Update on the Universe; or, Where we “canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth”

Box seat holders at the Toads know that periodically we like to drop in on the physicists to see how the universe is progressing. Though it may be some 14 billion years old, fans will be happy to know that the universe is still in its early innings. Time for a hot dog and a bottle of that dark matter earthlings call beer.

But why can’t we enjoy the universe without the polemic diatribes of the scientists who must wear their atheist merit badges on their sleeves? In the most recent example, Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing, Richard Dawkins comes out of the bullpen to write the afterword, and we find ourselves trying to stay afloat in some deep, dark matter, but it’s not beer.

“Over the course of the history of our galaxy,” Krauss writes, “about 200 million stars have exploded. These myriad stars sacrificed themselves, if you wish, so that one day you could be born. I suppose that qualifies them as much as anything else for the role of saviors.” But is Jesus about being born, or about the existential possibility of being reborn?* To get this, one must imagine a universe without shame. It doesn’t matter where you come from, who your parents were, the color of your collar. The universe does not come into play. Krauss has hit a foul ball.

Why the scientists can’t stick to scientific writing is one of the mysteries of the universe that neither Krauss nor Dawkins unravel. Consider, for example, Dawkins’s afterward. After a couple hundred pages of Krauss blowing winds and cracking cheeks in which he attempts to explain that King Lear was wrong when he said “nothing will come of nothing,” we find that indeed nothing has come of nothing, but that it may amount to the same thing as something coming from nothing, or the other way around. In any case, as early as 14 billion years ago, which is to say, in his preface, Krauss has already admitted, “we simply don’t know” and probably never will. As it turns out, the universe is really about funding.

We’ve never doubted, here at the Toads, that something can come from nothing (witness the 1969 Mets); neither have we doubted the reverse, that nothing can come from something. We’re going back to casting out 9’s, dividing the universe into 9 inning segments.

“We may not understand quantum theory,” Dawkins writes in his afterward, but then says, parenthetically and inexplicably religiously, “[heaven knows, I don’t] but a theory that predicts the world to ten decimal places cannot in any straightforward sense be wrong. Theology not only lacks decimal places: it lacks even the smallest hint of connection with the real world.” Yes, but why “heaven knows”? Is Dawkins kidding here? Or is this a slip of the atheist pen? And what about those ten decimal places? In a universe as old and big as Krauss has described, ten decimal places hardly seems significant at all. The assumptions of the argument lose their scientific credibility the moment its purpose is revealed to be conversion: it’s an argument of conversion, and it’s trying and tiring.

Note: For information about the universe, the Toads still recommends Robert B. Laughlin’s A Different Universe.

*“Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8, KJV).

Related:

David Albert’s New York Times book review of Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing.

Sea Monsters in A. C. Grayling’s Secular Bible; or, Humanity’s Greatest Endeavor

Progress Report: Our Disappearing World

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Absolutely true, It is an argument of conversion. Science is not religion, but these types of scientists make it into one. Not only that but they make into the worse kind of religion possible. Comparisons could be drawn to the hell-fire-and-brimstone, spit-in-your-face sidewalk preachers that consider every one besides themselves a whore-monger and soon to be resident of hell. Dogma without mystery and grace can be very irrational. Thanks for the play by play, Joe.

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    1. Joe Linker says:

      Ah, mystery and grace, there’s the compelling combo!

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  2. Very amusing. I think some scientists suffer from a lack of relaxation, which could be termed sexasperation. For the record, I think I just invented a new term, and category for the DSM bible 🙂

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    1. Joe Linker says:

      Thanks, Ashen. Yes, the scientific mind should get its own chapter in the DSM. Just kidding, of course, but one does wonder – here’s an interesting discussion (part of a much longer discussion) regarding psychopathy. The suggestion has already been made in the discussion that 3% of the general populace is psychopathic, but among CEO’s, the percentage is much higher than in the gen. pop.. I wonder what it is for scientists? One of the key characteristics of psychopathy seems to be lack of empathy, and, as Johnson says in this video (see link below), empathy seen as weakness – which we have just seen in the US (the Post first broke the story) in a terrible story emerging regarding the Rep. candidate Romney. The story as it’s unravelling is of course “about” Romney and others attacking a perceived weak classmate years ago, but surely the problem is his lack of empathy, which is evident in any number of his statements and positions. What does it take to get to the top in a capitalist society? And what does it mean to embrace a non-empathetic universe? But we are in the universe, and we can be empathetic? In any case, this is a very interesting and entertaining discussion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFSu2wgZw3U … I see that you have posted a long creative writing piece. It’s been a busy week, and I will read it sometime this weekend. We finally got some sun here, so the outdoors is looking very inviting too.

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  3. That’s a great clip. Zizek’s take on enlightenment is funny and also poignant.
    Last year we had several meetings among friends discussing sustainability. The idea doesn’t chime with present financial structures. There’s no money to be made from sustainability, which cuts no ice with the greedy tops, unless some lateral thinking happens that makes sustainability profitable. Presently dis-ease provides far better profit than health.
    Apparently thirty governments and two-hundred organisations run all global affairs. In our highly competitive set up a far too great %age of individuals in power have no conscience we would recognise as such, are immune to morals Then add the run-away speed by which damage is wrought on the environment and balances of sustainability are tipped. What a mess to solve for the next generation. I feel bad and sad to be part of this Wirtschaftswunder.

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