String Theory + Atomic Theory = Thor!

Yeah, that makes about as much sense as anything I can gather from this video. PZ blogged about it a few days ago, and I’m basically of the same mindset. But go watch the video first, then come back here.

Done? Great. Here are my problems with Tipler’s science (inasmuch as it was explored in the video, which wasn’t a lot):

  • First, what the heck is with Tipler’s scrawlings on the board? I haven’t done a whole lot of Quantum Mechanics, and less with General Relativity, but I don’t recall ever having to use “quantum mechanics” in an equation. I dunno, maybe that’s some more advanced version.
  • Tipler defines god as the “cosmological singularity,” clearly using his ten-dollar words. In physics, a singularity is a place where gravity is essentially infinite. A black hole is a singularity, the Big Bang theory suggests that the zero-second point of the universe is a singularity. No denomination of Christianity, so far as I’m aware, defines God as a black hole, and no branch of astrophysics, so far as I’m aware, suggests that black holes can part seas and raise the dead.
  • If Tipler has, as he appears to claim, united Quantum Mechanics with General Relativity, then he’s got something far more interesting than proof of God, and should be applying for a Nobel Prize, and every other prize in science. Some jerk at Tulane discovered the Unified Field Theory? And he’s able to write it on a standard-size chalkboard? And Stephen Hawking hasn’t quietly killed him and stolen his notes?
  • The diagram Tipler draws, taken along with his use of the term “singularity,” suggests to me that perhaps he believes that “God” is the end-point singularity that would result if the universe ended in a “Big Crunch.” I see several problems with that: first, that would suggest that God doesn’t exist yet and hasn’t existed since the Big Bang, except in a very Deist sort of way, where God is the universe. Second, while I love the Big Crunch model of eschatology (it’s so symmetrical), all the current data suggests that it’s bunk. The universe’s expansion is accelerating, which wouldn’t happen if gravity were eventually going to overcome expansion. Third, going back to the Deist thing, exactly how does that have anything to do with Christianity?
  • Tipler continues to define God (apparently) by saying “what you can show using physics forces this universe to continue to exist.” This would seem to contradict the idea that God is the universe-ending singularity, or any singularity, for that matter. In fact, it would seem to suggest that “God” is Dark Energy, the mysterious source of the universe’s continuing acceleration. Now, this is a perfect example of the “god of the gaps,” where you apply the term “god” to any phenomenon we don’t yet understand. Neither “god” nor “dark energy” really describe anything, but one is actually meant to just be a placeholder.
  • Assuming the reporter at the end is quoting right, Tipler says God is “the divine substance that exists outside of space, time, and matter.” Now, if God exists outside of space, then how is he forcing the universe to continue to exist? If God exists outside of matter, then how is he a singularity? What does it mean to say that something exists outside of time? And, when it comes right down to it, how can science possibly describe, let alone prove, something that exists outside of space, time, and matter? This sounds like the same old apologetics wrapped up in shiny new scientific language.

Now, I’ll freely admit that this news story largely sidesteps the details of Tipler’s “scientific proof,” which I’m sure is because it’s in his book, The Physics of Christianity. I haven’t yet read the book (it’s not in an I-Share library, and I’m not going to pay full price for it), but assuming the reviews on Amazon are to be believed, these are my impressions (after a brief little digression.

See, being the fan of comic books and science that I am, I’ve always been attracted to things which combine the two. Some, like James Kakalios’s The Physics of Superheroes and the Flash and Atom comics of Julius Schwartz and Gardner Fox, use superheroes to teach accurate science. Some, like Lois Gresh’s The Science of Superheroes and Warren Ellis’s depressing “Ruins” miniseries, show how real science wouldn’t allow superheroes to exist. And then there’s one class of text, including Mark Wolverton’s The Science of Superman and the comic series The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, which attempt to explain superheroes through a combination of real science, Trek-esque technobabble, and complicated diagrams. They start from an assumption that these amazing abilities work, and then try to explain how.

It’s this third class that the descriptions of Tipler’s book sound like. It starts with the assumption that everything in the Bible happened, and then twists science and technobabble in order to explain how those events are physically possible. I imagine we’ve all heard some miracles explained away in this manner: Moses wasn’t leading his people across the Red Sea, but across the Reed Sea, and they went at low tide and a strong wind blew the water out of the way so Moses and the Jews could walk across. Of course, that requires one to believe that the Bible isn’t inerrant, but that the story of Moses must be otherwise true. But once you’ve turned “miracle” into “happy coincidence,” where does God fit in? He certainly isn’t necessary to strike up a wind over a body of water.

Tipler does one better: apparently, he removes God from the Virgin Birth. He explains that Jesus, having only one parent, was one of the rare, short, small-testicled XX-chromosome males. Okay, explain that one to me! I mean, first, I’d all but guarantee that any XX-chromosome males out there are not the result of spontaneous self-fertilized pregnancies, but received their second X-chromosome from a spermatozoon. Second, if you’re going to try to explain “miracles” in terms of science, basically removing the necessity of magical intervention, then doesn’t it make a whole lot more sense to say that Jesus did have two parents, but neither of them were God?

Continuing in the same review, we get a little of Tipler’s “cosmological singularity” explanation. I’ll just copy and paste it (and credit it to the second reviewer, as of the time I checked, Doug Mesner):

At the start, we are given “proof” that Christianity is the one true religion. The reasoning is as follows:

“The laws of physics tell us that our universe began in an initial singularity, and will end in a final singularity. The laws also tell us that ours is but one of an infinite number of universes, all of which begin and end in a singularity. If we look carefully at the collection of all the universes – this collection is called the multiverse – we see that there is a third singularity, at which the multiverse began.”

But here Tipler is wrong. The multiverse theory does not hold our own universe outside of the multiverse. Ours is but one universe in the multiverse sharing the same beginning and ending “singularity” with the rest. And if the multiverse had its own beginning and concluding singularity, doesn’t this call for 4? Why is he reaching so hard to justify 3? Because 3 singularities is the heart of his argument:

“There is one religion which claims that God is a Trinity: Christianity”

Not only is this accounting of numbers suspect (to say the least), but it is difficult to see how these singularities are supposed to be evidence of theological deities.

So assuming this reviewer’s quotations are reliable, Tipler is trying to synthesize the Big Crunch model of our universe’s end (which has fallen out of favor with just about everyone, due to contradicting evidence) with the Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Physics (which is by no means confirmed). What he ends up with is a “multiverse” (this is more like comic books than I thought) which apparently consists entirely of cyclical or closed-time universes (with beginnings and endings in singularities). That multiverse apparently has laws of physics rather similar to ours, if it’s going to begin and end in singularities as well.

And, like the reviewer said, this sounds like it would require four singularities (two for our universe, two for the multiverse as a whole), or an infinite number (two for every universe, and two for the multiverse as a whole), neither of which calculates to “three.”

And even if there were three great singularities, how is that evidence of a triune god? I’m always a bit baffled by those people who see every grouping of three in nature as evidence that the Christian Trinity is the one (three?) true God. Reportedly Francis Collins (geneticist and author of The Language of God) cemented his faith when he saw a waterfall frozen in three parts, which represented to him the truth of the tripartite God of Christianity. If the number of things in nature represents the truth of God, then is a frozen waterfall with one section evidence for Judaism or Unitarianism? Is the number of moons around Jupiter evidence for some polytheistic religion? This is some kind of weird combination of pareidolia and the sharpshooter fallacy, where people are finding meaning in patterns they created arbitrarily.

Overall, it looks to me like Tipler’s working against himself. His methodology effectively makes God superfluous by trying to explain the miraculous in terms of the mechanical, but he’s trying ultimately to prove the existence of the same God that he’s making obsolete. Maybe this is intentional; his redefinition of God results in a wholly material (though outside the universe), impersonal deity with no apparent intelligence or interventional ability.

Now, that’s just one person’s review, and it may be entirely untrue. But two things are certain when it comes to Frank Tipler: one, he is quite absolutely willing to redefine Physics and God when trying to justify one with the other, and that’s no good for anyone. And two, he certainly hasn’t proven the existence of any specific (or generic) God with any accepted Physics.

I welcome proof of God. I’d love to see it, if it exists. So far, I haven’t. And if it ever shows up, it better be a hell of a lot more solid than Frank Tipler’s chalkboard chickenscratch.

Now, for reading that, I reward you with the REAL Stephen Hawking:


7 Responses to String Theory + Atomic Theory = Thor!

  1. Randy says:

    …no branch of astrophysics, so far as I’m aware, suggests that black holes can part seas and raise the dead.Actually, it’s quite simple to suggest that black holes could part seas. Tidal effects, don’tcha know. Black holes have rather powerful tidal effects, to say the least.Now, raising the dead, on the other hand… well, I suppose one could debate the possibility of time travel using a black hole, or even better, identifying God with a wormhole instead, and then try to link time travel to something that might fit the label of “raising the dead.” But I certainly wouldn’t want to try.

  2. Doubting Tom says:

    See, I’m not sure how well the black holes could part seas, even with tidal effects. I could see them parting seas from the ground, certainly, but there’d have to be some other factors in order to call it a “parting.”See, I find it far easier to think of a black hole raising the dead. I mean, if it were close enough, I imagine a lot of things in the ground would start rising up toward it, dead included.

  3. quantumberry says:

    Oh, man, not again. At some point in my mis-spent younger years, I tried listening to Tipler’s, The Physics of Immortality, as an audiobook, on a long car trip. In that book he claims that mankind will acheive immortality by thinking ever faster without bound, so we can achieve infinite understanding before the finite end of the universe. Then he goes about trying to “prove” it. I kept thinking, “What are you talking about?!” and “How on Earth do you prove that?!” and eventually decided I’d better turn it off before I became the crazy lady talking to the stereo while driving.Oh, and at risk of looking (more?) like a total nerd, tidal forces could indeed part seas. The moon’s tides put two “parts” in the seas right now, they just aren’t very deep. If you had extreme tides (which I suppose you would from a very massive black hole), the parts could be deep enough to expose the middle of the ocean floor, rather than just the edges near shores.Not that that has anything to do with the God I believe in!Finally, I thought you might be interested to know that our priest tore into The Secret in his homily on Sunday, calling it “pseudo-spirituality and pseudo-quantum physics.”

  4. PiGuy says:

    First off – cool blog. I’ll be back!The worst part is that Tipler’s General Physics text is slowly replacing the standard text of at least 3 decades, Haliday and Resnick. Now many more science/engineering/math/fave geek subject students will be exposed to his name and provide him with the ability to argue – fallaciously, of course – from authority.The mind is a terrible thing to waste…

  5. Filby says:

    General Physics is by Paul Tipler, not this Frank Tipler guy.

  6. Bruce says:

    I enjoyed your dissection of the theory. Too many points to reply to, but here’s a few quickies:Your appreciation for “when science & comics combine”… Have you seen Larry Niven’s short story “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” from the collection of the same name? Projects, in great detail, the difficulties Superman would have reproducing (and other sexual issues, ie masturbation…”. Funny.I liked your “no theologian has claimed that God’s a black hole…and no physicist that black holes have raised the dead”.Tipler: Just another example, I’m afraid, of using currently-sexy but misunderstood lingo to sell snake oil. Like “this elixir heals at the quantum level…” But from a physicist!!??

  7. Doug Mesner says:

    I’m flattered that you chose to quote from my review, and I’m glad to see others calling Tipler’s “science” into question. Stenger, the author of God: The Failed Hypothesis, wrote a fairly disappointing review of Tipler’s book for Skeptical Inquirer. The upcoming issue of Skeptic will publish two reviews, both of which I have not yet read. I had thought of expanding my own rather snarky review for publication, but I feel I’m bit too late at this point.

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