Sunday, September 17, 2017

Are Virtual Particles Real?

One of the strangest features of our universe may be entities that scientists call "virtual particles," fundamental particles that apparently come into existence from nothing for a brief period of time, then disappear. When I talk about virtual particles I usually get questions like: "Do these virtual particles really come into existence from nothing? How do you know they exist if they can never be seen? Do they do anything?" Because these virtual particles are a huge part of my scientific life, and because they invoke so many questions, I'm going to discuss what they are, their importance in our understanding of nature, and even some remarkable fine-tuning noticeable in their behavior.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Facts vs Faith

There is a common indictment made by skeptics and critics of religion, that Christianity is based on faith while science is based on facts. These skeptics view faith as a vice because, in their opinion, faith is not based on evidence and blindly accepts religious dogma. The biologist Richard Dawkins has said, "Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence," and "Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion." The biologist Jerry Coyne writes, "Indeed, by relying on faith rather than evidence, religion renders itself incapable of finding truth."

These statements which supposedly define faith reflect the most inaccurate understanding possible of what Christian faith actually is. As a physicist and a thinking rational person, if faith were actually believing something without evidence, I would definitely not be a Christian. I simply cannot consider something to be true unless there is sufficient evidence to render that belief as the most probable conclusion that explains the evidence.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The BGV Theorem Revisited

Did this universe have a transcendent beginning? How strong is the scientific evidence for a beginning? If you read the comments in this blog you know that one reader and I have been discussing the question of the beginning of this universe and if there is a necessary transcendent cause. In parallel to our discussion, I have been reading a book by Robert J. Sptizer called New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy. Spitzer is a Jesuit priest and philosopher and was the president of Gonzago University in Spokane, Washington. In Spitzer's book, Bruce L. Gordon, who has a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science and physics, has written a nice postscript talking in some depth about the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin (BGV) theorem.1  One of my firsts blog posts that I wrote discussed the BGV theorem, but given my recent dialogue and my recent reading, I think it is worthwhile going into a little more depth about this theorem and its ramifications.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Grand Design: Is God Unnecessary?

Have scientific discoveries made God unnecessary? That is the claim of the bestselling book The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow published in 2010. The book claims, "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going." Readers of this blog have consistently asked me to discuss claims such as these, that there is no need to invoke a transcendent creator to begin the universe, especially when the claims are made by very smart people, like Stephen Hawking.

I read this book when it was first published with the expectation that someone as brilliant as Stephen Hawking would have something new and profound to add to the discussion about the cause of the universe, and the apparent fine-tuning of the universe. In fact, the opening chapter seemed to confirm my optimism because three questions are posed that Hawking claims he will try to answer: (1) Why is there something rather than nothing? (2) Why do we exist? (3) Why this particular set of laws and not some other?

These three questions touch on the very three reasons that I have argued give evidence for God from scientific inquiry. The first has to do with the origin of the universe in the Big Bang, which I claim gives evidence for a transcendent creator. The second question has to do, at least partially, with the quite rare characteristics of the planet earth we inhabit. The third question has to do with the anthropic principle and fine-tuning which seems to indicate the laws and parameters of physics are in a narrow range that allow life to exist.

Much of the book presents a good synopsis of many of the discoveries and theories of modern physics including quantum mechanics, the wave-particle duality, special and general relativity, particle physics, supersymmetry, Big Bang cosmology and string theory. If you are looking for an understandable explanation of these ideas, I highly recommend the book. But if you are looking for good thoughtful answers to the three questions posed above, then the book turns out to be very disappointing and even sophomoric. The answers provided by Hawking and Mlodinow are not new, are not insightful, and are easily dismissed based on known science. Let's look at the answers they pose and discuss why each one fails so miserably.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A New Particle Discovered at CERN

About a week ago, an experiment at CERN announced the discovery of a new particle, the Ξcc++ (pronounced Ksigh-see-see-plus-plus). Many people who have read about this discovery have asked me about its significance and if I was involved. So, this post will deviate from the usual discussion of the relationship between Christianity and science and focus on the discovery of the Ξcc++ with a few additional observations in my conclusion.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Is Fine-Tuning a Fallacy?

Victor Stenger was a theoretical particle physicist who wrote many books critical of God, religion, and the case for God from scientific reasoning. A regular reader of this blog asked if I would critique some of his writings and ideas including his 2011 book The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe is not designed for us. I have always felt that if one wants to determine what is true, then one should understand the best ideas from opposing views of any issue and, consequently, I have read books by many critics of Christianity including Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, and Stephen Hawking. I haven't read much of Stenger's work so I thought this would be a great opportunity to assess his ideas.

In his book The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning, Stenger claims that arguments theists make about fine-tuning can be easily refuted. Following the tone of my blog, I will try to discuss this issue in a non-technical way. The astrophysicist Luke Barnes wrote a long technical article refuting Stenger's claims which I highly recommend. In response to Barnes' article, Stenger wrote an article, which caused Barnes to write a further rebuttal on his blog. The general consensus among scientists who have studied this question is that Barnes' arguments are stronger than Stenger's and the universe does appear to be fine-tuned. For those who want to read the technical articles on this topic, I refer you to the links in this paragraph. For those who want a less technical discussion, including some of my original thoughts on Stenger's arguments, please continue reading.