Second Law Slop from Granville Sewell

A reader sent me a link to an article by that inimatable genius of the intelligent design community, Granville Sewell. (As much as I hate to admit it, Sewell is a professor of mathematics at Texas A&M. I don’t know what his professional specialty is, but if his work in that area is anything like the dreck he produces in defense of ID, then it’s shocking that he got a faculty position, much less tenure.) Sewell wrote *yet another* one of those horrible “second law of thermodynamics” papers and submitted it *as an opinion piece* to a math journal (“The Mathematical Intelligencer”). It was, needless to say, not received well by people who actually care about quality math, and he was roundly flamed in letters in the following issue. The paper that I’m looking at is [his *defense* to criticisms in the original paper.](http://www.iscid.org/papers/Sewell_EvolutionThermodynamics_012304.pdf)
As one might expect from one of the ICSID guys, it’s a sloppy rehash of the same-old creationist arguments – it’s mainly the same old creationist thermodynamic crap, mixed with a bit of big numbers, and a little dose of obfuscatory mathematics.


Before I get to the paper itself, one important thing about the *original* paper in the MI is worth pointing out. As I said above, it was published as an *opinion* piece, not as a research paper. Opinion pieces are *not* generally reviewed as rigorously as research papers, and the MI is not exactly what anyone (including its editors!) would call a *rigorous* journal. From the information for authors about what they publish:
>We welcome controversy; this is an international forum for issues on which
>mathematicians disagree. But whatever their subject, all articles should be
>written in a relaxed, engaging style, and should be accessible to the entire
>community, irrespective of specialty. Articles are peer-reviewed.
>Authors need not feel confined to non-fiction: we will consider humor, poetry,
>fiction, and art forms not yet invented.
Despite this, I have seen Sewell’s paper cited in several lists of “peer reviewed ID literature” as an example of how serious scientists are publishing ID research. An opinion piece in the MI is *not* what any serious scientist of mathematician would call a “peer reviewed journal paper”.
With that brief aside out of the way, let’s dive in to see what Sewell has to say. He gets off to a great start; if he had just stopped after the first sentence-and-a-half he actually would have written a valid, meaningful statement.
>Why is it that the most vocal opponents of Darwinism often are not biologists or
>geologists, but physicists, computer scientists, engineers or mathematicians,
>like myself? The obvious answer would be that we don’t understand the issues as
>well, but I have another explanation. You really don’t need to know any biology
>or paleontology to understand the real problem with Darwinism: it is simply that
>it is extremely improbable. I realize that the development of life took millions
>of years, that there is an “evolutionary chain” of similarities connecting all
>species, and that many things about the process give the appearance of natural
>causes, but none of this diminishes the main problem.
Gosh GS, why waste time with a second explanation when the first one does the job so perfectly? The rest of this paper is just a vivid demonstration of how he *doesn’t* understand the issues.
It’s just *yet another* sloppy “second law of thermodynamics” argument; what’s particularly sad is that this is his *defense* after his *original* argument got slapped down. So his original argument was even worse. He gives us a glimpse of how sloppy the original paper was:
>In a Fall 2000 opinion piece in the Mathematical Intelligencer [1] I made the
>assertion that the underlying principle behind the second law of thermodynamics
>is that natural forces do not do extremely improbable things. An unfortunate
>choice of words: I should have said, the underlying principle is that natural
>forces do not do macroscopically describable things which are extremely
>improbable from the microscopic point of view.
Still wrong, and he should know it. One of the things that people who are serious about math know is that *informal* statements of mathematical phenomena are inevitably inaccurate (or at least incomplete), and that you *never* reason from the informal argument. You reason *from the math*. You can take the *equations*, the *math* of the second law, and play with it however much you want, but you’ll *never* manage to come up with any mathematical statement that “natural forces do not do macroscopically describable things which are extremely improbable from the microscopic point of view”.
In fact, you don’t even need to go all the way to the equations to see how nonsensical this statement is. Here’s a very precise informal statement of the second law called the Kelvin-Planck statement, taken from [wikipedia][second-law]: “There is no process that, operating in a cycle, produces no other effect than the subtraction of a positive amount of heat from a reservoir and the production of an equal amount of work.”
Try to derive Sewell’s statement from *that*. You can’t: because his statement bears no relation to the second law. In fact, one of the most common observations when you study thermodynamics mathematically is that entropy can only be viewed as a measure of disorder at a *microscopic* level, but that *macroscopic* order can frequently be produced as a result of *increase* in *microscopic* disorder – essentially *exactly* the opposite of what Sewell said.
Sewell then moves on to another classic creationist canard:
>But the Earth is an open system, and it is often argued that any increase in
>order is allowed in an open system, as long as the increase is “compensated”
>somehow by a comparable or greater decrease outside the system. S. Angrist and
>L. Helper [3], for example, write, “In a certain sense the development of
>civilization may appear contradictory to the second law… Even though society
>can effect local reductions in entropy, the general and universal trend of
>entropy increase easily swamps the anomalous but important efforts of civilized
>man. Each localized, man-made or machine- made entropy decrease is accompanied
>by a greater increase in entropy of the surroundings, thereby maintaining the
>required increase in total entropy.”
>
>According to this logic, then, the second law does not prevent scrap metal from >reorganizing itself into a computer in one room, as long as two computers in the
>next room are rusting into scrap metal-and the door is open. The spectacular
>increase in order seen here on Earth does not violate the second law because
>order is decreasing throughout the rest of this vast universe, so the total
>order in the universe is surely still decreasing.
Once again, we can see the results of arguing about a *mathematical* concept in terms of *non-mathematical* informal reasoning. When a biologist says, for example, that life doesn’t violate the second law because increases in order are compensated for by *larger* increases in entropy, we aren’t talking about *decoupled* phenomena. We’re talking about *a single process*. No one would argue that the second law says that a computer can spontaneously be formed if two other computers in a different room decay. But we *can* produce a computer by burning a couple of barrels of oil, and using the resulting heat to drive the machinery that produces the computer. In this *coupled chain of events*, we produce a small amount of “order” (the computer) as a result of produce a large amount of entropy (the burning of the oil and the heat from operating the machinery, among other sources).
Similarly, my children can grow (producing “order” in Sewell’s formulation),
but the increase in order caused by their bodies growing new cells and structures is *more* than offset by the quantity of waste and heat that’s produced by their bodies as they grow. By far, the overall entropy is increasing.
Sewell’s game is to decouple things to make it look silly – which he can only get away with because he’s *not doing math*. If you wanted to do the actual math of a thermodynamic analysis, you’d have to show that the entropy increase is causally connected to the entropy decrease.
Of course, he sees this objection coming, and attempts to head it off:
>So I wrote a reply, “Can ANYTHING Happen in an Open System?” [4] to my critics
>which was published in the Fall 2001 issue of The Mathematical Intelli- gencer.
>In that reply, I first showed (see Appendix) that the second law does not simply
>require that any increase in thermal order in an open system be compen- sated
>for by a decrease outside the system, it requires that the increase in thermal
>order be no greater than the thermal order entering the open system. The thermal
>order in an open system can decrease in two different ways: it may be converted
>to disorder (first term on the right in equation (4) of the Appendix) or it may
>be exported through the boundary (second term). It can increase in only one
>way-by importation through the boundary. An identical analysis shows the same to
>be true of carbon (or any other diffusing substance): the increase in carbon
>order in an open system cannot be greater than the carbon order entering the
>system. In these simple examples, I again assumed nothing but heat conduction
>or diffusion was going on, but for more general situations I offered the
>tautology that “if an increase in order is extremely improbable when a system is
>closed, it is still extremely improbable when the system is open, unless
>something is entering which makes the increase not extremely improbable.” The
>fact that order is disappearing in the next room does not make it any easier for
>computers to appear in our room-unless this order is disappearing into our room,
>and then only if it is a type of order that makes the appearance of computers
>not extremely improbable, for example, computers. Importing thermal order will
>make the temperature distribution less random, and importing carbon order will
>make the carbon distribution less random, but neither makes the formation of
>computers more probable.
What’s clever about this response is that it takes the *exact* error that he’s making in his argument, and turns it around to try to apply it to the *criticisms* of his argument. He’s started by making an argument that local or macroscopic decreases in entropy can’t be compensated for by other distant or microscopic increases in entropy. Now to reply to the criticism of that, he’s specifically *using* the fact that the local and distant entropy changes *from his own argument* aren’t connected.
And then he tries to weasel by introducing a *new* mistake, hiding behind some sloppy math. He throws in a random line about how “other kinds of order and entropy” can be introduced, and that they’ll follow the second law as well (with the statement “assuming only diffusion is operative” hidden in parens). That clause is parens is *very* sleazy; he’s *trying* to create a generalization of entropy that allows that allows him to say that we *have* to explain what he calls “carbon order” specifically in terms of “carbon entropy” – meaning we must create specifically create a certain amount of “disordered” carbon for every bit of “ordered” carbon. Of course, that’s not true. It would only be true in a system *which is closed* except for carbon diffusion, and in which *only diffusion is operating*.
Then he tries to pull *back* to the math to argue that the equations are only talking about *specific kinds* of entropy – one instantiation of the equation for each kind. And that is *terrible* math. He’s taken a global quantity: entropy – and divided into subtypes *without* showing how the subtypes relate to the original; and then asserted that they are *completely* partitioned – that no expenditure creating a quantity of a particular subtype of entropy can possible create a smaller reduction in some *other* subtype of entropy.
If he wants to make that kind of argument, he *could* try to. But he’d need to show how he could *derive* it from the general statement of the second law. But he doesn’t do that: in fact, he *can’t* do that, because we can observe phenomena where one of his supposed “subtypes” of entropy *do* decrease – that is, we can witness the exchange of one subtype for another. (For example, you can’t explain the natural production of diamonds strictly in terms of carbon-diffusion entropy. The C-D order of a diamond is strictly larger than the C-D order of a carbon-rich mineral deposit.)
Finally, he gets to his last argument – and it’s a classic stupid big-numbers argument:
>According to the traditional argument, the second law does not prevent atoms
>from reorganizing themselves into spaceships and computers here because
>the Earth is an open system. According to a new argument, however, advanced
>by recent critics of my article, this is not prohibited even in a closed
>system. Several of these have argued that everything Nature does can
>be considered extremely improbable-the exact arrangement of atoms at
>any time at any place is extremely unlikely to be repeated, argued one
>e-mail. Tom Davis, in his published reply [5], made an analogy with coin
>flipping and argued that any particular sequence of heads and tails
>is extremely improbable, so something extremely improbable happens
>every time we flip a long series of coins. If a coin were flipped 1000
>times, he would apparently be no more surprised by a string of all heads
>than by any other sequence, because any string is as improbable as
>another. Davis concedes that it is extremely unlikely that humans and
>computers would arise again if history were repeated, “but something
>would”.
The big numbers argument is just an argument that tries to string together numbers in a way that makes it seems ridiculously unlikely that something could happen, because you’ve got a sufficiently large probability against it that it’s “effectively impossible”.
Sewell’s version of this is based on a very simple version of big numbers. He doesn’t even really produce a particular big number. He just basically uses the *intuition* that it’s ridiculously impossible to imagine that a computer would be spontaneously created in isolation; and to connect that to human beings through the intuition that we are more complicated than computers.
The flaw in this is very typical of the usual big-numbers kind of argument. It’s looking at the *a-posteriori* odds of human life, computed as if human life emerged spontaneously. But what evolution actually argues is that life *evolved* over millions of years. What bearing does that have on the probability calculation? The spontaneous probability ignores history. Think of evolution as a tree. The spontaneous probability looks at *every possible* leaf node of the tree, with “human life” as one of them, and asks “What’s the probability of reaching *this specific* path to the human leaf node?” But evolution *doesn’t* consider every path. It takes that tree, and *prunes* at every step. The actual evolutionary “search tree” is incredibly small in comparison to the complete possible search space – the overwhelming bulk of the search space is pruned out by evolution. In a real mathematical model of evolution as search, the fundamental operation that makes it work is pruning.
[second-law]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_of_thermodynamics

0 thoughts on “Second Law Slop from Granville Sewell

  1. Corkscrew

    but that macroscopic order can frequently be produced as a result of increase in microscopic order
    Should that be “microscopic disorder”?

    Reply
  2. Davis

    I don’t think he’s tenured there, though, since his personal page says “moved back to UTEP”.

    Yup — if you go over to UTEP’s site, he’s listed as a professor there. He was likely just visiting at TAMU.

    Reply
  3. Harald Hanche-Olsen

    Over at MathSciNet, I find only six references by Granville Sewell. As far as I can tell, he has one paper in a refereed journal, one paper in a conference proceedings, and three books (one of which even has a second edition) on his conscience. All these works are in numerical analysis. Of course his lack of publications doesn’t mean one should dismiss his arguments out of hand, but … at least, there is not a huge weight of authority there.

    Reply
  4. Coin

    MarkCC, since it doesn’t seem to be terribly hard to get published in the Mathematical Intelligencer, have you considered sending in an opinion piece on the dangers of applying sloppy/non math to science?

    Reply
  5. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    Coin:
    You know, I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s a great idea. I just might try it, when I have some time.

    Reply
  6. Anton Mates

    According to this logic, then, the second law does not prevent scrap metal from reorganizing itself into a computer in one room, as long as two computers in the next room are rusting into scrap metal-and the door is open.
    Sewell seems to think this is self-evidently absurd. And obviously the scenario is absurd, but it doesn’t follow that the SLoT is required to rule it out. The SLoT is not our all-purpose “law that prevents silly things from happening.” Sometimes you need the rest of science too.

    Reply
  7. Torbjörn Larsson

    Sewell is terrible, and his appendix with ‘math’ seems at a hasty glance to be too bad to be published.
    But first I have a nitpick: “one of the most common observations when you study thermodynamics mathematically is that entropy can only be viewed as a measure of disorder at a microscopic level”. I would rather say that the idea and use of microstates is statistical physics, since one can do classical thermodynamics without having a concept of what entropy is. It is introduced to explain and enabling handling irreversible processes.
    Which takes me directly to one of several problems with Sewell’s appendix. He ignores the distinction between reversible and irreversible processes, which is one problem with his eq (3). Irreversibility means dS ≥ ðQ/T. At the same time he ignores the difference between the proper differential dS and the improper (pathdependent) differential ðQ. And since the later means that one prefer to use quasistatic processes to describe systems, the use of the time derivatives, especially Qt in (3), is wrong.
    For these reasons it is hard to follow Sewell. But I think he has choosen the sign for the gaussian surface integral wrong (since he prefers to keep the unit normal outwards). He ignores, I think, that his equations demand for him to put St = 0, if the heat flux J = 0, which he could do if he had not forgot about irreversibility. And finally I think he forgets that his flux J can be both negative or positive (his volume term is positive in either case), to compensate for the erroneous sign on the surface term.
    Though Sewell is right in that entropy can be transported across a boundary, so his conclusion is right. But here is the slight of hand Рwhere is the boundary for an idealised open system? When Sewell opened the system, it became fictive vis-à-vis real systems.
    Any subdivision of the original system may have parts where the entropy is decreasing while other parts are increasing even in the in the presence of incoming flux, due to imperfections in real gradients. This is in perfect accord with the normal view of ensembles of microstates (not ‘macroscopically’ and ‘microscopically’ that Sewell blathers about).
    There is also always the small, nonclassical chance that entropy spontaneously decreases to go to a disequlibrium case. Sometimes the improbable happen even in closed or open systems.
    QQ:
    There is this creo named Sewell
    who ignores to do math well.
    He has vectors
    and some sectors,
    but his fluxes still probably smell.

    Reply
  8. Torbjörn Larsson

    “Any subdivision of the original system may have parts where the entropy is decreasing while other parts are increasing even in the in the presence of incoming flux, due to imperfections in real gradients. This is in perfect accord with the normal view of ensembles of microstates”
    Actually, now I too forgot the gist of quasistatic processes. Please ignore this part, it isn’t correct in such analysis. (It was a while since I used these things.) And for faster processes I bet irreversibility precludes or at least marginalises any other answer.

    Reply
  9. Torbjörn Larsson

    I can as well amend this too:
    There is this creo named Sewell
    who ignores to do math well.
    He has vectors
    and some sectors,
    but with all probability, his fluxes smell.
    Pick that fits best for the moment; Sewell does.

    Reply
  10. David Harmon

    “But the Earth is an open system, and it is often argued that any increase in order is allowed in an open system, as long as the increase is “compensated” somehow by a comparable or greater decrease outside the system. ”
    Even I can see the snow there — the point of Earth being an “open system” isn’t that “any increase in order is allowed”, the point is we’ve got an F-ing big energy source (the Sun) which can be *used* to increase order on Earth, and also a big dark sky which provides a handy sink for locally-produced entropy. (Greenhouse catastrophe notwithstanding — but in fact, that would make Earthly life untenable, which is the point of trying to avoid it.)
    Oddly enough, I’m typing this on a computer whose construction partially depended on the disassembly of two other computers….

    Reply
  11. Torbjörn Larsson

    Thank you David, a perfect analysis of where the open system idealisation goes wrong here. I felt there was something absurd there, but I was into a too narrow analysis.

    Reply
  12. Andrew Wade

    The flaw in this is very typical of the usual big-numbers kind of argument. It’s looking at the a-posteriori odds of human life, computed as if human life emerged spontaneously.

    That’s a typical flaw, but it’s not the fundamental flaw. The fundamental flaw is the (often implicit) argument that since P(humans evolving|evolution) <<< 1, P(evolution) must be very small too. By that logic the probability that I generated “uihxhdsuhsdf” by mashing keys on the keyboard is very low, a clearly absurd conclusion. I suspect Tom Davis was engaging in similar reductio ad absurdum. But it seems that Sewell confuses “unlikely things occurring are not necessarily surprising” with “unlikely things are necessarily not surprising”. Perhaps he does not realize that invalid arguments can reach some true conclusions. I’ve seen this sort of response to people having their arguments demolished before: the challanger “appearently” believes not P, where P is conclusion of the invalid argument that happens to be true. In reality the challanger is merely saying that the argument is invalid, not that all the conclusions are false. These are common errors (or at least so they seem to me), but I would not have expected them from a professor of mathematics.
    That the I.D.ers then tend to confuse P(humans|evolution) with P(exact human genome|dump base pairs in a genome) (or some other B.S. of analogous nature) is just icing on the cake.

    Reply
  13. Andrew Wade

    I said,

    The fundamental flaw is the (often implicit) argument that since P(humans evolving|evolution)
    Er, on second reading I see that Mark already pointed out this flaw, calling it the “big numbers argument”.

    Reply
  14. Andrew Wade

    Sewell’s game is to decouple things to make it look silly – which he can only get away with because he’s not doing math.

    I think you got to the crux of the matter there.

    If you wanted to do the actual math of a thermodynamic analysis, you’d have to show that the entropy increase is causally connected to the entropy decrease.

    Er, sort of. What one would want to do is to characterize the flows through the doorway, and then one could apply the appropriate generalizations of the second law to the room with the scrap metal. And then the gig would be up, for the second law generalized to open systems is not as Sewell characterizes it.
    And as an aside, even if “the door was closed” it would be difficult to rule out scrap metal turning into a computer on second law grounds because the change in entropy is so small. One would have to examine the energy sources in the room (oxidation of spare scrap say) and make sure they’re inadequate. There are fairly severe limitations on what the second law can rule out in practice. Sewell implies that these complications can be ignored, but they cannot. Not if one cares about avoiding error. Of course scrap metal is not about to spontaneously assemble into computers, but we may not be able to rule this out with the laws of physics alone. :Shrug: Physics can’t solve every problem.

    Reply
  15. Bob O'H

    Torbjörn, does this scans better?
    There is a creo named Sewell
    who has to ignore math to do well.
    He has some vectors
    and lots more sectors,
    but with all probability, his flux’ll smell.
    The last line could be polished a bit more.
    That’s the nearest you’ll get to something sensible from me today. ūüôā
    Bob

    Reply
  16. MarkP

    The most basic problem with the Sewell’s article is right at the beginning:
    “You really don’t need to know any biology or paleontology to understand the real problem with Darwinism: it is simply that it is extremely improbable.”
    Um, yes you do. One cannot assign meaningful probabilities to various events or scenarios if one does not understand the processes and circumstances that lead to the events in the first place. Otherwise you end up with an analysis that is the equivalent of saying “I don’t have to understand anything about chess to know that the probability of me beating Gary Kasparov is 50%, since there are only two of us.”
    I wonder how Sewell would react to someone critiqueing a mathematical paper of his and beginning with “I don’t have to understand anything about math to understand the real problem with your analysis”.

    Reply
  17. Thony C.

    Sewell’s Defence
    There once was a Prof. name of Sewell
    Who was heard to remark that it may well
    Be that my math
    Is a little bit naff*
    But my views on old Darwin are real swell
    *for all non Brits naff is Cockney slang and means tatty, shoddy, third rate, defective, useless etc.

    Reply
  18. Torbjörn Larsson

    I’m not familiar with disequilibrium thermodynamics.
    But to see how time derivatives and their connection to entropy could be handled, one can apparently tease some of that out of Onsager reciprocal relations that “express the equality of certain relations between flows and forces in thermodynamical systems out of equilibrium, but where a notion of local equilibrium exists.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onsager_reciprocal_relations )
    Onsager uses conservative extensive quantities, and can then express proper time derivatives and continuity equations. By using a susceptibility matrix one can relate these changes to changes in conjugated intensive quantities. This method should allow entropy to be properly handled.

    Reply
  19. Adam Cuerden

    You say the journal claims “Articles are peer-reviewed”. Should that read “Articles are NOT peer-reviewed”? Because if it’s the former, they do a piss-poor job of it.

    Reply
  20. carlos

    probabilities are concepts we can not meet them in nature, we can, at best, only observe proceses which reveals rules of probability. in the second law there is question of exactness for it is ONLY a LAW of AVERAGES. therefore it is not impossible to think that two gases should seperate voluntarily. the maintenance of mixture of nitrogen and oxygen in our atmoshpere or in our room can ONLY be demanded in the sense of a STATISTICAL LAW and NOT in the sense of an EXACT ONE. it not impossible that one day they voluntarily seperate. but since it is very improbable we dont think of it much and dont have to deal with it in daily life. but we do have to wacth out for that fan cieling of not falling on top of us becuase that would be to prove that improbale does not mean impossible.

    Reply
  21. Peter

    “One cannot assign meaningful probabilities to various events or scenarios if one does not understand the processes and circumstances that lead to the events in the first place.”
    That is true. From this statement and the research into the origin of life we can conclude that the probability of life forming from inorganic matter is zero. Scientists have been attempting to discover how life formed without success. Therefore the evidence to date supports the claim that it is impossible for life to appear from natural processes. This conclusion may be disproven one day, but after decades of research this is where the evidence points. So GS’s arguments may be full of wholes, and his last point about big numbers may be imprecise; however, his point is essentially correct. A realistic evaluation of the steps necessary for intelligent life to evolve is so astronomical as to be zero for all intents and purposes.
    About the pejorative “creationist,” since Einstein effectively destroyed the infinite universe theory we are all “creationists” be it young earth, old earth, or multi-verse. So you may want to find a new pejorative that doesn’t include yourself.

    Reply
  22. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    Peter:
    That’s sloppy nonsense.
    You can’t move from “We don’t know enough to judge probabilities in a meaningful way” to “therefore the probability it must be zero since we haven’t figured it out”.
    We don’t know what dark matter is like, despite years of intense research into it. We can’t use that to conclude that the probability of ever understanding it is zero.
    Second, Einstein did no such thing. Nothing in any of Einstein’s theories in any way destroyed an infinite universe; nor does a finite universe in any way imply a creator.
    Third, the term “creationist” has a well-defined and well-understood meaning. Playing word games like that accomplishes nothing.

    Reply
  23. Peter

    You seem to be saying that it is possible to understand everything, which is patently false. Information science has shown that it is impossible to know everything, therefore there are some intstances where the probability of understanding is zero. The data collected so far by the origin of life scientists has not solved the origin of life question. Using this several decade failure rate gives reasonable estimate. I am all for thier research. I would be interested in how they solve the homochirality problem among the many others. However, based on the evidence the likelyhood of success is very slim.
    Second, I am afraid I will have to go with Nasa on the age of the universe. It is ~ 13.7 billion years old, therefore it is not infinite (in age). Well, if it didn’t not exist 13.6… billion years ago then it must have come into existence. If something comes into existance we generally describe that as being created. I read Denton’s book and he thinks that the universe created itself. That is counter-intuitive. Non-existant particles can not create themselfs?? Anyway, unless I am mistaken no reputable scientist believes in the steady state model of the universe. So science is in a consensus that the universe was created somehow.

    Reply
  24. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    Peter:
    You’re just pulling stuff out of thin air.
    Meaningful probabilities are computed from meaningful knowledge. You can’t just blindly say “We haven’t managed to figure this out yet, therefore it’s impossible to figure out”.
    Citing information theory to support you in that is rubbish. First, information theory has diddly-squat to do with understanding. Second, the statements made by information theory are deeply mathematical – but you’re not doing math. You’re just making blind assertions. If you want to use information theory, you need to use information theory: that is, do the math to show that it supports what you’re saying. Of course, you won’t do that – because you can’t do that; you can’t do that because what you’re trying to pretend to do with information theory is well outside the bounds of what information theory is capable of talking about.
    Finally, you’re making a bunch of classic mistakes with your games about the “creation” of the universe:
    (1) You claimed that “Einstein showed” that the universe had to be created. But what you’re using to support that has nothing to do with Einstein.
    (2) Time is part of the universe. It’s not meaningful to talk about “time” before there was
    a universe. If time as we know it existed before the universe, then that means that
    the universe exists inside of something larger, which has its own system of time – in
    which case, that larger thing is really the universe, and you wind up with the same
    problem.
    (3) The problem in (2) is part of a larger problem, of meta-regress in creations. That is,
    if the universe is created by God, then what created God? If nothing created God,
    then obviously God was able to come into existence by himself, and if an intelligent
    being could come into existence spontaneously, then why couldn’t the universe?
    And if something created God, then what created that? You get trapped in an
    eternal spiral which gives you no answers.
    The problem is that you’re misformulating things in a way that creates problems. In
    fact, you’re doing it in a way that’s approachable by formal logics. What you’re doing
    is creating the kind of statement that Douglas Hofstadter calls a “strange loop” – a
    self-referential statement. Time is part of the universe – but you want to talk about
    time outside the universe. So you’re using time to talk about the time before time started – which is, ultimately, meaningless. Asking questions about the time before the universe was created, when time is part of the universe, is just like asking questions about the
    canonical erroneous strange loop: the set of all sets that don’t contain themselves. It’s
    not a meaningful construction, so you can’t meaningfully answer questions about it.

    Reply
  25. MartinM

    Second, I am afraid I will have to go with Nasa on the age of the universe. It is ~ 13.7 billion years old, therefore it is not infinite (in age).

    No, that’s just the time since our observable corner of the Universe emerged from a phenomenally hot, dense state which may or may not have been preceded by something else.

    Reply
  26. Peter

    You have evaded my point. The reference to information theory was ancillary.
    “Meaningful probabilities are computed from meaningful knowledge”
    That is true. Dawkings is arguable the most knowledgeable biologist of our time. When he says that life may have come from an ET then he is admitting that there is no feasible explanation for life from science today. You don’t seem to be up on your biology. Living cells require 100% homo-chirality. There are zero natural processes to do this. Looking at the necessity for rna, dna, proteins, and a complex cell membrane to come together and work through natural processes just boggles the mind. Given the best biological information we have the best estimate of the probability of a natural creation of life (which Dawking’s agrees with) is zero.
    Have you not heard of Einstein’s famous mistake with the cosmological constant? He knew that his equations indicated a starting point for the universe and wanted to make the origin disappear. He was wrong. Einstien and Nasa both know that the universe had a beginning. Nasa has quantified it at 13.7 billion years ago.
    Finally, you seem to be having difficulty formulating a coherent understanding of time. I will help you. I am sure that you are familiar with Dr Who. His show has a concept called hyper-space. It exists beyond our own dimension and time and is independent from our dimensions and time. The concept of hyperspace is helpful in understanding what science has learned about our universe. The universe had a beginning. According to all our experiences, things that begin have a cause. However, we have a problem understanding how the universe came into being without matter, space or time. Having the causal agent reside in hyperspace resolves this dilemma. Since our time is independent from time in hyperspace we can talk a time in hyperspace before our time. While hyperspace is not observable, and therefore outside the realm of scientific investigation; it none-the-less resolves the problem of the non-existent universe creating itself and is therefore a useful concept. Similar to a mathematical axiom, it is neither provable, or disprovable; however it gives us an intelligible framework.

    Reply
  27. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    Peter:
    First:
    That “hyperspace” stuff is just babble, which ignores the point that I made in my last response. It’s basically what I was talking about when I mentioned meta-regress.
    The only way that you can meaningfully formulate a statement like “the time before the Universe began” is by assuming a meta-universe with its own meta-time which contains our universe. But if you do that, you haven’t answered the question about creation in a meaningful way – you’ve just pushed it back a level. Now you have a way of talking about “when” our Universe was created, and what happened before it. But it’s doesn’t give us any answers – because by your own argument, that meta-universe must have been created – and how did that happen? What about the beginning of *it*? Either you wind up concluding that there was nothing before the meta-universe was created – in which case you have the same creation problem that you started with – or you need to invoke *another* meta universe – a meta-meta universe with meta-meta time. But *that* still has the same problem.
    Second:
    To say that Dawkins is “the most knowledgeable biologist of our time” is laughable. Dawkins is a very smart man, and he’s a very skilled popularizer of science. But he hasn’t done any actual research of his own in years. There are dozens of working biologists who know more biology than Dawkins.
    Third:
    Dawkins’ invocation of panspermia wasn’t how he thinks life on earth began. It’s his response to “Is there any scenario you can imagine in which life on earth was created?”.
    Fourth:
    What do you think Einstein’s cosmological constant means? I don’t think you have a clue. Tell me, in terms of the math of relativity, what the cosmological constant represents. Because the way you’re describing it in words doesn’t match its actual meaning.
    Fifth:
    I think you’re the one who’s not understanding the basic idea of time and what it means in the Universe. It’s an easy mistake to make; we’re taking very difficult mathematical concepts and trying to render them without math. Its easy to accidentally wind up with nonsense when you do that. Once again, that’s what I was talking about with the “strange loop” stuff. Time isn’t something distinct from the universe. It’s not outside the universe. The universe doesn’t exist *in* time; time is *part of* the universe. You can’t talk about “the time before the universe began”; it’s a meaningless statement.
    You can talk about a meta-universe with its own meta-time. And then you can talk about the meta-time when the universe was created, and the meta-time before the universe was created. But it’s *not* time. It’s meta-time – and you can’t meaningfully talk about comparisons between time and meta-time. The meta-time before the universe was created isn’t *before* the first moment of time in our universe – because meta-time is something different. It’s like comparing volume to area: it’s not meaningful. And it doesn’t solve anything; it just pushes it back a level.
    Sixth:
    Meaningful probability can only be computed from meaningful data. If you want to express the probability of life developing without a creator, you’re pretty much stuck working in the land of Bayesian probability. And you don’t get to just pull the number 0 out of your ass and assert that it’s the right answer. You need to show, by a careful and valid process of inference, that you can measure a set of relevant priors, and combine them in a valid way to produce a meaningful assessment of the actual probability.
    And that process can’t produce an answer of zero unless you can demonstrate something specific that is absolutely, undeniably, unquestionably impossible. But if you could do that, you wouldn’t need to talk about probability at all.
    So claiming a probability of zero is nothing but a demonstration of your lack of comprehension of probability.
    There are reasonable arguments about how life came into being. And I personally believe that there’s room for the religious idea of a creator – as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a religious Jew. But arguments like this prove nothing. Sloppy arguments that don’t really answer the deep questions, they’re just rhetorical sticks with which to beat your opponents. Ultimately, they have no real value.

    Reply
  28. Peter

    Mark
    You are making a number of errors.
    You are assuming that a meta-universe is the only meaningful view. This is not true. Meta means with. You are assuming a connection when there does not need to be. They may be completely independent. To say that all other views are meaningless is like arguing against an axiom. From this mistake you progress into your second mistake in assuming that our universe is a sub-set and our times are related. This is where the infinite regress problem arises. However, you do not have any conception of what time may be like in the ‘meta-verse.’ It may be the same as ours as you are arguing or it may be different. It may be infinite in time like scientists mistakenly assumed our universe was. In which case there is no infinite regress.
    re: Dawkings (Third:) – splitting hairs. I can’t see a meaningful difference.
    You seem to think all knowledge is derived from mathematics when in fact mathematics is a sub-set of all knowledge.
    from Wikipedia
    “In physical cosmology, the cosmological constant (usually denoted by the Greek capital letter lambda: őõ) was proposed by Albert Einstein as a modification of his original theory of general relativity to achieve a stationary universe. Einstein abandoned the concept after the observation of the Hubble redshift indicated that the universe might not be stationary. However, the discovery of cosmic acceleration in the 1990s has renewed interest in a cosmological constant.”
    stationary => not expanding => infinite
    (fifth:) see above
    (sixth:) Probability is an estimate of an underlying distribution, not the distrution itself. It is possible to estimate the probability of discovering the origin of life given the long history of failed attempts. You don’t need to assess all priors. If one has a zero probabilty then that pretty much ends it, zero*any positive probability is still zero.
    Please try to be a more thoughtful in your replies.
    (off topic: I am a big fan of Google. I wish it every success in competition with the convicted enterprise Microsoft. I’m buying an Android phone as soon as it comes out in Canada. I use google docs for my finances. I wish the word processer had a footnote function. Could you add that for me? That would make writing my papers so much easier.)

    Reply
  29. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    FWIW: I agree with most everything Mark says. So, to complement:

    Living cells require 100% homo-chirality. There are zero natural processes to do this.

    We don’t know that.
    In fact, we know that specific molecules are created with specific chirality. Most amino acids are L, but famously there are D-amino acids in bacteria cell walls – which is why penicillin works on them and not us.
    The natural processes that produces chirality is chemical reactions. In fact, that is why you see a certain preference in biological tissue.
    There are many hypotheses how enantiomeric excess occurs in chemical pathways. Most often applicable to local pockets with mineral surfaces, which is the kind of environment where it is thought abiogenesis occurred.

    Looking at the necessity for rna, dna, proteins, and a complex cell membrane to come together and work through natural processes just boggles the mind.

    Now you are confusing todays evolved cells with abiogenesis systems. For example, RNA alone can substitute for DNA and proteins in chemical pathways. See btw the above link, which walk you through s simple pathway for how the DNA-protein code developed.

    Given the best biological information we have the best estimate of the probability of a natural creation of life (which Dawking’s [sic] agrees with) is zero.

    And now you are plain lying. Dawkins thinks abiogenesis occurred, not for example panspermia. Read his review of Expelled, or even better read his books and learn to spell his name.

    Reply
  30. Anonymous

    “In physical cosmology, the cosmological constant (usually denoted by the Greek capital letter lambda: őõ) was proposed by Albert Einstein as a modification of his original theory of general relativity to achieve a stationary universe. Einstein abandoned the concept after the observation of the Hubble redshift indicated that the universe might not be stationary. However, the discovery of cosmic acceleration in the 1990s has renewed interest in a cosmological constant.”

    Note how this directly contradict your previous claim about why it was an (impossible) “origin” that caused Einstein to remove his constant, that it was a mistake (it is now an important part of the current concordance cosmology), or that he was wrong (previous observations couldn’t reach out far enough to detect the expansion). Instead the stationary universe models were wrong, as is the idea that there is an “origin” center point of the universe.
    But nothing of this speaks for Sewell’s sloppy math, nor have relevance for abiogenesis which is decided by the age of Earth. Which makes me wonder why you raise this issue (which you evidently don’t know much about).
    Oh, at least you have learned to spell to Einstein now. Can you also spell “Dawkins”?

    Reply
  31. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    Peter:
    As I said before: the only way to get a zero probability is to show that there is a necessary prior which is impossible. Which is the same thing that you state.
    But if you can show that life requires an impossible prior, then you have no need to talk about probability. But you don’t have anything like an impossible prior. And you don’t have a probability calculation. All you have is a blind assertion that it must be zero.
    And once again, you’re wasting time getting bogged down on word games. You’re the one who asserted that you could talk about time before the universe began, by invoking “hyperspace”. Now you want to play fuzz, fuddle around with the meaning of “meta”, etc., because you know that you’ve got no argument.
    You want to talk about the “time” before the universe began. And you want to be able to talk about it in terms of time as we understand it – with causality, ordering, etc. But you don’t want to face what that implies.
    You again play the fuzz card – if there’s a meta-universe with meta-time, then we don’t know how it behaves, etc. But if that’s true, then *your argument* about why the ‘time before the universe began implies a creator” fails -because unless “meta-time” has the same causality and ordering properties that we associate with time in our universe, then your arguments don’t work.
    Further – you can look up cosmological constant on wikipedia. But you still don’t understand what it means. How does Einstein’s insertion of a constant to try to create a steady-state universe in any way support you?
    WRT to Dawkins: it’s not splitting hairs. Dawkins is very clear about what he thinks. He absolutely does not believe in any kind of creator, nor in any kind of intelligent design. He believes that life is strictly the result of natural processes. He’s not a supporter of panspermia. His only mention of panspermia was in response to a question about whether there was any imaginable scenario intelligent design – and his reason for invoking panspermia was specifically to say that even if there was an intelligent designer, it would, itself, be the result of a natural, non-intelligently designed
    process. That’s a huge distinction: it’s an utter rejection of the idea that life is the result of a supernatural intervention.

    Reply
  32. MartinM

    Einstien and Nasa both know that the universe had a beginning. Nasa has quantified it at 13.7 billion years ago.

    This is still wrong, and repeating it will make it no less wrong. Past-eternal models exist; your ignorance of basic cosmology is not going to convince anyone. Unless you feel like earning yourself a Nobel by actually proving that the Universe must have had a beginning, I suggest you stop digging.

    According to all our experiences, things that begin have a cause.

    This is wrong too. See, for example, the entire field of quantum physics.

    Reply
  33. Peter

    #37
    “Past-eternal models exist; your ignorance of basic cosmology is not going to convince anyone.”
    Which models? Who believes in them? Obviously NASA doesn’t. Do you know anything of the WMAP missions?
    So you have discovered that there is no more cause and effect. I wasn’t aware that quantum mechanics nullified cause and effect. Any reference would be better then this shallow reply. How about some substance.

    Reply
  34. Damian

    Peter:
    13.7 billion years corresponds to the time that the universe has existed in its currently expanding state. We are not sure what it looked like prior to that, or even what that actually means.
    Put it this way, is it even possible for there to have been nothing? Think about it. What would nothing look like? Positing a creator does precisely nothing to help us find an answer to the quandary — scientifically, at least.

    Reply
  35. Jonathan Vos Post

    Prof. Carroll (at my alma mater Caltech) recently commented on Scott Aaronson’s blog:
    Sean Carroll: “this theory makes a strong prediction: we (typical observers) should live in the “atmosphere” of Hawking radiation around supermassive black holes in the far future.”
    Basically true.
    As I suggested in detail, in print, in 1991, if we are typical observers, then we ARE in fact made of Hawking radiation. But it is overwhelming likely to be SO far in the future that all black holes have evaporated.
    Things were odd enough when we seemed to live peculiarly close the mid-life of the universe. But now it *** seems *** we live
    infinitesimally close to the birth of the universe …
    [as discussed on “Unusual Features of Our Place In the Universe That Have Obvious Anthropic Explanations” | Cosmic Variance

    # Most of the energy in the universe is dark energy. And yet, we are made of matter.
    # The post-Big-Bang lifespan of the universe is very plausibly infinite. And yet, we find ourselves living within the first few tens of billions of years (a finite interval) after the Bang.
    … which produced a motley range of comments varying from funny to
    thoughtful to eccentric. One of them was particularly hard to place

    Jonathan Vos Post on Aug 8th, 2007 at 11:52 am
    …. “As to the far future, my article on this, which cited Freeman Dyson and others, which first published the idea that we are most likely simulations by a far future dilute electron positron [Hawking
    radiation] plasma civilization, and which served as the extensively quoted basis (quotation marks accidentally omitted) of some Greg Benford novels, is:
    “Human Destiny and the End of Time” [Quantum, No.39, Winter 1991/1992,
    Thrust Publications, 8217 Langport Terrace, Gaithersburg, MD 20877]
    ISSN 0198-6686
    In fairness to Benford, who I think is being criticized here [Cosmic Variance], science fiction writers have been talking about ‘life in a simulation’ at least since the early 1980s [seriously, and more speculatively in Philip K. Dick and in the 1964 novel Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye, loosely adapted later to the film “The 13th Floor”] and I dimly recall Dyson as talking about it eons ago.
    Prof. Gregory Benford and I have been friends since about the late 1970s. We have done many panel discussions together, and have visited each other’s homes. I am not criticizing him. He told me that he read and enjoyed “Human Destiny and the End of Time” and made handwritten notes on it. Some of those notes made it into his brilliant Galactic Core novels, with entirely italicized poetic passages, sometimes using several sentences from my article. He said that he accidentally omitted quotation marks when he quoted me, primarily about far future electron-positron civilizations simulating the ancient days of solid
    matter, when intelligent beings lived on planets.
    Yes, Science Fiction predated Bostrom (some British non-scientist) with his belated rediscovery of the concept, and it is he and his cult of defamatory plagiarist followers Hanson and Yudkowsky et al., who are at fault for insufficiently citing prior art. In Science Fiction, that is
    okay. In refereed journal articles, it is generally unacceptable, as academic protocol. Hanson and Yudkowsky, and their sex-cult, have been actively defaming myself, Prof. Fellman, internet pioneer John Sokol, and others. They keep losing their tax exempt status and moving to a new state to restart.
    Hence my professor coauthors and I have to keep repeating that 1991 was the date when it was first in print that we are almost surely simulations running in systems built of Hawking radiation.
    We’ve been repeating that for googols of years.
    We’ll eventually stop because the temperature of the universe is NOT asymptotic to zero, due to Hawking radiation from the universe’s horizon, and our simulation mechanism will eventually cook to death at nanokelvins.

    Reply
  36. Peter

    Damian
    “13.7 billion years corresponds to the time that the universe has existed in its currently expanding state. We are not sure what it looked like prior to that, or even what that actually means.”
    This is not quite correct. Time did not begin at the expansion, but with the creation of matter. By 1970 Hawking, Ellis, and Penrose developed the space-time theorem of general relativity which showed that space and time began at the big bang instantaneously with the beginning of matter.
    “Put it this way, is it even possible for there to have been nothing? Think about it. What would nothing look like? Positing a creator does precisely nothing to help us find an answer to the quandary — scientifically, at least.”
    This is correct. Science can not perform an experiment if there is no matter and no time. Science can not explain the creation of the universe.

    Reply
  37. MartinM

    Which models?

    Off the top of my head, any number of inflationary models, various braneworld models, the pre-Big-Bang scenario…

    Who believes in them?

    I very much doubt you could find many cosmologists willing to commit either way.

    Obviously NASA doesn’t.

    Obviously you have no idea what anyone at NASA believes. This is what happens when you get your science from press releases.

    Do you know anything of the WMAP missions?

    Considerably more than you, I’m betting.

    So you have discovered that there is no more cause and effect.

    That is manifestly not what I said.

    I wasn’t aware that quantum mechanics nullified cause and effect.

    Then perhaps you could identify the cause of, say, a specific atom undergoing radioactive decay. Why that atom, and why then? Answer that, and the Nobel awaits.

    Any reference would be better then this shallow reply.

    If my reply seems shallow, it’s because you lack even a rudimentary knowledge of the physics you’re attempting to discuss.

    How about some substance.

    How about some research? It’s not my place to spoon-feed you. In future, inform yourself before you start babbling.

    By 1970 Hawking, Ellis, and Penrose developed the space-time theorem of general relativity which showed that space and time began at the big bang instantaneously with the beginning of matter.

    Hah! You’ve been listening to Hugh Ross, haven’t you? This should be entertaining. Please quote the space-time theorem of general relativity.

    Reply
  38. Peter

    MartinM
    I see you have said nothing of any substance so I gather you have nothing that refutes my comments. I was hoping to get some constructive criticism so that I could learn something, alas, this is not so.
    Your argument about cause and effect is non-sensical. It does not matter at all what happens in the sub-atomic level if the rest of reality has cause and effect. Consider it similar to the disparity between quantum physics and relativity. Both are goood theories, but are not reconcilable. In this case quantum uncertainty has no relevance to the cause and effect in our own lifes.
    In a debate people have to evidence. If you can’t supply any then your arguments are useless.

    Reply
  39. Peter

    MartinM
    Sorry about my grammarical mistake in the last post. The last line should read:
    In a debate people have to give evidence. If you can’t supply any then your arguments are useless.

    Reply
  40. MartinM

    I see you have said nothing of any substance so I gather you have nothing that refutes my comments. I was hoping to get some constructive criticism so that I could learn something, alas, this is not so.

    Well, there’s a novel strategy; simply dismiss a point-by-point rebuttal as ‘nothing of any substance.’ I suppose it saves the effort of actually producing a coherent argument.

    Your argument about cause and effect is non-sensical. It does not matter at all what happens in the sub-atomic level if the rest of reality has cause and effect. Consider it similar to the disparity between quantum physics and relativity. Both are goood theories, but are not reconcilable. In this case quantum uncertainty has no relevance to the cause and effect in our own lifes.

    On the contrary, it matters a great deal. If causality is an emergent phenomenon present only in situtations where classical physics provides a reasonable approximation, then your previous argument – that the Universe had a beginning, and therefore a cause – holds only if quantum effects were not important in the early Universe.

    In a debate people have to give evidence. If you can’t supply any then your arguments are useless.

    Oh, come off it. You’ve claimed multiple times that the Universe is not past-eternal, and provided precisely no evidence in support. Finally, at #41, you provide a single supporting theorem, and when asked to quote it, you fail to do so. You’re in no position to talk about unsupported arguments.

    Reply
  41. Peter

    If causality is an emergent phenomenon present only in situtations where classical physics provides a reasonable approximation…

    Speculative, not a rebuttal, but only conjecture.

    then your previous argument – that the Universe had a beginning, and therefore a cause – holds only if quantum effects were not important in the early Universe.

    An interesting point, but again you are speculating. From a strictly scientific view, quantum mechanics have been defined mathematically and therefore there exists order within it. While an event does not cause a repeatable result, there is still a set of probable outcomes. All cause and effect has not disappeared. Even if classical mechanics do not apply at the origin of the universe and quantum mechanics rule, that does not mean that all cause and effect has be eliminated. If I were to speculate I would guess that the uncertainty in the experiments was not due to the physics, but the our limitions in observing the extremely small particles. Therefore, even if your speculation is granted and the limitation of experimentation is ignored you still have not made your point.

    You’ve claimed multiple times that the Universe is not past-eternal, and provided precisely no evidence in support. Finally, at #41, you provide a single supporting theorem, and when asked to quote it, you fail to do so. You’re in no position to talk about unsupported arguments.

    To begin with I have no idea what a past-eternal universe is. I refered to the space-time theorem of general relativity. If my understanding is incorrect I would appreciate being shown why. If I said “The theorem implies that space-time singularities are to be expected if either the universe is spatially closed or there is an ‘object’ undergoing relativistic gravitational collapse…” or “…any space-time satisfying (Einstein’s equations) possesses a singularity” then, while I may be a little more accurate, I don’t think I would be communicating my point as effectively.

    Reply
  42. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    FWIW, catching up on old threads:
    @ Peter:

    To begin with I have no idea what a past-eternal universe is. I referred to the space-time theorem of general relativity.

    Those are mutually exclusive statements, as you claim this theorem would bear on time in past-eternal universes (eternal when following timelines, or rather worldlines, back in time).
    The challenge was to present this hallowed theorem. You couldn’t, and the reason is that your creationist “friend” lied to you – there is no such theorem.

    Reply
  43. Peter

    Those are mutually exclusive statements

    Do you mean contradictory?

    as you claim this theorem would bear on time in past-eternal universes (eternal when following timelines, or rather worldlines, back in time).

    Sort of. The theorem I quoted proved there has to be a singularity in our space-time. Therefore there must have been a beginning of space-time. It can not say anything about “past-eternal” universes. This is beyond science. So in that regard my quote does not say anything about past-eternal universes. I think that you misunderstand the science. NASA has published the date of the universe. It is approximately 13.7 billion years old. Time therefore must have had a beginning in our universe. I did present the theorem which proves the space-time singularity which agrees with NASA. I suppose you could say that NASA is full of creationists because science shows time had a beginning. You can not however call them liars. Perhaps you should re-evaluate your world-view if it is forcing you to deny generally accepted science.
    By the way, what does OM and FWIW mean?

    Reply
  44. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Do you mean contradictory?

    No, GR spacetime ends before bigbang going back, so it can’t bear on past-eternal universes. (You need a larger theory for that.) You can chose one statement with the exclusion of the other.
    But GR spacetime doesn’t contradict that there can be past-eternal universes, it isn’t complete enough to do that.
    The problem is probably your “space-time theorem of general relativity”. Does it exist?

    The theorem I quoted proved there has to be a singularity in our space-time. Therefore there must have been a beginning of space-time. It can not say anything about “past-eternal” universes. This is beyond science.

    I think that is backwards. There is a theorem by Borde, Guth, et al (2001) that shows that past-directed geodesics run up against a boundlessly increasing blueshift in an expanding universe such as ours.
    But that doesn’t exclude past-eternal universes directly, only that if you follow local expanding volumes such as ours, you will run into a big bang type singularity in finite time. Guth admits that:

    There is of course no conclusion that an eternally inflating model must have a unique beginning, and no conclusion that there is an upper bound on the length of all backwards-going geodesics from a given point. There may be models with regions of contraction embedded within the expanding region that could evade our theorem. Aguirre and [49, 50] have proposed a model that evades our theorem, in which the arrow of time reverses at the t = – hypersurface, so the universe “expands” in both halves of the full de Sitter space. [My bold.]

    The theorem sets an upper bound on every geodesic, but that upper bound can be extended unboundedly back for some geodesics. (Not any we can observe, obviously.) Or you can glue two eternal future solutions back to back, as Aguirre et al did.
    You are exactly right, that theorem says nothing on past-eternal universes, as they can be constructed despite it. It predicts however that our part of the universe must have started in a singularity. Exactly what is observed.

    Perhaps you should re-evaluate your world-view if it is forcing you to deny generally accepted science.

    You labor under a misunderstanding. Of course I accept big bang.
    However, this process can only be observed to happen in our local Hubble volume. (But by observing so called cosmic variance, the universe must be at least an order of magnitude larger than that.) This volume can be embedded in those larger past-eternal universe solutions I describe above.
    In fact, there isn’t even a conflict between our observation that space is perfectly flat, suggesting an infinitely large universe, and such past-eternal universes. One can have local pocket universes of different size, each with its own spacetime constant time horizon (the horizon a local observer sees) of infinite size:

    Each pocket is internally an infinite open universe. [Fig 2.]

    So there isn’t any conflict between our universe big bang and cosmologies which are past-eternal.
    To recapitulate:
    – You claimed that abiogenesis is impossible. You implied it is because there has been a certain time period for it.
    This however isn’t a problem for abiogenesis, just ask the biologists. The open problem is to find a possible pathway thus testing that it is possible as predicted.
    – You claimed that Einstein “effectively destroyed the infinite universe theory”. This is, as so many argued here, bull. General relativity is an effective, not fundamental, theory, that can’t describe the singularity we see because it lacks quantum mechanics, and furthermore in combination with other physics directly implies possible past-eternal cosmologies.

    By the way, what does OM and FWIW mean?

    FWIW = For What It’s Worth.
    OM = Order of Molly.

    Reply
  45. Jonathan Vos Post

    What outsiders usually cannot see is that Mathematics, Computer Science, and Physics each have (for sociological reasons) an internal coherence. The garbage (such as Creationist Thermodynamics) by liars such as Granville Sewell hurl on a helpless public, EVEN IF IT WERE RIGHT (logically impossible due to self contradiction) is simply too far from the coherent mainstream, and thus requires explicit and direct justification.
    A deep statement by Atiyah, discussed by Gowers, recently in turn referenced by Terry Tao, explains why it might be a bad idea for String Theory (if “proven wrong”) reconsolidate itself as distinct departments away from Physics, as has been suggested, and discussed on the “Not Even Wrong” blog.
    Tao: “In fields such as nonlinear PDE (which Perelman’s result can broadly be included in), individual theorems tend not to be directly applicable much beyond their original intended use, but general ideas, strategies, tricks, and paradigms are often far broader. A similar point (using combinatorics as the primary example) is discussed in Gowers’ ‘two cultures’ paper
    http://www.dpmms.cam.ac.uk/~wtg10/2cultures.pdf
    Gowers citing Atiyah:
    “The ultimate justification for doing Mathematics is intimately related to its overall unity. If we grant that, on purely utilitarian grounds, mathematics justifies itself by some of its applications, then the whole of mathematics acquires a rationale provided it remains a connected whole. Any part that drifts away from the main body of the field has then to justify itself in a more direct fashion.”
    If String Theory has drifted away from the main body of Physics, or Mathematics, then (however beautiful it may be) it is sociologically subject to a demand for direct justification.

    Reply
  46. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    With due respect to Tao, Gowers, and Atiyah, capable mathematicians, and none what so ever for Woit, presumably capable net support, I think the implications of the informed discussion (i.e. Tao’s and Gower’s) is that string theory is a fruitful endeavor even if it doesn’t make contact with experiments. As a mathematical tool it has AFAIU lead to a deeper understanding of (avoidance of) singularities, dualities, supersymmetry and black hole entropy, to name a few results I hear of.
    There is a sociological discussion IIRC, but wasn’t that on the topic if such mainstream physics theories is a problem for the current physics society as it both inspire less investigation in alternatives and dis-inspire current investigation with only math results for a predictably long time? (Remember the protracted infancy of QM.)
    And, I would guess, not really fundamental math at that. Isn’t a math theory of second quantization still up for grabs?

    Reply
  47. Peter

    But GR spacetime doesn’t contradict that there can be past-eternal universes, it isn’t complete enough to do that.
    The problem is probably your “space-time theorem of general relativity”. Does it exist?

    No, the problem is that you have supplied no proof of past eternal universes.
    Guth admits “Although the infinity of pocket universes produced by eternal inflation are unobservable…” These are speculative universes that are purported to exist at the same time as our own. He also admits “But so far it is only wishful thinking to suppose that eternal inflation will allow us to determine the vacuum in which we should find ourselves.” And he concludes the article with “It is the success of these predictions that justifies spending time on the more speculative aspects of inflationary cosmology.”
    Vilenkin’s paper is in the same speculative vain. In his conclusion he admits that “The above definition is just a proposal. In fact, there is no guarantee that there is some unique measure that be used for making predictions in the multiverse.” He admits that actual tests have had some intriguing results, but fails to mention the results. This is certainly an indication that there is very weak empirical support for his paper. He does however make a verifiable prediction that we will hear more on this subject.
    While these articles are entertaining investigations, they discuss pocket universes that exist in our own time and certainly do not prove past-eternal universes.
    Abiogenesis is another speculative theory waiting for proof. The fossil record shows life starts rapidly, with complexity, and abundantly. Biology has shown that cell to be extremely complex. The only reason random selection has not been thrown out is because there is no other naturalistic explanation. I think it would be good for science to recognize a theory which calls for the spontaneous creation of life. That would fit the data. Also, you really can’t say you’re doing science if you have only one possible theory. In this situation your theory is not falsifiable. Science then would be more attractive to the broader public and the science education system may become more successful.

    You claimed that Einstein “effectively destroyed the infinite universe theory”. This is, as so many argued here, bull.

    I was referring to infinity in the past of our universe. I should have been more precise. Guth agrees: “Although inflation is generically eternal into the future, it is not eternal into the past: it can be proven under reasonable assumptions that the inflating region must be incomplete in past directions…”

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  48. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    FWIW, catching up on old threads.
    @ Peter:

    No, the problem is that you have supplied no proof of past eternal universes.

    Moving the goalposts, I see. Very well; we are discussing possibilities here, not final evidence.
    Regarding the papers, you come up with technicalities that doesn’t bear on the possibilities. This, btw, is wrong:

    they discuss pocket universes that exist in our own time

    They exist outside our own spacetime (of course), and there is a lot of problems in defining their “time”, as well as comparing with our own (however defined).

    Abiogenesis is another speculative theory waiting for proof.

    That has nothing to do with Granville’s thermodynamic crap. Nor with evolution, as you try to claim.

    I was referring to infinity in the past of our universe.

    So you have to agree with Guth then, that infinite universes are possible, despite our local observable volume had an end of inflation as your quote tells us. It was you who claimed that this larger universe needed a beginning.

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  49. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ Peter:

    you come up with technicalities

    Actually, I see you quote mine. That explains why you didn’t understand the paper – you didn’t read it.

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  50. Anonymous

    Just had time to get around to responding:

    Moving the goalposts, I see. Very well; we are discussing possibilities here, not final evidence.

    We are in agreement here and this is the crux of the matter. There is no “final evidence” as you put it of other universes, only speculation. So you can throw around all the talk you want about other universes. It is of no consequence at present to our understanding of the universe, and will continue to be until there is at least a shred of proof.

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  51. Jonathan Vos Post

    I see nothing wrong in what Torbj√∂rn Larsson’s written. For example: “‘Abiogenesis is another speculative theory waiting for proof.’ — That has nothing to do with Granville’s thermodynamic crap. Nor with evolution, as you try to claim.”
    I am currently, having taken a big pay cut from being a Professor of Astronomy and a Professor of Mathematics, teaching impovershed African-American and Hispanic teenagers Chemistry, Biology, Anatomy & PHysiology. We have been, for at least 3 weeks, in the unit on “Evolution” per the ernest but flawed California State Standards in Biology. Roughly 1/3 of my students are openly Creationists, but cannot articulate their arguments well. I am not praching to them. I am trying to increase the quaolity of the debate, but pushing them towards critical thinking about evidence, making coherent argruments, and recognizing that they get zero credit for handing a homework assignment which, after reading 2 pages of the cover story in Science 5 years ago on “Evolution in Action” and being asked to pick one single piece of cied evidence and giving an alternative explanation than the darwinian one, read in full: “I do not believe that I am related to monkeys. Because they are hairy and nasty.”
    The Dean came into my classroom, read that out lioud, and lectured them for 20 minutes about the reality of employment after high school. I did give 3 of 4 possible points to the student who wrote that (circling the paragraph on disease differences between species) perhaps chimps get brain cancer differently from humans because humans use cell phones and chimps don’t. Good argument. The proprietor of a Health Food grocery/restaurant where I mnentioned this laughed, and added: “And chimpanzees don’t eat at McDonald’s.”
    I augment the dumbed-down textbook with current articles from Science, New Scientist, sciencedaily.com, and the like. Until the Director of Operations and the Dean objected, I had the students learning the complete History and rules of Craps, and throwing many dice on the floors and tabletops. Without having good intuition AND the basic Math about Probability, one can neither understand Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, NOR the fraudulent Intelligent Design opposition.
    Note that 2009 is the bicenternnial of the birth of Drawin, and the sequicentennial of the publication of “On the Origin of Species.” So expect more sense and nonsense in collision. Actually, the pub date of the aforementioned book was 24/11/1859, and coincidently 24111859 is a prime number.
    Open any decent textbook on Medieval Philosophy, and you will find qualitative arguments for and against the universe being actually infinite in time. These were important in Theology, and drifted into natural Philsophy and other areas (i.e. the later Kantian moral argument from “eternal recurrence”).
    By about 500 years ago, any major such text in Arabic was either pro- or anti-Aristotle, but had to use his framework in argument; any major such text in Hebrew was either pro- or anti- the Arabic responses to Aristotle, but used that framework in argument; any major such text in Italian or English or French or the like was either pro- or anti- the Hebrew or Arabic responses to Aristotle, but used that framework in argument.
    I am reasonably sure that Descartes and Newton and Leibnitz and Galileo and Kepler knew many of those old arguments.
    What differs since Calculus joined the armamentarium is that the old arguments are re-cast quantitatively. There are a few new arguments, but it’s worth drawing the Venn diagrams to be clear on the old and new stuff, as they relate within the Ideocosm (the space of all possible ideas).

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  52. Jonathan Vos Post

    I don’t grade them on their penmanship nor grammar nor spelling, either.
    But, for the record:
    “PHysiology” should be “Physiology”
    “praching” should be “preaching”
    “quaolity” should be “quality”
    “cied” should be “cited”
    “darwinian” should be “Darwinian”
    “lioud” should be “loud”
    “bicenternnial” should be “bicentennial”
    “natural Philsophy” should be “Natural Philosophy”
    etcetera.
    Sorry.
    We now return to the program already in progress, where the infinite number of monkeys typing away are debating simultaneously about whether they are related to the manufacturers of the typewriters, whether there are really an infinite number of typewriters, and whether the experiment has been going on or not for an infinite length of time.

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