Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Myth of the Clockwork Universe

It is amazing to behold the thought processes of fundamentalist Christians in action, especially when it comes to disciplines way beyond their ken, such as modern astrophysics, cosmology, and quantum mechanics. But determined to make fools of themselves, they nevertheless rush in and end up merely showing monumental ignorance – even as they try to castigate atheists and evolutionists.

It is instructive to look at some recent quotes in an evangelical blog to see how far off they are in terms of the way the cosmos actually works.

Let’s start with one of the most ignorant, egregious remarks ever to see the light of day on any blog:

Our universe works like a giant watch , vast in scale and complexity yet precise in its mechanics . Several decades of space exploration have shown the precision of the universe .

Let’s take this apart because there are two separate major fallacies in the two sentences. First, modern astrophysics shows the universe is anything but “like a giant watch”. The clockwork cosmos actually went out around the early 1920s when quantum mechanics came to the fore and introduced a large measure of acausality at the fundamental level of matter.

Unfortunately, while the practicing physicist or astronomer has long since had to adopt an indeterminate, non-mechanistic world view (e.g. guided by the experimental results from quantum physics), the same cannot be said for non-physicists, including theologians, philosophers and multitudes of laypersons – including evangelical bloggers, it seems.These groups continue to labor under erroneous assumptions of causality and "order" generated almost exclusively by an ignorance of modern physics. For example, an ignorance of the fact that simultaneous measurements at the atomic level are fundamentally indeterminate.

In cosmological terms, the whole concept of "order" has been relegated to a minor and tiny niche of the extant cosmos. For example, the recent balloon-borne Boomerang and MAXIMA UV measurements to do with Type I a supernovae, have disclosed a cosmic content:

7% - ordinary visible matter

93% - dark component, of which:

- 70% is DARK (vacuum) energy and

- 23% is dark matter

In effect, 93% of the universe can't even be assessed for "order" since it can't be seen! In the case of dark matter, one can only discern its presence indirectly by the visible effects on neighboring matter. In the case of dark energy, the underlying physical basis isn't even known - though we know the result is an increase in the acceleration of the universe (arising from a cosmic repulsion attributed to dark energy).

Even in the 7% that is ordinary matter, more than 99% is tied to plasma or ionized gases(for example in nebulae and interstellar or intergalactic gas). The segment of the cosmos that DOES display some degree of precision (e.g. our solar system, and the systems of other exo-planetary systems so far discovered) is probably barely 0.000000001% of the whole, if that. In other words, the fundie is extrapolating to the whole cosmos a property of “precision” that applies only to a very minor fraction. This commits the error of generalizing from the particular to the general.

The second fallacy is just that “space exploration has shown the precision of space”. No it has not. Space exploration has shown the validity of a branch of astronomy known as celestial mechanics in sending manned craft to other planets – to land and conduct experiments, such as the Mars Rover.

In other words, space exploration shows the precision of celestial mechanics, and how accurate it can be in getting manned craft to their destinations. Using it, we can predict the position of any planet at any future time, because we can measure and obtain orbital parameters that we feed into the basic equations, say, like me predicting where Jupiter will be on July 27, 2028, using the Lagrange expansion of Kepler's equation for elliptic motion, viz:

E = M + e* sin M + e^2/2 (sin 2M) + . . .

where E is the eccentric anomaly, M the mean anomaly and e the eccentricity of the orbit.

Again, the precision of celestial mechanics is NOT the same as the "precision of the universe" in a giant , clockwork sense. It is confined to the nearby planets of the solar system for which we can make thousands of observations for specific orbits, not the whole universe! We can’t measure any orbital parameters for any of the exo-planets, for example, because they are too distant.

The fundie compounds his ignorance even more by writing:

"It is because of this predictability that NASA can rely on split-second timing when launching men into space and sending spacecraft to explore planets so far away that it sometimes takes years to reach them even at speeds of thousands of miles per hour .”

Again, he’s mixing chalk and cheese. Launching men into space or sending spacecraft to Mars (see photo) or Venus is not the same logical context or category as claiming precision for the whole universe. That precision is only applicable to our tiny solar system – because the orbiting bodies (Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter etc.) are close enough to derive their orbital parameters (such as eccentricity, inclination of the orbit to the plane of the ecliptic and so on).

There is NO way we’d even attempt it through the sea of dark energy – since celestial mechanics would not work there. (Especially as gravity is repulsive not attractive). Once again, he confuses a limited objective or set of planetary missions (made possible by celestial mechanics) with a precision assumed for the entire cosmos - which simply isn't supported by the evidence.

A more serious error, since it confuses different sciences, is in this quote:

"Evolutionists' faith assumes that our unimaginably complex universe created itself or somehow came to exist from NOTHING !"

But "evolutionists" make no such assertion! Evolutionists, meaning researchers in the domain of Darwinian evolution, are exclusively concerned with the evolution of life on Earth, not with cosmic origin - which issues extend far beyond their purview. It is quantum cosmologists who -based on their mathematics - show how the cosmos can arise from nothing. As a spontaneous "burp" of dark energy from a conformal space time- leading to the Big Bang.

All such theories depend on the concept of “quantum bootstrapping”. This means, formulating a quantum fluctuation which could have incepted the cosmos via the Big Bang.

The starting point for these sorts of theories actually resides in a real world phenomenon: Particle production - wherein particles are created then quickly destroyed with energy release. The typical pi meson (call it pi) lasts 10^-16 sec then vanishes yielding two gamma ray photons in its wake,viz.

Pi -> gamma + gamma

Thus, rest energy is real energy and is capable of doing work. In the case of the pion above, the total mass 2.4 x 10^-28 kg, is converted to electromagnetic energy.

The amount of the energy can be estimated using the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in the energy-time format:

Delta (E) Delta (t) less than h/bar

Where h-bar = h/ 2 pi with h = 6.62 x 10^-34 J-s (the Planck constant)

Thus – if the time uncertainty for disappearance of the pi meson is dt = 10^-16s

Then the energy available that comes off is:

Delta (E) = (h-bar)/ delta t = 1.054 x 10^-18 J = 6.5 eV

In the same manner, a number of theoreticians (e.g. T. Padmanabhan) have speculated the universe could have emerged like the pi meson using the same basis for energy arising out of “nothing”.

Padmanabhan’s full paper - Universe Before Planck Time – A Quantum Gravity Model, can be found in Physical Review D, Vol. 28, No. 4, p. 756. Note here that it doesn't really matter how much the spontaneous inception concept blows an evangelical's mind (rudimentary as it is) or violates his notions of common sense or any of his limited mental maps. Unless he can disprove the mathematical basis, he could as well argue that wind isn't really matter in motion but spirits.

Even more codswallop can be found here:

"Conveniently sidestepping the issue of where matter and the universe originated , proponents of evolution begin with an existing universe operating according to precise and predictable laws . They recognize that those laws exist and function flawlessly . Yet they haven't the slightest idea of their origin . "

Actually, we DO! It is the fundie that doesn't because he assumes too much and doesn't have the necessary scientific background to discriminate between the levels of applicability and precision of the laws. In fact, barely 10% of natural laws operate in any domain remotely concerned with precision. These are mainly those based on Newtonian gravitation which are subsumed in celestial mechanics. However, 90% of the laws are not so precise, such as those pertaining to quantum mechanical descriptions (e.g. the probability waves in atoms - see diagram) and statistical mechanics - such as the entropy law where: s = log (g(N.m)) and g (N,m)is the number of accessible states for N particles of mass m each. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle alone is a law bearing the death sentence for any hope of simultaneous precision of measurements - say for both position(x) and momentum (p) for an electron. This shattered once and for all the notion that all natural laws are "precise and predictable" or yield such results.

As for the origin of the laws above, well they all came from human hands and research, at the expense of much blood, sweat and tears. And often wrong leads! The development of the mathematical basis for the 2nd law of thermodynamics (the "entropy law") engendered such mental pressure in Ludwig Boltzmann that he ended up taking his own life. Einstein, after deducing his fundamental law: E= mc squared from his principle of special relativity, worried night and day the insight would lead to a horrific new weapon - the Atomic bomb- which it did. He became so concerned he wrote a letter to FDR in 1939 begging him not to proceed with any bomb construction.

More rubbish:

They choose to ignore the overwhelming evidence that a great intelligence is behind these orderly and harmonious laws .

But the evidence doesn't support it! Given what I noted, that only a minority (10%) of laws are remotely based on precision, and that barely 0.000000001% of the universe (in isolated, scattered solar systems) is susceptible to precise computations, then that is no basis to claim existence of a "great intelligence". It falls down because the assumption that ALL the laws governing the cosmos are "orderly" and "harmonious" falls down. In addition, WHY would a "great intelligence" create a cosmos for which nearly 93% displays no order - far less precision? This type of cosmos instead bespeaks an accidental universe with a random basis physical "creator" not one of conscious design. IF the cosmos was ALL order, with zero dark energy and zero dark matter, that might point otherwise, but it simply doesn't!

Precision measurements of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), including data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), have provided further dramatic evidence for dark energy. The same is true of data from two extensive projects charting the large-scale distribution of galaxies - the Two-Degree Field (2DF) and Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). Yet it seems the fundies would rather wade in antedated and archaic information from a long bygone 19th century view of a "100% mechanical" universe than avail themselves of modern research. In a way it makes sense, since they still haven't availed themselves of the most recent genetic research (such as the sequencing of the cytochrome -c protein sequence) in terms of Darwinian Evolution and common descent.

More to Come...

No comments: