Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Christian particle physicist Michael Strauss profiled in the College Fix

Here’s a link to the article on The College Fix. The article was shared 647 times on Facebook and tweeted 41 times, at the time I am writing this (Monday 11 PM)

Excerpt:

A physics professor at the University of Oklahoma who often spends his time studying smashed subatomic particles at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN laboratory in Switzerland has another hobby – smashing the notion that all scientists believe the universe was created by some sort of cosmic accident.

Dr. Michael Strauss has given some iteration of a lecture he’s titled “Scientific Evidence for the Existence of God” to students and peers at universities across the nation for nearly 15 years, including at Stanford, UT Dallas, UC Santa Barbara, and most recently Thursday at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he said observable and testable scientific evidence points to a “designer who cares about humanity.”

This is coming from an experimental particle physics expert who also says scientific evidence shows the universe is 14 billion years old, and that it was created through a so-called “big bang” – which many people also hear from the likes of atheist and agnostic scientists.

But Strauss, also known for his knowledge and expertise on the Higgs boson “God Particle,” told his audience of roughly 200 students and professors who packed a campus auditorium to hear him speak that the discoveries of modern science give abundant evidence for the existence of a transcendent, intelligent designer who created the universe and has a purpose for humanity.

Now here’s what he talked about:

During his talk, Strauss essentially argued that the scientific evidence for the existence of God could be found by studying the origins of the universe, the design of the universe, and what Strauss called the “rare Earth hypothesis.”

In historical times, he said, all scientists believed in God, and it was only more recently, within the last 200 years or so, that science based on the assumption there is no creator has dominated the field.

But in 1929, Edwin Hubble discovered the universe was expanding, leading to the Big Bang hypothesis. Other modern experiments have also supported that theory, such as the temperature of the universe and the formation of elements.

“The prediction of general relativity is that the Big Bang itself is the origin of everything we know: space, time, matter and energy,” Strauss said during his talk to Dallas college students last year. “So the Big Bang is kind of a misnomer. A Big Bang brings up the idea that something exploded, but the Big Bang itself is not an explosion … it’s the origin of everything we know in this universe.”

“If everything in the universe came into being, then the cause of the universe must be transcendent, not a part of this universe,” Strauss argued. “Science kind of stumbled onto something that the Bible declared long ago … that the universe had a beginning.”

Strauss also brought up evidence for the existence of God by citing the apparent design of the universe, noting the amount of matter in the universe, the strength of its strong nuclear force, and the formation of carbon is so finely tuned that if any of these parameters were modified in the slightest, human life could not exist. Strauss stated there are about 100 similar finely tuned parameters.

Strauss’ third point delved into what he called the “rare Earth hypothesis.” Strauss detailed what it would take to for an earthlike planet to form by chance, a planet capable of sustaining not only bacteria, but higher life forms, such as those found in science fiction stories. (Think Class M planets from Star Trek.)

He highlighted how Earth is unique, with its moon, sun and solar system perfectly aligned to allow life to survive.  Few if any planets have a large moon in orbit around it to help provide just the right atmosphere. Few if any planets have a neighbor such as Jupiter, which is so large its gravity sucks into it potential threats to Earth, such as comets and asteroids.

In fact, there are 322 such parameters needed for a planet capable of sustaining intelligent life to form, and the probability for occurrence of all 322 parameters to develop by chance is 10 to the minus -282.

“It is unlikely that Earth could ever be duplicated,” Strauss said Thursday.

During his talk, Strauss included many quotes from atheist or agnostic scientists, those who do not believe in God, but still acknowledged the possibility of a higher power at work due to their observations.

Read the whole thing. Dr. Strauss is the one who taught me the power of contrasting the trend of experimental science (big bang, fine-tuning, rare Earth, DNA, Cambrian explosion, etc.) with the speculative “Star Trek” wishing of naturalists. I got that whole idea for an apologetics narrative from his Stanford lecture. If you can share this post (mine) on your social media accounts, please do, because I am going to put some useful links in this post.

First, you can read more about Dr. Strauss’ academic background and you can also read more about his Christian testimony.

Previously, I have also posted and summarized his Stanford University talk, and his University of Dallas talk. If anyone can find his University of Missouri talk, or the Texas Tech talk that he is doing later this week, I would love to blog them. I really feel we need a lot more scientific literacy in the Christian community, especially since God has left us all this wonderful evidence of his actions.

Filed under: News, , , , , ,

Physicist Michael Strauss discusses Christianity and science at Stanford University

This is one of my favorite lectures, by one of the people I admire the most for his scientific work and robust, evangelical Christian faith.

About Michael Strauss:

His full biography is here. (I removed his links from my excerpt text below)

Excerpt:

I had an interest in science and theology, so in 1977 I chose to go to Biola University where I could study both subjects in detail. I thoroughly enjoyed college and participated in intramural sports, was elected to student government, served as a resident assistant, competed in forensics, and studied a lot. As I neared college graduation my dual interest continued so I applied to seminary and to graduate school. After graduating summa cum laude from Biola, I decided to pursue a graduate degree in physics at UCLA.

During my first few years of graduate school, I developed an increased interest in quantum mechanics and subatomic physics and decided to do research in a field that dealt with these subjects. I joined a High Energy Physics experimental group doing research at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to actively participate in research at SLAC. I graduated in 1988 with my Ph.D in High Energy Physics (a.k.a. Elementary Particle Physics). If you would like to know more about High Energy Physics, the Particle Data Group at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory has a very nice interactive adventure that teaches you all about the subject. My research advisor was professor Charles Buchanan and my disertation was titled “A Study of Lambda Polarization and Phi Spin Alignment in Electron-Positron Annihilation at 29 GeV as a Probe of Color Field Behavior.”

After graduation, I accepted a post-doctoral research position with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I continued to do research at SLAC where I joined the SLD experiment. My research interests centered on the SLD silicon pixel vertex detector. I wrote most of the offline software for this device, and did physics analysis which used the vertex detector, including tagging b quark events for flavor specific QCD (Quantum Chromodynamics) analysis. In the seven years I was employed by UMASS, I only spent 3 days on the Amherst campus. The rest of the time was spent in California.

[...]In August 1995, I accepted a job as an Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Oklahoma (OU) in Norman, Oklahoma. The University of Oklahoma has a vibrant high energy physics research group involved in experiments at the Fermi National Accelerator Center (Fermilab), and CERN. I joined the DØ experiment at Fermilab where I continue to do research in elementary particle physics. As a member of the DØ collaboration I have made contributions to the testing of silicon sensors for the upgraded vertex detector, to the track finding algorithms, to a measurement of the photon production cross section which probes the gluon content of protons, and to other QCD measurements. I am currently studying properties of B mesons that contain a b-quark, the production cross section of jets coming from quarks and gluons, and other QCD analyses. At CERN, I am a collaborator on the ATLAS detector.

I received tenure in 2001 and was promoted to the rank of Professor in the summer of 2010. Most of the time at OU I have taught introductory physics classes to physics majors, engineers, and life science majors. In these classes I have used a number of interactive techniques to facilitate student participation and learning. I have been privileged to win a few awards for my teaching. In 1999, the Associated Students selected me as the Outstanding Professor in the College of Arts and Science, and in 2000 I was awarded the BP AMOCO Foundation Good Teaching Award. In 2002, I was given the Regents Award for Superior Teaching. I received the Carlisle Mabrey and Lurine Mabrey Presidential Professorship in 2006 which is given to “faculty members who excel in all their professional activities and who relate those activities to the students they teach and mentor.”

He seems to have done a fine job of integrating his faith with a solid career in physics research. It would be nice if we were churning out more like him, but that would require the church to get serious about the integration between science and faith.

The lecture:

Dr. Strauss delivered this lecture at Stanford University in 1999. It is fairly easy to understand, and it even includes useful dating tips, one of which I was able to try out recently at IHOP, and it worked.

Here is a clip:

The full video can be watched on Vimeo:

UPDATE: I pulled the MP3 audio from the lecture in case anyone wants just the audio.

Summary:

What does science tell us about God?
– the discoveries of Copernicus made humans less significant in the universe
– the discoveries of Darwin should that humans are an accident
– but this all pre-modern science
– what do the latest findings of science say about God?

Evidence #1: the origin of the universe
– the steady state model supports atheism, but was disproved by the latest discoveries
– the oscillating model supports atheism, but was disproved by the latest discoveries
– the big bang model supports theism, and it is supported by multiple recent discoveries
– the quantum gravity model supports atheism, but it pure theory and has never been tested or confirmed by experiment and observation

Evidence #2: the fine-tuning of physical constants for life
– there are over 100 examples of constants that must be selected within a narrow range in order for the universe to support the minimal requirements for life
– example: mass density
– example: strong nuclear force (what he studies)
– example: carbon formation

Evidence #3: the fine-tuning of our planet for habitability
– the type of galaxy and our location in it
– our solar system and our star
– our planet
– our moon

It’s a good lecture explaining basic arguments for a cosmic Creator and Designer. If you add the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion (Stephen C. Meyer’s arguments), then you will be solid on science apologetics. That’s everything a rank-and-file Christian needs.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Filed under: Videos, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cosmologist Luke Barnes answers 11 objections to the fine-tuning argument

This is from the blog Common Sense Atheism. (H/T Allen Hainline)

Atheist Luke Muehlhauser interviews well-respect cosmologist Luke Barnes about the fine-tuning argument, and the naturalistic response to it.

Luke M. did a good job explaining what was in the podcast. (I wish more people who put out podcasts would do that).

Details:

In one of my funniest and most useful episodes yet, I interview astronomer Luke Barnes about the plausibility of 11 responses to the fine-tuning of the universe. Frankly, once you listen to this episode you will be better equipped to discuss fine-tuning than 90% of the people who discuss it on the internet. This episode will help clarify the thinking of anyone – including and perhaps especially professional philosophers – about the fine-tuning of the universe.

The 11 responses to fine-tuning we discuss are:

  1. “It’s just a coincidence.”
  2. “We’ve only observed one universe, and it’s got life. So as far as we know, the probability that a universe will support life is one out of one!”
  3. “However the universe was configured, evolution would have eventually found a way.”
  4. “There could be other forms of life.”
  5. “It’s impossible for life to observe a universe not fine-tuned for life.”
  6. “Maybe there are deeper laws; the universe must be this way, even though it looks like it could be other ways.”
  7. “Maybe there are bajillions of universes, and we happen to be in one of the few that supports life.”
  8. “Maybe a physics student in another universe created our universe in an attempt to design a universe that would evolve intelligent life.”
  9. “This universe with intelligent life is just as unlikely as any other universe, so what’s the big deal?”
  10. “The universe doesn’t look like it was designed for life, but rather for empty space or maybe black holes.”
  11. “Fine-tuning shows there must be an intelligent designer beyond physical reality that tuned the universe so it would produce intelligent life.”

Download CPBD episode 040 with Luke Barnes. Total time is 1:16:31.

I’m going to put the list of resources for the podcast that Luke M. mentioned in his post, but without the actual hyperlinks. It saves me having to type up a summary. If you want to click the links that I removed, go over to Common Sense Atheism and the links are there.

Links for things we discussed:

  • Fine-tuned universe
  • Cosmological constant
  • Miss Marple
  • Other forms of life and Daleks
  • Elliot Sober
  • Cosmic inflation
  • The graceful exit problem
  • Carr and Rees, “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle and the Structure of the Physical World” (1979)
  • David Lewis’ modal realism
  • Boltzmann’s multiverse
  • Roger Penrose argues that some modern multiverse theories face the same problem that Boltzmann’s multiverse faces in The Road to Reality.
  • Everett’s multiverse
  • Wheeler – At Home in the Universe
  • Thorne-Hawking-Preskill bet
  • Edward Robert Harrison
  • Luke responds to PZ Myers
  • You can find some good talks by Polkinghorne and Ellis on fine-tuning at the Faraday Institute’s multimedia page.
  • William Lane Craig, “Design and the Anthropic Fine-Tuning of the Universe“
  • Robin Collins, “The Teleological Argument“
  • Good stuff: Davies – The Goldilocks Enigma; Rees – Just Six Numbers; Barrow – The Constants of Nature; Barrow & Tipler – The Anthropic Cosmological Principle; Leslie – Universes; George Ellis articles.
  • Fred Adams and Luke’s critique
  • Luke’s critique of Hector Avalos
  • Luke’s critique of Victor Stenger: part 1 and part 2
  • Luke’s critique of Hugh Ross
  • Luke’s critique of William Lane Craig: part 1 and part 2

I thought the funniest part was the Natalie Portman part. Boy, do I wish more atheists would listen to this podcast and understand what the fine-tuning argument is actually about. Luke M. gave Luke B. a ton of time to talk. There is a very good explanation of some of the cases of fine-tuning that I talk about most on this blog – the force of gravity, the strong force, etc. as well as many other examples. Dr. Barnes is an expert, but he is also very very easy to listen to even when talking about difficult issues. Luke M. is very likeable as the interviewer.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , ,

What makes a planet suitable for supporting complex life?

The Circumstellar Habitable Zone (CHZ)

What do you need in order to have a planet that supports complex life? First, you need liquid water at the surface of the planet. But there is only a narrow range of temperatures that can support liquid water. It turns out that the size of the star that your planet orbits around has a lot to do with whether you get liquid water or not. A heavy, metal-rich star allows you to have a habitable planet far enough from the star so  the planet can support liquid water on the planet’s surface while still being able to spin on its axis. The zone where a planet can have liquid water at the surface is called the circumstellar habitable zone (CHZ). A metal-rich star like our Sun is very massive, which moves the habitable zone out further away from the star. If our star were smaller, we would have to orbit much closer to the star in order to have liquid water at the surface. Unfortunately, if you go too close to the star, then your planet becomes tidally locked, like the moon is tidally locked to Earth. Tidally locked planets are inhospitable to life.

Circumstellar Habitable Zone

Circumstellar Habitable Zone

Here, watch a clip from The Privileged Planet: (Clip 4 of 12, full playlist here)

But there’s more.

The Galactic Habitable Zone (GHZ)

So, where do you get the heavy elements you need for your heavy metal-rich star?

You have to get the heavy elements for your star from supernova explosions – explosions that occur when certain types of stars die. That’s where heavy elements come from. But you can’t be TOO CLOSE to the dying stars, because you will get hit by nasty radiation and explosions. So to get the heavy elements from the dying stars, your solar system needs to be in the galactic habitable zone (GHZ) – the zone where you can pickup the heavy elements you need but not get hit by radiation and explosions. The GHZ lies between the spiral arms of a spiral galaxy. Not only do you have to be in between the arms of the spiral galaxy, but you also cannot be too close to the center of the galaxy. The center of the galaxy is too dense and you will get hit with massive radiation that will break down your life chemistry. But you also can’t be too far from the center, because you won’t get enough heavy elements because there are fewer dying stars the further out you go. You need to be in between the spiral arms, a medium distance from the center of the galaxy.

Like this:

Galactic Habitable Zone

Galactic Habitable Zone and Solar Habitable Zone

Here, watch a clip from The Privileged Planet: (Clip 10 of 12, full playlist here)

The GHZ is based on a discovery made by astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, which made the front cover of Scientific American in 2001. That’s right, the cover of Scientific American. I actually stole the image above of the GHZ and CHZ (aka solar habitable zone) from his Scientific American article (linked above).

These are just a few of the things you need in order to get a planet that supports life.

Here are a few of the more well-known ones:

  • a solar system with a single massive Sun than can serve as a long-lived, stable source of energy
  • a terrestrial planet (non-gaseous)
  • the planet must be the right distance from the sun in order to preserve liquid water at the surface – if it’s too close, the water is burnt off in a runaway greenhouse effect, if it’s too far, the water is permanently frozen in a runaway glaciation
  • the solar system must be placed at the right place in the galaxy – not too near dangerous radiation, but close enough to other stars to be able to absorb heavy elements after neighboring stars die
  • a moon of sufficient mass to stabilize the tilt of the planet’s rotation
  • plate tectonics
  • an oxygen-rich atmosphere
  • a sweeper planet to deflect comets, etc.
  • planetary neighbors must have non-eccentric orbits

By the way, you can watch a lecture with Guillermo Gonzalez explaining his ideas further. This lecture was delivered at UC Davis in 2007. That link has a link to the playlist of the lecture, a bio of the speaker, and a summary of all the topics he discussed in the lecture. An excellent place to learn the requirements for a suitable habitat for life.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sean Carroll debates William Lane Craig on cosmology and God’s existence

Carroll was as good of a speaker as Craig in terms of style. Very easy to listen to, very quick on his feet, very civil. There was no clear winner on style.

It was difficult to assess the truth value of scientific points being made, especially for the layperson. I explained a few of them in my posts earlier this week, but I think laypeople might struggle with them if they are hearing about these things for the first time.

A couple of Craig’s slides: (click for larger images)

Slide 1 of 2:

Dr. Craig slide #1 of 2

Dr. Craig slide #1 of 2

Slide 2 of 2:

Dr. Craig slide #2 of 2

Dr. Craig slide #2 of 2

Quick summary: (this is not complete, because I couldn’t get everything they were saying noted)

Dr. Craig defended two arguments: 1) the kalam cosmological argument and the fine-tuning argument.

Dr. Craig supported the origin of the universe with 1) the expansion of the universe and 2) the second law of thermodynamics.

Dr. Craig said that the BGV theorem supports a beginning for the universe.

Dr. Craig said that the consensus of scientists did not accept Carroll’s naturalistic cosmology, quoting Stephen Hawking in support.

Dr. Craig said that multiverse models fall victim to the Boltzmann brain problem, where we should observe Boltzmann brains coming into existence and then phasing out again far more probably than embodied minds. But we observe embodied minds, and no Boltzmann brains.

Dr. Carroll said that science cannot study metaphysical questions.

Dr. Carroll said that science is about making models that may or may not be consistent with the experimental data.

Dr. Carroll said that the BGV theorem does not support a beginning for the universe.

Dr. Carroll proposed 17 alternative cosmologies, but did not provide a shred of scientific evidence for any of them, the way that Craig did for the standard model.

Dr. Carroll refuted Dr. Craig’s citation of Stephen Hawking, and Craig yielded the point.

Dr. Carroll speculated that science might progress to the point where the fine-tuning can be explained without an intelligent cause, and he gave an example of where that happened (inflation).

Dr. Craig argued that all 17 of the models suggested by Carroll either conflicted with evidence, had serious problems or did require a beginning.

Dr. Craig argued that Carroll’s own model required a beginning.

Dr. Craig argued that Carroll’s own model fell victim to the Boltzmann brain problem.

Dr. Craig argued that Carroll’s own model violated the second law of thermodynamics.

Dr. Craig re-stated his point that the baby universe spawning in Carroll’s model was speculative and incomplete, and cited Christopher Weaver’s work.

Dr. Carroll denied that things that pop into being out of nothing require a transcendent cause.

Dr. Carroll reiterated that science can only make naturalistic models, and that he did not have to answer questions about ultimate causes.

Dr. Carroll showed a photo of Alan Guth expressing his opinion that the universe is “probably” eternal. No evidence was given for this assertion.

Dr. Carroll said that the fine-tuning was not done in an optimal way, because one fine-tuned value was lower than it needed to be, and it should be exactly what it needed to be if God did it.

Dr. Carroll said that a finely-tuned universe is more probably in naturalism than in theism, because God can do anything he wants and doesn’t need a fine-tuned universe.

Dr. Carroll said he would stop defending his model now, and would instead defend Aguirre-Gratton.

Dr. Craig gave three reasons why the universe popping into being out of nothing requires a transcendent cause.

First, he said that nothing cannot cause anything to happen, because nothing is nothing.

Second, he said that if things pop into being out of nothing, then why don’t we see it happening all the time with other things.

Third, he said that we have no reason to dismiss the causal principle, especially when it is the basis of scientific inquiry and has been so fruitful in the progress of science.

Dr. Craig reiterated that baby universes in Carroll’s model would be dominated by Boltzmann brains, and we don’t observe that.

Dr. Craig said that even on the quantum gravity models that Carroll mentioned, there would still be a beginning.

Dr. Carroll said that Craig mustn’t say “popped into being” but instead that “there was a first moment of time”.

Dr. Carroll said that his model does indeed violate the second law of thermodynamics “YES!”.

At this point Carroll stopped talking about the topic of the debate and started expressing personal opinions about religion. It’s funny how often atheists do this in debates.

Dr. Carroll said that most theists don’t believe in God because of cosmology, but because of community and feelings.

Dr. Carroll said that science had learned a lot in the last 2000 years, so theism was false.

Dr. Carroll said that most philosophers don’t think that God exists, so theism was false.

Dr. Carroll said microscopes and telescopes were absent 2000 years ago, so theism was false.

Dr. Carroll said that religion should be about community and feelings, not about what is true.

Conclusion:

My conclusion was that Carroll lost because he is just satisfied to throw theories out and not to argue that they are true by citing evidence. Carroll never seemed to be interested in finding out what is true, but instead he just wanted to tell a story that didn’t include God, and assert that by Occam’s Razor, his story was a better explanation. I am not impressed with theoretical speculations, although the layperson might be. I kept waiting for him to respond to Craig’s points about how his model was falsified by experimental evidence and observations, e.g. – the Boltzmann brains or the baby universe generation, and he never cited the evidence I wanted him to cite. Craig did have some evidence for his views, but he could have been stronger in making his case. He could have shown the e-mail from Vilenkin that stated that he had understood the BGV theorem, and was using it correctly, for example.

For me the winning side comes down to evidence. The standard model is the standard model because of scientific evidence. Until that evidence is overturned, then speculative models are of no interest to anyone who is evidence-driven. Speculations are not science. A philosophical presupposition of metaphysical naturalism is not science.

The nice thing is that Robin Collins, one of Craig’s respondents, went deep into the science of the fine-tuning, especially on one of my favorite data points, the cosmic microwave background radiation. The paper he presented is now posted on his web site (H/T Christian Apologetics Alliance). I posted about the CMBR before in my post about particle physicist Michael Strauss lecture on cosmology and fine-tuning at Stanford University and the his more recent lecture at the University of Texas. Note that Strauss is an experimental physicist, not a theoretical physicist like Carroll.

Here’s another review of the debate by Randy Everist of Possible Worlds blog. He explains the back-and-forth over Boltzmann brains and the BGV theorem in more detail.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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