The Church of the Big Bang

October 29, 2009
By

I remember a remarkable conversation I once had with another Elder when I was a missionary.  He and I had been talking about the relationship between God and science, which was a notoriously hot topic in my mission.  Darwin is a dirty word in West Texas, and words like “radiometric dating” and “natural selection” aren’t necessarily swear words, but shouldn’t be used in polite or mixed company.  In the course of our conversation, I mentioned in passing the Big Bang.  He was quite taken aback.  “You don’t actually believe in the Big Bang, do you?” he asked.

I told him that I did.  With some effort, I tried to explain redshift and galaxies and the Second Law of Thermodynamics as best as I could, but he didn’t buy any of it.  To him, the Big Bang was some smart-ass scientist’s attempt at replacing God with some natural mechanism.

The Big Bang didn’t create the Universe.  God did.

*  *  *  *

My friend said to me “I think the weather’s trippy.” And I said “No man, it’s not the weather that’s trippy. Perhaps it is the way that we perceive it that is indeed trippy.” Then I thought, “man, I should have just said ‘yeah’.” – Mitch Hedberg

In my life, I have been afflicted with great anxiety concerning the welfare of my soul.  Anyone who is sensitive to issues and questions of the soul can probably empathize with me.  When I look around me at my existence, I’m struck at how patently absurd it seems to be.  Sometimes I get completely immersed in my thoughts, and my wife, seeing my furrowed brow and look of deep concern, asks me what I’m thinking.  The majority of time, I am thinking something along the lines of

how strange it is that I exist.  How strange it is that there is only one thing in the Universe with the property of “I” and it happened to be this body on this planet at this time in this Universe.  If I take my senses at face value, “I” seemed to come into existence in 1984 and I assume it will seem to go out of existence sometime in the future.  I might ask, “How did ‘I’ come to exist?” and another might reply, “When your mother and father conceived you, at some point when your brain was developed enough, your consciousness came into being.”  To which I would reply, “But mothers and fathers conceive all the time, and yet the only collection of atoms out of which the property ‘I’ has emerged is the one I currently perceive.”

That’s when I say to my wife, “Oh nothing.”

In one particularly trying time in my life, due to a compounding of external stresses too personal and numerous to relate here, my anxiety crossed the border from the existential kind to the clinical kind, and I realized I needed to see a doctor about it.  I was prescribed medication and relaxation techniques, and most of the worried, tearful, and sleepless nights disappeared.  However, the underlying cause persisted.  I believe in God, I have great faith in the Book of Mormon, of course, but what if I’m wrong? What if my perception can’t be trusted?  What if everything I’ve been taught is a lie?

It was at this time that I discovered a man who helped me regain the faith I had in God, and I owe a debt to him that I can’t really repay.  I imagine it would be to his slight chagrin.  His name is William Lane Craig, Christian apologist.

Anyone familiar with Craig would notice the classical literary irony in the situation.  Craig’s triumphant Kalam Cosmological Argument for God’s existence rests on the idea of creation ex nihilo, which Mormon cosmology roundly rejects.  Yet it was the simple premises of Craig’s argument that gave me a glimmer of hope when I couldn’t find anything else to grasp onto.  It reads thus:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

2. The Universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, the Universe has a cause.

I am very thankful that my mother didn’t recoup the costs of her college textbooks by selling them, because as a child I was fascinated by her college astronomy textbook.  I still have that textbook, and it sits meekly next to my own relatively massive college astronomy textbooks.  It was written before I was born (out of respect for my mother I won’t explicitly say when), and it went over three competing theories regarding the birth and eventual fate of the Universe.  Even then, you could see that the Big Bang model was starting to edge out the now wildly unfashionable Steady State model.

The most popular cosmological model is the Big Bang model.  It says that 10 to 20 billion years ago, the universe violently exploded into being in an event called the Big Bang.

Before the Big Bang, all of the matter and radiation of our present universe were packed together in the primeval fireball – an extremely hot dense state from which the universe rapidly expanded.  The Big Bang was the start of time and space.

In the future, the original hydrogen will finally be used up in stars.  Then the stars and galaxies will all stop shining.  The universe which began with a fiery Big Bang will fade into darkness with a cold “whimper” if it continues to expand indefinitely[1].

I still remember the awe and reverence I had for such an event, if true.  What an explosion!  In my little child mind, I could almost envision space beginning to exist, but the idea of time beginning to exist seemed completely beyond my capacity for understanding.  It still is.  My mother’s astronomy textbook continued by explaining the other two theories.  First, that the Universe oscillates.  That is, eventually, gravity will overcome all the galaxies and stars in the Universe, and will eventually pull everything back to a singularity, and the process repeats itself.  Lastly, it presented the Steady State model.  Pay careful attention to the last paragraph.

The Steady State model says that the universe does not evolve or change in time.  There was no beginning in the past and there will be no end in the future.  Past, present, future – the universe is the same forever.

Most astronomers dislike the Steady State model because it contradicts basic observations.  It says that new hydrogen is continuously created without explaining where the new hydrogen comes from.  Such creation violates a basic law of physics – the law of conservation of energy – which states that the total energy in an isolated system always remains the same.  Energy cannot be created or destroyed, although transformations may occur within the system.

Those astronomers who favor the Steady State model like it because of its philosophical appeal.  It defines a universe that always existed in the past and will always exist in the future.

That’s quite remarkable, isn’t it?  Some astronomers – acolytes of the scientific method and disciples of pure reason – favored an outdated model that contradicts basic observations because of its philosophical appeal?  Since when is science so blindly dogmatic?  Insert canned laughter here.

The fact remains.  Many astronomers, philosophers, and scientists rejected the idea of the Big Bang out of hand based on philosophical and theological grounds.  They saw it as an attempt to inject a creation event into cosmology.  The matter wasn’t helped by the fact that Georges Lemaître, the astronomer who first proposed that the Universe was expanding and therefore was once all in the exact same point, was a Catholic priest.  Fred Hoyle, who coined the term “Big Bang” pejoratively on a radio program in 1949, believed that the idea that the Universe was created directly implies the existence of a Creator[2].  He found the Steady State model much less troubling, and kept believing it long after it went out of vogue, like wearing a powder-blue leisure suit to Times Square New Year’s Eve Party, 1999.

Indeed, the idea of an Absolute Beginning certainly raises one question in the minds of everyone who hears about it.  What caused the Big Bang?  What happened before the Big Bang really isn’t explained by the theory, nor can it be.  Time began at the Big Bang, thus it’s meaningless to speculate what preceded it.  Stephen Hawking responds to the question of what preceded the Big Bang by rhetorically asking, “What is north of the North Pole?”  Unsatisfying, isn’t it?  In fact, there are many scientific theories that attempt to explain what happened before the Big Bang, but due to entropy and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, an Absolute Beginning seems inescapable.  According to P. C. W. Davies, the Universe must have begun to exist at a finite time ago and is in the process of winding down[3].

The evidence for the Big Bang seems insurmountable nowadays.  I’m probably a member of the first generation who has been taught in class that the Big Bang is an almost certainty.  If the Big Bang didn’t really happen, then not only are we wrong about some things in science, a massive overhaul of everything we’ve done in the last 300 years would be required.  As time goes on this seems less and less likely, and the longer we go without finding good evidence against an Absolute Beginning, the stronger I feel that the case for a Prime Mover gets.

This is why my conversation with my Elder friend who didn’t accept the Big Bang was so curious to me.  First, how could he reject the Big Bang in the face of so much scientific evidence?  In fairness, I suppose I’m familiar with Christians rejecting scientific evidence that appears threatening.  We need look no further than our friend Charles Darwin for that.  Yet that leads me to my second objection.  Why reject scientific evidence that seems to be in our favor?  Whose side are you on anyway?

I’ve thought about this quite a bit since then and I’ve got a couple possible explanations.

1. Many Christians automatically reject the Big Bang based merely on the fact that it’s a scientific explanation of the Universe’s creation.  Science is the opponent of faith and must therefore be treated with suspicion and doubt immediately.

2. My Mormon Elder friend rejected it because he feels that it implies creation ex nihilo (out of nothing), which is rejected by Mormon cosmology.

Is belief in the Big Bang incompatible with LDS cosmology?  Indeed, William Lane Craig has brilliantly attacked the Mormon conception of God for this reason in the recent Christian apologetic work The New Mormon Challenge, prompting Blake Ostler to brilliantly respond by defending the Mormon conception of God.  Joseph Smith taught that the elements were eternal, that the Universe was not created ex nihilo, and that our spirits or intelligences are co-eternal with God.  There was no beginning – time is an eternal round.  One could possibly argue that matter may exist eternally, and its temporality is a property that was given to it by God at the moment of Creation, thus explaining “time’s arrow” and increasing entropy in the Universe, but I’m not a scientist.  I’m not a philosopher.  I’m not the smartest guy in the world, nor am I the most clever.  I’m not the first person to struggle with these thoughts, and I certainly won’t be the last (especially if my kids inherit my existential genes).  So if I were to claim that I can work out which of these two viewpoints is right, I would be lying.  I’m not sure I have that capability.

But for some reason I find great comfort in the idea of the Big Bang.  I still consider it with childlike awe, and firmly believe that God put that awe into me for a reason.  Whenever there is a waver in my faith, God points His glowing finger towards that singularity.  Science tells us that a finite amount of time ago, the Universe came into being, and it came into being with an amazing complexity.  The more I study the way the Universe works, the more I stand in wonder at its grandeur and beauty.  Non-locality, quantum mechanics, higher dimensions, biology, star formation.  It’s a gorgeous place we live in, the Universe.  Whether the Big Bang was a creation ex nihilo or a creation out of pre-existing materials, I am still led to believe that the Universe as we know it began to exist a finite time ago, with all its life-sustaining complexity.  And it is this Beginning that I worship.

Think about it.  If God doesn’t exist, then the Big Bang is indistinguishable from God.  It is the event that caused all things that I know, love, experience, feel, and see.  My personality, my religion, my country, my planet, and my galaxy were encoded in the Big Bang event, because it was that event that started a chain of events that led to those things.  Change enough of the variables in that event, and not only would I not have existed, but a life-permitting Universe would never have emerged.  I owe my existence to that event.

1. Moche, Dinah L. Astronomy: A Self-Teaching Guide. 3rd Edition.  New York: John Wiley and Sons.  1987.

2. Quentin Smith, A Big Bang Cosmological Argument For God’s Nonexistence. Faith and Philosophy. April 1992 (Volume 9, No. 2, pp. 217–237)

3. P.C.W. Davies, The Physics of Time Asymmetry (London: Surrey University Press, 1974), p. 104.

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66 Responses to The Church of the Big Bang

  1. Dan
    October 29, 2009 at 7:02 am

    an “eternal round.” Fascinating phrase. That implies a cyclical nature rather than linear.

    I do not see any conflict between what we suppose with science and what we suppose with religion. I think in both cases, we know very very little of actual reality. And yes, I believe we suppose and assume much in regards to religion too. We say phrases like “one eternal round” but I think we have absolutely no clue what that really means. We simply do not have enough facts at hand to make any realistic judgment of things like the Big Bang. I’ll let scientists who ponder and research that subject their whole lives figure out what exactly that means, and at the same time I will let prophets ponder and research what exactly “one eternal round” means.

  2. Mike S
    October 29, 2009 at 7:56 am

    Actually, the Big Bang is probably more compatible with the Mormon view of God than with many other Christian religions. In a simplistic explanation for the sake of brevity – If God ALWAYS existed as God, why was there a start to this universe? What was He doing before that? However, if God was instead once a man and not “God”, and also assuming that God is the God over our ENTIRE universe and not just a part of it, that necessarily implies that there was a start to his creation – ie. the universe. There is therefore necessarily something like the Big Bang.

  3. Mephibosheth
    October 29, 2009 at 8:35 am

    all of the matter and radiation of our present universe were packed together in the primeval fireball

    Doesn’t exactly sound like nihilo to me.

  4. AndrewJDavis
    October 29, 2009 at 9:22 am

    #3 Well that isn’t perhaps the best description of the current Big Bang model now. The ‘fireball’ referred to encompasses all of space and matter and energy in a dimensionless point. Well, a point with length width and height smaller than the planck length (~1.6 times 10^-35 meters). At that point, discussions of whether or not something so small that our physical laws can’t describe it become philosophical discussions of nihilo.

    I loved this post, and really love your last two paragraphs. It was that awe that led me to study astronomy.

  5. Mephibosheth
    October 29, 2009 at 9:25 am

    Interesting. I stand corrected.

  6. Clark
    October 29, 2009 at 9:35 am

    My understanding of the “Big Bang” is that all of the matter in the universe was packed into a extremely small, unbelievably dense point, which exploded in a fraction of a second to create the known universe.

    This fraction of a second could be described very well with the phrase “In the Beginning, GOD created the heavens and the earth.”

    In short, I see no conflict between known astonomy and Mormon theology.

  7. October 29, 2009 at 10:03 am

    #4. I was afraid a “real” astronomer would come in here and point out a bunch of scientific inaccuracies in my post! Heh. I’m glad you didn’t. I would become an astronomer except that mathematics and physics don’t naturally come to my brain. But I love astronomy man.

  8. Mark D.
    October 29, 2009 at 10:05 am

    The big bang view of cosmology is radically more consistent with the idea of creatio ex nihilo than not, so I don’t know what your friend in West Texas was complaining about.

    A rejection of creatio ex nihilo, a belief in the eternal nature of matter and intelligence, etc, practically requires that the universe have a history prior to the big bang, if there really was a big bang.

  9. SteveS
    October 29, 2009 at 11:14 am

    IMO, the people who wrote that their GOD (YHWH) created “the heavens [read sky above, incl. sun, moon, stars] and the earth” had no concept of the universe, much less the galaxy, or even the solar system. They probably believed that the Earth was fixed, and that the sun revolved around it. The creation stoy was meant to contextualize observed environmental phenomena and other living organisms as part of God’s creation, all designed for humankind’s benefit. Given this perspective, I think it a bit silly to try to fit theological cosmology into a modern scientific construct of the origins of the universe (about which the worshipers of YHWH knew nothing). The early worshipers of YHWH used the creation story now recorded in Genesis as a way of explaining humankind’s existence, and their place in the world. I seriously doubt this origin myth was meant to be ideologically interpreted into the “one true way” God created the heavens and the earth, a lens through which all other considerations, scientific and theological must be seen.

    I see no problem with God creating a universe using a “big bang” method. But also I don’t see it necessary to reconcile science with mythic stories of creation in the Bible or any other holy book: Bible stories can reveal and teach “truth” even if the stories they tell aren’t literally factual. Jesus spoke in parables.

  10. prairie chuck
    October 29, 2009 at 11:16 am

    #7, that’s exactly how I feel. I tried, really really tried, to master the math needed because I wanted nothing more than to someday look with my own eyes at stars and galaxies through a 200″ telescope instead of having to look at the pictures.

    It’s interesting that this discussion comes just after my boys discovered this video on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGK84Poeynk&feature=player_embedded# (which they’ve now watched about 50 times.) Though many will only see the evolutionist elements of the video, it calls to my mind Psalm 8.

  11. Mike S
    October 29, 2009 at 11:46 am

    #9 SteveS:

    I agree with your point regarding the Bible. Just like a game of telephone tag, thoughts were given in the cultural context of an ancient society and have been passed down through multiple translations, etc. since then. It is a bit more difficult to use the same arguments with modern LDS revelations, which were given to Joseph Smith in modern times and expressed in English.

  12. October 29, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    #9. It might perhaps be silly to some to try to “fit” theological myths into science, but on the other hand, when people like William Lane Craig use the Big Bang to argue for the existence of God, he’s not even using the Bible necessarily. He’s trying to demonstrate that God exists at all using empirical evidence. The argument is that the Universe must have begun to exist a finite time ago and therefore a timeless, uncreated being outside of the Universe must have been its cause. So in their case they’re not trying to reconcile the Big Bang with, say, a 7-day creation or a Young Earth cosmology, they’re countering the claims of Atheists that our understanding of cosmology renders God completely unnecessary.

  13. Thomas
    October 29, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    As my father the astronomer likes to tell students, scientists have narrowed the origins of the universe down from two possibilities:

    It came from nothing. Or it came from something.

    Science can extrapolate the condition of the universe back to the first moments of the Big Bank (the Planck time) but not past it. Some think the universe spontaneously evolved from a singularity, which is sort of compatible with ex nihilo creation. Others speculate that new universes are created by evaporating black holes (a long story involving quantum mechanics that I don’t quite understand) in existing universes. That has interesting similarities to the “one eternal round” idea.

    By the way, how is William Lane Craig’s cosmological argument different from Aquinas’s?

  14. October 29, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Let me point our that their are now a number of elaborations of the Big Bang model which involve the notion of an “eternal progression” of Big Bangs.

    The philosophical poles of whether creation did or did not have a beginning do not go away; they simply recur under new guises.

  15. SteveS
    October 29, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    re. #13: “By the way, how is William Lane Craig’s cosmological argument different from Aquinas’s?”

    Or Aristotle’s about the unmoved mover?

  16. October 29, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Craig’s argument at its core is the same as Aquinas’s or Aristotle’s (and gets its name from the Kalam school of Islamic thought). The difference is, he incorporates arguments from current physics and cosmology (including entropy, thermodynamics, and other evidences). It’s an interesting synthesis of various elements. Not perfect, but compelling enough.

  17. Thomas
    October 29, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    ##15, 16: I see. Aquinas and, I suspect, the “Kalam school of Islamic thought,” with which I’m not familiar, at least not by that name (is that Averroes, Avicenna & Co.?) were both influenced by Aristotelian metaphysics.

  18. October 29, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Yes. You can look up Kalam on Wikipedia, and then you’d know way more than I do about it.

  19. Mark D.
    October 29, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    I see no problem with God creating a universe using a “big bang” method

    The problem is that it is impossible for an immanent being to create the universe, so adopting this idea means rejecting much of what Joseph Smith said on the subject, closing the door to the idea that our Heavenly Father is an exalted man, and pretty much any substantive sense of exaltation.

    Not that that is not a legitimate position to take, even within the realm of Mormon thought, of course. It is classical orthodoxy in every sense of the term.

  20. SteveS
    October 30, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Mark D. (#19): I don’t really see the need to reconcile JS’s cosmological revelations with science, either. I’m not one who believes they (BoM, BoA, BoMoses, temple ceremony) were based on historical, factual events. That doesn’t rob them of spiritual significance and metaphorical power. In truth, I have no idea what God is like. I’m content with the concept that God’s ways are not my ways, and I suspect it ultimately impossible to understand God’s character and attributes given our limited linguistic and metaphysical toolkit.

    Could it be that JS’s view of God as an exalted man is but one facet of an incomplete portrait of a supreme being that transcends the bounds of space and time, indeed the universe itself? I suspect that this is far more likely to be the case than the scenario that posits that we know all the “truth” there is to know about God, what he’s like, how he acts, what he likes and dislikes, what his plans are for humankind and the universe in general, information all of which we can use to diminish other people’s faith in Gods that aren’t aligned with our own concept of deity.

    Maybe we know everything we need to know about God for our salvation? But then why did JS need to reveal more about God than was currently “known”? Did people who lived before JS’s time not “need to know” about God’s character in the ways we perceive it today? Did Jesus’ followers not need to know? or Moses’ followers?

  21. October 30, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    When the child was a child,
    It was the time for these questions:
    Why am I me, and why not you?
    Why am I here, and why not there?
    When did time begin, and where does space end?
    Is life under the sun not just a dream?
    Is what I see and hear and smell
    not just an illusion of a world before the world?
    Given the facts of evil and people.
    does evil really exist?
    How can it be that I, who I am,
    didn’t exist before I came to be,
    and that, someday, I, who I am,
    will no longer be who I am?

    Lines from Rainer Marie Rilke’s When the Child was a Child

  22. Forest Simmons
    October 30, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    The primary meaning of the English word “universe” is the totality of existence including everything and excluding nothing. According to this definition there can only be one universe. If there were two U1 and U2, each would contain the other since each contains everything.

    When we start to use the word universe (unmodified) for something less, we debase the language and no longer have a word for this important concept.

    Therefore I urge you to speak of “the observable universe,” the “known universe,” the “material universe,” the “local component of the universe,” the “universe of discourse,” etc. depending on what you are talking about.

    A blatant misuse of the term, a surrender really to ignorance and bad taste, is the neologism “multiverse” which is supposed to contain all of the “universes.”

    The multiverse concept (as expounded in Scientific American articles) is a good one, but the terminology is criminal.

    The concept is that our observable universe is a typical part of the “multiverse,” which is made up of infinitely many variations on a theme.

    There are many theories about how this could be, including, but not limited to, Hugh Everett, III’s “many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.”

    Setting that aside for now,let’s get back to “God.”

    No matter what “God” is, if God exists, God cannot be outside of the one and only universe, because God is something that exists, and the universe, by primary definition, includes everything that exists and excludes nothing.

    Perhaps God is outside of the material universe. This would contradict brother Joseph who taught that “it is all matter” though some of it is more refined than other.

    Perhaps God does not dwell in our “space time continuum.” If there is something out of “our space time continuum,” it is still part of everything, and so part of the one and only universe.

    It may well be that there are infinitely many distinct components to the universe, like separate bubbles. That doesn’t make any lesser collection of them into a “universe,” unless you qualify the term with some modifier to limit it to that sense. They could be properly called “component universes,” for example, but why not just “cosmological components?”

    Our observable universe is a scant 20 billion light years in diameter. In my opinion that is infinitesimal compared with the actual universe. In another posting i will tell you why.

  23. November 1, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Forest:

    “Criminal”? Really? One of the really nice features of English is its ability to accept modification to accept new concepts.

    If you wish to restrict the use of “multiverse”, you’re a bit late, my friend. It’s in the professional jargon.

  24. Forest Simmons
    November 2, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    New words are great. What’s lamentable is destroying the meaning of a unique old word, so that a new word has to be invented to replace it. “Universe” was the only word we had for the concept of the totalify of all reality. That meaning was diluted by constant misuse, so a new word had to be coined, a surrender to the debasement of the old word, as I said.

    It’s not my place to “restrict,” but anybody with good taste will lament the devaluation of perfectly good words.

    The worst of it is that when the old word is used with its debased meanings, the casual reader who assumes that it still has its old value misunderstands what is being said. When somebody says, “The universe is only 20 billion light years in diameter,” most people understand that to mean absolutely everything, not just the currently observable universe, or our component of space-time, or one main branch of a branched manifold of the “many worlds” model, or one typical super, super cluster of super clusters of clusters of galaxies that make up the “multivrse.”

    I’m not saying that they believe the statement. I’m just saying that they misunderstand the intent of the statement.

    As a mathematician, I know that scientists get in the habit of talking about mathematical models of reality as if they were reality itself. This practice is fairly harmless among people that understand it as a shorthand, and it is required in grant applications, if you want your application to be taken seriously, but most scientists are aware that mathematical models are idealizations that can only approximate highly limited portions and aspects of reality.

  25. November 2, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Forest:

    When people first started talking about parallelism among “universes”, there was a word in a science fiction story that I loved, but never caught on. It is even adaptable to integrating the spiritual and physical realms (and maybe anything else): alternity.

  26. November 2, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    New band name!

  27. Forest Simmons
    November 3, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    I like “alternity.” If there are parallel worlds where Esperanto has been adopted adopted, at least one of them must use “alternity” for this concept.

    Like Nephi I glory in plain clarity of expression. I have no qualm against evolution of English in the direction of simplicity and clarity, but I do lament changes that make clarity more difficult.

    My urging is not to turn the clock back and try to undo what has been done, but to use appropriate qualifications to compensate for the ambiguity that has crept in.

    How do various versions of Pidgin English manage to express so many concepts with so few words? By massive use of circumlocutions!

    I suppose if we can get used to “sub-atomic,” we can get used to “super-universal.”

    Atom comes for “a” meaning not, and “tom” meaning cut or divide. Originally an atom was something that could not be broken down into parts. But then came the atom smashers.

    Some science fiction writers have imagined that each of our “atoms” could be like an entire world in itself, infinitely large by the standards of its inhabitants, kind of like the speck of dust that Horton the elephant so faithfully protected against all odds to save the inhabitants of Whoville. This idea contradicts all current versions of quantum mechanics, our best approximations to date of the microcosmic world, but, as Brother Joseph said, “It is better to believe too much, than to believe to little.” I take this to mean (in part anyway) that our imaginations will always fall short of the complexity of reality.

    Like Arthur, I have had the same experience from childhood of the wonderment of the uniqueness of this “I.”

    A similar meditation is on the wonderment that anything at all exists. The empty set is so much simpler than anything else. Think about it. More on this later.

  28. November 3, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    An empty set sure is simpler, of course, but hard (impossible) to imagine without putting it in relation to something else. I can’t describe nothing without referencing something else… even the word “nothing” means no-thing (referencing a “thing”). I’m not sure nothing is even possible. Still, Leibniz’s muse can take new forms: why is the Universe composed of so many atoms instead of one? That seems equally possible. Or going back to my “uniqueness of I” problem… why does the Universe even contain something with the property of “I” at all? Am I a necessary or contingent part of the Universe? Etc.

    We’re completely blessed with knowledge of the Plan of Salvation, at least to ease my mind about the whole matter. Even if the Plan of Salvation turns out to be a simple abstraction of something much larger.

    If you have more to say on this subject then by all means do it! I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

  29. Forest Simmons
    November 5, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    I’m afraid that I have way more to say than time to say it, so please be patient.

    First of all, more on pondering “I.”

    When I first realized that no other mortal could know exactly what it was like to be me, and that there were things about me and my thoughts that made me unique in some ways, I wondered if Heavenly Father was aware of how special I felt, and if my uniqueness was in any way important to him. I was very young, but I had a strong feeling that the answer was in the affirmative. And, like Enos, with that assurance I immediately realized that everybody else must have similar tender feelings of special uniqueness, and like Ammon and his brethren, I couldn’t bear the thought that any of them might have to suffer in any way beyond the passing pains that we all experience when we fall down or get stung by a bee. I began to know that each soul is precious to God.

    I don’t see how anybody who has experienced this “I” epiphany could ever condone the intentional torture of another living creature. Because of this, I consider section 19 of the D&C as one of the bed rock documents essential for understanding the plan of salvation.

    I once talked to a friend of evangelical persuasion who took the view that all creatures are like bugs or worms in the sight of God, and that on His whim He elects some for salvation, and some for never ending torture. I thought that showing him section 19 would provide him a way out from this (to me) painful thought. I was flabbergasted that he fought against it, saying that it contradicted the Bible, that therefore Joseph Smith was an impostor, etc.

    Section 19 takes great pains to reconcile the scriptural idiomatic phrases with this new interpretation. Basically, since Eternal is one of the names of God, Eternal Punishment means “God’s punishment,” and God’s punishment is neither cruel nor without termination. If you take this interpretation, then there is no contradiction between section 19 and the Bible.

    But suppose there was, then I would have to say that Joseph Smith got it better than whichever Bible writers that contradicted him. But my friend would have nothing of it. I wonder if he has ever had the “I” experience. How could he retain his Calvinistic view of God if he did?

  30. Forest Simmons
    November 5, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Once while pondering the saying that “your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins,” and thinking about man’s inhumanity to man, I wondered if perhaps I was living in an elaborate virtual reality where I was the only real “I.” That would certainly be one way to keep spirits from emotionally or physically damaging other spirits during their “mortal” probation. In other words, everybody has a separate virtual world created for his own probationary experience. In some ways it would be like “The Truman Show” existence of the Jim Carey character, except the actors in-the-know would just be manipulating virtual characters.

    Or it could be that more than one person “out-of the-know,” i.e. many unwitting persons participate in the same virtual world. Those in the know, Jesus and other “gnostics,” would realize the virtual nature of the experience and would not fear death, pain, etc. Some of them might have administrator privileges in the virtual reality program, and some of them might be assembly language programmers that could insert miraculous patches in the code when convenient.

    Just as Truman Burbank had a hard time catching on, most of us would never catch on in this more elaborate staged existence.

    Resurrections, healings, and other restorations would be easy; just save frequent backup copies of the virtual reality, including all of the characters, of course.

    I do not seriously entertain the thought because I think it is a much more elaborate plan of salvation than is necessary, and I believe that God works by “small means,” i.e. economical means, not spending more time, energy, or other celestial resources than are actually needed to accomplish His purposes.

    But this is one possible way of providing for God to be “outside of space and time.”

    I don’t believe it, but it does show that the concept of God being outside of space and time is not a self contradiction, as long as we are willing to qualify or limit what we mean by “space and time.”

    He would still be in the “universe” but not in the virtual component of the universe accessible to us during our mortal probation.

  31. Forest Simmons
    November 5, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    If somebody starts a new religion based on my previous message, please remember that I do not subscribe to it, so name it after somebody else ;)

  32. November 6, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Yes… perhaps a bit too elaborate friend. Yes, these simulations would protect us from hurting each other truly, but could you also argue that they protect us from loving each other truly as well? Is love for an illusion the same as love for a soul? I would say that perhaps it makes no difference, in the end, because what only matters is the effect it has on one’s own soul. But in reality it’s hard to think that it’s “the same.” And when we emerge from the simulation, we find ourselves in the company of the true souls we have simulated our love for? Like two Internet lovers who met online and are meeting each other in real life for the first time.

    D&C 19 sure does settle quite a bit in the minds of its more thoughtful readers. A lot has been said elsewhere about “knowing there is a God” or “knowing the Church is true.” Paradoxically, I think we can’t know God exists the same way I know the computer I’m using exists. We can’t know God exists the same way we know the United States government exists. But that’s the foundation of mercy. I know the United States government exists, therefore I’m 100% accountable for living the laws of this land while I’m here. We violate God’s law all the time, but we’re not eternally accountable for laws we break ignorantly. God is just, but he is also merciful.

    So D&C 19 makes even more sense. God’s mercy is applied as soon as we forget what He looks like. As we grow in the Spirit and learn more of God’s ways, we become more accountable, and we approach the day when we are 100% sure. But I’m not sure that’s really possible for the average person. We might approach 100, perhaps get 99.9999% of the way there, but that last little bit is held back, so He might forgive us for ignorantly sinning. There is the issue of Sons of Perdition, but I imagine these are few and far between.

  33. Forest Simmons
    November 6, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    On the existence of God:

    For me the most marvelous thing is that anything at all exists.

    In my mind the conceptual step from the existence of inert matter to, say, the existence of microbes, is much smaller than the conceptual step from nothingness to existence of inert matter.

    Another conceptual step, still smaller in my mind, is from from the existence of life to the existence of sentient life.

    Of course, as sentient beings we, like Descartes, can emphatically confirm the existence of ourselves.

    The next conceptual step is from the existence of sentient beings to the existence of diety. To me it doesn’t seem like such a large conceptual step compared to the conceptual jump from nothingness to sentient beings, and especially to those who have had direct contact with diety, the existence of God is no more preposterous than the existence of inert matter.

    I’m afraid some readeres will not understand why I have to keep saying “conceptual step.”

    For example the “conceptual step” from nothingness to inert matter, does not imply that at one time there was nothing, and then at a later time there was matter. It just means that we mentally step from one concept to the other, while noticing how far apart the two concepts are in our mental space. Nothingness is a mental concept, whether or not there ever was such a thing in reality. Each of us has our own mental space, so we have to judge for ourselves how far apart these concepts are in our own mental spaces. That’s why I said, “In my mind the conceptual step …”

    John von Neumann’s development of the whole numbers on the foundation of set theory starts by defining zero as the empty set. Then one is the set whose only element is zero. After that each new number is the set of all previously defined numbers. So von Neumann was used to counting from zero instead of one. One day when loading his luggage into a taxi en route to the airport, he asked his wife, “Where’s my other suitcase?” “What do you mean? All five of them are here.” “But I can only see four; zero, one, two, three four!”

  34. November 6, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    “Again with the math jokes.” – von Neumann’s wife

  35. November 8, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    >> The Steady State model says that the universe does not evolve or change in time. There was no beginning in the past and there will be no end in the future. Past, present, future – the universe is the same forever.

    Hmmm. I think I disagree. On large scale, yes, the Steady State Model did appear as though it suggests a non-evolving universe. However, that is not what the SSM is really about. Proving an evolving universe is not the heart of the matter in SSM or of the Big Bang Theory. First, one must understand beforehand that both the Big Bang Theory and the Steady State Model agree that on large scale (>200Mpc), there is no privileged location in space (the universe is BOTH homogeneous and isotropic). If this is true, the Big Bang Theory also suggests a non-evolving universe. The evolution of the universe is not the central focus to the Steady State Model nor is it a central focus to the Big Bang theory. The argument between these two theories has a lot to do with the creation of matter. Steady State Model was critiqued that its suggestive of continuous creation of matter violates the mass-energy conservation. The Big Bang Theory was critiqued of its instantaneous (instead of continuous and progressive) creation of matter in the universe. SSM only fell out of favor within the decade when observational evidence of cosmic microwave background supports the Big Bang Theory. On smaller scale, over time the universe would be significantly different for both SSM universe and Big Bang universe. On large scale, as time changes, we would still have homogeneous and isotropic universe be it for SSM universe or Big Bang universe.

  36. Forest Simmons
    November 9, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    The observable universe seems to have a cluster of cluster of cluster … structure, i.e. a kind of stochastic fractal structure on a large scale.

    How far this extends we do not know, because (naturally) we have not yet observed beyond our currently observable universe.

    In the past many scientists have said (at varius stages of history) “there cannot be anything significant much beyond what we have already observed.” Such statements have always turned ouot to be wrong, so far.

    Now some are saying, “It is different this time. The background microwave radiation confirsm that we are living in a closed space time continuum.”

    Every time, they have some reason for, “It is differnt this time.”

    Have you ever watched pancakes cooking? Before you flip them over, bubbles form and pop. Drastically slow down time, and imagine a small creature living in the film of one of these bubbles with instruments able to detect curvature, expansion, etc. Such a creature might come up with a spherical pancake dough bubble model that could easily account for all of the “cosmological” observations that could be made locally.

    That’s basically what we have in our mathematical models of space-time.

    I don’t doubt that there was a local explosion from which (practically) everything in our currently observable universe can be traced back to. Great explosions (novas and super novas of various sizes) are all over the place, and so far we cannot place an upper limit on the range of their energy levels. There must be some that are vastly greater than the size of our currently observable universe, that would make our observable universe seem like a tiny microscopic dot in comparison with a galaxy.

  37. AndrewJDavis
    November 9, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    “Great explosions (novas and super novas of various sizes) are all over the place, and so far we cannot place an upper limit on the range of their energy levels. There must be some that are vastly greater than the size of our currently observable universe, that would make our observable universe seem like a tiny microscopic dot in comparison with a galaxy.”

    While I do agree with much of your post (particularly about the problem that we can only observe our own region of the Universe and thus have no clue what’s going beyond our horizon), I’m going to have to call you on this statement. We can (and do) easily put an upper limit on all explosions that we observe in astronomy. That is: convert the entire rest mass of the progenitor object(s) into energy, and add in any chemical energy or gravitational potential energy as well.

    My point in this, though, is that the Big Bang model argues that space itself is expanding, not that there was an ‘explosion’ of anything. Thus, talking about the explosions we see (e.g. supernovae) is not related to the origin of the universe or to any sort of expansion of space, which is what we use to deduce the early phase of the universe when it was really really hot, and really really small (the Big Bang).

    The description I think you’re getting at is related to various models of inflation. This posits that an extremely small quantum fluctuation expanded quite rapidly (i.e. inflated) and allowed the material in it to cool, and eventually form us. This model can not predict what is happening outside of our region of expansion (the flat pancake part of your description), or even predict if that region obeys the same laws of physics that our region does, or even if there is any part of space that didn’t take part in our inflationary epoch.

  38. November 9, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    My question is, how do various alternate cosmologies deal with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics? Can you avoid an Ultimate Beginning, whether the Universe started with a Big Bang or not? I’m not a physicist. It’s just that, from what I understand, energy goes from concentrated, usable forms like stars into unusable forms like radiation over time, and we don’t really know of any processes that reverse this? So even if you imagine the Big Bang as just a quantum fluctuation in a larger sea of quantum foam or whatever, the idea of an Ultimate Beginning is inescapable?

  39. November 10, 2009 at 3:30 am

    >> Can you avoid an Ultimate Beginning, whether the Universe started with a Big Bang or not?

    Yes. M-theory cosmology has a lot to say about that. To add to some fun to LDS theology speculation that sparked out of my Institute class sometime last year, it fits quite into picture with the scriptures D&C 3:2, D&C 35: 1, and 1 Nephi 10: 19 (18-19). I reckon that is how God thinks and how he ought to model universe. But don’t take my word 100% because I don’t know, and it could be that I may be full of it.

  40. November 10, 2009 at 3:50 am

    Also: I must agree with what AndrewJDavis said in comment #37. The term “Big Bang” is pretty misleading for many to perceive the theory that suggests as though the universe goes BANG! (explosion) in the beginning, because that isn’t what it actually says. The name was given because it sounded catchy, and it has indeed caused such a “bang” as far as public attention goes. The “bang” was actually the density state of the universe that goes from a highly dense universe to a lower dense universe.

  41. Forest Simmons
    November 10, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    The creature on the pancake bubble, noticing that the bubble is expanding, thinks that it started from an “explosion,” and if we define “explosion” as extremely rapid expansion, she would be right. She might also have the (miss)understanding that her bubble was the entire universe, so no point in talking about the bubble as an explosion that took place in some larger substrate.

  42. Forest Simmons
    November 10, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    AndrewJDavis wrote …

    “We can (and do) easily put an upper limit on all explosions that we observe in astronomy. That is: convert the entire rest mass of the progenitor object(s) into energy, and add in any chemical energy or gravitational potential energy as well.”

    I reply: So when the rest mass is unlimited, the size of the explosion is also unlimited.

    Andrew continues:”My point in this, though, is that the Big Bang model argues that space itself is expanding, not that there was an ‘explosion’ of anything. Thus, talking about the explosions we see (e.g. supernovae) is not related to the origin of the universe or to any sort of expansion of space, which is what we use to deduce the early phase of the universe when it was really really hot, and really really small (the Big Bang).”

    The “universe” you are talking about is not the entire universe; it is merely a mathematical model in the form of a closed space-time manifold analogous to (an idealized version of) the expanding bubble on the pancake substrate. The creature on the pancake doesn’t believe in the pancake substrate, because an elegant closed manifold model accounts for all of the observable phenomena fairly precisely, even the microwave echoes of the explosive birth of the bubble. [These are microwave pancakes;)]

    If a super nova were dense enough, we would never see the explosion, because it would have an event horizon beyond which no light could travel. Likewise, our local component of the universe was dense enough at one time (perhaps 20 billion years ago)to nearly pinch off from the the substrate of the universe.

    Like the creature on the bubble, we may falsely assume that the pinch was a complete severance.

  43. Forest Simmmons
    November 10, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    Arthur,

    with regard to your question about the second law of thermodynamics:

    Two conditions have to be satisfied before you can invoke the second law:

    (1) The entropy in question has to be the entropy of a closed system.

    (2) The system has to be near thermal equilibrium.

    (3) The closed system has to have only a finite amount of entropy. (If total entropy is already infinite, then it cannot increase.)

    The universe as a whole is a closed system, since there can be nothing outside of the class of all things. But it is extremely doubtful that it is a finite system.

    Conditions (1)and (3) may apply to our local component of the universe, but (3) cannot apply to the entire universe. Condition (2) applies only rarely in placid locales.

    For a relaxation of condition (2), see the Scientific American article

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-nature-breaks-the-second-law

    Here’s a part of the heading:

    Waste is unavoidable—a sad fact of life quantified by the famous second law of thermodynamics. But if the world is steadily becoming more disordered, how do you explain the self-organization that often occurs in nature? At root, the trouble is that classical thermodynamics assumes systems are in equilibrium, a placid condition seldom truly achieved in the real world.
    A new approach closes this loophole and finds that the second law holds far from equilibrium. But the evolution from order to disorder can be unsteady, allowing for pockets of self-organization.

  44. Forest Simmons
    November 10, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    There I go counting like von Neumann, .. zero, one, two, …

    Here are a few more Scientific American articles that are relevant to this discussion:

    From the May 2003 Scientific American Magazine: Parallel Universes: by Max Tegmark

    From the October 2008 Scientific American Magazine:
    Big Bang or Big Bounce?: New Theory on the Universe’s Birth
    “Our universe may have started not with a big bang but with a big bounce—an implosion that triggered an explosion, all driven by exotic quantum-gravitational effects.”

    From the July 2008 Scientific American Magazine
    Using Causality to Solve the Puzzle of Quantum Spacetime
    “A new approach to the decades-old problem of quantum gravity goes back to basics and shows how the building blocks of space and time pull themselves together.”

  45. Forest Simmons
    November 10, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    In our currently observable universe (COU) the largest explosions are precipitated by implosions. The degree to which an implosion can compact matter (before the explosive reaction) is limited by the momentum of the imploding matter, the synchronicity, and the relative lack of angular momentum.

    If the imploding matter lacks in total inward momentum, or it arrives out of phase to the crunch region, or it has any angular momentum to speak of, then a black hole will not form.

    Various combinations of phase, angular momentum, and inward momentum can result in various kinds of explosions. The various possible outcomes are examined in the “Big Bounce” SciAm article referred to above.

    The interesting question is about the implosion leading up to the explosion out of which came our own COU. Was there sufficient angular momentum to keep us from getting pinched off from the rest of the universe?

    I would assume an affirmative answer, since observed massive bodies tend to rotate, and it would be hard to implode many such bodies together in such a way that all of their angular momenta would cancel.

    This brings up Mach, who brought up the question, “Why is angular momentum absolute, when linear momentum is relative?” A person in a black box in space can easily do experiments to see if she is rotating relative to the “fixed stars,” but there is no experiment she can do to see if she is translating at a constant velocity relative to the fixed stars. In other words, Inertial reference systems are equivalent, but they are all non-rotating.

    It doesn’t make sense to ask if the universe as a whole is rotating (rotating with respect to what?), but it does make sense to ask if our COU is rotating relative to the larger substrate out of which it came. That’s the angular momentum that we are talking about in the context of being pinched off or not.

    It seems more likely that God would notice that “there is space there” to be organized if it were not pinched off from the rest of the universe. On the other hand, it might be safer to quarantine us by putting us in a separate component of space-time.

  46. Forest Simmons
    November 10, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    To Adeline A:

    Thanks for pointing us to those “one eternal round” scriptures. Here’s a possible interpretation based on multiverse theory:

    Let D be a distance much smaller than any known theoretical or physical device can discern, say a trillion times smaller than any distance that can be seen with an electron microscope.

    Let N be the number of times this distance will go into a trillion light years.

    Then N^4 is much larger than the number of events that could ever be distinguished in our COU (currently observable universe) [because the space-time capacity of our COU is much less than (10^12 light years)^4]. If you believe in string theory, use an exponent of ten or eleven instead of 4.

    So let M = 2^(N^11). Then this number M is much bigger than the number of distinguishable states that could obtain in a section of the universe comparable in size and extent to our COU.

    But M is still finite and “numbered unto man,” so less than the number of creations of God.

    So many of the sections of the “multiverse” must be indistinguishable from each other.

    If God has seen all of these, then God is familiar with how they all play out, at least over a trillion year period.

    Because of the finite number of distinguishable options, over long enough time periods, some of these typical looking space-times have to come arbitrarily close to repeating.

    Taking intelligent advantage of sensitivity to initial conditions, an intelligent being could, by appropriate infinitesimal interventions (i.e. very “small means”) herd the almost periodic trajectory into a periodic trajectory and keep it there (by further infinitesimal interventions) even if the periodic trajectory is not stable..

    Voila! One eternal round.

  47. Forest Simmons
    November 11, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    Once you get a wider view of the universe, i.e. any of the “multiverse” versions, then in comparison the “big-bang-equals-everything” view seems pretty narrow and provincial.

    One of the great features of multiverse theories is that they strongly imply that anything that is not outright impossible has surely already happened in infinitely many worlds.

    So if it is not absolutely impossible for intelligent beings to attain to a status of power, intelligence, and goodness so far beyond our own that we would call it “godhood,’ then it has already happened infinitely many times.

    We’re not talking some being, like the god of orthodox Christian creeds, that exists independent of the multiverse.

    Joseph Smith taught (in the King Follet sermon, for example) that our Heavenly Father was once a man like us, and that we can progress as He did to a similar status relative to our future creations.

    Does multiverse theory make the existence of gods and devils inevitable?

    That depends on how you define these terms. If you mean some philosophical impossibility, then no. But if you only mean infinitely more advanced in evil or good (respectively) than anything we can detect in our society, then yes.

    How about evolution? We know that natrual selection happens. It seems to me that five billion years is infinitesimal in comparison with the expected time that it would take for evolution of matter from scratch (i.e. inert elements). But that is no problem in the multiverse, there are infinitely many worlds that that have been around infinitely longer than five billion years. No matter how long the time needed, that much time has already passed on infinitely many worlds.

    So how did life get started in our extremely young “big bang” neighborhood?

    It was brought here.

    By whom?

    By the gods that saw useable space here after the big bang cooled off, just like the islands of Hawaii became inhabited after the volcanoes had sufficient time to cool off.

    A few hundred thousand years ago the Hawaiian islands began surfacing as volcanoes from the depths of the pacific ocean. The molten magma was pretty much sterile until it cooled off enough for bacteria to find little niches, etc.

    Fast forward to Captain Cook. He finds these islands inhabited by humans and a great variety of other life. Did he assume that all of this life evolved from scratch on the island? Of course not. The islanders had legends of arriving there in out rigger canoes from far away Samoa, etc.

    To me it’s just as ridiculous to think that life evolved from scratch in this tiny, young “big bang” remnant as it is to think that life evolved from scratch on the young volcanic islands of the Pacific Ocean.

  48. November 12, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Had’nt realized there had been a new “explosion” of posts on this thread, and am just catching up. Good discussion.

    I’d like to tie the contemplation of the mystery of the “I” to the current multiverse notions a little more broadly.

    It seems there are 3 possibilities: (1) nothing exists, (2) everything exists, and (3) some things exist and some things do not exist.

    Since possibility 1 can be ruled out experimentally, I’ve always thought that possibility 2, that EVERYTHING exists, ought to be the the preferred default position from an occam-razor prospective.

    The idea that everything exists really raises some new possibilities about the relationship between the physical and the spiritual, as well as about how some of the elements in Mormon cosmology might be reinterpreted in ways that resolve some of the pains in the church over family relationships here on earth.

    The idea that everything exists is something that the Tegmark article cited in 44 above actually touches on — he refers to it as a Level 4 multiverse. You can link directly to the article and Tegmark’s discussion of his entire hierarchy of multiverses, as well as my own speculations on the theological implications for Restoration theology here .

  49. November 12, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    I don’t understand “everything exists.” Maybe you can clarify? I can understand a possible world in which, for instance, a unicorn might evolve through natural selection. That, I comprehend. But what about a possible world in which a contradiction exists… a “married bachelor,” as philosophers like to use. If you said “everything that possibly could exist, does exist,” that bothers me less.

    But it still brings me back to the idea of “I exist.” If there is another situation somewhere else in which the exact initial conditions of my birth also happened, is it “me” over there or not? Would my consciousness exist in both places? If so, and the consciousnesses existed independently of each other, then there’s something else besides the initial conditions of the atoms of a zygote that makes up “me.” I also don’t seem to be experiencing any more than one consciousness now, so I can safely assume that either there is another “Arthur” out there with a different consciousness (thus demonstrating weakly that consciousness is not located in the brain), or there is no other “Arthur” out there at all.

  50. November 12, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Arthur:

    I do talk about these things in the post I linked, so I’ll limit this to “preview of coming attractions”.

    A level four multiverse and even some models at lower levels) includes the notions of not only initial conditions, but the laws themselves being different. They can produce things which our laws would regard as contradictory. Indeed, if you look at the post “Duality and Divinity” there on my site, you’ll see that there are completely contradictory descriptions of our iwn universe that are becomming increasingly important as complementary to our understanding of our own universe’s laws.

    As to physical consciousness, there is a lot of research going on in that field suggesting (with several competing models) that even the sense of “I” is a considerable over-simplification of what actually exists in the human brain. I hope to write some posts on that soon, but you people keep writing such interesting things to read that I can’t keep up with my own blog schedule ambitions! :D

    My personal suspicion is that our individual spirits are a collective property of multiple physical copies scattered throughout spacetime: spirit is to person as mind is to neuron. I think a lot of the unique features of Restoration beliefs that are simultaneously the most attractive and the most troubling can pop up naturally in such a model.

  51. Forest Simmons
    November 12, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Firetag,

    your Occam razor perspective is the same of mine. I’m glad that I’m not the only one to think of it that way.

    Arthur, your questions cut to the heart of the matter.

    Nobody really knows the answers to you questions. This field is wide open!

    First, what do we mean by “all things exist?”

    One of the four basic approaches given by Tegmark basically treats the Multiverse as a cellular automaton that extends infinitely in all directions of time and space, and where each “cell” is an infinitesimal volume of space-time, i.;e. a kind of “action atom.”

    To say that everything exists in some part of this cellular automaton universe could mean, for example, that every distinguishable local cellular automaton configuration exists somewhere in this grand cellular automaton. Two cellular automata are indistinguishable if they have the same value in each corresponding cell.

    So somewhere there is a world in which Shakespeare’s works have been typed without any typos by monkeys typing at random, using a type face indistinguishable from that of a 1960′s Underwood typewriter.

    If we want to go beyond Tegmark we could model the “infinite extent in all directions of space and time” with copies of the Surreal Numbers of John Horton Conway, which are infinitely richer than the real numbers in extent and continuity, including all ordinal numbers and all orders of infinitesimals.

    The point is, that just because two regions of the cellular automaton are indistinguishable to us with our current instruments, does not mean that they could not be distinguished at some deeper level.

    There could be another region of space time say 10^(10^(10^10)) light years from here that is indistinguishable from our currently observable universe over the next 100 billion years, yet detectable differences might begin to emerge after that, because all along there were “hidden variable” differences that we could not detect.

    Your twin in that part of the multiverse would eventually take a different path from yours.

  52. Forest Simmons
    November 12, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    FireTag,

    I followed the link to your speculations. I found it to be a very nicely written introduction to the multiverse concept, and interesting food for thought on restoration theology.

    I hope to read more from you in the future, or in other words, I’m sure that “I” have already enjoyed reading more from you in many futures!

  53. Forest Simmons
    November 12, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    Here’s an interesting implication of multiverse theory that came to me:

    It gives us another reason to avoid unnecessary risks. Suppose I can take some kind of shortcut with only one chance in a billion that it will result in an accident, where without the shortcut there is only one chance in a quadrillion. Ordinarily one might say, no biggy, I’ll take the shortcut. But if you know that it is going to increase the number of copies (by a factor of a million) of yourself that suffer the accident, then you will think twice about taking the shortcut.

  54. November 12, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Strange to think of myself as the decider, and those other copies being the slaves to my decision.

  55. Forest Simmons
    November 12, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    In the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics you branch out into all of those other copies. So all of you think that you were the one that decided to be careful, and all of you would be right, since that decision was made before the branching (at the accident time) takes place.

  56. SUNNofaB.C.Rich
    November 12, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    I’m pretty sure all versions of me throughout the “multiverse” would kick your *** Forrest…

  57. November 12, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    #55, oh, I guess you’re right… those copies were me. How strange all this truly is.

  58. November 12, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    While I do tend to accept the many worlds interpretation of QM myself, that’s a model that is higher than Level 1. I want to stress that the ideas of many copies in Level 1 multiverses don’t depend on any particular interpretation of QM. They appear from the idea that space is nearly flat and can not be divided into sub-plankian regions indefinitely, and so are not easily avoided in some form or other since we have direct experimental observations matching the fundamental ideas.

  59. Forest Simmons
    November 13, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    I want to get back to one of Arthur’s main purposes for starting this thread (if we can call it that); the big bang ofers a way of rapproachment for “creationists” and “evolutionists.”

    I think that is even more true when we embed the big bang in multiverse theory. It gives more wiggle room for both camps, and those who wiggle far enough will find themselves approaching a common ground with the opposite camp.

    It’s like the blind men and the elephants. The grand unified theory is the elephant itself.

    Creationists see evolution from scratch as highly improbable, and in any case they feel no need for that hypothesis.

    Evolutionists see resurrected beings as highly improbable, and in any case feel no need for that hypothesis.

    Twenty billion years is too short for intelligent beings to evolve from scratch, say the creationists. It’s too short for intelligent beings to evolve into gods, say the evolutionists.

    The most honest of both camps will not deny the logical possibility of the other’s theory, but do deny that the probability is significant enough to consider.

    But in the context of multiverse theory, anything that has any probability, no matter how small, will exist in some region of the multiverse, and then why not here?

    Has life ever evovled from scratch somewhere in the multiverse. If it is not a logical impossibility, the answer is yes, and not only once, but infinitely many times.

    Have societies of intelligent beings evolved to the stage where they can resurrect their dead? If there is not logical contradiction involved, then the answer is yes, and in infinitely many cases, infinitely remote in time and space.

    We know from experience that it is easier to propagate life by seed and transplanting than to create it from scratch, so we must suppose that when we encounter life in a region of the multiverse, it is more likely that it was transplanted their than evolved from scratch. Remember the analogy with the volcanic islands of the Pacific?

    On the other hand there could be (and therefore must be) regions so remote that evolution from scratch would be more likely than propagation of existing life from some other region.

    Personally, I don’t think our big bang region is that remote.

    Is Joseph Smith’s explanation of the origin of the Book of Mormon logically impossible, or just extremely unusual?

    If it is not logically impossible, then it has happened exactly like he said in some region of the multiverse, and why not here?

    Joseph claimed to have a personal interview with two other resurrected beings whom he identified as the Father and the Son. I personally have received many spiritual witnesses that corroborate his words.

    I suppose there are regions of the multiverse where their version of Joseph Smith turns out to be an imposter. I don’t worry about that because we know that there are many false prophtes and false Christs even here on this planet in its relatively short span of history.

    For that matter it is possible that my spiritual witnesses could be hallucinations. I recognize that. But we all must judge such things according to our best judgement, keeping in mind that we will be judged by the same standard that we used in making our judgments.

    The point is that the multiverse doesn’t let us off the hook. We have to face up to the hard decisions rather than reject things out of hand, like the orthodox creationists and orthodox evolutionists have been doing for a century or more. (much more if we go back to Korihor, for example)

  60. November 13, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    That really echoes my thoughts well. Most Evangelicals believe in a God who exists separately from our observable Universe, who is not material, not bound by laws, but has the power to create Universes and matter ex nihilo.

    Perhaps this could be true, though I’m quite skeptical of this hypothesis.

    On the other hand, given enough time, we can be assured that a society could evolve to amazing levels… perhaps even reaching Tipler’s Omega Point, where the computational capacity of the Universe can be tapped and used to run a computer simulation that resurrects all people in that Universe. In an infinite Universe, not only is this possible, but it has already happened, and happens perhaps an infinite amount of times. A being like the Heavenly Father that Latter-day Saints worship not only could have evolved, but definitely has somewhere. Then “why not here?” as Mr. Simmons pointed out.

  61. Forest Simmons
    November 14, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    I’ve got to look up Tipler. I keep seeing references to his theory that immortality is scientifically inevitable, eventually.

  62. November 14, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    I think there are problems with preserving the notion of God evolving WITHIN the physical multiverse. I think we’ll have better luck with the notion of a God who is coincident with the multiverse at its highest level.

    The problem is an inability to get away from the notion of time as a linear framework in which things happen. There are highly technical arguments, that I don’t pretend to understand but do know exist, that say that a complete description of physical reality can not depend on time as a fundamental property. The nature of time is central to resolving conflicts between general relativity and quantum mechanics, because the two pillers of modern physics treat time in a mutually contradictory fashion.

    So I keep asking the question: what is the relationship between our spirit and the spirit of our copies and variants? I suspect that deeper physics may show a way to describe reality in an equally valid alternative way that drops time out of the description. And I wonder if such a description may reveal phenomena that clarifies the “spiritual” and its relationship to the “physical” naturally.

  63. Forest Simmons
    November 14, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    This reminds me of something that I am still puzzling over: in my understanding everything is created spiritually before it recieves a grosser (but equally important) coarser physical component, and for us humans, a fulness of joy cannot come until our spirit and resurrected body are inseparabley connected.

    Is our physical component an artificial adjunct invented by the gods to inhance our powers and happiness, or is it something as natural as the butterfly stage in the life cycle of the caterpillar/pupa/butterfly.

    As I understand it, a spirit by itself cannot reproduce, but resurrection doesn’t seem to be a natural process, either, i.e. a process that would happen if nature were left to itself, like the butterfly emerging from the cocoon.

  64. November 14, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    “…a fulness of joy cannot come until our spirit and resurrected body are inseparabley connected.”

    Notice carefully that the word “resurrected” isn’t actually a limitation there in the scripture. The scripture says spirit and element ARE inseparably connected. That’s what I was trying to get at when I was talking about getting out of the framework of time. Time is a PHYSICAL concept. There is no PRE in “pre-existence”; there is no AFTER in “afterlife”. I’m not suggesting these concepts are metaphorical. They’re real, but the limitations of temporal language are misleading us, IMO. The connection between physical and spiritual IS inseparable and far more complex than we can yet imagine.

  65. December 10, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    I have to agree with Firetag on that last bit. There is still so much I don’t understand about how God can be eternal and yet out of time, etc as it relates to the Big Bang. I am definitely no physicist or expert. I think I got lost somewhere in the last comments once all of the mathematical equations got involved (a.k.a. big words, my head hurts).

    I do feel as though there is more to it, as far as spiritual creation goes. For the Big Bang seems in no way to deal with that. Still, it is yet to be revealed to us, it seems, how the Big Bang theory can be fully compatible with LDS cosmology. I’m going to hold on to the latter and the teachings of the prophet Joseph for now, and continue to gather as much as I can.

    There are still so many questions I have though, like how is it that the universe can have a beginning and yet not have an end? What is the ultimate destiny of the universe, and if it can come to an end, how is it that we can be immortal? How is it that our bodies are ressurected? I understand that it is the atonement of Christ and power of God that makes it happen, just curious as to the processes, though again one of the mysteries of Godliness, with spiritual implications that seem out of the realm of what’s being discussed here.

    Forgive me for my ignorance >.>

  66. ReasonableFaithFan
    February 2, 2012 at 6:39 am

    As a mathematician, Blake Ostler’s response to Craig was not brilliant.  It is very obvious that Ostler’s strength is not mathematics.  The reason why the Kalam makes a lot of sense is because it is a logically sound argument that has been attacked by very staunch atheists and naturalists alike.  As such, it has been able to account for some of the most severe-seeming threats and answer them.  It’s why most atheists won’t even debate him anymore.  He’s simply proven it true beyond a reasonable shadow of a doubt.