Father of the Big Bang

Georges Lemaître died fifty years ago today, on 20 June 1966. If anyone deserves the title “Father of the Big Bang,” it would be him. Both because he investigated and popularized the Big Bang model, and because he was an actual Father, in the sense of being a Roman Catholic priest. (Which presumably excludes him from being an actual small-f father, but okay.)

John Farrell, author of a biography of Lemaître, has put together a nice video commemoration: “The Greatest Scientist You’ve Never Heard Of.” I of course have heard of him, but I agree that Lemaître isn’t as famous as he deserves.

The Greatest Scientist You've Never Heard Of from Farrellmedia on Vimeo.

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150 Responses to Father of the Big Bang

  1. Ben Goren says:

    That was an excellent portrait of one of the greatest minds and most influential theoreticians of the 20th century. It is a most fitting use of a small residual of the low entropy from Lemaître’s Primordial Atom to remember him in this way half a century since his own entropy discontinuously increased.

    b&

  2. Don Flood says:

    As an ex-Catholic (now atheist), I can appreciate the Church’s contribution to modern-day science, cosmology, in particular. To understand Professor Georges Lemaître (which would be a better designation than “Father” Georges Lemaître, as he did not use his priestly faculties very often, it would seem, such as hearing confessions, giving Last Rites, the Holy Eucharist, etc.), one must understand the institution that he identified with and the religion that he professed, Roman Catholicism. The Church, then and now, was a global “YMCA”, in that a priest, such as Lemaître, even though he was almost entirely a full-time scholar, could go anywhere in the entire World, and find lodging, food, healthcare and hospitality from his fellow priests. In addition, the Church insured his salary, retirement and burial. As a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaître enjoyed many benefits that individuals, such as Einstein, did not even enjoy, because, unlike Einstein, Lemaître could avail himself of an “open door” policy that was available to him night & day anywhere that he went in the World. To an extant, those days are gone in the Church today, although, the Vatican still very much maintains a network that can move priests from one location to another, very quickly, if need be.

  3. Simon Packer says:

    “Should a priest reject relativity because it contains no authoritative exposition on the doctrine of the Trinity? Once you realize that the Bible does not purport to be a textbook of science, the old controversy between religion and science vanishes . . . The doctrine of the Trinity is much more abstruse than anything in relativity or quantum mechanics; but, being necessary for salvation, the doctrine is stated in the Bible. If the theory of relativity had also been necessary for salvation, it would have been revealed to Saint Paul or to Moses.”

    Lemaitre

    Heisenberg also seems to have been of a similar spirit, and wrote and spoke positively and at length about religious faith and science. Personally I have more in common with people like them than young earth creationists.

    Don

    You seem to be insinuating certain points of view along the lines of the scientifically trained New Atheists. It is certainly true that priests can be under financial pressure to conform to a faith position they no longer hold within. Likewise most cultures have social norms and those used to be Christian in the West. However, to broad brush all competent scientists who were priests or were or are professing Christians in this way is I think an absurdity, not to mention an insult. What I take to be your position and the similar one set out by Richard Dawkins is a rather untenable faith based idea: ‘naturalism is true and final, all smart people have, deep down, after Laplace (and that is rather questionable), rejected the God hypothesis. All Christians are charlatans and/or liars and/or pushing a religious establishment for the sake of misguided self-interest or fear.’ To me this is patently nonsense. Read Don Page. Read Francis Collins. Google for Scientists who have professed Christianity. From personal experience, I know of many competent engineers, hardware and software, who are orthodox Christians.

    It is true that under a totalitarian regime of one sort or another people are often intimidated into toeing the line against their inner convictions, and some New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins grew up where some form of professed adherence to Christianity was a social norm. This is no longer true, and it was not necessarily a good thing.

    Heisenberg grew up under the Nazis, so did my mother; try researching Bonhoeffer.

  4. Simon Packer says:

    Anyway, I’m getting too contentious.

    Nice to see Lemaitre honoured in this way!

  5. Torbjörn Larsson says:

    As always when a religionist is remembered for science work, the insertion of religion where it is unwarranted is prodigious, jarring and creepy.

    Especially here when Lemaître was quite capable in keeping the conflicts in his mind only. The Wikipedia article on Lemaître coordinates confuses his secular title with a religious one, as does the video on Guy Consolmagno.

    Consolmagno has but one claim that doesn’t insert unwarranted theology on Lemaître and his work, after which he mouths off nothing but inanities.

    So yes, unsupported religious propaganda as always. HLCAB? [How Low Can Accommodationism Bow?] And with that sad reminder of human activities I go on to prepare for the old secular festival of Midsummer here in secular Sweden, recapping some joy.

  6. Jerry Mahoney says:

    Yes, nice tribute.

    Near the end, Consolmagno is either mentally lax or a clever communicator, wrapping everyone who believes in truth as believing in the same god. But he suggests a question: do atheists “believe” in truth?

  7. Ron Paque says:

    A Belgian priest, Lemaitre was one of the very few who took Einsteins’s equations and general relativity seriously at the time. And taking them seriously and doing the necessary equations and thinking about things Lemaitre could envision a “Big Bang” and eventually other physicists agreed with him. But he was controversial at the time.

  8. Kevin Henderson says:

    Excellent tribute. Amazing to think what Lemaître thought when he did his calculations. The wonder of it his personal insights, to look where few, if any had, pondered before.

    I agree with Thorbjörn, the insertion of religion is antiquated.

  9. C Biegel says:

    glad to read a good book on lemaitre, but Sean, are you aware of the author (farrell) s other books? Lots of conspiracy theories and disputed ideas about ancient and some more recent history.

  10. Neil says:

    C Biegel. I think you have joseph p farrell in mind, not john farrell.

  11. Ben Goren says:

    Torbjörn:

    As always when a religionist is remembered for science work, the insertion of religion where it is unwarranted is prodigious, jarring and creepy.

    I agree, of course, but I thought it an appropriate an accurate reflection of the jarring creepiness of the Church and Pope’s own reactions to the Primordial Atom at the time. It was a significant element in Lemaître’s life, and the balance given here in this remembrance seemed proportional. Whether or not Lemaître himself would have actually appreciated the priest’s comments, I don’t know. But it’s certainly a significant part of the picture.

    Jerry Mahoney:

    do atheists “believe” in truth?

    I can’t even figure out what that’s supposed to mean. Even the most generous interpretation would be that it’s a leading question — “When did you stop beating your wife?” It even more overwhelmingly smells of a double entendre, where the “t” in “truth” is implicitly capitalized and equated with a deity which is the Platonic embodiment of truth; an acknowledgement of belief would therefore be intentionally misconstrued as a renunciation of the “Church of Atheism” and pledge of allegiance to the favored pantheon of the questioner.

    If you want to drop the prejudicial phrasing, we could maybe have an interesting discussion on epistemology, if that’s what you’re after. But my simple recasting of the discussion in that manner should itself be sufficient answer to the snarky question.

    Cheers,

    b&

  12. Ben Goren says:

    Simon:

    All Christians are charlatans and/or liars and/or pushing a religious establishment for the sake of misguided self-interest or fear.’

    I believe Richard would take issue with your summary.

    He would agree that many Christians are charlatans, etc. And he would especially include many in the priesthood — and probably be happy to name a number of televangelists.

    But I think he would be one of the first to tell you that he thought that the overwhelming majority of the laity simply either lack a sufficiently broad-based modern education as would be necessary to reject Christianity on evidential grounds; haven’t given the matter serious thought; or have been deluded by the charlatans. With none of those “or”s being exclusive, of course; a combination of them in some proportion would be most common.

    That is, if your’e brought up taught that Noah led the animals two-by-two onto the Ark at the same time that you learn how to balance a checkbook and turn a wrench, and you never get a comprehensive science education and your pastor keeps repeating Bible stories every Sunday…well, how would you expect somebody in that situation to even seriously wonder about any of it?

    It is for that reason that Richard is so passionate about science education. He and I would both much rather that somebody should be able to sincerely and accurately roughly sketch out the Tree of Life, complete with (rough) timescales and our own (negligible) place on it…than convince them that Jesus is a faery tale, just like Ahura Mazda, Brahma…Yggdrasil, and Zeus. That latter conclusion will become obvious to many, and even more obvious to future generations.

    Cheers,

    b&

  13. Simon Packer says:

    Hi again Ben

    I couldn’t stay away!

    A more measured response, thanks.

    I think zarzuelazen has done a decent job of questioning the piecewise approach we tend to take in analysing the big picture, though I don’t think we have the same ultimate metaphysical beliefs. We necessarily use levels of abstraction, particularly for what reductionists consider to be ’emergent’ phenomena and for cosmology. We need to fragment the picture, because we cannot solve the equation for the evolution of physical reality. We don’t have the equation, and we don’t have the logistical/computational power. We have to be careful we use the abstractions within remit. We need to be careful how we hand off between levels of abstraction and why? This is a general issue, as I pointed out previously, not one particular to quantum mechanics. We simply cannot neglect the influence of our consciousness, and here, Heisenberg was a realist and summarized the situation succinctly. EBNS is a pillar of the naturalistic worldview, and here we would have evolved to be survival machines and not analytic truth machines. Yet it is us ‘survival machines’ doing the reductionism. An F-35 and the CERN and associated facilities are both cutting edge, but their scope of activity is very different. Yet evolution leads us to believe we are more along the lines of the F-35.

    Too much stacked conjecture, with too much freedom concerning the paradigm of analysis used, in my view makes for very shaky science. I am not even totally convinced even by the use of entropy as a foundational parameter in deriving cosmology. I am certainly not convinced that it defines our conscious experience of time. Priority and fashion in paradigm also come into play in our human evaluations.

    What you say about lack of broad-based education is true, but for both sides of this discussion. I have had members of a group of secondary school students tell me we came from apes, but they could not explain, even at a basic level, why they believed that. Dawkins is drenched in an outlook, maybe he had negative experiences of religion and a Darwinist epiphany at a young age. I have relatives who are not Christian believers, yet sent their child to a Catholic school for various reasons, but don’t take him too seriously (to put it politely). I think it was Alistair McGrath who told the story of a man who read ‘The God Delusion’ and thought it was so obviously one-sided he went to a church and became a Christian.

    I don’t have a definitive view on the detailed literality of the first ten books of Genesis. Was the Flood global? I don’t know. Was the Ark real? I think so. Did the animals go in two by two? I can believe that.

    Are we all a manifestation of maths and physics which themselves came from nowhere and mean nothing profound or final? No, I cannot believe that.

    Maybe we put a narrative on entropy-based experience. A narrative is a conscious activity born out of a naturalistic process. The narrative hypothesis is itself a narrative. A meme is a possibly misguided propagating mode of thought. The concept of a meme is itself a meme. Conceptual entanglement. How do we extricate ourselves? Where does ‘scientia’ itself, for man, start to become unreliable?

    I espoused engineering as solid science, and yet even there, practitioners frequently find they have made multiple unwarranted assumptions. Look at that F-35 program again.

    I am seeking to be a realist, not a defeatist, when it comes to science and technology. Just in case you misunderstand my intent.

  14. Harry says:

    There is a good book by Bartusiak titled “The Day We Found the Universe” that follows the progress of astronomy and cosmology in the early 20th century. Another tragically forgotten figure is Vesto Slipher, the astronomer who generated the majority of Hubble’s data for the initial paper on expansion and did not even rate a citation.

    In any case, I find it very gratifying that Lemaitre lived long enough to see Penzias and Wilson discover the CMB. Such a shame it would have been for him to pass away never seeing the best evidence that his model was essentially correct.

  15. Ben Goren says:

    Simon:

    We have to be careful we use the abstractions within remit.

    Yes — and we are.

    In The Big Picture, Sean does a superlative job of describing the concept of emergence and laying out the various distinctions and boundaries.

    My own off-the-cuff-example…haul a bucket of BBs into orbit. Working entirely in vacuum, put them in various closed containers and shake the containers in various ways. The Ideal Gas Laws will naturally emerge from this decidedly macro-scale Newtonian system. If you understand the Gas Laws, why this should be so is obvious.

    We need to be careful how we hand off between levels of abstraction and why?

    There really isn’t any “hand off” going on. Rather, the systems in question can (if the theories are good) be described either way, and you pick the theory to use based on the question you want to answer. With gasses, we almost never care about the behavior of individual gas molecules. Maybe it starts to become important in some microminiature engineering, or I-don’t-know-what. But most of the time you don’t even care about the chemistry of the gas; you just care about its pressure, volume, density, temperature, and how they interrelate — and the Ideal Gas Laws are perfect for answering those kinds of questions. You can have all sorts of arrangements of the individual molecules but where, if you calculate the average kinetic energy of all the molecules, you get the same (within margins of error) average for the whole; we call that average kinetic energy the temperature. The other elements of the equation are similar abstractions.

    EBNS is a pillar of the naturalistic worldview, and here we would have evolved to be survival machines and not analytic truth machines. Yet it is us ‘survival machines’ doing the reductionism.

    Yes, but we’re no longer naked apes grubbing for termites in the African savannah. We’ve come up with some very effective tools that far surpass that which was necessary for brute survival — such as microscopes and language and even smartphones. Indeed, the modern human environment is so far radically removed from the “survival machine” one you’re complaining we’re best fit for that you yourself wouldn’t survive a day in it.

    Sure, we’ve still got lots of limitations inherited from our past…but, frankly, the biggest of those today is superstition, with religion being the worst and most popular superstition of all. Much of the reason people cling to religion can be attributed to the hyperactive sense of agency that helped us when it was better to spook at the rustling in the reeds than be eaten by a lion lurking in them. You yourself display faulty reasoning based on such an hyperactive sense of agency in this post. When we calm ourselves down and go and look, we don’t actually find any such agents, even if every fiber of our being is screaming at us that there must be one there somewhere. One of the biggest accomplishments of science is that it provides a demonstrably-reliable method for detecting agency…and our scientific agency detectors are perfectly still as soon as we point them away from people and animals.

    I am certainly not convinced that it defines our conscious experience of time.

    Sean has a number of superlative videos on the link above on the entropic arrow of time. When you understand why tape recorders needed an erase head before the record head, then you’ll understand why you need a prior condition of low entropy in order to form memories. Indeed, there’s strong reason to suspect that time is emergent, static and eternal (something even some Christian theologians might agree with), but that an observer at any unmoving infinitesimal point in time would have the perception of time passing — and this perception would be only possible in regions of spacetime with an entropic gradient. It’s a very difficult concept to warp one’s head around, but it’s also one of the leading candidates for explaining reality.

    I have had members of a group of secondary school students tell me we came from apes, but they could not explain, even at a basic level, why they believed that.

    That “we came from apes” is a true-but-misleading summary — in the same sense as, “my cat has three legs.” He has four legs total, but it is therefore obviously true that, as a subset of those four, he has three legs. But by stating that he has three legs and not saying anything about the fourth, I give the impression that he has exactly three legs, which is incorrect.

    The truth is that we are apes — African Great Apes, to be precise, and that our closest extant cousins are chimpanzees and bonobos. We are slightly more distant cousins to gorillas. Of course, you have to trace your family tree back some millions of years to find the great-great-great…great-grandparents whose children’s children’s children’s…children are us and chimps, and those great-ancestors were neither human nor chimp — but they were unquestionably apes. Using somewhat informal terminology, we are also monkeys, for we share an even more distant ancestor with all primates, and that ancestor would perhaps best be classified as a monkey — though, again, to be emphatic, not any monkey that’s lived for many millions of years. And we are mammals, cousins to cats and cetaceans and koalas, but you have to go back about an hundred million years to find that ancestor, most likely a tree-dwelling animal, somewhat vaguely resembling (but not!) a modern shrew. Keep going farther back the family tree, and you’ll find that we’re also cousins to the redwoods as well as the banana slugs that you’ll find in redwood forests. Indeed, all life on Earth is related, sharing a common ancestor a few billion years ago. We are all cousins; some are just more distant cousins than others.

    Was the Flood global? I don’t know.

    Even local floods leave distinctive traces. The Mediterranean Ocean was once a valley closed off to the Pacific, and it obviously flooded — but loooooooooooooong before civilization. That’s the scale of the biggest floods in the history of the Earth, and far, far, far, far larger than any floods in the past ten thousand years.

    There is no way, even, hypothetically, that the entire Earth could have been flooded, and there is overwhelming evidence that nothing even remotely close to such an incoherent notion has happened.

    Was the Ark real? I think so. Did the animals go in two by two? I can believe that.

    People have loaded families and livestock onto boats for about as long as there’ve been both livestock and boats. And locally-devastating flooding is a regular feature of the river valleys where civilization first developed. Many cultures have flood stories as part of their ancient mythology, and the Biblical version seems to trace its roots ultimately to the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, which is much older than the Bible.

    But we also know that no modern species has had its population reduced down to numbers small enough to fit on a boat. Humans, especially; our tightest population bottleneck was something like tens of thousands of people hundreds of thousands of years ago — but I’d have to look up the figures to be sure.

    So if you want to suggest that some poor schlub loaded a couple of his prized goats onto a raft with his family when the rising river threatened to strand them…sure, that sort of thing played out over and over and over again.

    Are we all a manifestation of maths and physics which themselves came from nowhere and mean nothing profound or final? No, I cannot believe that.

    I am not a Platonic idealist, and I don’t think Sean is, either. Math is the most effective descriptive language humans have yet invented, and its descriptive power is such that you can, best we know, completely describe humans using math — but that is not to say that humans are math. The origins of existence nobody has satisfactory answers to — and the fact that you can’t believe that “it just happened” is a leading contender for an answer is no more relevant than a similar objection that our ancestors couldn’t believe that the Sun, not the Earth, was at the center of the Solar System.

    As to lack of meaning? Sorry, but it’s up to you yourself to create your own meaning. Most adults handle that task just fine; if you can’t, I pity you, but I’d also suggest you seek the services of a qualified mental health professional.

    Incidentally, it is this complaint of yours where your hyperactive sense of agency is on full throttle.

    I am seeking to be a realist, not a defeatist, when it comes to science and technology.

    If you are sincere in that statement, then Sean’s Poetic Naturalism is exactly for you. Naturalism really is the only game in town, when you dispassionately examine the evidence. But this is cause for celebration, not despair!

    I don’t think you’ve yet read The Big Picture. If not, you really, really, really, really, really owe it to yourself to do so. Sean’s certainly not the only one to express such a worldview; your despised Richard Dawkins beat him to the punch with his Unweaving the Rainbow. Indeed, all the dreaded “New Atheists” make this point over and over again — and they practice what they preach. You’re not going to find a group of people who live life more fully and with greater gusto and satisfaction than us. Yes, yes — others live meaningful and fulfilling lives without naturalism, and that’s wonderful.

    But if “despair” is the conclusion you’re drawing from naturalism, then there’s a disconnect in your understanding big enough to parade the Metropolitan Opera’s entire cast of Aida through — elephants and all.

    Cheers,

    b&

  16. Simon Packer says:

    Hi Ben

    Thanks for the comments. Sean and his administrators may or may not want a slightly heated stand-off on their blog. I have read Sean on Higgs and Entropy/Time, and appreciate them at the scientific level. I have spent quite a bit of time with the atheists, deists and fellow theists on this blog and elsewhere. You already know I sincerely believe the atheists are all big time wrong. More than that, I believe you are digging a pit for yourselves concerning final realities which will have to be faced, and it would be remiss of me not to say so. I do not find the New Atheist view or even purely naturalisitc EBNS convincing regarding worldview as should be obvious by now, and very much doubt, judging by the title chapters, whether Sean’s new book will influence that. I doubt whether Sean would expect it to. To me, all are putting a certain spin on the areas where science is uncertain, by prior prejudice. They are stitching together various levels of analysis of the human experience in a certain arbitrary way dictated by preference rather than truth. Meyr, who I have been reading, says that he doesn’t expect his book on evolution to persuade creationists, of whom I am one, albeit not a young earth one. He says the creationist standpoint has been thoroughly disproven in the intro without saying why and then fails to address the tricky roadblocks for evolution with anything other than vague hubris. Sheer bulk of waffle does not equal weight of meaningful or definitive scientific evidence. I will be visiting the UK soon and will have a look for ‘The Big Picture’ and Jerry Coyne too, I may not buy them. These books don’t always make their way here to Cape Town, though ‘eternity to here’ did.

    A few comments back you said you did not accept my testimony. About what exactly?

    Your comments on the judgments of God, positing belief in his existence for you for a moment, would imply that you are a more accurate judge of the condition of a human heart then he and/or that human freewill to good and evil is not a reality. I see this as concordant with many reductionists’ views on freewill but to be honest I find it those to be an absurdity; a corollary of seeing the physical fabric of reality as the substance and not what it is; the (somewhat banal in the scheme of things) backdrop. My personal situation means I have to wrestle with my own bodily inclination to comfort and security and seek to reach others with the love of God when no-one is forcing us or even expecting us to.. Generally I find it is mostly Christians who are doing this around me. I have not bumped into any new atheists in squatter camps or government hospitals. I’ve bumped into a lot of lay Christians. That is a freewill/relational issue, not an ivory tower abstraction.

  17. zarzuelazen says:

    “I think zarzuelazen has done a decent job of questioning the piecewise approach we tend to take in analysing the big picture, though I don’t think we have the same ultimate metaphysical beliefs. ”

    Thanks, I do think my tripartite model removes a lot of the inconsistencies in the hard-core naturalist position, and offers a far more appealing big picture. But it’s still naturalism – just ‘augmented naturalism’, so it doesn’t really support supernaturalism either. However, since it grants that ‘consciousness’ is a fundamental property of reality, it might possibly be consistent with pantheism (the idea that the universe is God).

    I really can’t understand why hard-core atheists seem to have this obsessive-compulsive need to try to force-fit everything into a ‘physical’ mode of explanation. In practice it’s just not useful. Ask any top-class mathematician, and neo-platonism is really self-evidently true to them. Ask any mystic or theist, and again, the fundamental reality of consciousness is pretty self-evident.

  18. zarzuelazen says:

    I just want to post a quick demonstration of the power of my ‘augmented naturalism’ tripartite model.

    First a quick recap: I proposed 3 different ‘fundamental modes’ of explanation or ‘properties’ (physical, mental and mathematical) each of which had an associated concrete ‘element’ – matter (physical), consciousness (mental) and information (mathematical). The idea is that all 3 elements are fundamental to reality.

    OK, now I will demonstrate how this model solves the puzzles of quantum mechanics (QM).

    First, Many-Worlds-Interpretation (MWI) is a natural consequence of my model, and all other interpretations of QM are immediately seen to be based on a confusion. Second, my model explains why MWI must be true, and also tells you why all the other interpretations are confused. Third, my model extends the MWI interpretation further in a natural way, by offering an entirely new ontological picture of what’s going on!

    In my model, the wave-function is equated with the ‘information’ element – it’s not physical at all! And the process of computing the probabilities of outcomes (the Born rule) is equated with the ‘consciousness’ element – that isn’t physical either! It is the combination of these 2 non-physical elements (information +consciousness) that generates the multiple ‘branches’ or ‘universes’ that we interpret as concrete observables (the physical element)!

    Let me explain how this works with two analogies: (1) watching a movie, (2) playing a video game. In both cases the ‘physical reality’ you see is a construction of your own mind based on the information being presented to you – in (1) flickering lights on the screen from the movie projector, in (2) pixels on the computer screen from the software.

    QM is exactly like the above examples – the alternative ‘universes’ or ‘branches’ that we call ‘the physical world’ are not objectively defined, but are generated by an interaction between consciousness (mind) and the information in the wave functions.

    This is similar to what is called the ‘Many Minds’ interpretation, but there’s a big new twist in my model: panpsychism! Human observers aren’t required, because consciousness is everywhere!

    And my new ontology makes it obvious why everyone was so confused about QM: they were trying to ‘force-fit’ QM into a *physical* model of reality, whereas to understand QM you have to realize that you dealing with elements that are *non-physical*!

    Wave-functions = Information
    Probability rules = Consciousness

    Add the panpsychism twist and you’ve completely solved everything!

  19. Ben Goren says:

    Simn:

    They are stitching together various levels of analysis of the human experience in a certain arbitrary way dictated by preference rather than truth.

    If there is a preference, it is that our models of external reality should be as accurate as possible, and the only reliable means ever demonstrated for moving in that direction is to observe external reality and adjust our models however is necessary to align them with observations.

    Even the second half of that is derived from the first. It could have been the case that the philosophical model of attempting to derive external reality from some internal “first principles” might have proven more reliable…but it didn’t. Indeed, such attempts are notorious spectacular failures, as evidenced by Aristotelian Metaphysics and especially all the theologies that incorporate it.

    I few comments back you said you did not accept my testimony. About what exactly?

    About anything.

    As I wrote, I don’t accept anybody’s testimony about anything.

    Ultimately, if you want to convince me, you’ll have to adduce evidence. Testimony, faith, first principles, tradition, holy texts, divine revelation…all that is so much sound and fury signifying nothing. Show me the evidence!

    And Jesus’s own final message to his Creation gives explicit instructions for providing evidence that I would consider compelling if not necessarily convincing. But you admitted you yourself cannot product such evidence, and I would submit to you that no Christian in the history of Christianity has ever done so. For the experiment to have run for at least a couple millennia and produced no results…well, that’s as overwhelmingly emphatic demonstration of the falsity of the original claim as it gets. Christianity is therefore every bit as soundly debunked as the luminiferous aether, alchemy, rain dances, and any other primitive superstition.

    Again, it could have been otherwise, and you could still try to come up with evidence — but you’ve already acknowledged that no such evidence is forthcoming.

    Your comments on the judgments of God, positing belief in his existence for you for a moment, would imply that you are a more accurate judge of the condition of a human heart then he and/or that human freewill to good and evil is not a reality.

    The gods of the Bible are every bit as imaginary as the gods of any other holy text — but that doesn’t prevent me from engaging in literary criticism. And, from that perspective, the gods of the Bible are as vile and despicable and evil as any in all of literature, far surpassing any actual historical figures.

    I would submit to you that the genocide and mass child rape of Numbers 31 is so over-the-top evil that nothing could even hypothetically excuse it — William Lane Craig’s noxious propaganda notwithstanding. I’m not even willing to grant the sort of moral relativism that would conclude it was good back then but not good today — but, if you do, then you’ve just invalidated the Bible as being in any way relevant to modernity.

    I would propose it as useful in only one sense: if you’re attempting to come up with a moral framework of whatever variety and it concludes that genocide and mass rape are, even sometimes, good…then that tells you that your attempt has been a spectacular failure. So sorry; scrap it, start over from scratch, and better luck next time.

    Indeed, you could even take it as a starting point…how would you generalize the situation in such a way that such is always forbidden? And go from there. Do that, and you might wind up with a prohibition against doing unto others as they don’t wish to be done unto. That’s obviously incomplete, because the murderers and rapists aren’t going to want you to stop them from engaging in murder and rape, but you can add an exception that permits minimal intervention — and now you’re off to the races.

    You could even go so far as to demonstrate the reality of your pantheon, and I would still reject them — for the same way that you yourself would reject Hitler and the Nazis. Maybe some sort of underground resistance with a public façade of compliance would be a good strategy, and maybe any such efforts would be condemned to futility…but I would not be complicit in such horrors and would do whatever I could to impede them, even at incomprehensibly great cost to my own wellbeing. Who wouldn’t?

    Generally I find it is mostly Christians who are doing this around me.

    Most people in your population are Christians, so it’s hardly surprising that most of those doing anything are Christians. And Christians tend to be rather vocal about doing what they do in the name of Christianity, so it’s again not surprising that you hear of Christians doing good for Christ, but not of others doing good for the sake of doing good. On top of all that, there’s a very familiar observation bias…if you drive, as I do, an unusual car (in my case, a 1955 VW Beetle and a 1964 1/2 Mustang), you see similar unusual cars everywhere. There aren’t very many oval-window Bugs or second-week-of-production Mustangs on the road, but I notice every one of them I pass, in addition to all the aircooled VWs of any model or year and all the ’60s-era American sedans. You, similarly, notice all the Christians doing charity.

    I have not bumped into any new atheists in squatter camps or government hospitals.

    Never heard of the Red Cross, the largest international aid organization and a purely secular one? How about Doctors Without Borders? Yes, lots of Christians in both organizations — roughly about as many as there are in the general population. And as for government hospitals…especially there, since, in the States, the government itself is forbidden from promoting religion in such institutions.

    I’ll excuse this slight against rationalists as innocent on the grounds I gave above — it likely really is your actual perception, even though your perception is quite flawed in this instance. That’s to be expected, for the same reason that I’d expect you to fall for the Müller-Lyer illusion. It’s why we have rulers and other objective forms of measurement — and it goes back to the top of this response.

    If you start with a premise, of whatever nature or origin, that everything that is good comes from Christ, then you will conclude that all the good you see is, of necessity, therefore Christian. But if you actually go out and tally up who’s doing good, you’ll find that Christians aren’t any better at charity than anybody else…and, indeed, a significant fraction of the charity done in the name of Christ does little or nothing for the recipient’s physical condition and instead focusses entirely on saving souls, not lives. A secularist would not consider such work as helpful, however well-intentioned it might be. You might think it does good to organize prayer teams in response to crises, but a secularist sees as much help in such as you would if some animists sacrificed livestock for you after a crisis.

    Lastly, if we are to consider charity done in the name of Christ as supporting Christian claims, then we must also consider atrocities done in the name of Christ as evidence against them…and in the case of crimes against humanity perpetuated sincerely (even if mistakenly) by Christians for avowed Christian reasons…we’ve got the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Conquistadors, the Witch Trials, the Pogroms — and even the Holocaust, perpetrated by Christians wearing belt buckles engraved with, “Gott Mit Uns,” in retaliation for the Crucifixion. And, for that matter, the priestly child rape networks. Maybe you reject the theological bases for those horrors…but, at the very least, it provides overwhelming evidence that faith in Christ is not enough to make one a good person. And if becoming a Christian isn’t even enough for that, its most oft-repeated and cherished claim, then what good is it?

    At this point, I would urge you to take a good, long, hard look in the mirror. You’ve more than hinted that you consider the atrocities in the Bible justifiable. As such, you have nothing in your religion that would stop you from engaging in them yourself; all it would take is to convince you of divine sanction for those horrors — and all the Christians throughout history who have committed similar atrocities have themselves been convinced of divine sanction. What makes you think you yourself would be immune?

    I would hope that, when you realize that a similar seed lies within you, and that not only is your faith no bulwark against it but, indeed, the flame it would feed upon…I would hope that you would consider the evidence rationally and conclude that your faith is a liability, not a virtue.

    Again: would you buy an used car on faith? If not, why an entire worldview?

    Cheers,

    b&

  20. Ben Goren says:

    First a quick recap: I proposed 3 different ‘fundamental modes’ of explanation or ‘properties’ (physical, mental and mathematical) each of which had an associated concrete ‘element’ – matter (physical), consciousness (mental) and information (mathematical). The idea is that all 3 elements are fundamental to reality.

    But we know that matter isn’t fundamental to reality. Matter is just, to put it poetically, condensed energy. And if you want to propose the fundamental particles of the Standard Model as being fundamental — they’re not, either. The particles themselves are simply perturbations in the associated fields. Furthermore, we know that the Standard Model itself isn’t fundamental…but the leading candidates for explaining physics beyond the Core Theory look less and less like matter.

    Maybe you mistyped, but “matter” isn’t even remotely fundamental, no matter how you want to slice and dice it.

    As I keep trying to point out, pebbles and belly button lint don’t have consciousness. There is no measure of consciousness that will reveal its presence in a glass of water. Any perception you yourself might have of consciousness in a two-by-four is something that your own consciousness has misinterpreted as being present. If you wish to claim that consciousness is essential to your perception of reality — obviously, of course. But to extrapolate beyond yourself can only be the result of the most impressive possible feat of hubris, or, at most generous, to suggest that you’re proposing an equivalent of the brain-in-a-vat scenario. Or maybe you’ve seen yourself in every mirror you’ve ever looked in and therefore concluded that you simultaneously and continuously exist in all mirrors everywhere?

    “Information” is a term with many definitions. In the realm of physics, it refers to a complete catalog of all the pieces of the Universe — all the particles and forces (field values) and vectors for all points in space — in its current state plus the laws of physics. If the Laplacian Demonic model holds — and it’s been spectacularly successful — then information is always conserved. At all points in time, the Universe contains enough information to know its state at all other points in time, past and future both. However, there’s nothing fundamental about information. Conservation of information is one of three sacred principles on the chopping block for explaining black holes, and I’m pretty sure there’s no thought that information would be conserved in pre-Big-Bang conditions.

    First, Many-Worlds-Interpretation (MWI) is a natural consequence of my model, and all other interpretations of QM are immediately seen to be based on a confusion.

    Sean is as vocal a proponent of M-W as anybody I know of, and even he goes out of his way to disclaim certainty in it. Indeed, I seem to recall him putting the odds of M-W eventually holding at the end of the day at 50%, though I wouldn’t swear to that figure. And I am certain that he would not describe other models as “confused,” even as he disagreed with them. Further, were somebody to adduce evidence supporting one of the other models over M-W, Sean would carefully evaluate and analyze the evidence and, if it proved compelling, subsequently consider M-W less likely and the competition more likely.

    That actually points to something you could do to convince me and, more importantly, Sean and his peers. What measurement would you propose we make that is consistent with your theory and inconsistent with all competing theories?

    We could even start with a subset of that. You’re expressing overwhelming confidence in M-W as a result of your theory. What observation do you propose that’s expected with Many-Worlds that can’t be explained by Copenhagen, Ensemble, de Broglie-Bohm, Stochastic, and other interpretations?

    Cheers,

    b&

  21. Simon Packer says:

    Ben

    This reply will necessarily be all about religious issues.

    You could certainly try to quantify who extends themselves most in regard to the poor and needy and how much self-sacrifice they put in to those areas. My experience is that it is well above average with Christians. I spent part of the day visiting MV Logos Hope, a Christian missions ship currently at Cape Town waterfront. It is staffed by mostly young people who raise their own support through their churches. I didn’t see any atheist ships in there, so my small sample favours Christianity on this occasion. Your mileage may differ. There may be ships full of philanthropic atheists out there living life with happy gusto, helping people and sharing their message of hope, singing John Lennon songs as they go, for all I know.

    Anyway, theology. There is a half decent question in there concerning Numbers 31. About the way YHWH commanded the Israelites to kill the Midianites without mercy except for the young girls who were to be taken captive for their own use. There are different Covenants and dispensations in the Bible, and the Israelites were operating under the Sinai Covenant. The two main covenants in the Bible are Sinai and the New Covenant. The two are compared and contrasted repeatedly in the NT, particularly in Romans, Galatians and Hebrews. The Sinai Covenant is to the Jewish people and concerns primarily nationhood and a natural inheritance. It was mediated by Moses. Exodus 19v1-6 applies. The New concerns primarily spiritual things and is mediated by Christ. The Midianites had shown treachery to the Israelites and the Midianite women were leading them into Baal worship (Numbers 25). Given that Baal worship was a highly sexual business, it is not at all likely that the purpose of Moses sparing the female young was mass rape or even sexual slavery. Such conduct is clearly prohibited in the Law of Sinai and has never been part of Jewish culture. There seem to have been peoples around at that time who were beyond repentance and for whom pity would have been inappropriate. Under the New Covenant, 1 Timothy 2v1-7 applies. God will still show final judgment without mercy in the extreme, but that extreme has changed; it will be generally be expressed now at physical death or the end of the age. The New Covenant is sealed in the Blood of Christ. It speaks of vulnerability, forgiveness, identification with suffering and injustice and self-sacrifice, not retribution. Christians are called to live in the same Spirit. It is true we have not always done so. Some of this is due to the Church/State pragmatism and religious nominalism of past times.

  22. JimV says:

    “The New Covenant is sealed in the Blood of Christ.” I hear the Mafia works similarly.

    I’ll say this: it would make one heck of a Monty-Python skit. I was imaging John Cleese’s rendition as I read it.

    Aside from the lack of historical evidence, and all the misrepresentations of nature, if all had to go by was that story vs., say, “Game of Thrones”, or “Harry Potter”, I would have to pick one of the latter as making more sense and being better plotted. Fortunately there is a much better alternative: science.

  23. zarzuelazen says:

    Ben:

    “You’re expressing overwhelming confidence in M-W as a result of your theory. What observation do you propose that’s expected with Many-Worlds that can’t be explained by Copenhagen, Ensemble, de Broglie-Bohm, Stochastic, and other interpretations?”

    Well, yes, that’s the test, to see if the view I propose can actually come up with something useful. In my view, I’ve already suggested a new ontology for quantum mechanics that offers a clear new perspective for thinking about the topic – so hopefully some predictions will come out of that.

    If you look at the rival interpretations to MWI , many of them are trying to find a ‘physical’ picture for the wave-function, and it doesn’t work at all, because they all run into trouble with relativity theory . If you try to say that the wave function has some deeper physical reality behind it, then it seems you need faster-than-light signalling to make it work – the Bohm pilot-wave interpretation is a good example of this – it conflicts with relativity theory – but *all* the interpretations that try to say the wave function has some physical reality behind it run into the same problem.

    Other interpretations (for example Copenhagen) try to go the opposite route – rather than trying to find some physical reality behind the wave-function, they try to say it’s all in our heads – the wave-functions are just tools for calculation and there’s no objective reality. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you what the problem with this view is? 😉 As you yourself pointed out in the other thread, reality has been around a lot longer than any conscious observers, so this view is really quite incoherent.

    So if the wave-function doesn’t have a physical reality behind, and it isn’t all just in our heads either, the only remaining option is to accept that wave-functions as fundamental. But if you ask what they are, well they’re nothing but information. So you must accept that information really is fundamental.

    In my view, Sean is already a ‘closet’ augmented naturalist, because he does seem to accept that the wave functions are indeed fundamental and the physical world is generated by them (and not visa versa).

    The MWI is indeed really just the reification of mathematics – taking information as something real and saying that creates the physical reality. So really, when I say that ‘information’ should be regard as fundamental, I’m just making explicit what MWI already implicitly suggests.

    If you accept that information is fundamental then you are basically conceding that ‘augmented naturalism’ is correct! (Because you’ve admitted that there are fundamental non-physical properties). In that case, it is not unreasonable to consider the possibility that mental properties (such as consciousness) can be fundamental as well.

  24. Simon Packer says:

    Jim V

    Blood Covenant is a sign of strength of pact. It is still used in some cultures and there is an instance of a US Army commander using it with the South Vietnamese. Obviously the nature of the pact is an entirely different matter, see my next sentence in the comment. In the Christian case, it is a unilateral initiative.

  25. Ben Goren says:

    zarzuelazen:

    But it’s still naturalism – just ‘augmented naturalism’, so it doesn’t really support supernaturalism either. However, since it grants that ‘consciousness’ is a fundamental property of reality, it might possibly be consistent with pantheism (the idea that the universe is God).

    There’s an awful lot to unpack in that single paragraph.

    First, “augmented naturalism” is a perfect synonym for, “supernaturalism.” The prefix, “super,” means, “augmentation.” And in pretty much every introduction Sean ever gives on the matter, he says, paraphrasing, that, whether presumptive or conclusive, naturalism is the proposition that the natural world is all there is.

    Since we know that there is absolutely no consciousness whatsoever in gravel and toenail clippings, we know that consciousness is in no way fundamental to reality. There are things which are conscious and things which are not — and the overwhelming majority of things are not conscious. Consciousness emerges very late in the game. In the only examples we can be certain of, it took a baker’s dozen billion years of development following a condition of extraordinarily low entropy to arrive at consciousness — and there’re non-trivial odds that consciousness is going to be self-extinguishing here sooner rather than later, geologically speaking. Even if not, in no more than a billion years there won’t be anything living on Earth at all, let alone anything conscious, and the Fermi Paradox is very strong evidence that we won’t have any descendants living off Earth then, either.

    And we already have a perfectly good name for the Universe: the Universe. Using “God” as a synonym for it, especially when all other gods are decidedly anthropomorphic, is as counterproductively confusing as calling the Universe, “Bob.”

    I really can’t understand why hard-core atheists seem to have this obsessive-compulsive need to try to force-fit everything into a ‘physical’ mode of explanation.

    Because that’s all we’ve ever actually observed.

    In practice it’s just not useful.

    Then you’ve spectacularly missed the point of Sean’s Poetic Naturalism. In short, the various emergent phenomena, from the Ideal Gas Law to consciousness, are very real, and it’s very useful and meaningful to discuss them in the common language we use for them. But they are not fundamental, and we can and should have overwhelming confidence in that fact.

    Ask any top-class mathematician, and Platonism is really self-evidently true to them.

    Perhaps, but they also tend to not realize that the Pythagorean Theorem is an experimentally-derived description of spacetime. Ask any physicist and she’ll cheerfully tell you that you’ll never ever find any Euclidean objects anywhere. You can approximate them, but only to the same sense that physicists like to speak of frictionless spherical cows.

    Ask any mystic or theist, and again, the fundamental reality of consciousness is pretty self-evident.

    Abrahamic theists, perhaps, but most emphatically not mystics. Much of Eastern mysticism and meditative practice deals with the abnegation of the self, which is accompanied with an epiphany of the illusive nature of consciousness. Sam Harris has written rather eloquently on the matter from a naturalistic perspective, but the bits about the self and consciousness aren’t anything that your typical Zen master would even think to disagree with.

    Descartes might have started with, “Cogito, ergo sum,” but in the East, they didn’t even make it that far before rejecting the very premise.

    On a final note, permit me to present you with the ultimate evidence against consciousness as being fundamental, the soul as being real, and all that sort of thing:

    Beer.

    Or, in other words…everything about your consciousness and personality and thinking can be changed in very precise and well-understood ways simply by altering the physical condition of your brain. Nothing about your consciousness is sacred, nothing can survive physical interaction — and we’ve had evidence to that effect ever since the Egyptians first mastered the craft of brewing beer, long before (and during and after) the Creationists would have us believe Noah was sailing the global sea.

    Cheers!

    b&