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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Design or Chance Session One: One universe or many?

I don't know how many of the people who will be taking the Design or Chance? course at 100 Carr Hall tonight at the University of Toronto regularly check this blog, but I do encourage it. Each week I plan to put up links of interest to people who are interested in the topics of our weekly sessions. There is no obligation or test, and you don't need to attend the course to benefit from the links. My book, By Design or by Chance? pictured above, may be of help in understanding the controversy, but it is not a textbook.

Tonight's speaker is Dr. Robert Mann, chair of physics at the University of Waterloo, and a member of an advanced physics think tank, The Perimeter Institute. He is also vice-president of the Canadian Association of Physicists and president of Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation.

Update: Robb Mann's talk was great! More later, but for now briefly:

The findings that have created controversies in physics around God vs. the multiverse are relatively new - many have come to light only in the last decade. And they are CONTRARY to what physicists expected. Many physicists thought that science findings would explain away reasons for considering God, purpose, or design.

But in reality, they have created a situation in which wild and perhaps only questionably scientific speculation about multiverses can do that.

What I most appreciated about his presentation is the methodical, coherent way in which he explained HOW we find ourselves in this fix.

A most interesting time to be a physicist ... .

Meanwhile, three notes:

1. Users of Internet Explorer may have noticed a nuisance problem with a file that refuses to download and thus disables the back browser button (unless you click it four times). I have asked Blogger for tech support and am in consultation with them.

2. The NEXT talk (Tuesday, October 30) is on Origin of Life. It will be given by Don Wallar of the Biosimilars program at Apotex. He will explain why there is no simple explanation for the origin of life. So when you hear media headlines like "Scientists MUCH closer to origin of life!!", be a teeny bit cautious. Wouldn't hurt to know just what some of the problems are. I will put up a page of links for that talk too.

3. Some students have asked if Dr. Mann would please write a book. Watch this space for possible developments ....

He will be talking about whether there is one universe or many.

A little background: At one time, many scientists found it convenient to assume that the universe was eternal - it has always existed and always will exist. One advantage is that if the universe has always existed, anything that is physically possible will happen eventually. A modern version of this theory, still held by some scientists, is the Steady State universe. (A hydrogen atom spontaneously generated here or there keeps the system expanding.)

It is worth noting that some religions - Buddhism for example - are much happier with the Steady State Universe. The Dalai Lama has freely admitted that. He is, of course, prepared to live with what he must.

However, most scientists are persuaded by the Big Bang model, which posits a beginning to our universe. The Big Bang has much to recommend it in terms of evidence and is gladly accepted by Western religions, because they think in terms of a creation event. But it creates many questions: What caused the Big Bang? Could there be anything behind it? Were there other Big Bangs, creating other universes? Will there be a Big Crunch? What happens after that?

Some scientists argue that there are in fact many universes, perhaps an infinite number. This point of view is echoed in the popular film, What the Bleep Do We Know? Some insist that this view is an inevitable outcome of quantum physics.

If so, then every possible variation of everything that has ever happened to you has happened to someone like you somewhere. Or has it?

See you tonight.

Also: This really interesting conference is coming up next year, sponsored by Perimeter Institute, that asks a deceptively simple question: Why doesthe arrow of time travel only one way? It's easy to shout, "Of course it only travels one way" but if time is a dimension in a four-dimensional universe (and that is the standard view), all the other dimensions have reversible directions. Time does not. Why not?

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Expelled movie star Ben Stein on Bill O'Reilly show

Here's the link to the show about the Expelled movie.

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You a Christian? Well then, October 23 is your BIG day! Or so the Toronto Star reporter thought ...

Last Saturday afternoon, I was working quietly in my office, when the phone rang. I recognized the number of course (416 367-2000) - the Toronto Star has had that number about as long as I can remember. A reporter wanted to know what Christians were planning to do to celebrate October 23.

October 23? Well, in my tradition, that's the feast of the saintly John Capistrano, but I don’t expect everyone to know. I didn’t myself, until I looked it up.

It turned out that the reporter had learned that a 17th century Irish archbishop Ussher had methodically dated the origin of the world to this date about six thousand years ago. And, given that I was a "fundamentalist author" , he was sure I could tell him about the big celebrations to be expected today.

I pointed out, of course, that describing me as a fundamentalist author was the Toronto Star's mistake in the first place. Repetition, even into millions of copies, does not turn a Catholic into a fundamentalist, or a person who thinks the Earth is billions of years old into someone who thinks it is thousands of years old. No matter. To the best of my knowledge, young earth creationists (the accurate term for people who think that the earth is only thousands, not billions of years old) do not treat Ussher's chronology as a form of prophecy. (Ussher wrote before modern geology had contributed much to a discussion of the age of the Earth. He relied on genealogy, not geology, to work out his figures but Biblical genealogies probably feature gaps. As I pointed out in By Design or by Chance?, the serious young earthers use geology and paleontology now.

Anyway, I pointed out that Orthodox Jews (not Christians) use a dating system based on the assumption that the Earth is only about 6000 years old. In that case, today is 11 Cheshvan 5768. Why not research that? I suggested. I wonder what he eventually did ...

But you know, his idea is a good one in principle .... Happy Creation to all of you out there! Glad you're here!


Columnist Dennis Prager: Make combox morons reveal their identity

Anyone who blogs on a controversial subject is familiar with downloading a flock of anonymous posts in the morning mail, post with all the wit and charm of a cancer-ridden dumpster rat.

Regular readers of my blogs, The Post-Darwinist and The Mindful Hack will realize that, ever since moderation was enabled, such stuff became pretty rare.

Meanwhile, columnist Dennis Prager has some useful reflections on putting a lid on anonymous Internet hate:
Sexual images and prose for the purpose of sexual titillation are not new. But the ability of anyone in society to debase public discourse is new. Until the Internet, in the public's best known venue for self-expression -- letters to the editor published in newspapers and magazines -- people either expressed themselves in a civilized manner or they were not published. And overwhelmingly, even those letters that were not published were written in a respectful manner because the letter-writers had to reveal their real names and their addresses (though only names and cities were published).

Being identifiable breeds responsibility; anonymity breeds irresponsibility.

He goes on to make a critically important point:
The Internet practice of giving everyone the ability to express himself anonymously for millions to read has debased public discourse. Cursing, ad hominem attacks and/or the utter absence of logic characterize a large percentage of many websites' "comments" sections. And because people tend to do what society says it is OK to do, many people, especially younger people, are coming to view such primitive forms of self-expression as acceptable.

Some might argue that anonymity enables people to more freely express their thoughts. But this is not true. Anonymity only enables people to more freely express their feelings. Anonymity values feelings over thought, and immediate expression over thoughtful reflection.

I like to imagine that the you-cockroach posts are written by some dear litle lad who is taking a break from photoshopping his ID so he can get bombed in Toronto. If the true author turns out to be an emeritus professor of evolutionary psychology ... well, it’s better to know now, I suppose ...

By the way, on November 8, 11:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, Mario Beauregard and I, as the authors of The Spiritual Brain, will be on Dennis Prager’s radio show.

From The Mindful Hack:

The crucial difference between materialist and non-materialist neuroscience

Great review of The Spiritual Brain in Quill & Quire

Atheist indoctrination requires discrediting free will

Is free won’t one of the keys to free will?

Mindful meditation catches on in workplace - beaded hippies nowhere in sight

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