Monday, 17 December 2012

The end of eternity (updated 19 Jan 2013)

Cosmology has become rational again.

Genesis 1:1
 The cover story of the New Scientist, 1 December 2012, is entitled Before the Big Bang: Three reasons why the universe could not have existed forever. Marcus Chown shows that the three cosmological models which invoke eternity – eternal inflation, eternal cycling and emergence from an eternal  high energy vacuum – are flawed when examined in the light of the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem (2003) and later work by Vilenkin and Mithani (2012). The article includes these statements, long overdue in a national (UK) popular science magazine:

‘in the context of known physics, however, Vilenkin and Mithani conclude that, whatever way you look at it, the universe cannot have existed forever so must have had a beginning. According to Vilenkin, quantum theory has a solution because it permits something to pop out of nothing. So the next question surely is: where did the laws of quantum theory come from?’

It might be added that the agency which led to the reality we know also led to sentient beings with concepts of meaning, curiosity, love, truth, beauty and justice.

Update added 19 January 2013: Since the New Scientist article it has been announced that the idea of a quantum foam has been more or less abandoned. Space-time is, as Einstein predicted, continuous. This means the concept of quantum particles popping into and out of existence is not valid, according to the latest quantum physics.
Previous posts

Infinity, eternity and cosmology 
Eternity and thermodynamics

 have drawn attention to why the concept of an infinite or eternal material universe is untenable and outside the realm of logical thought – something which leading cosmologists have appeared unable or unwilling to accept. I find this mystifying. Is it because they don’t want to have to admit that some agent, i.e. God, must have created what has a beginning? Yet there is no comfort for them in proposing an eternal universe, because they still have to explain why there is anything at all – something rather than nothing. Even a universe without a beginning would have existence rather than non-existence. (NB: the holy concept of Eternal Life is outside the realm of physical materialism - this is a state of being outside the man-made constructs of time and space. In Christianity it starts in this life and survives physical death.)

Georges Lemaitre
Ever since the initial proposal in 1927 by Georges Lemaitre and  subsequent observations, notably by Edwin Hubble, led to the conclusion that the universe began as a single point from outside of space and time (the Big Bang) theoretical cosmologists have gone through the most extraordinary contortions to try to explain it in naturalistic terms. As the fairly recent discovery of cosmic fine tuning became undeniable the attempts to avoid a created universe, and the theological implications of this, grew ever more desperate. To make life even more difficult the concept of biological evolution by random mutations plus natural selection has also been shown to be untenable: intelligence is present throughout the natural world.

 So what do we have?

 1. A universe that was created along with space and time in which to expand.

2. At the instant of creation the point-sized universe was  preternaturally fine tuned for the evolution of sentient beings. Many physical constants were tuned to many decimal places to be just right for life. See A universe built for life; but how much life?

3. Intelligence is present in evolution (e.g. in the extraordinary machine intelligence within the 'junk' DNA  of a cell's nucleus and the cytoplasmic organelles surrounding it, and in the cognitive processes in a wide range of life forms).

On top of this philosophers of monotheistic religion point to a fourth aspect of reality: that the end result of the evolution of the universe and life is a being with concepts of truth, love, justice and beauty together with a relentless desire to seek these out. Collectively this points to a conclusion which many in the modern world seem afraid to admit.

There is even a fifth factor to upset the old fashioned materialist scientist, which is the emerging realisation that there are epistemological limits to what science can deduce or infer even about the natural order. No matter how long we keep searching we will never find all the answers. This is not just a belief. Ironically, it emerges from logical analysis itself. Logic has proved its own limitations by the process of logic. See, e.g., The non-local universe: the new physics and matters of the mind by Nadeau and Kafatos; and my previous posting Are some scientists from the planet Vulcan?  and Chimpanzees and a free lunch.

All five factors need to click in the mind of the average specialist scientist. Once they do science can advance within a framework of clarity and reality and, I maintain, attract more young people into what could again become a noble and exciting profession.

See also Striking the knowledge barrier

author, 2077 AD