Thursday, January 04, 2007

Current Models in Cosmological Physics Concerning the Origin of the Universe (Dark Energy & Matter, Etc.), & Their Interaction With Metaphysics



Paul J. Steinhardt's cyclical cosmology

Benjamin Cheeks (aka "soulster"), a Christian, wrote:

It has occured to me lately that the narrative of Creation has so formed our cultural understanding and language that almost all the current conversation is in reference to those ideas. For example: I was having a conversation with two people, both lifelong believers, talking about the origins of the universe. They pointed out the idea that "something can't come from nothing". I said that I didn't think many people these days say that. Most agree that something must be eternal (or close to it): either God or the universe (mass-energy). So either the universe always was, or the universe came out of God who always was.

They seemed to have trouble getting the universe as eternal. After going around on several objections, I realized that the problem was they were could only think in the narrative frame of Creation and it didn't make sense to them since, if you only have the universe, there is a big hole where the creator should be standing. Since the universe comes out of God in that narrative, when God was removed, they saw the universe creating itself, which was silly. It think that's why when an atheist says God didn't create the world, for most believers, the default is then, "well, then you're saying the universe created itself."

* * *

Saying "something can come from nothing" as the atheist position is not the best way to put it (though, it, too, did not come from nowhere, as I prove with several atheist examples below). Rather, the thought is that matter is eternal and can produce everything there is. That is what my argument was in my paper on "Deo-Atomism."

What I was driving at was the notion of the materialist atheist that matter can do everything there is to do in this universe, and has, in fact, achieved all by itself what we see in the universe. This puts matter very much in the place that we Christians put God (hence my vastly-misunderstood satire about atheists believing in trillions of "atom-gods").

Therefore (so I contended), the atheist is every bit as religious as we are; probably even more so). He exercises every bit as much faith: probably more so. There is no proof that matter is eternal, according to present scientific understanding, and much indication that it is not (e.g., the laws of thermodynamics).

No theory of an "oscillating universe" has been proven (or arguably can be proven) according to present understanding. To do so would require "meta-science" (essentially and literally, metaphysics), and since that is supposedly impermissible for the Christian to do, why should it be permissible for the materialist? Another double standard . . .

All they are, are bald theories, based (at least partially) on wishful thinking and the desire to avoid any hint of "creationist" understanding (even in the broadest sense of any kind of minimalist theistic evolutionism, such as that held by Kenneth Miller), or metaphysical non-materialism. It's faith; it's acceptance of the unproven (perhaps unprovable in this case) axiom.

This is virtually my entire point in the recent (first / second) pathetic, "can never get to [the epistemological] first base with the atheist" exchanges.

*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***


* * * * *

The Wikipedia article on "Ultimate fate of the universe" provides an overview of the atheist conundrum:
Theoretically, the oscillating universe could not be reconciled with the second law of thermodynamics: entropy would build up from oscillation to oscillation and cause heat death. Other measurements suggested the universe is not closed. These arguments caused cosmologists to abandon the oscillating universe model. A somewhat similar idea is embraced by the cyclic model, but this idea evades heat death, because of an expansion of the branes dilute entropy accumulated in the previous cycle.

Multiverse: no complete end

The Multiverse (or parallel universe in the singular case) scenario states that while our universe may be of finite duration, it is but one universe among many. Moreover, the physics of the multiverse may permit it to exist indefinitely. In particular, other universes may be subject to physical laws differing from those that apply in our own universe.
BINGO! To posit this, one must theorize about other universes with different physical / natural laws than ours. But to do that is precisely to speculate outside of present-day science. So it becomes pure metaphysics and non-scientific speculation.

How, then, is it any fundamentally different from Christians talking about God, Whose qualities are also outside of present-day scientific knowledge or purview?

There is no difference. Both sides must engage in technically non-scientific metaphysical philosophy in order to have these opinions. The Christian freely admits that there can be a non-scientific knowledge, even pertaining to physical things. The materialist atheist will not acknowledge this, and so is subject to a perpetual epistemological double standard
and vicious circle of reasoning.

The non-materialist atheist, such as David Chalmers, does not exercise a double standard, because he admits that there are things that cannot be adequately explained by science, and that there may therefore be non-material entities that must be accounted for, whether there is a God or not.

I have no problem with that (i.e., I don't think it is self-defeating); I have a problem with unsubstantiated dogma and unproven premises masquerading as proven or ultra-respectable science, when it is neither [technically] science nor "respectable" (if by that we mean substantiated and proven or having any scientific, empirical evidence for itself at all).

* * *

The currently fashionable theory (post-"oscillating universe") is the cyclic model, proposed in 2001 by Paul J. Steinhardt of Princeton University and Neil Turok of Cambridge University. Let's briefly take a look at this and see if it illustrates what I have been contending about the relationship of metaphysics and science, and science and Christianity (more generally speaking). I shall now cite Steinhardt's and Turok's paper, "The Cyclic Model Simplified":
. . . the big bang/infationary picture is still reeling from the recent shock that most of the universe consists of dark energy. The concept had been that, once conditions are set in the early universe, the rest of cosmic evolution is simple. Dark energy has shattered that dream. Dark energy was not anticipated and plays no significant role in the theory. Observations have forced us to add dark energy ad hoc." (p. 2)
And what is this "dark energy"? They admit we don't know much about it:
Observable particles { quarks, leptons, photons, neutrinos, etc. } lie on one brane and are constrained to move along it. Any particles lying on the other brane can interact gravitationally with particles on our brane, but not through strong or electroweak interactions. So, from our perspective, particles on the other brane are a dark form of matter that cannot be detected in laboratories looking for weakly interacting particles. (p. 2).
And does this model imply an infinite series of cycles and no beginning? Actually, they think not:
Does this mean that the cycling has no beginning? This issue is not settled at present. We have noted that the cyclic model has the causal structure of an expanding de Sitter space with bounces occurring on at spatial slices. For de Sitter space, the expanding phase is geodesically incomplete, so the cyclic picture cannot be the whole story. The most likely story is that cycling was preceded by some singular beginning. (p. 5)
But what exactly is "dark matter" and "dark energy"? Wikipedia: "Dark Energy":
The most recent WMAP observations are consistent with a Universe made up of 74% dark energy, 22% dark matter, and 4% ordinary matter.

Nature of dark energy

As this NASA chart indicates, roughly 70 percent or more of the universe consists of dark energy, about which we know next to nothing.

The exact nature of this dark energy is a matter of speculation. It is known to be very homogeneous, not very dense and is not known to interact through any of the fundamental forces other than gravity. Since it is not very dense - roughly 10−29 grams per cubic centimeter - it is hard to imagine experiments to detect it in the laboratory (but see the references for a claimed detection). Dark energy can only have such a profound impact on the universe, making up 70% of all energy, because it uniformly fills otherwise empty space. The two leading models are quintessence and the cosmological constant.

The simplest explanation for dark energy is that it is simply the "cost of having space": that is, a volume of space has some intrinsic, fundamental energy. This is the cosmological constant, sometimes called Lambda (hence Lambda-CDM model) after the Greek letter Λ, the symbol used to mathematically represent this quantity. Since energy and mass are related by E = mc2, Einstein's theory of general relativity predicts that it will have a gravitational effect. It is sometimes called a vacuum energy because it is the energy density of empty vacuum.
Hardly distinguishable from what theists call "spirit"; seems to me, on my layman's level . . .
. . . Alternatively, dark energy might arise from the particle-like excitations in some type of dynamical field, referred to as quintessence. Quintessence differs from the cosmological constant in that it can vary in space and time. In order for it not to clump and form structure like matter, it must be very light so that it has a large Compton wavelength.

No evidence of quintessence is yet available, but it has not been ruled out either.
Sounds a lot like light: where it isn't clear whether it is matter or not. Scientists hardly know what "dark energy" is, according to Mario Livio, of the Space Telescope Science Institute:
Understanding the nature of dark energy is arguably the biggest problem physics is facing today.

("Mysterious force's long presence", BBC News, 16 November 2006)
Now it may very well be that these things will be understood in the not-too-distant future. Physics and astronomy are progressing very rapidly. It is an exciting time for cosmology: almost a Golden Age. My point is (as always) not "anti-science" but rather, "anti-excessive dogmatism and creating of double standards in materialistic science." In any event, the current ignorance about dark matter and dark energy is expressed in the Wikipedia article on the former:
The composition of dark matter is unknown, but may include new elementary particles such as WIMPs and axions, ordinary and heavy neutrinos, dwarf stars and planets collectively called MACHOs, and clouds of nonluminous gas. Current evidence favors models in which the primary component of dark matter is new elementary particles, collectively called non-baryonic dark matter . . . Determining the nature of this missing mass is one of the most important problems in modern cosmology and particle physics. It has been noted that the names "dark matter" and "dark energy" serve mainly as expressions of our ignorance, much as the marking of early maps with terra incognita."
Science and Theology News (1-1-03) offers a fascinating glimpse on the interchange between science and theology on this question of cosmology:
Chaotic inflation, an extension of Guth's theory by Stanford cosmologist Andrei Linde, argues the universe had an infinite past and therefore did not have an unexplained and uncaused beginning in the big bang, said Quentin Smith, a philosophy professor at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Challenging the fuzzy yet comforting idea that the universe has always existed in one form or another, Vilenkin, Borde and Guth have proven that Lindes' argument was false and Linde has conceded their proof is correct, Smith said.

By dispensing with the notion of an infinite past filled with inflationary cycles ending in big bangs, Guth and colleagues have left physicists staring into a void filled with new possibilities. They are forcing science to confront the most counter-intuitive puzzle of all: how something, especially something as vast as the universe, could possibly have been created from nothing.
Something from nothing????!!!!! I thought this was simply a Christian caricature of atheist cosmology????!!!! At least one cosmologist cited: Jaume Garriga, of the University of Barcelona, comes right out and says this: "A creator is not necessary, Garriga agrees. The universe itself can be born out of nothing due to a quantum fluctuation, after which it starts inflating, he explained." Other instances of the "something from nothing" motif:
What is a big deal - the biggest deal of all - is how you get something out of nothing. Don't let the cosomologists try to kid you on this one. They have not got a clue either - despite the fact that they are doing a pretty good job of convincing themselves and others that this is really not a problem. "In the beginning," they will say, "there was nothing - no time, space, matter, or energy. Then there was a quantum fluctuation from which . . . " Whoa! Stop right there. You see what I mean? First there is nothing, then there is something. And the cosmologists try to bridge the two with a quantum flutter, a tremor of uncertainty that sparks it all off. Then they are away and before you know it, they have pulled a hundred billion galaxies out of their quantum hats.

(David Darling, "On creating something from nothing," New Scientist, 151 [2047, 1996], p. 49)

Astronomy leads us to an unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing and delicately balanced to provide exactly the conditions required to support life. In the absence of an absurdly-improbable accident, the observations of modern science seem to suggest an underlying, one might say, supernatural plan.

(Arno Penzias, quoted by Walter Bradley in The Designed 'Just-so' Universe, 1999)
The ultimate incoherence of Stephen Hawking's theories on the origin of the universe are manifest on p. 139 of his famous book, A Brief History of Time (Bantam trade paper edition, 1990):
When one goes back to the real time in which we live, however, there will still appear to be singularities . . . In real time, the universe has a beginning and an end at singularities that form a boundary to space-time and at which the laws of science break down. But in imaginary time, there are no singularities or boundaries . . . scientific theory is just a mathematical model we make to describe our observations: it exists only in our minds. So it is meaningless to ask: Which is real, 'real' or 'imaginary' time? It is simply a matter of which is the more useful description.
Alan Guth stated:
Start out with no universe at all - absolute nothingness. Absolute nothingness does not equal empty space, because according to general relativity, space is already stuff . . . Start out with no space, no time, no nothing. Then you make a quantum transition . . . "

(lecture at the "Nature of nature" conference, Baylor Univerisyt, 1999)
The Cambridge University page on "Quantum Cosmology" expresses the same notion:
In 1983, Stephen Hawking and James Hartle developed a theory of quantum cosmology which has become known as the 'No Boundary Proposal'. Recall that the path integral involves a sum over four dimensional geometries that have boundaries matching onto the initial and final three geometries. The Hartle-Hawking proposal is to simply do away with the initial three geometry i.e. to only include four dimensional geometries that match onto the final three geometry. The path integral is interpreted as giving the probability of a universe with certain properties (i.e. those of the boundary three geometry) being created from nothing . . . Universe creation is not something that takes place inside some bigger spacetime arena - the instanton describes the spontaneous appearance of a universe from literally nothing.
Likewise, the "Naked Scientists" Radio Show and Podcast states:
Well it's thought that most of the matter we have in the universe today did come from nothing. By nothing, I mean the vacuum. There is a favoured mechanism for creating the matter that fills our universe, and this is the convergence of the energy density of the vacuum. In simple terms, one would think of this as nothing, or no material, into matter. So in many ways, everything we see did come from nothing. The way energy density is converted into matter is quite complicated, but it's thought that that's how it occurred, through inflation.
Atheist Quentin Smith wrote in "Simplicity and Why the Universe Exists" (Philosophy 71 (1997): 125-32:
A defender of theism may respond that we (with our finite intellects) are not in a position to know if the creation of a singularity is a rational or irrational way to create an animate universe. Although a sceptical position such as this threatens any claim to knowledge in the philosophy of religion, it has been advanced by Daniel Lorca in a recent article in this journal. Lorca's position is that the atheist and theist positions are evidentially indeterminate; specifically, the 'Big Bang Cosmological evidence is such that either position is equally probable since we just do not have enough information to show which position is stronger.'
Lorca's position on this is essentially my own. His article is "A Critique of Quentin Smith's Atheistic Argument from Big Bang Cosmology", Philosophy 70 (1995): 48. Smith, rather remarkably, responds to the argument by adopting a sort of "Occam's Razor" plea for simplicity as more likely and probable truth, and again appeals to "something from nothing":
The Law of the Simplest Beginning says that the simplest possible thing, the big bang singularity, comes into existence in the simplest possible way. The simplest possible way for something to come into existence is for the thing's coming into existence to have no positive relations to and grounds for coming into existence. The simplest possible way to come into existence is to come to exist from nothing (from no previously existent material, no material cause), to come to exist by nothing (by no efficient cause) and to come to exist for nothing (for no purpose or final cause). If the Law of the Simplest Beginning is true, then the big bang singularity occurs without being caused by God.

(bolded emphases added; italics in original)
When all is said and done, I continue to maintain (and nothing I have seen in all my research presentated above contradicts it), that the atheist positions on the origin of the present universe ultimately (in terms of initial premises and speculations thoroughout) require every bit as much faith and lack as much proof as the simple Christian belief that "God created."

The atheist can't prove by present-day science that God did not create, and he can't prove that the universe always existed or that it created itself. Metaphysics is inevitably involved, and epistemologically, that is scarcely different from sheer religious faith.

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