Posts Tagged cosmology

Another god debate Ken Perrott Feb 23

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Apparently Sean Carroll and William Lane Craig went head to head this weekend on the question of “the existence of God in light of contemporary cosmology.”

Usually I think these sort of debates are a waste of time but am keen to see the video of this one – it will be on Youtube eventually. In previous debates Craig attempts to use cosmology to “prove” the existence of his god (I use the word “use” as meaning very opportunist use of motivated reasoning). In most debates his opponents are usually not completely familiar with modern cosmology and he gets away with murder in his misrepresentation of the science.

But Sean Carroll is a different proposition. Not only is Sean a researcher and teacher in cosmology he is also an excellent communicator of science. His recent bookThe Particle at the End of the Universe, won last year’s Royal Society Winton Prize for best science book (see The particle at the end of the universe’ wins Winton Prize).


Nor is he intimidated by Craig’s acknowledged debating skills. He says in a blog post before the debate:

“You can find some of WLC’s thoughts on the upcoming event at his Reasonable Faith website. One important correction I would make to what you will read there: Craig and his interlocutor Kevin Harris interpret my statement that “my goal here is not to win the debate” as a strategy to avoid dealing with WLC’s arguments, or as “a way to lower expectations.” Neither is remotely true. I want to make the case for naturalism, and to do that it’s obviously necessary to counter any objections that get raised. Moreover, I think that expectations (for me) should be set ridiculously high. The case I hope to make for naturalism will be so impressively, mind-bogglingly, breathtakingly strong that it should be nearly impossible for any reasonable person to hear it and not be immediately convinced. Honestly, I’ll be disappointed if there are any theists left in the audience once the whole thing is over.”

I think his tongue was in his cheek with the last sentence.

His suggestion for viewers:

“Feel free to organize viewing parties, celebrations, discussion groups, what have you. There should definitely be a drinking game involved (it’ll be happy hour on the West Coast, you lightweights), but I’ll leave the details to you. Suggested starting points: drink every time WLC uses a syllogism, or every time I show an equation. But be sure to have something to eat, first.”

Thanks to God and Cosmology Debate with W.L. Craig

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Testing the God theory Ken Perrott Dec 04

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I enjoyed this video.

It is a full lecture but well worth watching – especially if you are interested in the science-religion debates.

Sean Carroll presents these cosmological arguments well – and his analysis is far more up to date – and “with it” than those theologians who venture into the area. Just compare this with the rubbish W. L. Craig comes out with.

This lecture really puts the theological argument that God is a “better explanation” of life than the multiverse into perspective.

Thanks to Your Thanksgiving viewing « Why Evolution Is True.

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That particle again Ken Perrott Nov 11

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This week sees the launch of another book on the Higgs Boson. This one is by the cosmologist Sean CarrollThe Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World.

I found Carroll’s last book From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time excellent so am looking forward to this one. he has a real gift for explaining the complex science of cosmology and particle physics clearly for the lay person.

In this short promotion video he describes the aim of the book

Sean Carroll: The Particle at the End of the Universe

See also: The Excitement Grows!

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Comprehending reality — Should we give up so easily? Ken Perrott Jan 17

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The Edge question is an annual event. Publisher John Brockman poses an interesting question to a large number of scientists, thinkers, academics and writers. He publishes their answers on the Edge website and usually, later,  as a book*

The 2012 question is:

What Is Your Favorite Deep, Elegant, Or Beautiful Explanation?

Andrei Linde, Stanford University

There are answers from 190 people – many you will know, some you won’t, but all are thoughtful and stimulating. I am starting to read through them and found the first really intriguing. It’s from Andrei Linde, Professor of Physics at Stanford University and originator of the Chaotic Inflation Cosmological theory, and has the title Why Is Our World Comprehensible?

Here’s an extract:

“The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.” This is one of the most famous quotes from Albert Einstein. “The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle.” Similarly, Eugene Wigner said that the unreasonable efficiency of mathematics is “a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.” Thus we have a problem that may seem too metaphysical to be addressed in a meaningful way: Why do we live in a comprehensible universe with certain rules, which can be efficiently used for predicting our future?

One could always respond that God created the universe and made it simple enough so that we can comprehend it. This would match the words about a miracle and an undeserved gift. But shall we give up so easily? Let us consider several other questions of a similar type. Why is our universe so large? Why parallel lines do not intersect? Why different parts of the universe look so similar? For a long time such questions looked too metaphysical to be considered seriously. Now we know that inflationary cosmology provides a possible answer to all of these questions. Let us see whether it might help us again.

I like his point, his response to a “god did it!”answer provided by the theologically-inclined.

Should we give up so easily?

Linde explains how modern cosmological theory leads to the possibility of regions of the universe where “different laws of the low energy physics operate” – the “multiverse” concept.

“In some of these universes, quantum fluctuations are so large that any computations are impossible. Mathematics there is inefficient because predictions cannot be memorized and used. Lifetime of some of these universes is too short. Some other universes are long living but laws of physics there do not allow existence of anybody who could live sufficiently long to learn physics and mathematics.”


“We can only live in those universes where the laws of physics allow our existence, which requires making reliable predictions. In other words, mathematicians and physicists can only live in those universes which are comprehensible and where the laws of mathematics are efficient.”

And he concludes that while some people may dismiss his ideas as “wild speculation:”

 It seems very intriguing, however, that in the context of the new cosmological paradigm, which was developed during the last 30 years, we might be able, for the first time, to approach one of the most complicated and mysterious problems which bothered some of the best scientists of the 20th century.

*Previous questions/books include:


And so on – back to 1998.

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Nothing is something Ken Perrott Jan 15

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Lawrence Krauss’s most recent book A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing was released last week. It’s one I have been looking forward to and I downloaded the eBook version this last weekend.

Some readers may have seen a video of one of Krauss’s lectures on this subject – these are what motivated my interest. For readers who have not seen one these lectures I have embedded one below.

I am keen to get into the book. With chapter titles like “Nothing is Something” and “Nothing is Unstable” it promises to be a good read. (I have placed the list of chapters at the bottom of this post*).

Krauss is not only an excellent lecturer he also writes very well. He has a lively style and is able to communicate complex ideas. Lawrence Krauss is one of the listed speakers art next April’s Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne (see A Celebration of Reason).

I wonder if he will pass through New Zealand as part of a book tour?

‘A Universe From Nothing’ by Lawrence Krauss, AAI 2009 .

Last year Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow were bombarded with a lot of criticism from religious apologists for their book The Grand Design. I think it helped bring the book to the attention of potential readers. So I hope these moral watchdogs are not asleep and will be just as energetic in their criticisms of Krauss’s book.

My first impression is that A Universe from Nothing actually has more detail than The Grand Design.

So here’s looking forward to some interesting debates.

*Contents of A Universe from Nothing

Chapter 1: A Cosmic Mystery Story: Beginnings
Chapter 2: A Cosmic Mystery Story: Weighing the Universe
Chapter 3: Light from the Beginning of Time
Chapter 4: Much Ado About Nothing
Chapter 5: The Runaway Universe
Chapter 6: The Free Lunch at the End of the Universe
Chapter 7: Our Miserable Future
Chapter 8: A Grand Accident?
Chapter 9: Nothing Is Something
Chapter 10: Nothing Is Unstable
Chapter 11: Brave New Worlds
Afterword by Richard Dawkins


Answer simple question — win an iPad Ken Perrott Nov 06

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The catch – you are limited to 140 characters on Twitter.

Oh, yes, also the entry must “explain the origins of the Universe.”

Credit: Wikipedia

Simple – should be plenty of entries for that!

I guess the trick is in the syntax, as well as the science.

Have a look at Otago University‘s Centre for Science Communication Twitter Competition for the details.

Deadline is Tuesday 15 November. You will have a chance to vote on your favourite entry from Wednesday 16 November until noon Saturday 19 November.

And, Professor Lawrence Krauss, author of the forthcoming book A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing, will then select the winning tweet from the five tweets receiving the highest number of votes.

I still have a week or so to solve that problem and send my entry.

Thanks to: Best Science Tweet Competition.

Hawking’s grand design — lessons for apologists? Ken Perrott Oct 05

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I managed to get my own copy of  The Grand Design (co-authored by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow) the other day. Talk about luck. I was on one of my rare visits to the big smoke and inquired at Borders. It had just come in that day and wasn’t yet on the shelves!


Victor Stenger


Obviously I won’t comment in depth until I have read the book. I get the impression that I may find the discussions of philosophy more interesting then the physics, though. And I guess it is the philosophical aspects of the book which have provoked the most criticism, or at least the theological criticism. (Mathematicians and physicists like Peter Woit, of course are making their criticisms – but hardly making the newspapers with them – see for example Hawking gives up).

However, I am aware the Victor Stenger is reviewing the book and look forward to his views. He has some standing in cosmology and philosophy, and his writing in these areas are excellent.

So far he has made only limited comments based on other reviews (see Hawking and the Multiverse). I feel he makes an important, point in his conclusion. It does seem obvious to me, but then again the extreme theological reaction to news of the book suggests it may not be to some others. Victor says:

So, at least according to the reviews, Hawking and Mlodinow haven’t said much that physicists and cosmologists haven’t already heard before. However, thanks to Hawking’s notoriety, at least more people will now have heard that science has plausible answers to how the universe came about naturally without the need for a creator. Hopefully this will include those theologians and apologists who continue to wrongfully insist that modern science has demonstrated a need for God.

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The Grand Design — neither God nor 42 Ken Perrott Sep 06

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It seems that God, or more correctly disbelief in God, sells books. In recent years anyway. Perhaps since the religiously motivated terrorist attacks in New York nine years ago this week.

So one can hardly blame the publishers for jumping on to the advertising bandwagon with Stephen Hawking‘s latest book The Grand Design (with co-author Leonard Mlodinow).  And I am sure that is what has lead to headlines like Stephen Hawking: God NOT Needed For Creation, Stephen Hawking: God didn’t create universe, Hawking Says God Not Needed to Kick-Start Big Bang; World Freaks Out. Even Somebody’s Going To Hell! Stephen Hawking: “God Not Necessary For Universe To Exist”.

Inevitable advertising hype.

Theological response boosts sales

But perhaps we can blame the inevitable theological response. Or at least point out that they are cutting off their collective noses to spite their faces. The emotional theological campaign against Richard Dawkins and his book The God Delusion published in 2006 helped boost it up the best seller list. And also assisted the flow-on effect of increasing sales of his other books like The Selfish Gene.

So the apparently inevitable theological response to Stephen Hawking and  Leonard Mlodinow looks set to make their new book a runaway best seller. Who was it that said – those who don’t learn from history are set to repeat their mistakes?

Already we have headlines like Archbishop of Canterbury hits back after Stephen Hawking insists God did NOT create the Universe. The Archbishop boldly declared: “Physics on its own will not settle the question of why there is something rather than nothing.” (It will be interesting to compare his ‘evidence’ for this claim with the evidence for Hawking and Mlodinow’s claim in their book).

Britian’s Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks asserted: “Science is about explanation. Religion is about interpretation… The Bible simply isn’t interested in how the universe came into being.” And Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, added: “I would totally endorse what the Chief Rabbi said so eloquently about the relationship between religion and science.” One wonders why they then get so upset becuase science sets about to explain things like this? Surely they should get busy with their “interpretation” rather than object to the explanation.

To complete the lineup Ibrahim Mogra, an imam and committee chairman at the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “If we look at the universe and all that has been created, it indicates that somebody has been here to bring it into existence. That somebody is the almighty conqueror.” He (I am assuming not she) is clearly not going to be worried about the evidence.

The book is being released this week and I can already hear the cash registers ringing.

I am the last person to support or attack a book without reading it. And I am not going to join the inevitable ranks of reviewers who are going to post critical reviews based only on the reading of the books tile or headlines and news reports. However, the extracts that have been included in press reports suggest the degree of “poetic license” being used by the publishers, and the hypersensitivity of the theological critics. The relevant quote (from the London Times) was:

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,” Hawking writes.

“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

Rather tame, isn’t it? Surely there is nothing new in that.

My impression is that the book describes how we can develop theories for the formation of our universe, and the authors give their preference to “M-theory.” (He does make clear that “Unlike the answer given in Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘,” they are not supporting “42.”) This will not be to every physicists liking but it does demonstrate that one does not need to bring in theology to explain such things.

Philosophy is dead

A few reviewers have read pre-publication versions of the book have some interesting comments at the Amazon site. One comments that the book made a convincing argument that old-time philosophy had become irrelevant in such areas. Memoiai says:

“philosophy is dead in the sense of answering the most mysterious of life’s questions. It is up to science, and scientific theory, to provide clues to the true answers, as philosophy in its most ancient forms has taken a back seat, but modern philosophy, that of scientific philosophy, has taken root.”

So it looks like The Grand Design gets into the relationship between philosophy and science as well as modern physical theories.

Should be worth reading.

Cosmologist Shean Carroll provides brief outline of Hawking’s approach in this video (thanks to Why Evolution is True: Carroll explains Hawking).

Stephen Hawking and the Existence of God.

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Fallacy of Fine Tuning Ken Perrott Aug 19

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I just picked up in my browsing that Victor Stenger is working on a new book The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: How the Universe is Not Designed for Us. Its planned for publication early next year.

This should be a great read. Victor is an excellent and prolific science writer.  He is an Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado and Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawaii (retired in 2000). Much of his writing is aimed a countering theological distortion and misuse of science.  This is badly needed for the “fine-tuning” question. In Godless cosmology I refer to an article of his on this in Russell Blackford‘s 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists (see Testimony of non-believers for a review of this book).

Books Stenger has published in recent years (click for a list) include two I have reviewed here. They are:

Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness (for my review see Quantum Gods), and
The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (for my review see Defending science and reason).

So, I am looking forward to the new book. But, meanwhile, I was interested to see that Stenger has posted on-line draft chapters from his book. He is requesting comments from interested people with scientific and editing expertise.

First time I have seen this approach. Anyone interested can go to Fallacy of Fine Tuning and register their interest. registration is required for access to the documents.

I am not registering myself but the list of chapters below give an idea of the books likely content.

0.   Preface
1. Science and God
2.  The Anthropic Principles
3.  The Four Dimensions
4.  Point-of-View Invariance
5. Cosmos
6. The Eternal Universe
7.  The Large Number Puzzle
8.  Chemistry
9.  The Hoyle Resonance
10.  Physics Parameters
11.  Cosmic Parameters
12.  The Cosmological Constant
13. MonkeyGod
14. Convergence
15. Quantum and Consciousness

See also: Slide show of Victor Stenger’s talk “The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning.”


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Avoiding grown-up discussion Ken Perrott Jun 21

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Cosmologist Sean Carroll has announced a break from blogging on Cosmic Variance. I picked up this news from Jerry Coyne‘s blog Why Evolution is True! (also the title of his book) (see Sean Carroll says goodbye).

Like Jerry, I think that is a great pity. I find Sean Carroll’s blog posts interesting. I don’t necessarily always agree – as, for example, in his debate with Sam Harris on morality. But they are clearly written and refreshing to read. His lecture’s on cosmological questions are fascinating and I am looking forward to reading his recently published book From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time.

However, Sean does say his hiatus will not be permanent (see Downshifting). And other contributors to the Cosmic Variance blog will continue.

I agree with Jerry that Sean’s last major post, ’Reluctance to let go’, was impressive. It’s worth reading in full – but here’s an extract:

“There’s a movement afoot to frame science/religion discussions in such a way that those of who believe that the two are incompatible are labeled as extremists who can be safely excluded from grownup discussions about the issue. It’s somewhat insulting – to be told that people like you are incapable of conducting thoughtful, productive conversations with others – and certainly blatantly false as an empirical matter – I’ve both participated in and witnessed numerous such conversations that were extremely substantive and well-received. It’s also a bit worrisome, since whether a certain view is ’true’ or ’false’ seems to take a back seat to whether it is ’moderate’ or ’extreme.’ But people are welcome to engage or not with whatever views they choose.

“What troubles me is how much our cultural conversation is being impoverished by a reluctance to face up to reality. In many ways the situation is parallel to the discussion about global climate change. In the real world, our climate is being affected in dramatic ways by things that human beings are doing. We really need to be talking about serious approaches to this problem; there are many factors to be taken into consideration, and the right course of action is far from obvious. Instead, it’s impossible to broach the subject in a public forum without being forced to deal with people who simply refuse to accept the data, and cling desperately to the idea that the Earth’s atmosphere isn’t getting any warmer, or it’s just sunspots, or warmth is a good thing, or whatever. Of course, the real questions are being addressed by some people; but in the public domain the discussion is blatantly distorted by the necessity of dealing with the deniers. As a result, the interested but non-expert public receives a wildly inaccurate impression of what the real issues are. . . . . “

“How great would it be if we could actually have serious, productive public conversations about the implications of these discoveries? For all that we have learned, there’s a tremendous amount yet to be figured out. We know the rules by which the world works, but there’s a lot we have yet to know about how to live within it; it’s the difference between knowing the rules of chess and playing like a grandmaster. What is ’life,’ anyway? What is consciousness? How should we define who is a human being, and who isn’t? How should we live together in a just and well-ordered society? What are appropriate limits of medicine and biological manipulation? How can we create meaning and purpose in a world where they aren’t handed to us from on high? How should we think about love and friendship, right and wrong, life and death?

“These are real questions, hard questions, and we have the tools in front of us to have meaningful discussions about them. And, as with climate change, some people are having such discussions; but the public discourse is so badly distorted that it has little relationship to the real issues. Instead of taking the natural world seriously, we have discussions about ’Faith.’ We pretend that questions of meaning and purpose and value must be the domain of religion. We are saddled with bizarre, antiquated attitudes toward sex and love, which have terrible consequences for real human beings. . . . . “

“Rather than opening our eyes and having the courage and clarity to accept the world as it is, and to tackle some of the real challenges it presents, as a society we insist on clinging to ideas that were once perfectly reasonable, but have long since outlived their usefulness. Nature obeys laws, we are part of nature, and our job is to understand our lives in the context of reality as it really is. Once that attitude goes from being ’extremist’ to being mainstream, we might start seeing some real progress.”


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