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Oct 22 2012

Physicist squelching fantasy

Sean Carroll puts limits on reality. Good stuff; no gods, no magic powers, no life after death…just us as part of a universe with rules.

39 comments

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  1. 1
    ramaus

    I actually lifted my arms to clap at the end. A most amazing lecture.

  2. 2
    Glen Davidson

    Well, see, God is made of dark matter, which is why he can’t do anything (much) to atoms and things made of atoms.

    So sad, he tries and tries, but only his gravity has slight, bulk effects.

    Glen Davidson

  3. 3
    Gregory in Seattle

    Hmph. Next, he’ll be saying that the Harry Dresden stories are just stories.

  4. 4
    craigmolstad

    But in the end, why is there something rather than nothing? Where did all of this stuff come from? Since science can not answer that question, it should leave gross generalizations about God’s existence alone. Its not enough to say, the big bang, as ultimately that is no different than the “turtles all the way down” argument. There is no rational explanation to the question, what was before the big bang? Where did all of this wonderful stuff come from? And if you say, well there were M-Branes in the bulk and they collided, or that there is an infinitely vast process that creates universes every instant, then its “turtles” again. Or that they bubbled up from the quantum foam, still where did that come from? That is where this argument misses the point. Quantum physics is very good at describing what is, but not at all in where it ultimately came from.

  5. 5
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Since science can not answer that question, it should leave gross generalizations about God’s existence alone.

    Where did your imaginary deity come from? Answer the same question you want scientists to answer, and only accept with a similar answer as would would accept from science. Presupposition of eternal being is delusion and total evasion of the hard question.

  6. 6
    Glen Davidson

    But in the end, why is there something rather than nothing? Where did all of this stuff come from? Since science can not answer that question, it should leave gross generalizations about God’s existence alone.

    Why yes, dreams and fantasies will no doubt work better than discovery and hard thinking on the most difficult matters.

    They’ve failed with the easiest and nearest problems, but they’ll certainly work for the hardest and most remote issues. It’s just so obvious…

    Glen Davidson

  7. 7
    unclefrogy

    it is not why is there something rather then nothing if there were not something there could not be nothing.

    uncle frogy

  8. 8
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    But in the end, why is there something rather than nothing? Where did all of this stuff come from? Since science can not answer that question, it should leave gross generalizations about God’s existence alone.

    Only if you want it to.

  9. 9
    Sastra

    craigmolstad #4 wrote:

    But in the end, why is there something rather than nothing? Where did all of this stuff come from? Since science can not answer that question, it should leave gross generalizations about God’s existence alone.

    How do you know “why is there something rather than nothing?” isn’t a science question? Why is “nothing” supposed to be considered the normal, reasonable, default state of affairs, so that the existence, instead, of “something” is remarkable and astonishing and requires some explanation? Seems to me it ought to be the other way around. There are infinite to the infinite possible ways for ‘something’ to exist. Only one way for ‘nothing’ to exist, and that state of affairs appears to be either incoherent or impossible.

    If there were good scientific evidence for God’s existence, you’d be jumping up and down with excitement. No question of science leaving God alone then, would there be? It works both ways.

    If God is supposed to be a possible cause for all matter and energy, then you’re going to have to make a reasonable scientific and philosophical case for starting out the universe with a conscious person who has desires and goals and can make things happen by thinking about it. Take it apart and analyze that. It fails on numerous levels.

  10. 10
    Gregory in Seattle

    @craigmolstad – “But in the end, why is there something rather than nothing?”

    Because if there was nothing, no one would be around to ask silly questions.

  11. 11
    raven

    Since science can not answer that question, it should leave gross generalizations about God’s existence alone.

    Religion has done far worse. It hasn’t discovered anything but it has been wrong most of the time. It’s batting less than zero.

    There have been thousands of anthropomorphic and animal-morphic gods. Most are now resting in the graveyard of the gods.

    The religions can’t even agree on which gods are real or how many there are without starting a war and killing a few tens of thousands of people.

    All that without answering the most basic questions. According to the bible the earth is flat, orbited by the sun, the moon is a glow in the dark disk, and the stars are just lights stuck on a dome with doors to let water in when the xian god is feeling genocidal.

    There isn’t one thing in the bible that wasn’t known to the iron age sheepherders who made it all up.

  12. 12
    consciousness razor

    Sean Carroll is awesome. I just had to say that … again. His blog is awesome too.

    That TAM dude’s guitar intros are not so awesome though. He can’t seem to keep a tune or a beat. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see how it makes TAM more entertaining, if that’s supposed to be the idea. It’s just annoying.

    WHYYYY???

    ———

    But in the end, why is there something rather than nothing?

    Let’s try rephrasing this. You’re not asking why there is something in particular, but why there is anything at all. It’s not relevant if we can give a reason why specific stuff exists, because you (ostensibly) want to know about existence itself. So the question is this: why is it the case that existence exists, and not that nonexistence exists? The reason is that, if non-existence existed, it wouldn’t be non-existence. There isn’t a way for everything to be nonexistent; at the very least, there would have to be that “way” which we might think requires an explanation too.

    That’s one answer for you. It’s not explaining anything about existence, just defining what it is and what it means. It implies something must exist, but doesn’t say much about what that is. A deity, for example, is only one of many possibilities (assuming that deity is even possible), though not one that makes any sense. There’s also no evidence to back it up. Needless to say, this isn’t a good reason to believe in a deity.

    Where did all of this stuff come from? Since science can not answer that question, it should leave gross generalizations about God’s existence alone.

    This isn’t the same question, if that’s what you’re implying with “that question”: you asked two questions. Since you’re (pretending to be) so philosophically rigorous about the limits of science, I have to say I doubt the answer needs to come in the form of some “where.” Stuff has to come from a place? I guess it makes a little more sense than saying a magical person (who isn’t made of any stuff) decided to magically poof it all into existence one day with his magical existence-making powers, but still it’s a fairly senseless idea.

    But let’s think about it for a moment anyway: where did places come from? Aren’t they “stuff” in the relevant sense, which means they come from a place? Science can’t answer that one either — since it implies the only possible answers for “where did places come from” are more places, which even if true can’t explain anything — that’s all fine, since no one should give a rat’s ass that science doesn’t deal in meaningless bullshit.

    Its not enough to say, the big bang, as ultimately that is no different than the “turtles all the way down” argument.

    You could only say they’re no different because you know nothing about big bang cosmology. You’re treating the issue like a typical religious apologist: you’re ignorant about the science, and the only thing you think it does or is supposed to do is answer your silly questions. People (rational people) don’t just say “the big bang” and think that itself says what the theory is all about. So stop lying or put on your smart-person hat, if you want to play this game.

    There is no rational explanation to the question, what was before the big bang?

    Is there not? (Is your question not rhetorical?) That depends on whether or not there was anything before; we can’t assume that fact in advance to get whatever answer we want. Either way, it would be a fact about the physical world, which puts it squarely in the domain of science.

    And if you say, well there were M-Branes in the bulk and they collided, or that there is an infinitely vast process that creates universes every instant, then its “turtles” again.

    Doesn’t sound like “turtles” to me.

    Or that they bubbled up from the quantum foam, still where did that come from?

    How about “physical laws that necessarily exist”? That’s not a “where they came from” sort of answer, but, well…. Are you ever going bother doing any thinking about this yourself, or are you just going to repeat a bunch of inane talking points?

    That is where this argument misses the point.

    Really? How many points have you missed, in the span of a few sentences? Should we check the scoreboard?

    Quantum physics is very good at describing what is, but not at all in where it ultimately came from.

    Again with the “where it came from” bullshit. I’m assuming you don’t take it literally, but I also have to assume you don’t take it seriously.

  13. 13
    raven

    But in the end, why is there something rather than nothing? Where did all of this stuff come from? Since science can not answer that question, it should leave gross generalizations about God’s existence alone.

    This is just god of the gaps.

    We can’t explain something so…god.

    It proves nothing. It could be god. Or gods. Or goddesses. Or the Invisible Pink Unicorn. Flying Spaghetti Monster, Caspar the friendly ghost. Aliens, out of the movie Alien.

    If there are godlike entities hiding behind the Big Bang, there is a good chance they are unaware of us and can’t be aware of us. The laws of physics imply that.

    And the whole metaverse could be eternal with no beginning or end and just is. Not everything has to have a cause. Notoriously the xians refuse to explain who made their god, although we know anyway. That one came from where all the gods come from.

  14. 14
    Amphiox

    But in the end, why is there something rather than nothing?

    Why not?

    Where did all of this stuff come from?

    What makes “god did it” a more appealing or useful guess than “it was always there”?

    If, in the end, you fall to resorting to calling upon something wholly unobserved, unevidenced, and undefinable as your answer to the unknown origin of the universe, why not just posit the universe? If god could be eternal and infinite, why can’t the universe? If god could always have been there, the unmoved mover, the explanation needing no explanation, then why could not the laws of physics always have been there?

    I mean, at least we know for sure that the universe and the laws of physics do, in fact, exist.

  15. 15
    dexitroboper

    Something came from nothing because there’s nothing to stop it.

  16. 16
    anteprepro

    Since science can not answer that question, it should leave any and all ridiculous, unfalsifiable hypotheses alone.

    FTFY. Sadly for you, science as a method is not nearly as complacent as you want it to be.

    Oh, and a point of amusement. Apparently any answer to question of why existence exists results “turtles all the way down”. Except God. God never requires an explanation. That tactic just reminds me of a child asking “why” over and over, far past the point where their “question” was already answered, until they get the answer that they really want and suddenly are satisfied enough to stop asking. And the theopologists think we don’t notice.

  17. 17
    John Phillips, FCD

    But in the end, why is there something rather than nothing?

    Simple answer, because ‘nothing’ is unstable.

    PZ, thanks for the video, Carroll is another one of those scientists I can listen to for ever and a day.

  18. 18
    Menyambal

    But in the end, why is there something rather than nothing?

    Actually, it’s still mostly nothing. The universe as a whole is a vacuum, by any human standards, and the few atoms wandering that vacuum are pretty much empty inside.

  19. 19
    Ingdigo Jump

    But in the end, why is there something rather than nothing?

    1) In most likely hood the net energy of the universe is zero…ie nothing

    2) back up the question. Can there be nothing?

  20. 20
    craigmolstad

    As much as all the vitriol spewed my way, you would think that I was some sort of enemy of science, I am not. Or that I am a Biblical literalist — I can’t be because I have never actually spent that much time reading any religious text of any kind. I am just trying to point out that simply having a rational explanation for everything after the big bang, does not create any additional information about what may have proceeded it. FSM, Buddha, Zeus, God, Zenu, is not MY solution, I am just saying that the argument that the apparent success of the Standard Model tells us plenty about the universe, as it is, but does not rule out a “God” or intelligence in the universe as it was never tasked with that question. Plus, some of the scientists at CERN are believers. So while some of you may question my credentials (and of course I am to assume all of your PhD’s are completely intact) what do you have to say about them? According to their own figures 80% are nonbelievers, this still leaves 20%, which is actually about 1,000 individuals that would still cling to belief. Ridicule is not an argument. And as I suspected, not a single response was able to actually answer my simple question. What came before the beginning?

  21. 21
    Menyambal

    craigmolstad:

    Where did all of this stuff come from? Since science can not answer that question, it should leave gross generalizations about God’s existence alone.

    Science cannot yet answer the question, but science has posed the question, and is working on the answer, with techniques that have answered many other questions—questions also posed by science. As other folks have said, you are wedging your god into any gap you can imagine, just like people did for questions that have long been answered by science, such as what lightning is, where babies come from, and what makes ivy twine.

    The jump from the question to God’s existence isn’t warranted at all. As others have said, it could be turtles, Mayan gods, alien armorers or anything else. Pasting God into the issue, and taking God’s existence for granted, is something only a very narrow-focussed person would do. (Great recommendation for your religion there, craigmolstad, very fracking inspiring—not.)

  22. 22
    Menyambal

    craigmolstad:

    As much as all the vitriol spewed my way

    Vitriol? Spewed? You haven’t seen anything yet, but you are good at being insulting, and at being insulted.

    Nobody was getting as personal as you wish they were. Most replies were aimed at your arguments. But your use of God, and assumption that God is the only other alternative, make you seem a religionist of a particular flavor, and your last comment does the same.

    I am just trying to point out that simply having a rational explanation for everything after the big bang, does not create any additional information about what may have proceeded it.

    So we need you to tell us this? Explain your claim, then. I don’t see the Big Bang as such a radical event that we can’t say anything at all about what preceded it. Science has a great track record at figuring things out, and has pushed further back toward the Big Bang.

    What came before the beginning?

    What is north of the North Pole?

  23. 23
    Ingdigo Jump

    Since science can not answer that question, it should leave gross generalizations about God’s existence alone.

    Define God?

    God of the bible was long disproved. People responded by redefining God, which is intellectually dishonest…as is continuing to believe such a claim.

  24. 24
    Glen Davidson

    Plus, some of the scientists at CERN are believers. So while some of you may question my credentials (and of course I am to assume all of your PhD’s are completely intact) what do you have to say about them?

    Why should we say anything about them, idiot? When you use an outright fallacy like the appeal to authority it suggests that you’re not only not aware of science, you’re not even aware of the rules of logic.

    To assume the existence of an unperceivable being … does not facilitate understanding the orderliness we find in the perceivable world. – Albert Einstein, responding to an Iowa student who asked, “What is God?” July 1953; Einstein Archive 59-085

    Why don’t you explain unbelievers at CERN before you pretend that believers somehow are important, plus the obvious truth in Einstein’s observation?

    Of course you’re not interested in making a case, only in bleating out stupid objections to those who know and use epistemology properly. Learn something for once, dolt.

    Yeah, you’re getting some of the vitriol that you call down with your pathetic “logic” and incapacity for reasoning through such matters. No no, don’t thank me, you’ve earned it.

    Glen Davidson

  25. 25
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I am just trying to point out that simply having a rational explanation for everything after the big bang, does not create any additional information about what may have proceeded it.

    Imaginary deities are not parsimonious. Every explanation made with one can have the same done without it. So they are just an extra unnecessary step. Prove otherwise, or drop your claim. That is the problem with phantasms. They provide nothing at the end of the day, which is why science rightly ignores such things. Unless, of course, you have conclusive physical evidence for one. Physical evidence that would pass muster with scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers as being of divine, and not natural (scientifically explained‚ origin.

  26. 26
    Glen Davidson

    I am just trying to point out that simply having a rational explanation for everything after the big bang, does not create any additional information about what may have proceeded it.

    And I doubt that anyone here didn’t already know that.

    Your elementary school level truisms counter absolutely nothing that has been written here, or said by Sean Carroll.

    Glen Davidson

  27. 27
    Glen Davidson

    The overall principle that apparently evades craigmolstad is that just making shit up gets us no closer to any real answers.

    A related issue is that saying “we don’t know” is actually the correct answer to questions involving the unknown. Making shit up fails badly by comparison.

    Glen Davidson

  28. 28
    John Phillips, FCD

    craigmolstad, actually I did answer your question about why there is something rather than nothing back up in #17. It might look like a throwaway line to you, but look up Victor Stenger’s work, as it is widely available online. To fall back on an oldie but a still valid question back at you, who created god, or does turtles all the way down not apply to whichever creator god you imagine. Adding god into the mix only complicates matters by introducing something for which there is no evidence for and which adds literally nothing to the explanation. As Glen Davidson above me said, when you don’t know, the correct answer is, you don’t know, not make shit up because it feels good or maybe because you need the appearance of certainty.

  29. 29
    consciousness razor

    I am just trying to point out that simply having a rational explanation for everything after the big bang, does not create any additional information about what may have proceeded [sic] it.

    That’s not what you said in #4, so maybe you were trying to do that, but you failed at that as well.

    Anyway, this isn’t right at all. We figure out what happened before something by looking at the evidence of the way things are now. That’s just how it works. The big bang certainly makes that difficult or impractical, but I don’t know of any reason why it would be impossible. You certainly haven’t given one. You really haven’t done anything, except ask a few silly questions.

    FSM, Buddha, Zeus, God, Zenu, is not MY solution,

    So you’re an atheist saying nonsense you don’t even believe? (I’m not sure if that’s better or worse, honestly.) Or what is that supposed to mean?

    I am just saying that the argument that the apparent success of the Standard Model tells us plenty about the universe, as it is, but does not rule out a “God” or intelligence in the universe as it was never tasked with that question.

    It rules out a god which interacts with the observable universe, which is the kind of god the vast majority of people believe in. Some kinds of gods are still logically possible, but if they interacted, there would be evidence of them. There is none, so they do not interact, so those gods don’t exist, and any that do (if they do) are utterly irrelevant to anything we’ll ever want to know or do. That also makes your comments utterly irrelevant.

    Plus, some of the scientists at CERN are believers.

    So?

    So while some of you may question my credentials (and of course I am to assume all of your PhD’s are completely intact) what do you have to say about them?

    I don’t care about your credentials or theirs. But it’s fucking ridiculous that, after we respond to your comments substantively, you ignore that and go out of your way to try to make us fall for this bullshit.

    According to their own figures 80% are nonbelievers, this still leaves 20%, which is actually about 1,000 individuals that would still cling to belief.

    Save it for Halloween. That’s scary. I’m shaking in my boots, here.

    Ridicule is not an argument.

    Has anyone said it was supposed to be?

    By the way, while we’re stating the obvious, not making an argument is not an argument. Have you noticed if you’ve done that lately?

    And as I suspected, not a single response was able to actually answer my simple question.

    Can you read? There were multiple responses with answers. In fact, you had multiple questions, which were answered.

    What came before the beginning?

    1) How are we supposed to know, if there may not have been a beginning?

    2) What makes you think it’s possible for anything to have happened before “the beginning” (I’m assuming you’re talking about the big bang)? It makes no sense to me.

    3) Do you have an answer?

  30. 30
    John Morales

    [meta]

    CR, shame on you.

    (“What came before the beginning?” is an incoherent question, definitionally, yet you’ve taken is as a valid one)

  31. 31
    consciousness razor

    (““What came before the beginning?”” is an incoherent question, definitionally, yet you’ve taken is as a valid one)

    My second question implies I take it as invalid, so I don’t why you think that. The first assumes it’s valid, but as I said, the “beginning” is probably supposed to mean the big bang, which doesn’t suffer the same fate* from your definitional sophistry.

    Anyway, I’d prefer to let craigmolstad respond by dealing with that himself, not to simply tell him it’s incoherent.

    *No shame here, either: I don’t actually believe in “fate.”

  32. 32
    consciousness razor

    My second question implies I take it as invalid, so I don’t [know] why you think that

    My guess is that you wanted to quibble about something.

  33. 33
    John Morales

    [meta]

    CR, sophistry, eh?

    <snicker>

    (What came before the beginning is what will come after the end)

  34. 34
    consciousness razor

    CR, sophistry, eh?

    Yes, I consider confusing an issue by (intentionally?) misinterpreting a term sophistry.

    If you think there’s no way he’s talking about the big bang instead of strictly and only “the beginning” (whenever that is), or if you are certain it had to be the beginning of time, you’ve given no argument for either.

  35. 35
    John Morales

    [meta + OT]

    You really should look up to what ‘sophistry’ refers, before you employ the term again.

  36. 36
    consciousness razor

    Would “pointless wordplay” be a good compromise? Whatever you want to call it, you’re doing it and shouldn’t.

    I notice you haven’t argued that point, so I’ll leave it there. I have no intention of interacting with you more than necessary. I figure it’s needed here, because it’s useful to clear up what my comment meant to others like craigmolstad.

  37. 37
    anteprepro

    I see John Morales is being John Morales.

    but does not rule out a “God” or intelligence in the universe as it was never tasked with that question.

    Don’t quite understand burden of proof, do you? What’s more significant than “Big Bang doesn’t disprove God” is that there is no actual support for God’s existence. No evidence that is clearly indicative of God over Not God. In most cases, admitting that there is no evidence for Hypothesis X but saying cheerfully that it hasn’t been disproven would be damning a hypothesis with faint praise. Apparently fairies, yetis, ghosts, homeopathy, and alien abductions are allowed to be dismissed when they retreat to gaps of the unfalsifiable, yet God is immune to that. Because God is just that special of a hypothesis.

    According to their own figures 80% are nonbelievers, this still leaves 20%, which is actually about 1,000 individuals that would still cling to belief.

    Yes, otherwise smart people can believe in stupid things. Compartmentalization. It is notable that the people at CERN are significantly less likely to believe in that nonsense than the general public, though. So, really, why does any of that matter in the least?

  38. 38
    unclefrogy

    It may be that I have this wrong but I was under the impression that time as we know it started with the “big bang” so there was no before in any way we could know. This is space/time there are no things there are just events in time. at the beginning there was all space, all time and all mater in a single point then it expanded.
    some one said above that the reason there is something is because nothing is unstable well from my perspective it looks like everything is pretty unstable.

    uncle frogy

  39. 39
    meandmine

    I’m suddenly very sad that Sean Carroll isn’t going to be hosting the new cosmos.

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