Augustine I, II, and III

Review of St Augustine's critique:
  1. Creation, time/space not eternal. Contra Plato & the Greeks
  2. Ex nihilo, matter not indestructible. Contra gnosticism
  3. Contingent, creation not required. Contra stoics
Augustine's critique lasted 1000 years, but Naturalism rose again in the 18th century. (Pierre Gassendi credited with the revival in the previous century.)
The modern version of naturalism contradicted Augustine:
  1. Time is eternal. There are no beginnings, no creation event, no creator God.
  2. Matter is eternal. Atoms indestructible. They are the eternal subject of physics laws, "trying every combination available in phase space."
  3. Laws of Nature Require this universe. Evolution, Galaxies, life etc. must occur given matter and physics and time.

Augustine I

So what have we shown with Einstein?
(a) Because matter bends space, the solutions to General Relativity are either expanding or contracting. (There is a vanishingly small probability that they rest in unstable equilibrium, doing neither, but experimentally the universe appears to have only 1/10 the critical density.) That is, there are NONE that stay exactly the same!
(b)Edwin Hubble showed that galaxies are moving faster from us, the farther away they are. This has been described as the same result if we drew dots on a balloon and then blew it up. In other words, the universe is expanding.
(c) Gamow extrapolated backward and showed that near the beginning, the universe was hot. Two results this theory predicted were: (i) the H/He ratio of the universe; (ii) Light would be emitted from the hot matter the moment it cooled enough to permit light through--i.e. the moment the universe cooled down from the plasma state to the gaseous state and became transparent. These predictions became more and more elaborate until in 1962(?) two Bell Lab scientists discovered, quite by accident, the predicted radiation and received the Nobel prize.

The Big Bang

Once Einstein accepted the idea that the Universe was expanding and deleted his cosmological constant, it looked like a clear victory for Augustine. Astronomers and cosmologists alike found this most disconcerting, as reported in Robert Jastrow's book "God and the Astronomers". George Gamow published several papers on this creation event, which was ridiculed by Hoyle as "the big bang" theory. The name stuck, despite its pejorative intention, but the data was refuted by many scientists who could not abide the metaphysics that came with the idea of a creation. Prominent among them were the self-professed atheist, Hoyle, along with many less famous scientists.

Hoyle proposed alternatives, such as the steady state universe in which the universe is expanding, yet remains "flat" and eternal by the spontaneous continual creation of hydrogen in between the stars, so as to fill up the empty spaces. This theory ran into difficulties immediately, and was clearly inconsistent with the data, so Hoyle tried another tack. He would take the Big Bang theory and calculate a prediction of the H/He ratio in the early universe. But when his students finished the calculation, it agreed with experimental results. Such were the statements made by Hoyle (along with those made a century earlier by Tyndall), that it was clear the issues were all about metaphysics.

Nevertheless, it seemed possible that other alternative mechanisms might explain the H/He ratio, and the Big Bang theory remained controversial. The coup de grace came with the discovery of the primordial radiation field, the microwave background radiation discovered by Penzias and Wilson in 1961, but predicted over a decade earlier.

The 3o Blackbody Radiation

The story is quite fascinating for its personal touch, and has been retold many times, about how they were attempting to build a satellite radio reciever from an old microwave horn, but couldn't get rid of the annoying background noise. Some details in the story always amaze me. The fact that a few miles down the road from the Bell Lab antenna, was the Princeton theoretical physicist who interpreted the results, yet never was awarded a Nobel prize. Or the fact that at least one of the two Bell Lab physicist was a strong Christian, with a commitment to creation. But for the sake of this course, perhaps we should describe why this result created such an immediate sensation.

This background is really easy to calculate, so lets give it a try. Suppose one had a bottle of hydrogen gas and heated it really hot. At some point, where the collisional energy of the hydrogen exceeds 13eV (a couple of million degrees hot!), the collisions of the gas atoms will knock off electrons and the gas will be composed not of neutral atoms, but charged protons and electrons. At this point, light will no longer penetrate the gas, because the electrons react or couple strongly to the light photons, making the mixture opaque to light. This was the condition of the universe at some point early in its expansion.

But as the universe continued to expand, it cooled, and the electrons found the protons and became atoms again. When they recombined, they emitted photons of roughly 13eV, that travelled far and wide in the newly transparent universe. Now the universe didn't stop expanding at this point, it continued to enlarge at a more-or-less constant rate determined by Hubble. So after 15 billion years, give or take a few, those 13 eV photons have stretched along with the space-time of the universe, which is equivalent to saying that the photons have cooled by expanding, or one last view is to say that they lost energy as they climb out of the gravity well of the big bang. By using the Hubble time, one can quickly calculate the "stretch" factor of the universe, and the resulting temperature of the 13 eV photon. Gamow calculated the cooled photon had a temperature (the energy and temperature are related by Boltzmann's constant, E=kT) of 5 degrees above absolute zero. So when Penzias and Wilson discovered that the sky was radiating at 3o above absolute zero, it created a sensation. Not only was the big bang theory confirmed, but there was no other theory to account for this radiation. Overnight, the detested Big Bang became accepted theory.

Augustine II

As we had discussed earlier, Einstein had predicted, in his fabulous year of 1905, that E=mc2. In the penultimate sentence of his short paper, he thought that this result might explain radioactivity. This was an understatement, but we have to plug in some numbers to see why.

Mass - Energy Relations
electron9.1x10-31kg511 keV we weigh these and convert to energy
proton1x10-27kg939,000 keV
chemical bond ~0.001 keV we measure the energy and convert to mass
nuclear bond ~1,000 keV
1 Ton TNT 0.001 g average bomb
1 kg 235U1.0 gm nuclear bomb
Therefore nuclear bonds are roughly a million times stronger than electronic bonds, and the amount of mass converted to energy in a nuclear bomb is roughly a million times greater than in a chemical high explosive. This is why Einstein wrote a letter to president Roosevelt once the 235U results were published in the 1930's. However, this is all about "weighing energy". We still haven't figured out how to turn energy into matter.

This story begins with P.A.M. Dirac who was trying to reconcile Quantum Mechanics with Relativity, and in particular, explain the spin (the magnetic moment) of the electron. Perhaps a little chart will help delineate the various regimes.

That is, Newton explained physics in macroscopic terms: falling apples, moving planets. Einstein described what happens to these same objects when they start travelling an appreciable fraction of the speed of light, the theory of relativity. Bohr meanwhile was trying to understand truly small things like atoms and electrons, which didn't seem to obey Newton at all, with what became the theory of quantum mechanics. Dirac's contribution was to combine small and fast, Bohr and Einstein, in what became known as the relativistic quantum mechanics.

The first success of Dirac's formulation was to predict the spin of an electron. But the elegant mathematics of his equations also had a second solution he struggled to understand. It predicted electrons of negative energy with positive charge and opposite spin. It was sort of a mirror image electron. Dirac, like Einstein, trusted his math, and predicted the existence of these anti-electrons. It would look like the real thing, except opposite. Because it is opposite charge, it attracts electrons, and when the two come back together, the negative energy and positive energy solutions annihilate, releasing energy as light.

This prediction explained some strange data that was collected in photographic plates high up in the rareified air of the mountains where the Earth is irradiated in a rain of cosmic rays--energetic particles from space that do not make it through the dense smog over LA. Later this was confirmed in particle detectors such as cloud chambers and bubble tracks. That is, a particle or even a photon would collide with an atom in the detector and two equal mass but opposite charged particles would emerge. When a magnetic field was applied to the detector, the tracks would bend due to the Lorenz force into tight spirals, but mirror images of each other. Only electrons could make those tight spirals, and therefore the mirror image one must be a positive electron, just as Dirac had predicted. Two things were noted: (a) they always occur in a collision, because both momentum and energy are conserved. (Why? We have observed it so often that we have converted the generalization into a belief.) (b) The positive electrons often didn't live for very long, leaving short tracks.

[How to build a cloud chamber and do your own particle physics.]
Dirac got the Nobel prize for this prediction, of course, but it proved more than energy could be converted into particles; it meant that we could probe a little deeper into the Big Bang. We had said earlier that if a bottle of hydrogen gas were heated up to 13 eV, or, dividing by Boltzmann's constant, a few million degrees K, then the atoms came apart and made a plasma. Now from Dirac we know that if we heat our plasma up to 511 keV x 2 = 1022 keV, then our plasma becomes self-generating, making electrons and anti-electrons (called positrons) out of the void. But since the Big Bang is expanding and cooling, we need only run the movie backward to find the moment when the Universe was smaller and hotter. This is the thesis of the book "The First Three Minutes". And if the Universe could make electrons and positrons out of heat energy at some time before the plasma cooled, then it could make protons and neutrons out of heat energy at even earlier times, and so on back to the incredibly dense, hot, beginning where even protons didn't exist but only "quark-gluon soup".

This neat little picture, once we got accustomed to the idea of a creation, seemed to tie up a lot of loose ends. Maybe we can sort of accept Augustine I, and reduce Augustine II to a law of nature. That is, ex nihilo isn't so bad if we can see it as a necessity of energy cooling in an expanding universe, and nothing to do with a creator God at all. This is certainly the spin Davies puts on this TKO of materialism. But it won't wash. There's just a few loose ends that end up unravelling the picture.

Question 1: When matter is created out of the void, so is anti-matter. Where did all the anti-matter go?

  1. Uh, maybe every other solar system is anti-matter? Nope, we'd see the glow of annihilating stars. How about every other galaxy? Nope, we'd still see the glow.
  2. How about asymmetry in energy-->mass conversion? That is, for every 1 million anti-protons created, 1 million and one protons are made. Then after a million annihilations, we'd be left with just one kind of matter. And despite millions of bubble chamber photographs, we might never notice the asymmetry. (Do you notice this sounds a lot like steady-state universe theory?)

    Well, if this theory were correct, then it should also work in reverse, protons should decay spontaneously into energy, once in a great while. A huge salt mine in Japan was converted to a proton decay detector by studding the walls with phototubes and filling the mine with ultra-purified water. After a few years of nothing, the conclusion was that protons don't decay, and the Japanese converted their experiment into a neutrino detector.
  3. Well, how about hiding the anti-matter in, say, other universes? Or in spacetime warps? You know, you take a piece of spacetime and pinch it around a galaxy and you've put that matter into a wormhole. (Beam me up Scotty, there's no intelligent life down here.) The problem with this view is that its mostly science fiction. Worm holes don't exist unless you can find anti-gravity matter, and so on.

So we see that ex nihilo is not so easily brushed under the rug. Not only was creation needed, but we still don't know how the matter of our universe was created. We know it was created out of the void, but we have no law to explain it. Well, let's give Davies the benefit of the doubt, and say that someday, somehow, there will be a nice materialist explanation of where the antimatter went. Can we then explore what happened right before the quark-gluon plasma turned into matter?

Question 2: What came before the matter?

In special relativity, time is just like space (once we multiply by the speed of light, c, and the imaginary number, i. The i keeps track of the fact that when calculating distances in spacetime, d^2=x^2+y^2+z^2 -(ct)^2), the spatial dimensions add, but time subtracts from the distance.) So we can make little plots of spacetime, usually leaving out y and z, since a piece of paper handles two dimensions most conveniently. These spacetime plots look like:
 ^    Future
 |    \   p / light ray/cone
 |     \   /
 |      \ /
 |  Now  x    q     
 |      / \ 
 |     /   \
 |    / Past\
 --------------> x
The present lies at point x. If a flash bulb goes off at x, then the light travels outward along the diagonal lines whose slope indicate the speed of light. Remembering that y- and z-axes have been suppressed, we mentally rotate this light pulse around the t-axis and refer to it as the "light cone". Since nothing travels faster than the speed of light, spacetime point "q" is inaccessible to "x", it is outside the light cone. That is, no matter what happens at q, it cannot affect x, and vice-versa. Then q and x are said to have a "space-like" spacetime separation. In contrast, point "p" is inside the lightcone and can be connected to point x by a path that is slower than light. Thus p and x have a "time-like" spacetime separation. Points that lie on the light cone are all simultaneous, and are said to have "light-like" spacetime separation.

Now in General Relativity, things get bent out of straight lines by gravity, but this picture is often used to describe the Big Bang anyway. The Universe is expanding at a rate somewhat slower than lightspeed, so we could put another cone inside the lightcone as a proxy for the "size" of the universe. We'd also throw away the bottom half of the picture as being irrelevant to our discussion.

So when we want to know about what came before the quark-gluon plasma, we end up at this point where the whole universe is compressed to a point. Mathematically we don't know how to treat this. It is a mathematical "singularity", a non-integrable point in the equations. But even before it goes singular in the math, it gets singular in the physics. This is because the Heisenberg uncertainty principle says dE x dt = h, or, dp x dx = h. So at very short times, dt-->0, the Energy can be anything. Or at very small scales, dx-->0, the momentum can be anything. This suggests that the universe gets "grainy" at really small scales, or that at some magnification everything gets blurry. When the Universe was this small and this young, we *really* don't know how to describe it.

Therefore, not only was the Universe constructed ex nihilo, but we can't even describe nihilo. We are intrinsically ignorant. No matter, no mind, no imagination can pierce that nothingness. To recap, Creation is necessary (Augustine I); and Ex nihilo is demanded (Augustine II). Can we avoid contingency (Augustine III)? Let me rephrase the question. If we can't explain what is happening, can we at least explain what didn't happen? That is, can we at least exclude a creator-God from the picture? Once again, we spot the same sort of effort in Hoyle and Bondi's steady state universe, or proton-decay assymetry, some sort of way out of design.

Augustine III

By 1965 then, two out of three of Augustine's points were confirmed and incorporated into acceptable science. The materialists were nervous. Naturalism was on the ropes. How could we avoid the conclusion that God was the author of the cosmos? There was a narrow window of opportunity afforded by law & chance. That is, if the universe and big bang could be described as merely the outcome of physical laws and chance, then despite its very real similarities to a Christian genesis, victory might be snatched from the jaws of defeat, for God would be seen to be unnecessary. It is this desperation that has Carl Sagan writing in the preface to Stephen Hawking's book "A brief history of time", that there is "nothing left for God to do." After finishing the book, one realizes that what Sagan found so compelling in Hawking's book was a postulated unobservable breakdown of general relativity when the universe was smaller than a quark, and no older than the Planck time (a decimal point followed by 34 zeros and a one seconds old.) Let's look at some of the arguments that have been proposed as a way out of design.
  1. Russian proposal--the Big Miss. After the expanding universe solution of GR had become accepted, there was a Russian proposal that suggested the Big Bang wasn't the beginning of the universe. Suppose that what looked like a radial expansion of the galaxies had some little variation in it, so that when the movie was run backward, the galaxies didn't all head for the same spot, but "missed" each other by small amounts and ran past each other. Then the singularity was avoided and the universe could be eternal once again. Stephen Hawking, with his advisor, Roger Penrose, put this theory to death in 1972, when they showed that the Big Bang looked like a black hole in reverse. Just as nothing escapes from a black hole once it is sucked into the gravitational well, so the Big Bang would have made a gravitational well which would never permit the galaxies to "miss", but would collapse them inevitably down to a singularity.
  2. Stephen Hawking's --"no boundary" proposal. But just as Hawking's thesis put another nail in the lid of materialism, it caused him, a dedicated materialist, a lot of mental anguish. He hated the idea that his life's work was over, that nothing more could be said about the Big Bang. He wanted somehow to resolve the singularity of ex nihilo and simultaneously remove Aristotle's 1st Cause argument for the existence of God.

    So Hawking invoked QM to argue that the origin of time, the point at the tip of the spacetime diagram was really not there. At truly short times, QM fluctuations remove the distinction between time and space, and the tip of the pin, so to speak, gets rounded off and blunted. What does this do? Well, it avoids having to pick an exact time for creation. Hawking says "it just is". Claiming that time is fuzzy so we don't know which of 1x10-30 seconds it began in doesn't seem like much of a change to me, especially considering the fact we can't see that far back anyway, but for Hawking it was a revolution. By bending time, Hawking says he has avoided a 1st event. He has made the universe itself self-generated. In the language of Aristotle, he has made the Universe necessary, e.g., God. At one stroke, Hawking feels, he has eliminated contingency and made ex nihilo understandable. No wonder he gets carried away.

    You know the old joke, if you call a lamb's tail a leg, how many legs does a lamb have? Four. Calling it one doesn't make it one. Likewise calling the creation event self-generated, doesn't make it so, nor does blunting a pin by less than the diameter of a proton, nay, less than the diameter of a quark make it any less sharp.
  3. A second argument for contingency comes from a similar vein as Hawking. Can we, in our imagination, explore this moment of creation even if it is lost in a singularity? That is, can we ask whether the contingent constants of the universe were designed or necessary? Contingency asks why do we have this and not that? The answer appears to be, that this was necessary for us to exist. Whoa! That suggests design. But if our existence is by chance then how can an accident be the purpose of this? The short answer is: it can't. Therefore either we aren't here by chance, or, the chance game isn't well understood.

    There is a whole raft of these same sorts of coincidences involved in the creation of the solar system, the placement of Jupiter, the masses of the planets. We could do this same analysis of Earth geophysics, the strength of the Earth's magnetic field, the size of the iron core, the plate tectonics of the crust and mantle. Nor are any field of science immune to this observation, we have already remarked on the strange properties of water, the peculiarities of carbon chemistry.

    The problem for Sagan, and it has remained a problem for all cosmology, is that no law of nature requires the universe. Nor does the universe appear to be a likely result of known physics laws. Quite the contrary, the universe is full of peculiar coincidences and broken symmetries. To rephrase this, the universe appears to be contingent, to have purpose, to be designed, which was Augustine's third point. Now to an Aristotelian, this contingency makes perfect sense, but in our modern materialist world, we need a re-education in teleology.

    A recent book by William Dembski, entitled "The Design Inference" details the contingency argument. He proposes the following algorithm to detect design: Now how does one decide "likely" in terms of chance? Dembski compares similar arguments from the mathematical literature and says a chance of 1:1050 is a weak threshold for design, though 1:10100 is even better. In other words, Dembski sets such a high threshold for design, that should his algorithm detect design, it won't be a false alarm. Dembski goes on to show that many such "design" detections are made in real life, from forensics to Sagan's favorite, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

    Applying these criteria to cosmology, we find a series of unlikely coincidences that cannot be attributed to laws of nature. One popular catalog of these cosmological coincidences is by Tipler and Barrow entitled "The Anthropic Principle". The coincidences are truly mind boggling and cannot be ignored. Some scientists try to weasel around (B), Richard Dawkins, for example, in "Blind Watchmaker". But Dawkins is a biologist, and (B) is a math concept ;). Hawking recognizes the difficulty of overriding (B) so he goes after (A)--which to a physicist is more true anyway since it is more reductionist.

The Anthropic Principle

There is a third possibility in avoiding Dembski's conclusion, that there is something wrong with our reasoning. It's a psychological argument, and quite post-modern despite being formulated by physicists. It goes something like this: Design is an emotional response, and if we weren't so emotional we wouldn't accept design. This reminds me of a famous psychology put down. Wait until your opponent has finally reached the climax of his argument and pauses for breath, then turn cooly toward him and say in a fake concerned voice, "Why, is it important to you?". This approach basically throws away 2 millenia of logic and adopts a "dumb question" response to contingency. Now that I've primed you, here's the approach.

We wouldn't be here if all these coincidences in nature were not this way. So we should not be surprised that we observe them, because they had to be there to be observed. I'm sorry, but here's another joke. An elderly Jewish man visits the corner deli and points to an item behind the glass asks for a quarter pound of roast beef. The deli clerk corrects him, "that's not beef, that's ham". In an affronted voice the customer replies "Did I ask you what it was?" So in my best Brooklyn accent, I reply, "Did I ask you how I felt?"

Trying to recast the problem as a psychological problem doesn't make it go away. The question remains as objective as ever, was it designed? Our two premises are: Either the universe was designed, or chance is not sufficiently understood. TO avoid the 1st conclusion, we might argue that chance is actually chancier than it looks. Back to William Dembski. We have to show that our universe was actually a chance event in line with statistics. Here's a few stabs at it.
  1. The Universe "bounces" each time it contracts. It has been doing this an infinite number of times and we further assume that each bounce tries out a whole new set of fundamental constants. Therefore at least once the constants look like this. Small probabilities can be made more probable by multiplying by a large number. Problem: Thermodynamics doesn't let us say this. Such a view violates physics, which of course, it has to if it changes the physical constants. Furthermore, there's absolutely zero evidence that a singularity can bounce. Finally, measuring the deacceleration rate of the universe seems to indicate that it will never contract.
  2. Okay, then how about gazillions of mini-universes, say, Guth's idea that a huge inflationary expansion (a brief period when gravity worked backwards so that the universe expanded really fast) permitted each cubic millimeter of a primordial universe to multiply. And each of these mini-universes gets a different set of constants to play with. Surely one of them will have all the ingredients correct. Wait, we can postulate further. Suppose the physics constants inherited by the baby universe differ a little from their parents (uh, sort of like sexual reproduction), then those universes that last longer and don't turn into black holes immediately, will reproduce more often. Voila! Universe evolution reproduces life.

    Problem: Need I really point out that universes aren't rabbits? Nor is there any justification for changing physical constants, wouldn't a "baby universe" have exactly the same constants as its parents? But really now, the word universe means "all there is", and so how can it be plural? Unless one means that hypothetical unmeasurable objects are needed to make our own condition more probable. In which case we should use the proper word for this hypothesis, metaphysics. So if I understand this position correctly, we are using one metaphysical construction (baby universes) to avoid another metaphysical construction (creator-God).

    However I propose that the two constructions are indistinguishable. Suppose in one universe, that has just the right expansion rate so as to last forever, a large computer evolves that learns how to access other universes. Making use of this ability, and infinite time to work in, this computer connects all the resources of infinite universes into a huge mental state that for convenience we will call "borg". Now since infinite universes are possible, somewhere the borg will exist, and once it exists it will insinuate itself into all other compatible universes, of which ours is one. The actions of the borg in our universe will be indistinguishable from a creator-God, and hence the two metaphysical constructs are one. (Lest you laugh at this attempt, I urge you to read Tipler's book "the Omega point".)
  3. Alright, maybe proliferating universes is a bit of a stretch. Perhaps we should try to solve just one of these coincidences, in the hope that sufficient minds attacking the problem will eventually explain away all the design features. Let's take Alan Guth's inflationary universe. The design feature he addresses is the critical balance between expansion rate and gravitational collapse that balances the force of the big bang with the matter density of the universe to one part in 1060 to obtain our present universe. If it expanded any faster, then galaxies would not form. If it expanded any slower, it would have collapsed into a black hole by now. Guth proposes that at some early stage of the universe, gravity acted backwards, and rapid expansion took place. Then gravity reverted back to normal, giving the appearance of a delicate balance, when in reality, any old universe could get to this point.

    Problem: it has no substantiation in experiment. No physical experiment has revealed "anti-gravity". And indeed, several measurements of the blackbody radiation with WMAP satellite now appear to rule out most of the proposed inflationary models. Again, it invokes an unmeasured (though possibly measurable) quantity purely to overcome a metaphysical problem.
In summary, many scientists are very uncomfortable with Augustine I, II, and III, and have used all their abilities to avoid the conclusion that a creator God made the world. Many of the resulting theories have little or no support, and reveal the metaphysical preferences of their creators better than agreement with the creation. As I have said earlier in the course, bad metaphysics destroys good physics. We have not seen the end of bad physics, but perhaps the beginning of the end. Augustine wins the 20th century, and it is likely the 21st as well, for the closer we peer into the workings of the universe, the more, not less, design we find.