According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stephen Hawking, Multi-Universes, and God's Grander Design




God's Grander Design

by R.E. Slater
May 24, 2012


It is not enough that you should understand about applied science in order that
your work may increase man’s blessings. Concern for the man himself and his fate
must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors; concern for the
great unsolved problems of the organization of labor and the distribution of goods
in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse
to mankind. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.

- Albert Einstein
                            (http://www.bartleby.com/73/1661.html)


I have lately been re-reading Stephen Hawking's book, the Grand Design, with the purpose of re-acquainting myself with quantum physics in light of the added discoveries being made to Hawking's Big Bang singularity concept describing the quantum concepts of the "bang" itself. From which has lately been postulated a very large number of multi-universes that are being spawned within this same singular event. To this Brian Greene was recently featured in a Newsweek article describing this "singular event" as a continuing physical event spawning universes at a very rapid rate (perhaps at the rate of one per second! - although time wouldn't actually exist in this space, being warped and stretched) in a very efficient renewal of self-sustaining energy. Universes which differ from each other because each universe would have a different set of natural laws differing from not only our own cosmos, but from all of the other multi-universes being spawned as well. Universes that we cannot know, see, or test, because of self-limiting natural barriers that confines us to our own universe (unless, it is theorized, that another universe somehow "overlaps" into our own and disrupts the natural laws that we have discovered; which seems to me to be a good hypothesis to test). Universes which are being birthed from Planck-size specks of infinitesimal energy which instantaneously self-rejuvenate and rapidly inflate to span incredible cosmic distances (the size of our own universe, as example) in less than the flick of our eye lash. And then repeats itself again. And again. And again. At a very high rate of speed. It seems like science fiction. It reads like a mythic tale. But the quantum world of the multi-universe is mathematically real defying our abilities to comprehend the orders of magnitude of energy that this would require.

And with this statement comes the birth of M-theory which is a theory of all theories that cannot be resolved into a single theory of poetic elegance that was once thought possible through Einstein's General Relativity theory. It is a grand network of all irreducible quantum theories into a supercomposition of theories. Similar to the lattice-like membrane found in a sponge's internal lattice network where a multitude of mathematical formulas and quantum theories stand unresolved, but integral to one another. Each seeing a different portion of the quantum "pie" but each approaching quantum physics from a different line of perspective. And with each theory standing separate, but equal, in proposition and theoretical effect to one another. Consequently, I like to think of M-Theory as "Membrane-Theory" instead of similar intriguing linguistic derivatives of "master, miracle, magic, mystery, mystical, or even manifold (as in the Calabi-Yau manifold found in quantum strings; or even, as a manifold of M-Theories quantitatively)." Moreover, the membrane example is also useful to me for envisioning the lattice-like network of our universe's local-and-supercosmic-clusters extending in a grand web of galaxies which compose the internal structures of our universe. As well as the "membrane-like" dimensionality of vibrating torus strings folding in-and-out, and twisting-in upon themselves, that create the very substances of our physical universe (that is, its particles and forces). So that M, for membrane, can picture a lot of things necessary to an explanatory theory of our cosmos.

From M-Theory we get the scientific worlds of infinities, supergravity's supersymmetry (from which we then get torus string theory, point particles and p-branes), quantum uncertainty, curved space, quarks and forces (there are four: electro-magnetism, weak and strong nuclear, and gravitational), dimensionality and the birth of 10 to the 500 different universes each with 10 to the 500 different sets of natural laws (which is a lot). It all boils down to the observation that we live in a very unique cosmos. But apparently one that isn't so unique after all, from the viewpoint of a "singular" cosmic event that we find replicated over-and-over-and-over in a very efficient, and never-ending stream of self-propagating, very high-energy creative events called singularities. Or singular cosmogonies. Or singular infinities that leaves with us a black hole to our linguistic understanding and symbolization in grasping the intense magnitude of God's ceaseless, majestic, mysterious, miraculous, mystical creation. Wherein divine action, through chaos and indeterminacy, is birthing never-ending worlds without-end.

And this is where the wonder comes in, for we once had thought (that is, in terms of newly devised quantum theorems over the past several decades) of our universe as collapsing in upon itself by the gravitational attraction of dark matter. A substance that we can't find or isolate but can measure as roughly 23% of the known universe (it makes up 84% of the known mass-energy of our universe - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_matter). In cosmological terms, once the Big Bang had spewed out our universe instantaneously, it then began a 5-6 billion year journey of collapsing inwardly upon itself. However, dark energy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_energy) then counter-acted the force of dark matter and reversed this process over the past 7.5 billion years (roughly). What is dark energy? We don't know. But it composes 73% of the universe and works as a repulsive force that accelerates the universes' expansion outward, leading scientists to propose that all will go cold and dark in scenarios known as the Big Freeze, the Big Rip, the Big Crunch, a Heat Event, or some similar kind of catastrophic cosmic ending (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_time).

So if we do the math and add dark matter's 23% of mass-energy to dark energy's 73% m.e. we come up with 96% of the universe as unknown. Which leaves 4% that we do know (or think we know), can see, and have measured - stuff like stars, planets, galaxies, local galaxy clusters, and super-clusters. Only 4%? Apparently so. The stuff that permeates - and radiates - uniformly throughout our cosmogony we don't understand. Nor is it the same as the vacuum of space which is a quantitatively barren desert of blackness that experiences quantum fluctuations, or jitters, of particles and (force) fields quivering in-and-out of existence.... meaning that space is never empty. Nor can it carry a zero value of energy because of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle but must always bear some minimal level of energy which we abstrusely call the "vacuum of space" (which seems more like an oxymoron actually) where elementary particles are in sparse existence (but virtual particles are infinitely numerous!).

What does this mean? That the Earth's evolution came from a very intricate history of cosmological inflation and formation. Without the Big Bang there would be no hydrogen, helium or lithium, the building blocks of the universe. Without stars blowing up as supernovas there would be no heavier elements used in the formation of carbon-based ecosystems. Without Earth itself absorbing the skewed collision of a Mars-sized planet there would be no Earth-moon symbiosis that gives to us Earth's rotational spin, the orbital incline around the Sun, the internal core mass of magnetic fields protecting us from cosmic radiation, or even the basic tidal / seasonal rhythms that sustains life. Without the outer planets absorbing the myriads of incoming stellar debris Earth would not exist. Without our own Milky Way in proximate constellation with Andromeda and other locally situated galaxies there would be additional correspondent fluctuations and disturbances created upon our Sun - or even the Milky Way's very own black hole sitting in the middle of it! Each of these factors tell us that we live a very delicate balance between life and lifelessness (which is yet another one of those things that we may infer from M-Theory's postulations).

Essentially this means that life on Earth developed because it could develop under these scenarios. Without those indeterminant coincidences there would be no us. And from part 1's earlier argument it has been said that this randomness is but the beauty of the creational sovereignty of God's rulership. From chaos, order. From darkness, light (Or is it from light to light?!). From nothing, all. (Which refers to ex nihilo creation; though I am beginning to re-think this paradigm in "both/and" terms but without necessarily identifying God as creation, and creation as God; which would then lead us to panentheism, which has already been discussed under the sidebars of "Theism;" which many process theologians posit but here I am positing a synthetic position called Relational Theism keeping some, but not all, of the elements of process theology). Hence, it could be said that we are a random creation bearing a random cosmic history. But when all is added up, and placed into epistemologic terms, we find rather the active activity of a Creator-God "nudging" the universe into formation so that it might bring forth living life which He may commune with, find pleasure in, and gain deep satisfaction from the work of His hands. Creating from joy (or even, from divine necessity) much like an artist creates out of the deep well-being of his soul, fashioning art to convey insight, purpose and artistic resonance from joy (or from a deep personal necessity) that reverberates within his soul of creative mastery and hollowed inspiration (meaning, us, our cosmos, and all that it contains!).

For the real mystery is that we are constituted as relational beings (science refers to man as sentient beings, which seems to be a mostly cold and impersonal pejorative). Who may walk in fellowship with the divine Godhead's co-Trinitarian fellowship, and each with the other, the finite with the infinite, the living with the everlasting. That we should not get lost in the numbers, and formulas, of scientific statements, discoveries, or arguments. But see the mystery of God through the grandness of His creation. A cosmic creation made all the grander in its design-and-outcome through astute and brilliant physicists like Stephen Hawking seeking the internal, quantum structures of natural laws, and consequently discovering the intricacies and wonders of God's natural laws, that some would deny ontologic purpose and design to. However, even agnostics and atheists cannot but declare the majesty of God's creation though they titillate on the epistemologic value of God's grander ontology and metaphysics of divine being and wisdom. Hence, if this is what we have discovered of our own known universe, can it be of any further value when inferring the wonder of God's power and depth of being? His knowledge and majesty? As Job was once asked by God, "Who darkens knowledge with words?" (Job 38.2)... So be the knowledge of man!"

In part 3, I will describe quantum indeterminacy, some aspects of quantum physics itself, and speak to probabilities and histories, all of which forms the subject lines of today's commentary but require some further examination as we continue the theme of divine action and process theology from part 1's discussion. For now, I wish only to take the discoveries of science and apply them to the larger design of our universe. One that is as mysterious as it is majestic. As convoluted as it seems plain. To envision a Godhead that is vast, fearsome, and beautiful. And to think through the incredibility of this Earth's evolution from the aspect of its wondrous cosmological origins.



Job 38

English Standard Version (ESV)

The LORD Answers Job

38 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Dress for action[a] like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
9 when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed?’

12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
13 that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
14 It is changed like clay under the seal,
and its features stand out like a garment.

15 From the wicked their light is withheld,
and their uplifted arm is broken.

16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
    Declare, if you know all this.

19 “Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
20 that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
21 You know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!



Job 40

English Standard Version (ESV)

40 And the Lord said to Job:

2 “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Job Promises Silence

3 Then Job answered the Lord and said:

4 “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
5 I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.”


* * * * * * * * * * *



continue to -

Index to past articles on "Particle Physics, Quantum Science, and the Universe"





Other related articles that I've written may be found here:

Allowing Indeterminancy and Randomness in God's Creation


That’s Random! A Look at Viral Self-Assembly
May 16, 2012
Related topics: Math/Physics/Chemistry


"The BioLogos Forum" frequently features essays from The BioLogos Foundation's leaders and Senior Fellows. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Today's entry was written by Kathryn Applegate. Kathryn Applegate is Program Director at The BioLogos Foundation. She received her PhD in computational cell biology at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. At Scripps, she developed computer vision software tools for analyzing the cell's infrastructure, the cytoskeleton.

That’s Random! A Look at Viral Self-AssemblyWhile the BioLogos Forum continues to bring new voices and ideas to the science and faith conversation, it is also worth looking back to essays and articles we've posted previously–especially when they touch on topics we're approaching from other angles right now. As the connected concepts of divine action, chance, and purpose in evolution are the subject of active discussion in recent posts and among our commenters, we wanted to highlight this essay from Kathryn Applegate on what randomness as a scientific concept really entails.

You hear it all the time: “That’s so random!” When used by people of my generation, the word “random” can simply mean “cool” or “surprising.” Or it can mean something like “disconnected,” as in the phrase, “I had a random thought” (which returns 189,000 hits on Google, by the way—random!).

Despite this usage, most of us know that randomness has something to do with probability, and that it often implies a lack of conscious intentionality. But what do mathematicians and scientists mean when they say something is random? Can a random process lead to an ordered, even predictable outcome? Is there evidence that God makes use of random processes to fulfill his creative purposes?

These are big questions, and we won’t address them all today. But I think randomness is an important topic to cover for two reasons: 1) it is integral to many processes in biology (and math, physics, chemistry, etc.), and 2) it is commonly misunderstood to be incompatible with Christianity.

As I said above, most of us know that randomness has something to do with probability. If you pick a card “at random” from a shuffled deck, you have a small probability of drawing an ace (4 out of 52, or a 7.7% chance). If you flip a coin, you have an equal probability of getting heads or tails.

Randomness also seems to imply a lack of intentionality or purposefulness. After all, you might hope for an ace when you draw a card, but you can’t choose one on purpose. You might call heads when you flip a coin, but you can’t know beforehand what the outcome will be. Thus the outcome is indeterminate, but is it purposeless? Not necessarily. Indeterminacy simply means the result cannot be predicted from the outset.

It should be noted that indeterminacy does not imply that God does not have foreknowledge of future events. Christians ought not to be uncomfortable with the idea of God interacting with his creation through chance. We often describe a seemingly-random (i.e. unplanned by us) sequence of events as being “providential,” or planned by God. A good introduction to the way divine action could drive physical processes can be found in this Question.

In biology, it is very hard or impossible to calculate precise probabilities for most processes, so when we say a process is random, we typically mean it is extremely unpredictable. Eventually we will discuss randomness within biological evolution, but first we must consider some simpler processes, like the self-assembly of a virus.

Viruses are remarkably efficient entities. Coiled tightly within a protein-based shell is a small amount of DNA needed for self-replication. The shell, called a capsid, is made of many repeating protein subunits and is therefore highly symmetrical (see figure). Important biomedical insights have certainly been gleaned from structural studies of viruses, but viruses also teach us about the emergence of order from non-order.

The virus life cycle has four main steps: 1) enter a host cell, 2) hijack the cell’s replication and translation machinery to make many copies of itself, 3) assemble into many virus particles, and 4) exit the cell to invade another host.

When I first learned about this process, I found it very hard to believe it just “happens.” The idea that a bunch of molecules bumping into each other inside a crowded cell could spontaneously assembly into a fully-functional virus seemed a bit far-fetched. Many viral capsids have over 100 protein subunits that must interact with each other in just the right way, or it won’t work. Surely there must be something driving this process, right?

There is! Random motion. I had to see it to believe it. I distinctly remember sitting in class during my first year of graduate school when the professor demonstrated self-assembly of a virus using a 3D model as shown in the following video. In less than 30 seconds, you can watch a jumbled heap of proteins become a beautifully ordered structure.

self assembling virus



As the narrator explains, sub-assemblies form and break apart en route to the most stable structure, the full capsid. As the sub-assemblies begin to form, further associations with free subunits become more favorable and as a result occur rapidly, while the final steps may take considerably longer. While the subunits in the model are rigid, in reality the proteins take on multiple conformations, allowing the capsid to “breathe.”

Amazing as it is, the system we just considered—one virus capsid in a jar—is pretty simple. One wonders how self-assembly can happen in a crowded cell, where there are countless other molecules diffusing around, potentially getting in the way. We can’t directly see how it happens in a cell, but we can reconstitute the process in a test tube using different combinations of constituent molecules.

Consider two viruses, where each protein subunit in one virus is the mirror image of the corresponding subunit in the other. Putting the two viruses together by hand would be pretty tricky, because the constituent parts look so similar. But random motion can do the job in short order:

chiral resolution of virus models



From this model, we can see clearly, in real-time, how distinct complex structures can arise from their parts randomly interacting with one another. Many large viruses also use special scaffolding proteins to assist in the assembly process, and some even use their own genomes as a scaffold. In addition, two closely-related viruses that happen to infect the same cell can exchange parts to create a new virus. This is one way viruses can evolve quickly to evade the host’s immune system.

Here we have seen how viruses demonstrate a principle inherent in God’s world—that order can emerge out of chaos from random processes. In my next post, we will look at some other biological processes that make use of—rather, depend on—randomness. This will set the stage for us to see that such processes can not only assemble a structure within seconds or minutes, but also generate complex, information-bearing molecules over billions of years. Even though the freedom inherent in nature sometimes produces unintelligently-designed structures (like viruses, which can kill us), we see that God has made, and continues to oversee by his providence, a good creation that, at least in part, is capable of creating itself.