) that a being’s mental consciousness includes the experience of realizing that it is a mentally conscious being.  One could perhaps describe this type of awareness as a profound way that the universe has become aware of itself.

Final Thoughts and Questions

We could say that every “level” of consciousness or awareness that seems to exist is but one step in a series driven by the fundamental universal consciousness which increasingly approximates complete awareness of the universe (or at least some maximal level).  This leads me to several questions:

– Are there any other levels of awareness that we are not aware of?

– If there are other types of awareness in which we are constituents of some “higher” level, can we come to know those higher levels, or are certain epistemological limitations in place to prevent this kind of knowledge (analogous to brain cells being unaware of the self-producing brain that they constitute)?

– If the universe has a finite amount of time before all “higher” levels of awareness are reduced to the fundamental form from which they came (due to the second law of thermodynamics leading to an inevitable heat death), what will the climax of awareness consist of, or at the very least, what are some plausible climaxes of awareness?

– If the universe is cyclical (e.g. Big Bang and Big Crunch ad infinitum), will every iteration consist of the same climax of awareness, even if the laws of physics change (e.g. physical constants), and despite the possibility of there being some level of ontological randomness?

Written by Lage

November 16, 2012 at 9:58 pm

More Misconceptions about Evolution: “Scientific facts” that prove evolution is false — DE-BUNKED

with 4 comments

Many months ago my sister pointed out a blog post on a particular website (abovetopsecret.com) which was titled “Top Ten Scientific Facts : Evolution is False and Impossible“, written by “edsinger”, and she asked me what my thoughts were.  I decided to take a look to see what anti-evolutionary mis-information was being propagated to the masses.  In the interest of setting the record straight, I decided to de-bunk the aforementioned post as it was based on large misconceptions about evolution and how natural selection operates (not surprisingly).  With the mountain of evidence that supports the theory of evolution, specifically the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, I was extremely skeptical of every “scientific fact” proposed (which not surprisingly were anything but “facts”).  I want to start by pointing out that when I use the expression “the organism evolved”, I am implying that the gene pool is changing for a particular population with a new sub-population created in the process.  I don’t want those reading this to assume I am implying a Lamarckian evolution.  Now that I’ve provided that clarification, let’s begin.

“Scientific Fact” No. 1 – Birds Prove Natural Selection is Naturally Wrong

The idea of natural selection sounds great when considering deer. The deer that can sense danger the quickest and run the fastest are able to escape the predator on a more consistent basis. However, other examples on the evolutionary tree have many laughable flaws. One of the best is the thought that a bird began to evolve a wing. Why this would occur is not answered by evolutionists. The wing stub did not make the bird more adaptable in his environment. The wing was much too small for the bird to fly. Why would a bird evolve a wing that was useless? This is backwards from the evolutionary natural selection concept that birds adapt and change in order to survive better in their environment.

Alright, where to begin?  First off the idea that “a bird began to evolve a wing” needs clarification.  Edsinger implies that it started as a “stub” which would “not make the bird more adaptable in his environment“.  Evolutionary biologists aren’t positive how the wing evolved but some likely possibilities are that it either started as a fin or flipper (before life adapted from the aquatic environment to that of the terrestrial), and either grew feathers on them, or after flippers or fins evolved into fully formed terrestrially-suited arms, some animals grew feathers on those arms.  For some animals, the exact opposite may have occurred, that is, animals with wings may have evolved into certain sub-populations with arms or flippers.  If we look at the Penguin, we can see a similar case where natural selection pressured a previously flying bird into a sub-population of flightless birds with vestigial wings.  If we can imagine animals with wings evolving into animals with flippers over time, it is no more difficult to imagine the opposite case, that is, a sub-population of birds (or bird-like animals) with flippers evolving into a population of birds (or bird-like animals) with wings.

There are some more general misconceptions on Edsinger’s part regarding how natural selection operates as seen in this first excerpt of his, namely his assumption that natural selection only allows favorable traits to evolve or exist in some population within a specific type of environment.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  To illustrate this point, let’s consider the author’s assumption that wings evolved from useless “stubs” (which is less likely, but still possible).  Even in this extreme case, if we had an animal with stubs that were “useless”, we would need to know what other attributes and traits this animal has to see if they outweigh the disadvantages of their useless “stubs”.  What if the animal compensated for this shortcoming by: being covered in some type of armor (like an armadillo or porcupine), by being able to run very fast (like an ostrich does to evade its predators; another example of a flightless bird that found a way to more than compensate for its vestigial wings), or even by having incredibly sharp teeth (like a Tyrannosaurus Rex; a predatory animal at the top of the food chain despite having incredibly small and seemingly “useless” arms)?

What’s important to note here is that animals can evolve with both disadvantageous and beneficial traits as long as the benefits outweigh the disadvantages enough such that the organism lives long enough to reproduce (and such that the rates of reproduction are high enough to avoid extinction).  What’s kind of funny is that Edsinger’s line of reasoning suggests that everything is “designed” for a reason (which is true from a creationist or intelligent design point of view).  Since when have evolutionary biologists suggested that evolution has to fall within this line of reasoning?  If anything, proponents of evolution (myself included) suggest that physical traits (i.e. phenotypes) are random in the sense that they are a result of mutation and changes in gene frequency due to a changing environment.  This is why proponents of evolution have a way of explaining why “useless” phenotypes exist (whether its a human appendix, etc.).  Natural selection which operates on benefits outweighing disadvantages is a perfect explanation.  Proponents of intelligent design or creationism (i.e. not theistic evolution) have no way of explaining these “imperfections” or “design flaws” which further negates the arguments against evolution and natural selection.  In the case of a bird (or “pre-bird”) with a useless stub, as long as it had other traits that compensated for the stub, it would have an evolutionary “breathing space” for genetic mutations and other changes in gene frequency such that a wing could eventually co-evolve with the organism over time.  There is a theory that birds (some if not all) evolved from dinosaurs and the example I gave above of the T-Rex illustrates how animals can have the necessary evolutionary “breathing space” (e.g. being at the top of the food chain) for wings to eventually evolve (even from successive changes to previously useless features).  Let’s move on to number two.

“Scientific Fact” No. 2 – Species Without a Link Proves Evolution is Wrong

The evolutionist will claim that the presence of many individual species proves evolution. This shallow statement is devoid of reason, logic and scientific proof. Evolutionists line up pictures of similar looking species and claim they evolved one to another. Humans are a great example. There are hundreds of species of extinct monkeys and apes. Petrified skulls and bones exist from these creatures. Evolutionists line up the most promising choices to present a gradual progression from monkey to modern man. They simply fill in the big gaps with make-believe creatures to fit the picture. This procedure can be done with humans only because there are many extinct monkey and ape species. They never do this with giraffes and elephants. These pictures are placed in all evolutionists’ text books to teach kids this nonsense. The picture is simply a grouping of individual species that does not prove evolution.

Ugh.  I want to start by saying that Paleontologists have quite a difficult job to do.  One thing that Edsinger may not realize is that we are only able to find an incredibly small fraction of fossilized animals because it takes very special conditions in order to preserve the animal, let alone for so many millions of years.  Paleontologists have to find an area that has not been recycled into liquid hot magma via plate tectonic motion, volcanic activity, etc.  This means that any fossilized remains near converging plate tectonic boundaries are going to contain little if any remains, as much of those remains have been pushed back under the crust of the Earth and recycled into magma.  Any animals that weren’t buried by some material (e.g. preserved in a tar pit, covered in volcanic ash, etc.) will disintegrate due to weathering, decompose due to fungi (or otherwise), or be eaten by other animal scavengers.  Any animals that died near bodies of water are even less likely to have their remains found (due to our limited access of the bottom of the ocean) and less likely to be preserved (due to increased rates of dissolution, decomposition, etc.).  The idea I’m trying to illustrate here is that Paleontologists are only able to find a fraction of the fossil record due to the narrow range of conditions that allow fossil creation to take place.  This is why there are gaps that exist and are filled in with educated guesses.  Gaps aside, the conclusive evidence that we do have demonstrates how organisms have changed over time by looking at what did exist long ago and what we know exists in the animal kingdom today.  “Species without a link” is nothing more than a by-product of fossilization limitations.  What we do know is that the fossils that we do find are somewhat statistically representative of the population that existed long ago.  When we look at the fossil record however, and fail to find the majority of animals that exist today, we can safely infer that there are animals that exist today that didn’t exist long ago and vice versa.  This further implies that evolution has indeed occurred.

Another misconception that many have is that all evolution is equally gradual, that is, that all evolutionary changes proceed at the same or similar rates.  The Modern Evolutionary Synthesis suggests that there could have been several abrupt changes to the gene pool as a result of major climate changes, or other environmental factors, which would cause short and quick bursts of change to the gene pool.  This would make sense as the environment doesn’t always gradually change over time.  There are many extinction events or large environmental changes that can occur due to asteroids hitting the Earth (and the resulting dust clouds or tidal waves that ensue), volcanic eruptions (and the resulting pyroclastic flow, dust, and lava that follow), changes in solar output (resulting in ice ages or global warming), bacterial or viral epidemics, etc.  There are a number of things that can cause large abrupt environmental changes and thus large changes in gene frequency.  In cases like this, it makes sense that transitional fossils wouldn’t always exist with a consistent level of graduation over time.  The fossilization limitations I mentioned earlier would create circumstances where the level of transition would seem even more abrupt simply because we aren’t able to collect enough fossils to accurately represent the entirety of evolutionary changes.

“Scientific Fact” No. 3 – Single Cell Complexity Proves Evolution is Wrong

Scientists a century ago believed the smallest single living cell was a simple life form. The theory developed that perhaps lightning struck a pond of water causing several molecules to combine in a random way which by chance resulted in a living cell. The cell then divided and evolved into higher life forms. This view is now proven to be immature to the degree of being ridiculous. The most modern laboratory is unable to create a living cell. In fact, scientists have been unable to create a single left-hand protein molecule as found in all animals.

Are we really supposed to believe that scientists should be able to recreate the initial conditions that led to the emergence of life (i.e. abiotic synthesis or abiogenesis).  I’d be incredibly amazed if we were able to.  Our failure to know what the conditions were (even if we knew what conditions best support life AFTER life has been established), let alone the fact that our experiments are not able to run on the time scales that we believe were needed to create life (on the order of millions or billions of years), only points out our experimental and epistemological limitations.  Theoretically, the Earth underwent changes over the course of several billion years whereby Brownian motion and energy from the sun, electricity (e.g. lightning, etc.) led to the synthesis of simple compounds, more complex compounds (amino acids), and eventually DNA.  We can think of this as a several billion year experiment where random motion and enough time statistically led to stable compounds including DNA, proteins, etc.  If it was random motion, favorable chemical bonds, and enough time that led to life, how can we possibly expect to recreate this in a laboratory?  Our failure to do so is far from surprising and Edsinger seems to think that science is perfectly capable of doing such a laborious and near-impossible (if not impossible) task.  If Edsinger really has this much faith in the capabilities of science, then he should be a proponent of evolution, rather than arguing against it.  Clearly these arguments from Edsinger are a result of a lack of education in evolutionary biology, and a lack of reasoning in general.

“Scientific Fact” No. 4 – Human Egg and Sperm Proves Evolution is Wrong

The evolutionist ignores the problem surrounding the human female egg and the male sperm in the evolutionary theory. The female egg contains the X-chromosome and the male sperm contains either an X-chromosome for the reproduction of a male or a Y-chromosome for the reproduction of a female. The female eggs all develop within the ovaries while she is a baby (fetus) within her mother’s womb. Evolutionists claim environmental factors cause small changes in the offspring in the evolutionary chain. However, the environmental experience of the female cannot change the chromosomes within her eggs and cannot have any effect upon her offspring. Her body cannot go into the eggs contained within her ovaries at her birth to make an intelligent change. Females cannot be a part of the evolutionary theory for these reasons.

First Edsinger points out that it is the male that determines the sex of any future offspring.  Edsinger mentions that the female develops all of her eggs prior to reproduction and implies that this somehow prevents an intelligent change from being made by her such that her future offspring can better adapt to the environment.  What Edsinger has suggested here is that Lamarckism is false, which is perfectly in line with the Modern Evolutionary synthesis.  Evolutionists stay away from Lamarckism because there is little or no evidence to support it.  Edsinger assumed that evolutionists are proponents of Lamarckism but this is most certainly not the case.  Edsinger then goes on to say that females can’t ” be a part of the evolutionary theory for these reasons”.  This is not true at all.  The male and the female each provide one half of the resulting offspring’s DNA which means that she is the source of half of the genes that are perpetuated in the gene pool.  Upon mixing with the father’s DNA in a number of possible combinations, the resultant offspring can vary quite a bit.  Also, there are random genetic changes that can occur during or after the production of her eggs such that they do not perfectly correlate with the female’s original genes.  In other words, DNA is never copied perfectly and undergoes random mutations from time to time (including the DNA within her eggs) providing several mechanisms for changes to the gene pool.  While the imperfections and mutations are not a result of some intelligent attempt to match the changing environment, they indirectly do so (albeit un-intelligently) when natural selection takes place on the future offspring.  That is, the imperfections made while copying DNA for the production of her eggs and the random mutations that may occur to that DNA any moment after the eggs are produced, result in future offspring that are more or less suited for the changing environment.  So yes, females definitely play a role and are thus a part of the evolutionary theory.

“Scientific Fact” No. 5 – DNA Error Checking Proves Evolution is Wrong

The scientific fact that DNA replication includes a built-in error checking method and a DNA repair process proves the evolutionary theory is wrong. The fact is that any attempt by the DNA to change is stopped and reversed.

As I mentioned in my last paragraph, DNA does not copy itself perfectly.  There are certainly mechanisms that allow DNA to check for errors during copying, as this is needed in order to preserve any beneficial traits resulting from particular genes.  It makes sense that natural selection would support the evolution of DNA that performed this function.  While DNA does have this error checking capability, it is not perfect.  Even if it is imperfect by a tiny percentage of the genome, it provides enough “wiggle room” for evolution to occur.  Edsinger assumed that DNA error-checking was 100% full-proof, which is most definitely not the case.  No credible biologist believes this nor has provided evidence to support this assumption of Edsinger.  We do however have evidence that DNA copying results in at least SOME errors (which is all you need in order to demonstrate that evolution is possible).

“Scientific Fact” No. 6 – Chaos From Organization Proves Evolution is Wrong

The second law of thermodynamics proves that organization cannot flow from chaos. Complex live organisms cannot rearrange themselves into an organism of a higher form as claimed by evolutionists. This is scientifically backwards according to the second law of thermodynamics that has never been proven wrong. Scientists cannot have it both ways. The second law of thermodynamics is proven to be correct. Evolution lacks any scientific proof. Evolution is simply an empty theory.

This is perhaps one of my favorite myths to de-bunk.  I’ve heard Creationists try and use this argument time and time again (with no success).  Edsinger clearly does not even know what the Second Law of Thermodynamics is, for if he did, he would know that it states that entropy (chaos) statistically increases over time in a closed or isolated system.  Unforunately for Edsinger, the Earth is not a closed system.  We obtain all energy that both drives evolution and allows life to exist from the Sun!  It turns out that the amount of entropy that the Sun produces during nuclear fusion more than compensates for the decrease in entropy needed for life to exist and evolution to occur, so the Second Law of Thermodynamics is preserved.  I want to add that in general, evolutionists do not claim that organisms are evolving to “higher forms”.  What is claimed is that evolution is occurring in response to a changing environment.  Even if all intelligent life became extinct such that bacteria once again monopolized the gene pool, evolution would be the mechanism.  So to say that evolution requires higher order is inherently flawed.  It is true that a larger organism or one with more complex systems results in a decrease in entropy, but not all organisms evolve this way.  Some organisms may evolve into smaller organisms and some evolve into those with less complicated systems, as long as it is more beneficial for the new environment under consideration.

“Scientific Fact” No. 7 – Chromosome Count Proves Evolution is Wrong

There is no scientific evidence that a species can change the number of chromosomes within the DNA. The chromosome count within each species is fixed. This is the reason a male from one species cannot mate successfully with a female of another species. Man could not evolve from a monkey. Each species is locked into its chromosome count that cannot change. If an animal developed an extra chromosome or lost a chromosome because of some deformity, it could not successfully mate. The defect could not be passed along to the next generation. Evolving a new species is scientifically impossible. Evolutionists prove that getting a college education does not impart wisdom.

It has been shown that species with a particular number of chromosomes within its DNA can mate with another species with a different number of chromosomes.  A few months ago, I read about a sheep that mated with a goat and produced fertile offspring (with the average number of chromosomes between the two parents).  As rare as this is to encounter in our lifetimes, when we are talking about time scales on the order of millions and billions of years, it seems quite likely that this has happened quite a few times in the past.  The case of the goat and the sheep is merely one example to refute this claim of Edsinger.  Random mutations over time can change chromosome count even if they are incredibly rare.  Humans have only known about chromosomes for so many decades, and evolution has been occurring for millions or years.  It’s easy to see why we fail to see so many facets of evolution during our investigations (especially processes that may occur once every several thousand years or less).

“Scientific Fact” No. 8 – Origin of Matter and Stars Proves Evolution is Wrong

Evolutionists just throw up their hands at the question of the origin of matter because they know something cannot evolve from nothing. They stick their heads in the sand and ignore the problem. The fact that matter exists in outrageously large quantities simply proves evolution is wrong. The “Big Bang” theory doesn’t solve the problem either. Matter and energy have to come from somewhere.

Clearly Edsinger never considered that matter and energy may have ALWAYS existed, rather than were created.  The Big Bang Theory merely illustrates what the scientific evidence suggests as the earliest time with which we can talk about.  In other words, it would be pure speculation to assume what may have happened PRIOR to the Big Bang, but this does not mean that all scientists believe that nothing happened prior to the Big Bang.  Some speculate (myself included) that the universe undergoes a cyclical Big Bang followed by a Big Crunch; a cycle which has been going on for an infinite amount of time.  For those that want to suggest that the cosmological constant implies that the universe is expanding and could not ever lead to a Big Crunch, they haven’t considered that the expansion of space may be analogous to how Pangea spread out on the spherical surface of the Earth, whereby all the continents started to separate, and may eventually (on the other side of the Earth) come back together.  Alternatively, we could speculate that the cosmological constant is changing and will one day reverse itself.  Either way, the fact that we don’t know what happened prior to the Big Bang, is irrelevant to the theory of evolution.  Creationists think they’ve solved the problem by saying that a “God” created the universe, and this “God” always existed beforehand.  We can easily eliminate the “God” from the equation and just say that the universe has always existed.  On top of this, for Edsinger to say that we need to uphold the Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy, this means that his alternative explanation (whatever that may be) couldn’t have some “God” create the mass or energy either.  So what is Edsinger’s alternative explanation?

“Scientific Fact” No. 9 – Lack of Life on Mars Proves Evolution is Wrong

Two NASA two land rovers named Spirit and Opportunity explored Mars during 2004. The topography shows obvious signs of past liquid rivers flowing in numerous places. The rovers have proven that water was once abundant on the surface of Mars, but they have not been able to find any signs of life or any signs of past life on the planet. Mars has a proven history of flowing water on the surface and an atmosphere suitable to support life forms. The planet has had all of the conditions necessary to provide the “spark” of life according to the evolutionary theory, yet there is no life on Mars. The river beds and river banks show no signs of vegetation or trees. The ground has no fossils and no organisms. The place is absolutely sterile.

As I mentioned in response to “scientific fact” No. 3, the conditions needed to support life are different from those that are needed for abiogenesis.  We do not know what conditions are necessary for abiogenesis to occur.  Just because Mars has a source of water or other compounds similar to Earth doesn’t mean that Mars has all the ideal conditions necessary for life to emerge.  It has a different elemental composition that that of Earth, and is located at a different distance from the Sun than the Earth is.  There are many differences between Earth and Mars, so trying to argue that a planet which has SOME features similar to that of the Earth, yet doesn’t have ONE particular feature (e.g. life), somehow disproves evolution, is ridiculous.

“Scientific Fact” No. 10 – Radio Silence from Space Proves Evolution is Wrong

Mars is not the only place that shows no signs of life. The entire universe lacks any sign of life. There are no radio signals that can be related to intelligent life forms. None of the billions of galaxies has been found to emit any intelligent radio signals. Scientists have been pointing every type of radio telescope possible into space for several decades in hopes of finding an intelligent signal. No signs of life beyond Earth have been found. We are alone.

This is an example of what many people call the Fermi Paradox.  Let’s examine our particular situation of life on Earth.  If it took billions of years for life to form from a combination of Brownian (random) motion, specific favorable chemical bonds, and energy, it’s easy to see why life isn’t present on every planet in the solar system, let alone every planet in the galaxy.  Abiogenesis could only have occurred in a narrow range of conditions, and it was largely a result of statistical probability.  Likewise, statistically, with all the millions and billions of planets, countless solar systems and galaxies in the universe, it is also statistically probable that life DOES exist in many other parts of the universe (although we would expect the concentration of intelligent life to be small overall).  The fact that the observable universe seems to be somewhat homogenous further suggests this.  Radio silence from space doesn’t prove a darn thing other than that we have yet to be contacted by any radio signals that have been sent (if any have been sent).  If we expected to receive intelligent radio signals from outer space, we would not only have to assume that intelligent life has evolved elsewhere (that knows how to transmit Shannon information via radio signals or some other form of EM radiation), but that their planet was within range for their signal to reach us unaffected.  There are solar systems that are millions of light years away, and thus would prevent any signals from reaching us for millions of years (and that’s IF the signals managed to make it to us without being reflected or absorbed by other objects in the signal’s several million light-year path of travel).  This line of reasoning on Edsinger’s part is based on so many false assumptions, its ridiculous.  As for Edsinger’s “We are alone” comment, what a dark and depressing conclusion based on these assumptions.  I wrote a separate post about this addressing the Fermi Paradox in more detail.

There are many misconceptions about evolution, and these were merely a few I wanted to address.  What’s worse is that this person attempted to propagate these claims as “scientific facts” which all turned out to be completely false (not facts at all).  Needless to say, I was not surprised at all.

The illusion of free will

with 3 comments

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again.  There is no way that we can have free will.  I do believe that we have an illusion of free will, but nothing more than an illusion.  With adequate physical determinism as well as quantum randomness as underlying attributes of our universe, there is simply no room to compatibilize a concept of free will.  It seems to me that the majority of people trying to hang on to this free will dream are those people who have religious beliefs which depend on its existence.  Even if mounds of evidence that negate free will are right in front of them, they continue to ignore it for the purposes of maintaining their religious identity.  In all fairness, I did the same thing when I was a Christian in the past.  After all, free will is the bread and butter of any religion involving some ridiculous precept of good and evil, reward and punishment, right and wrong, etc. If you negate free will, the religion as it currently stands goes down the toilet.

If people are merely products of their genes and environment, then we have no choice but to do what we’ve been programmed to do by our parents, teachers, ministers, politicians, television shows, books, etc.  We may feel that we’re doing what we want to do, but if our wants are mediated by our position in a causal chain (where we were born, where we grew up, who our parents were, how we were raised, our experiences, etc.), then we had no choice but to want what we were programmed to want.

Anyone that says that quantum uncertainty provides some wiggle room for free will is also sorely mistaken.  Our uncertainty in the quantum realm relies on two possibilities (or a mixture of the two): either everything in the quantum realm is 100% determined but appears to be random to us, or everything in the quantum realm is random.  In either case, it is out of our control.  So once again, there is no room for free will.

The fact that our faculties of reason and logic depend on causality and thus determinism, illustrates why one must abandon these very faculties if they are to preserve a belief in free will.  The trouble is that even many religious followers that believe in free will are explicitly using reason and logic in their everyday lives (just not all of the time).  Even if they are reading scripture, they no doubt reflect on what they’ve read, and analyze it in one way or another with the mental faculties they possess.  How they reconcile this paradox is beyond me (I think it was mainly “reason” that nudged me over the religious fence years ago).

I manage to appreciate the beauty in the universe, as well as the fact that I’m able to have a human experience filled with love.  I am able to find purpose in life and do not think that it is all meaningless, despite my acceptance of illusionism.  I didn’t even have a choice but to write this post.  Poop!  I had no choice but to write “Poop!” even though it may seem incredibly irrelevant to this topic.  I felt that I had a choice, but whatever I decide to do or not do is a result of mental decision making based on what I’ve been taught (consciously or unconsciously).  I may even delete something I write because my programmed decision making prompts me to do so for whatever the reason.  Is chocolate my favorite ice cream flavor?  Or is it vanilla?  Do I have a choice here?  Nope.  It’s chocolate.  Does anyone have a choice over their likes and dislikes?  If not, then why do people think that their opinions, values or actions are any different.  Any opinion or value you have is a result of something or someone else, even if you forget that fact during your actions.

I am a product of my genes and environment.  I am a link in a causal chain and/or a result of chance.  Bring on the causes and the chance baby!  It’s all a part of life.  Peace and love!

Written by Lage

July 23, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Essay on Time – Part III: Time Travel and its Limitations

with 2 comments

Time travel and the Laws of Physics

As the “Twin Paradox” and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity implied, time travel to the future is possible if enough energy is available.  As for time travel to the past, while it seems to be the most envied hypothetical time-travel capability, it also seems to be the only one that is impossible (in my opinion).  I will discuss why I believe this to be the case, specifically how it pertains to certain physical laws and theories including: Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, The Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy, and The Law of Causality.

One method proposed by some, in order to be able to travel back in time, is to utilize Einstein’s theory of relativity to take time dilation “one step further”, that is, by traveling faster than the speed of light the time dilation may theoretically reverse the arrow of time.  To better picture this, recall that traveling closer to the speed of light slowed down the passage of time, and reaching the speed of light appeared to stop it.  If time dilation or the deceleration of time were to continue in the direction implied (slowing down to a stop), then continuing this deceleration by traveling faster than light would cause the arrow of time to reverse, thus making time travel to the past possible.  Unfortunately this “faster than light-speed” travel would violate Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, as one of the primary elements of the theory is the assertion that the speed of light is the fastest speed that can be attained by anything moving in space.  Furthermore, Relativity asserts mathematically that it would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate a mass (e.g. a time traveler) to the speed of light, which implies that it would take even more energy to accelerate a mass to a speed higher than that of light.  Since you can’t have an infinite amount of energy, let alone more than an infinite amount of energy, traveling at or faster than the speed of light is impossible.

Relativity aside, if we found some other way to travel back in time and were to able to exist in a previous “version” of the universe, I think that we would violate the Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy, because we as the time traveler would be adding our own mass to a previous version of the universe which should have a fixed amount of mass and energy over time.  The only way around this would be to somehow sacrifice matter in the previous version of the universe that one travels to, that is, the time traveler’s body would have to be assembled out of matter already located in the past version of the universe.  If this occurred however, we would no longer exist in a previous version of the universe and would by definition have failed to time travel to “the past”.  It would appear to be close to matching the past, but it would be a moment in time that had never existed, and the causal chain would be altered beyond what we can possibly comprehend.  So time travel to the past appears to be impossible even if this particular law of physics was upheld, as we would be forced to alter the past (in order to satisfy the law) thus preventing us from traveling to a real moment of the past.

Finally, if we were to find a way to travel back in time and somehow solve the aforementioned issues, we’d still have a problem with causality.  If a time traveler were to go back to the past, and actually exist in that causal chain, the “Butterfly Effect” would immediately change the course of history such that the “present” time from which the time traveler came from would no longer exist.  If this was the case, then it seems unreasonable to assume that the time traveler would still have time traveled in the first place.  Let’s take a look at a simple causal diagram to appreciate this scenario.

From this diagram, we can see that time traveling to the past would create a new causal chain up to and including a new “present”.  This new causal chain would no longer be causally connected to the old “present”.  This would mean that the time from which the time traveler initially left (i.e. the old present) would no longer exist.  Wouldn’t this imply that the time traveler (their sense of self, the “I”, the “me”, etc.) as well as the trip itself never would have been?  I see no way around this dilemma.

So it appears that time travel to the past is physically impossible for a number of reasons.  At least time travel to the future has some promise as it doesn’t appear to violate any of these physical laws and is implied as a possibility due to consequences of Relativity.  This type of time travel seems to only be limited by the energy requirements needed to accelerate the time traveling matter to a high enough velocity for a long enough period of time, and return the time traveler back to the previous frame of reference (e.g. Earth).  Or if the time traveler utilized the effect of gravitational time dilation, their time travel would be limited by the gravitational field of the celestial body they chose to travel to as well as the time it would take them to get back to the previous frame of reference (e.g. Earth).  Either way, time travel to the future is possible simply by moving through space in a particular way.

Final thoughts

Regarding temporal experiences, it appears to me that memory is the most important of the mental requirements in order to have a mental frame of reference, that is, to make an experience of the past and present possible (as well as a concept of the future).  I think that how this memory is stored and retrieved in the brain, the amount or types of memory available as well as the psycho-pharmacological substance-induced or otherwise caused physiological changes to this memory no doubt affect our temporal experiences in profound ways.  Memory also appears to transcend physical time by providing a means for experiencing an ever-changing temporal rate.

The Theory of Relativity suggests that physical time does not exist for entities moving at the speed of light because entities moving at the speed of light (which is a constant in all frames of reference) have no physical frame of reference, and have an infinite time dilation between themselves and all inertial frames of reference.  All physical time for entities that are not moving at the speed of light would be relative to one another based on relative velocity, acceleration, and gravity.  Time also appears to pop in and out of existence due to Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence, as matter is converted into energy and vice versa.

Thus, both mental and physical frames of reference are needed in order for a temporal experience to exist.

As for time travel, it appears to be possible but only if traveling into the future, if we are to uphold the Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the Law of Causality.