Posts Tagged ‘Big Bang’

Radio Programme Tonight on Bishop Grosseteste’s Medieval Big Bang Theory

June 14, 2017

Science Stories on Radio 4 tonight, `14th June 2017, at 9.00 pm is on ‘The Medieval Bishop’s Big Bang Theory’. According to the short description about it in the Radio Times, the programme’s presenter, ‘Philip Ball tells the tale of a medieval Big Bang Theory forged by Bishop Robert Grosseteste in the 12th century’.

Grosseteste was the 12th century bishop of Lincoln, and was one of the leading figures of the 12th century renaissance. As well as leading English churchman, Grosseteste was a pioneering natural philosopher. In his Hexaemeron, a theological and philosophical meditation on the first six days of creation, according to the story in Genesis, he worked out a theory that is surprisingly close to that of the modern ‘Big Bang’. In Genesis, the creation of the world begins when God separates the light from the darkness. Grosseteste believed that God had created the world beginning with a tiny point of light, which exploded outwards. Its expansion created ‘extension’, or space, and the material from which God subsequently created the material universe over the next five days.

A.C. Crombie, in his Science in the Middle Ages, Vol. 1: Augustine to Galileo (London: Mercury Books 1952) writes

The first important medieval writer to take up the study of optics was Grosseteste, and he set the direction for future developments. Grossetest gave particular importance to the study of optics because of his belief that light was the first ‘corporeal form’ of material things and was not only responsible for their dimensions in space but also was the first principle of motion and efficient causation. According to Grosseteste, all changes in the universe could be attributed ultimately to the activity of this fundamental corporeal form, and the action at a distance of one thing on another was brought about by the propagation of rays of force or, as he called it, the ‘multiplication of species’ or ‘virtue’. By this he meant the transmission of any form of efficient causality through a medium, the influence emanating from the source of the causality corresponding to a quality of the source, as, for instance, light emanated from a luminous body as a ‘species’ which multiplied itself from point to point through the medium in a movement that went in straight lines. All forms of efficient causality, as for instance, heat, astrological influence and mechanical action, Grosseteste held to be due to this propagation of ‘species’, though the most convenient form in which to study it5 was through visible light. (99-100).

This makes it sound very close to the modern theory that all the forces – gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces – were united at the Big Bang, and subsequently separated out from this primal Superforce.

Grosseteste was also one of the medieval writers, who first posited the Moon as the causes of the tides. The association between the Moon and the tides had first been made by the Stoic philosopher, Posidonius, who was born c. 135 BC. Crombie writes

Grossetest in the next century [following Giraldus Cambrensus in the 12th] attributed the tides to attraction by the moon’s ‘virtue’, which went in straight lines with its light. He said that the ebb and flow of the tides was caused by the moon drawing up from the sea floor mist, which pushed up the water when the moon was rising and was not yet strong enough to pull the mist through the water. When the moon had reached its highest point the mist was pulled through and the tide fell. The second, smaller monthly tide he attributed to lunar rays reflected from the crystalline sphere back to the opposite side of the earth, these being weaker than the direct rays. (126-7). It’s not quite right. The tides are simply caused by the Moon’s gravity acting on the oceans as a whole. Mist isn’t involved. Nevertheless, he was right in pointing to the Moon as the cause of the tides.

Which is more than can be said of Bill O’Reilly. Until recently, O’Reilly was the lead anchor on Fox News, Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing news network over in America. The host of the ‘O’Reilly Factor’, he specialised in right-wing harangues which occasionally ended with him insulting and screaming at his guests if they dared to disagree with him. He did this to the son of one of the firefighters, who lost his life in 9/11. The lad committed the unpardonable offence of saying that his father would not have blamed all Muslims for the attack, and would not have wanted America to go to war over it. This was too much for the veteran newsman, who screamed at the lad that he was a disgrace to his father, and then had him thrown off the show.

He also showed himself massively ignorant scientifically in an interview with the head of American Atheists, the atheist movement, which I think was set up and headed for years by Madalain Murray O’Hair. Trying to refute whatever point the man was making, O’Reilly seized on the notion of the tides as something that was scientifically inexplicable. There are clips on Kyle Kulinski’s Secular Talk and other left-wing news programmes of O’Reilly repeating, ‘Tides go in, tides go out, you can’t explain it’. All the while the lad looks at O’Reilly with a bemused expression on his face, and simply comments, ‘Perhaps its the mighty Thor’. O’Reilly, however, didn’t get the hint that he was being justifiably mocked, and so simply carried on with his daft refrain.

O’Reilly’s comments and use of the tides shows that O’Reilly knew precious little science, and that Grosseteste had a better idea of what caused it 900 or so years ago, in an age when books had to be copied out by hand and western science was beginning the recovery of ancient Greek and Latin scientific and mathematical texts and learning from the great natural scientists and mathematicians of the Muslim world.

Given O’Reilly’s massive ignorance on something I can remember being discussed in some of the text books we had at school, it’s no wonder that American scientists, educationalists and the general public are seriously worried by Trump’s attack on science education in America, and particular in his attempts to cover up climate change.

As for O’Reilly, he was sacked from Fox News a few months ago after his sordid and vile attitude towards women finally caught up with him. Like the head of the network, Roger Ailes, O’Reilly used his position to try to exploit women sexually. In the early part of this century he was forced to settle a case brought against him by a female colleague to whom O’Reilly had made an uninvited and very unwelcome sexually explicit phone call. This was followed by a series of allegations by other female journalists at Fox News of sexual harassment. This got to the point where the advertisers on the network got fed up, and started taking their custom elsewhere, at which point the veteran reporter lost his job.

Bishop Grosseteste, however, remains one of great figures in the history of western science. While many scientists would not share his religious beliefs, and would question the grounding of his scientific views in them, he is nevertheless important as one of the leading medieval scientists, who contributed to the foundation of modern science through his study of optics, mathematics and the natural world.

17th Century Apologetics and Modern Cosmological Problems

April 28, 2013

One of the most astonishing features of studying pre-modern science is the fact that quite often ancient, medieval or early modern natural philosophers and scientists came up with ideas strikingly similar to modern scientific concepts. The mathematician and Christian apologist, Richard Bentley in his 1693 book A Confutation of Atheism from the Origin and Frame of the World attempted to disprove the assertion that an unformed chaos of atoms in the early universe could have led to the formation of the modern cosmos. He wrote

‘That, though we should allow the Atheists, that matter and motion may have been from everlasting, yet if (as they now suppose) there were once no sun nor stars nor Eearth nor planets, but the particles, that now constitute them, were diffused in the mundane space in manner of a chaos without any concretion and coalition, those disperse particle could never of themselves by any kind of natural motion, whether call’d fortuitous or mechanical, have conven’d into this present or any other like frame of heaven and Earth’.

Part of Bentley’s argument was that in the early universe, composed of nothing except a chaos of atoms, matter was too rarified for gravitation to work to pull it all together into the present universe of stars and planets. Bentley estimated that

‘every particle (supposing them globular or not very oblong) would be above nine million times their own length from any other particle’.

He also concluded that this early chaos would have a uniform texture:

‘For if some particles should approach nearer each other than in the former proportion, with respect to some other particles they would be as much remoter. So that notwithstanding a small diversity of their positions and distances, the whole aggregate of matter, as long as it retain’d the name and nature of chaos. would retain well-nigh an uniform tenuit of texture, and may be consider’d as an homomgenous fluid’.

The problem was therefore that in order for the universe to be formed

”tis necessary that these squander’d atoms should convene and unite into great and compact masses, like the bodies of the Earth and planets. Without such a coalition the diffused chaos must have continued and reign’d to all eternity’.

Bentley then went on to attempt to demonstrate that this could not have occurred naturally.

Now modern cosmology has answered many of Bentley’s objections through the Big Bang theory, and observations of the proto-planetary coulds around forming stars. The problem of the even distribution of matter in the early universe after the Big Bang, however, still remains a problem. Modern theoretical physics after Einstein has stated that the universe can indeed be regarded as a kind of fluid. Astronomers and cosmologists are also still working to establish how the evenly distributed matter produced by the Big Bang came to form clumps, which then became stars and galaxies. One solution is Inflationary Universe of Alan Guth. This suggests that the universe experienced a phase of massive inflation after the Big Bang.

Now I am not suggesting that the problem of the coalescene of matter from the mass of high energy particles in the early universe will not be solved by science, or that it was not the result of physical law. What I am saying is simply that the great scientists of the 17th and early centuries wre able of forming opinions and identifying problems in physics similar to those of contemporary science. Their achievements can easily be overlooked by comparison with the great strides science took from the 19th century onwards. Historians of science like the great Roman Cathoic French physicist Pierre Duhem and more recently James Hallam have attempted to restore the great achievements of medieval science and give them the respect they deserve. The great achievements of the 16th and 17th century ‘Scientific Revolution’ and its leading figures, scientists like Newton, Boyle, Francis Bacon, Leeuvenhoek, Galileo, Descarte, Huyghens and Gassendi are much better known and appreciated. But there are other people also in this period, much less known, whose minds nevertheless attempted to grapple with the same problems while arguing against atheism.

The Genesis Enigma in the Daily Mail

July 18, 2009

Today’s Daily Mail has a review of a new book by a British scientist, Professor Andrew Parker, The Genesis Enigma, that considers that the book of Genesis in the Bible accurately describes the history of the evolution of life on Earth from the Big Bang and the emergence of life and its sudden flourishing during the Cambrian Explosion, when a multitude of bizarre and fascinating forms suddenly appear in the fossil record. Professor Parker came to this theory when looking at the Sistine Chapel and the way the great events of the Bible was depicted there by Michelangelo. Professor Parker is definitely a supporter of Evolution, and states in the article that he really doesn’t want his book to be used to support a strict, seven day interpretation of the Creation of the world, or to attack the theory of evolution itself. However, he believes that the ancient Israelites could only have come by their incredibly detailed knowledge of the progress of evolution either through guesswork or by divine revelation. He considers that it is extremely unlikely that they did so by guessing, and so they had to have obtained their knowledge through revelation by the Almighty. The writer of the article, Christopher Hart, doesn’t believe that was the case, but instead considers that the writers of the Bible came to their knowledge through an observation and awareness of the nature of the world around them.

I have to say I’m not convinced by the argument. There are real problems with it, such as the argument that the description of the creation of the sun and moon after the separation of light and darkness doesn’t refer to the creation of those celestial objects, but the emergence of vision in animals. The Jewish American biologist and bioethicist, Leon R. Kass, in his book on Genesis, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, argues that the account of the creation of the universe and its multitude of creatures doesn’t refer to a historical process, but represents a philosophical scheme of the noetic order of the cosmos, in which objects and creatures are ordered according to whether they possessed a mind or soul, considered as the principle of movement. It’s an approach very similar to that of Thomas Aquinas, who believed that the entire universe had been created simultaneously, and that the account of the process of creation according to various days in Genesis was an account of the philosophical order of creation.

Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating article. If you want to look at it, it’s at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1200486/The-Genesis-enigma-How-DID-Bible-evolution-life-3-000-years-Darwin.html

God and the Comprehensibility of the Cosmos

June 7, 2009

A few months ago, Wakefield made this fascinating comment:

‘Ooops.

Meant to add that link, which is at
http://wakepedia.blogspot.com/2008/07/whats-so-great-about-christianity.html

Also, in another conversation with Doctor Logic, whom I note is also contributing now to Rational Perspectives (see
http://rationalperspective.wordpress.com/2007/10/12/doctor-logic-on-the-argument-from-reason/)
, he asked me later on and I did not have an answer at the time for the following:

And why do we need to assume a God, assume that God is orderly, and assume that he would make an orderly universe we can comprehend, instead of simply assuming the universe is intelligible?

This comment was apparently in answer to my suggestion (as you have posted also)
that genetically (by which I mean linkage, not genes per se physically) the history
of science indicates that along with Western society, culture and morals, it is the
inheriter of values and methods bequeathed to it from Christianity. Rodney Stark and
some others like yourself have commented on this, as you did in your article at RP
on the myth of the war of science and faith, in addition to you articles on the
development of democracy in Europe in no small part due to the influence of
Christianity. That was the context.

Of course DL did not take kindly to this. Thus the query. My attempt was NOT to
demonstrate that a linkage of Christianity and modern science (also argued well in a
book called The Soul Of Science, N. Pearcy) meant that God exists, but that the
feeling among scientists and theologians at the time indicated they thought God was
orderly and would have made an orderly Cosmos, and this more than much else was the main impetus for thinking the rest of the universe was comprehensible. This stood in stark contrast to the “animistic”, “magic” realm of what so much had passed for
explanation in centuries earlier.

Nevertheless, it is a good question he poses. To say that the universe is orderly
and to say that this order had to come only from God is what the early scientists
you’ve referenced too, along with many theologians, believed and worked from. And
perhaps it meant the development of what we call modern science. But to say this
does not count out other forms or sources of order. Right? DL points out that mere
comprehensibility is NOT the same as saying it had to have a source that is
supernatural, or beyond human knowledge, or that a god was behind it all. That is
another issue. But how to proceed?

My thinking is that the very fact that order is present and that apparent “rules”
(though in the strict materialist sense rules imply oversight and intelligence, not
mere patterns that just happen to happen) indicates an Author behind the “rules” of
the game.

Your article at RP
http://rationalperspective.wordpress.com/2007/09/19/cosmic-fantasies-by-numbers/
touches on some of this with the “fine tuning” issue that some, like Hugh Ross, have touched on. But the secular scientist answer has been to date that with Big Numbers, we have in our universe virtually infiniate chances for the coming together of the most unlikely of life-giving or life-allowing parameters on things like planetary size, rotation, periodicity, photosynthesis, life evolution, etc, etc, etc. The idea being that with the trillions of systems likely to exist similar to ours we have a higher chance of evolving by random shuffling the parameters you wrote might be fantasy. After all, lucky people win the lottery here in the USA every year and get to retire with millions in chance rangers of one in billions in some cases?
Right?

In any case, many continue, as DL does, to say for example that reason and faith are eternal enemies, and that the Christians are the ones who suppressed science and created the Dark Ages, etc.’

Thanks for the link to your review of Dinesh D’Souza’s book, What’s So Great About Christianity? It’s a great review of a work by one of the brightest Christian apologists around today, who has defended Christianity with some extremely effective arguments. Thanks also for recommending the book, The Soul of Science, by N. Pearcy. That sounds like an extremely useful work for attacking the common atheist belief that somehow Christianity was an opponent of science responsible for the ‘Dark Ages’.

Now let’s tackle Dr. Logic’s view that the existence of an orderly, intelligible universe does not have to be explained as caused by the existence of God, who possesses an orderly intelligence that is expressed in the profoundly orderly structure of His creation. Now Dr. Logic’s view is based on a number of assumptions that are themselves open to criticism.

Firstly, it assumes that the intelligibility of the Cosmos is in itself nothing particularly exceptional or surprising. Indeed, the intelligibility of the Cosmos is such that it can, without too much difficulty, be assumed as a given, rather than be considered as something profoundly remarkable that requires explanation.

Secondly, there’s also an implicit assumption that human intelligence is not remarkable and the ability of humans to understand the deep structure of the universe, and see similarities between its order and that the operations of their own minds, isn’t remarkable either, but the product of chance and coincidence.

Thirdly, it assumes that chance itself is sufficient to account for the universe and the objects within it. This has itself been criticised by theist philosophers, such as Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas based his critique in Aristotelian philosophy, but some of these arguments regarding the first creation of matter are still relevant in modern Big Bang Cosmology.

Let’s examine these assumptions. Firstly, many scientists, including atheists, have expressed profound amazement at the utter intelligibility of the Cosmos. Sir Arthur Eddington, who was an opponent of the Big Bang theory stated in the 1920s that science pointed to the existence of divine Creator more strongly then that it before. His view was clearly based on the fact that the universe was rational, and obeyed orderly, predictable rules. Furthermore, some scientists have stated that they find it remarkable that beauty is an intrinsic part of the Cosmos. Mathematicians and physicists, for example, have remarked on the beauty and elegance of the equations that model the laws governing the Cosmos. Now aesthetic appreciation is part of human intelligence. It’s possible that if the universe were the product of chance, it wouldn’t necessarily be as comprehensible as it is to humanity, or have the very high level of order and mathematical elegance within it.

Moreover, if the laws that govern the cosmos were set at its very beginning, then clearly the evolution of the Cosmos isn’t a product of chance in that its development is not random, but proceeds according to those rules. This does not necessarily mean that the universe’s evolution is totally deterministic and that every phenomenon within the cosmos was predetermined at the very beginning. Nevertheless, it does indicate that the phenomena that constitute the Cosmos were shaped by a distinct set of parameters that determined their emergence and operation. In this view, the universe is not solely the product of chance.

Now if that view is taken, then the development of stars, galaxies and habitable planets are a necessary development from these initial laws, and even if there is nothing remarkable about the development of intelligent species, nevertheless the fact that the universe appears designed to allow the emergence of intelligent life in general, rather than humanity in particular, indicates that the Cosmos was designed to produce intelligent beings.

Then there’s the problem of human intelligence. As I said, part of the view that the universe is the product of chance assumes that human intelligence is itself not remarkable, and the ability of humans to understand the Cosmos is a coincidence that does not require further explanation. But as Alvin Plantinga has pointed out, according to the Darwinian view, intelligence developed purely for survival, not for a more profound understanding of the universe that may not have any immediate survival value. After all, there have been millions of species on Earth that appear to have developed and survived without possessing an intelligence like humans, and there is no guarantee that creatures like humanity would develop elsewhere in the Cosmos. Scientists such as James E. Oberg have remarked that many stars are not suitable for life, being the wrong spectral type, or having life-spans too short for life to emerge. In this view, intelligent species are likely to be extremely rare in the universe. Indeed, it could be considered that rather than an unremarkable feature of the universe that requires no explanation beyond the operation of physical law, the emergence of humanity is profoundly remarkable and our ability to understand the Cosmos a feature that goes beyond mere mathematical coincidence.

Then there is Thomas Aquinas’ view that the creation of the universe from nothing necessarily meant that chance could not have been involved in its creation. For Aquinas, matter was subject to chance. However, as the universe was created from nothing, chance could not have been involved in the production of matter. Now Aquinas’ argument is contradicted somewhat by modern Cosmology, as Aquinas believed in the creation of a fully formed Cosmos with the different creatures, objects and phenomena within it specially and individually created. Modern Cosmology sees this more as a process of separation and distinction, in which the Ylem, the plasma created after the Big Bang, cooled and separated into normal matter, which then coalesced to form stars and galaxies. Nevertheless, as this process followed the rules established at the Big Bang, this process of separation, distinction and development was not the product of chance.

Similarly, Aquinas believed that the good order of the individual parts of the Cosmos, and the way they were put together to form a supremely good whole, was due to the distinct nature of the individual parts of the universe. This in itself, he argued, demonstrated that the good of the universe existed as a final cause of its production, the creation of its individual parts and their orderly relation to each other. This was supremely good, and was therefore not the result of chance.

Thus, the profound intelligibility of the Cosmos and its order, operating according to rational laws, and having been created from nothing, argues against chance as the ultimate cause of the cosmos.