history technology time universe

The order of things

Universe is 14 billion years old (~~ 4.3×10^17 seconds)
Sun is 4.57 billion years old
Earth is 4.54 billion years old
Life is 3.8 billion years old
Mammals are 225 million years old
Humans are 200,000 years old
Religion is 102,000 years old
Cities are 5,000 years old
China is 4,085 years old
Judaism is 3,828 years old
Hinduism is 3,100 years old
Rome is 2,768 years old
Democracy is 2,525 years old
Christianity is 1,985 years old
London is 1,973 years old
Islam is 1,450 years old
Gun powder is 972 years old
The telescope is 408 years old
New York is 351 years old
America is 240 years old
The locomotive is 204 years old
The repeating rifle 167 years old
“On the Origin of Species” is 156 years old
Dynamite is 148 years old
Radio is 120 years old
Nuclear weapons are 70 years old
The worldwide web is 24 years old

belief God history science universe

Why We Believe in God

Buddha said he wanted to have a word with me by Stuck in Customs

The March 4 New York Times Magazine had an article about the debate among evolutionary biologists regarding why humans believe in God. Religion is so persistent in human history, scientists can’t help but see it as a trait that has evolved in us, like opposable thumbs or hairless skin. But because it exists in the mind, the debate resolves around whether religious belief is an adaptation or the perhaps useless side-product of other adaptations.

The adaptationists say that religion helps bind us to other people, where we get advantages of the group–others to look after us when we’re sick or with whom we can share resources. Also, being ostensibly religious may help us build our reputation, which would provide access to better mates.

The “useless side product” camp tells us that we are primed to a belief in God by specifically three mind “modules.” The first, called “agent detection,” makes us able to quickly identify threats, such as a bear in the brush or a car pulling out of a drive way, and engages other mechanisms that will preserve our welfare. Sometimes, though, agent detection makes us perceive things that aren’t there–like a better-safe-than-sorry reflex. “Casual reasoning” is our ability to construct narratives, even counterfactual ones, to explain phenomena in our lives. Lastly, “theory of mind” is the ability in humans to recognize–and simulate in their own minds–the thoughts of others. Playing chess and anticipating your opponent’s next move is a good example of this ability, as is the act of persuading others. These three traits, they assert, make it natural for us to believe in an omnipotent, disembodied presence; the ultimate predator, the ultimate parent.

Interesting as these arguments are, they bother me because both presuppose that God does not exist. That idea seems as off-balance as the creationist “intelligent design” view of the world.

To me, a “universal belief” is one most likely to be true. There are all sorts of wacky, local beliefs that are easy to dismiss chiefly because they are local.

We can’t all agree on God’s gender, appearance, origin, special powers, commandments or even whether there’s one or many gods, but every collection of people throughout history has believed in a creative force superior to our own.

What really makes it easy for us to believe in God is the constant reinforcement of cause and effect in our life. The tree falls down because the wind blows. The prey dies because our arrow pierces it.

I had a conversation about God with a guy in a bar once. He said something very profound. “If you ask any religious person what the one constant in life is, he’ll say ‘God.’ If you ask any secular person the same question, he’ll say ‘change.’ Now, one person can be stupid, but not vast groups of people. All these people are correct if God is change.”

Just those three words, God is change makes a lot of sense to me. It answers many of my questions.

science space time universe

So Long Big Bang, Hello Big Bounce

A scientific paper was released yesterday in the online version of the journal Nature Physics that may provide answers not only to the origin of our Universe, but may describe some conditions of what was there before.

Martin Bojowald, assistant professor of physics at Penn State has found a way to combine some calculations of quantum physics, which is very good at describing very extreme units of energy and mass, with classical physics, which is better at describing things like orbits and gravity. Physicists have been trying for nearly a century to reconcile the two types into a unified theory that would cast a better light, as it were, into how the Universe works.

When Albert Einstein was working on the problem of the Universe’s origin, his calculations showed that the Big Bang resulted from a “singularity” of infinite mass and energy with zero volume. This would have meant that all the planets and stars originated from nothing. While that might be a satisfying answer for poets and preachers, it’s not been at all satisfying for science.

Bojowald’s theory, called Loop Quantum Gravity, is able to describe a condition of Universal start that has a mass and energy less than infinite and a volume greater than zero. The Big Bang, then, becomes the Big Bounce where our Universe was born out of the contraction of another Universe with a similar space-time geometry.

According to Quantum Gravity, a theory upon which Bojowald’s theory was built, the Universe is comprised at the sub-atomic level of one-dimensional quantum threads. Under the extreme energy conditions of the Big Bounce, these threads react in a way that throws gravity into reverse–instead of attracting, it repels.

Loop Quantum Gravity theory uses sets of equations to figure things out going backwards in time through the bounce and further still into the previous condition. One very interesting indication of this theory is that the previous Universe is not likely to be a copy of our own. According to the Penn State Web site:

The model’s equations also contain some “free” parameters that are not yet known precisely but are nevertheless necessary to describe certain properties. Bojowald discovered that two of these free parameters are complementary: one is relevant almost exclusively after the Big Bounce and the other is relevant almost exclusively before the Big Bounce. Because one of these free parameters has essentially no influence on calculations of our current universe, Bojowald colludes that it cannot be used as a tool for back-calculating its value in the earlier universe before the Big Bounce.

Also, Bojowald found that at least one of the parameters used to describe the previous state was useless in describing this one. This leads him to conclude, “the eternal recurrence of absolutely identical universes would seem to be prevented by the apparent existence of an intrinsic cosmic forgetfulness.”