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September 20, 2008



Those are good questions. Here’s my attempt at some answers:

1.How can something come from nothing without outside intervention?

I don’t think anyone has a satisfactory answer to that. If you believe that there is no God, and the universe is all there is, then you have to admit that you can’t explain anything prior to the Big Bang. However, if someone wanted to use that as an argument for the existence of a God who must have been there at the beginning to get things going, that doesn’t really work. This is because you are only adding to the “something” that needs an explanation for why it’s there. If you must have a God to explain the existence of the universe, then by that same reasoning you need another God, maybe SuperGod, who needs to be posited for the existence of God. And this SuperGod, of course, needs a SuperDuperGod to explain SuperGod’s existence, etc., etc. Atheists and theists are on the same footing on this issue.

2. If random chance is the means by which our current ordered world has come to be, how does order come from disorder?

It’s not accurate to say that the world has come to be ordered out of an original state of disorder. In fact, the beginning of the universe was incredibly ordered. Arguments against evolutionary theories of the origin of life using the 2nd law of thermodynamics are based on this kind of misunderstanding (the 2nd law says that the disorder of the universe is always increasing). The Big Bang theory originated from the observation that the universe is expanding from a central point. If you run the clock backwards, the entire universe collapses on itself and you come to the original event of our universe: all of matter and energy (same thing) in a very tiny volume. This kind of original setup requires a lot of order, and the universe has been getting more disordered since then. The reason that life could evolve on planet Earth is that some of the original order from the Big Bang can be more concentrated in different pockets of the universe. Matter and order are lumpy. One way to think about this is to look at the physical force of gravity as an order hog. Once the lumpiness of matter in the universe created these swirling globs that were pulled together by gravity, stars and planets were formed. This concentrated order became a source for natural selection and led to the development of more and more complex forms of matter, eventually leading to life. Overall, order in the universe is decreasing, but on a local level that isn’t necessarily the case.

3. And speaking of Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy, where did the ability to think come from?
That’s a question that investigators are still struggling with. It is obvious that we share the ability to communicate and exhibit social behavior with many animals, especially primates. But no other animal seems to have consciousness, that is, a self-reflective awareness of itself. (This also seems to be connected to the use of language, which is another trait that doesn’t seem to be shared with other animals.) Although there is a disagreement among cognitive scientists, the majority of them are confident that a computational theory of the mind is correct, and we will (soon?) be able to explain our thoughts entirely from brain impulses. A computational theory just means that our brain operates in a similar way to computers. Information is digitized, but the difference is that a) we use nerve cells and impulses instead of silicon, and b) our brain is a parallel system, as opposed to a linear system that computers use. And some people think that the real trick to consciousness is this complex linear system, which is also used by other animal brains, such as primates. Once this is confirmed, and we understand how consciousness is produced by the brain, then there will be no mystery about how it arose: by natural selection from our primate ancestors.

As far as scientists recreating the Big Bang, I think that’s a misunderstanding that journalist are encouraging. What the physicists are doing (if I understand it correctly) is creating a powerful collision of elementary particles with lots of energy, the kind of energy that was around at the very beginning, to see if these elementary particles are made of even more elementary stuff. So, they are trying to create a similar environment to the Big Bang, but they certainly don’t think they are creating another such event…at least I hope not.


If no intelligent life was present during the first "Big Bang", doesn't the presence of a tunnel full of scientists invalidate an effort to recreate the "Big Bang"?

Yes! It would be much more of an effective simulation of the original "big bang" if they let loose a monkey in the lab with their $10 billion broken machine to see what would happen.

Resident Atheist

Nate, your posts always make my brain hurt, but are also entertaining and spot on.

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