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30 September 2010

'100 percent' chance for life on newly found planet?



"Our findings offer a very compelling case for a potentially habitable planet," said Steven Vogt, an astronomer at UCSC.

"The fact that we were able to detect this planet so quickly and so nearby tells us that planets like this must be really common."

"We're at exactly that threshold now with finding habitable planets," said Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution, a co-author of the study.

Dr Vogt agreed: "The number of systems with potentially habitable planets is probably on the order of 10 or 20%, and when you multiply that by the hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way, that's a large number," he said.

"There could be tens of billions of these systems in our galaxy."

More here.

'100 percent' chance for life on newly found planet?

"The chances for life on this planet are 100 percent," Steven Vogt, a UC professor of astronomy and astrophysics says. "I have almost no doubt about it."

Dr. Elizabeth Cunningham, planetarium astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, says the discovery is a huge deal.


Astronomers are excited this new planet was discovered so fast and relatively close by.

"I'm surprised we found one so fast," Cunningham said. "The implication is either we were very lucky or these planets could be relatively common."

More here.

The Big Bang was a seed, and the cosmos is a living organism


03 September 2010

Thoughts on Stephen Hawking's new book "The Grand Design"

Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow have a new book coming out on September 7, 2010, entitled The Grand Design.

T
his short article addresses some of the issues thus far identified in Hawking and Mlodinow's new book. For a more detailed discussion of these issues, please see the following article: "A Hypothesis Favoring the Existence of a Creator."

Below are quotes taken from two reviews of The Grand Design.

1. From a review by James Trefil in the Washington Post:
[T]he way theories about quantum mechanics and relativity came together to shape our understanding of how our universe (and possibly others) formed out of nothing. Our current best description of the physics of this event, they explain, is the so-called "M-theories," which predict that there is not a single universe (the one we live in) but a huge number of universes. In other words, not only is the Earth just one of several planets in our solar system and the Milky Way one of billions of galaxies, but our known universe itself is just one among uncounted billions of universes. It's a startling replay of the Copernican Revolution.

The conclusions that follow are groundbreaking. Of all the possible universes, some must have laws that allow the appearance of life. The fact that we are here already tells us that we are in that corner of the multiverse. In this way, all origin questions are answered by pointing to the huge number of possible universes and saying that some of them have the properties that allow the existence of life, just by chance.
Trefil's entire review can be found here.

2. From a review by in the Los Angeles Times:
Robert Oppenheimer was fond of proposing that physics and poetry were becoming indistinguishable. In "The Grand Design," Cambridge theorist Stephen Hawking and Caltech physicist Leonard Mlodinow seem to suggest that physics and metaphysics are also growing closer. They point out that the unified field theory that physicists, including Einstein, spent the better part of the 20th century trying to construct, probably can't exist. Models of the universe are changing radically. We now live in a world in which many physicists have come to believe there are not merely three dimensions (plus time) but 10 or possibly 11.

Our scientific thinking has always tended to reflect its era. Some believe this is because we need a model or an idea emerging from our social and intellectual environment before we set about seeking the appropriate evidence. Science fiction, for instance, quite frequently "seeds" a notion into the scientific community before a physicist does the math and provides the evidence, though certain ideas, if born outside their time, might wait centuries before they are recognized.
Moorcock's entire review can be found here.

In all fairness, The Grand Design must of course first be read in its entirety before any definitive conclusions regarding its merits can be reached. Nevertheless, based upon the above two book reviews, as well as various news articles discussing The Grand Design, it seems that the book does not prove that the universe did indeed create itself by a process of "spontaneous generation." If Hawking and Mlodinow are attempting to dispense with the need for a prior intelligence in explaining the emergence and expansion of the visible universe by citing gravity and the laws of nature, their attempt does not seem dispositive: see, for example, the following article: Science's Alternative to an Intelligent Creator: the Multiverse Theory:
On the other hand, if there is no multiverse, where does that leave physicists? “If there is only one universe,” Carr says, “you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.”
Furthermore, please consider the following recent article by John Gribbin, entitled Are we living in a designer universe? Below are excerpts from this article:
The argument over whether the universe has a creator, and who that might be, is among the oldest in human history. But amid the raging arguments between believers and sceptics, one possibility has been almost ignored – the idea that the universe around us was created by people very much like ourselves, using devices not too dissimilar to those available to scientists today ...

The big question is whether that has already happened – is our universe a designer universe? By this, I do not mean a God figure, an "intelligent designer" monitoring and shaping all aspects of life. Evolution by natural selection, and all the other processes that produced our planet and the life on it, are sufficient to explain how we got to be the way we are, given the laws of physics that operate in our universe.

However, there is still scope for an intelligent designer of universes as a whole. Modern physics suggests that our universe is one of many, part of a "multiverse" where different regions of space and time may have different properties (the strength of gravity may be stronger in some and weaker in others). If our universe was made by a technologically advanced civilisation in another part of the multiverse, the designer may have been responsible for the Big Bang, but nothing more ...

This might sound far-fetched, but the startling thing about this theory is how likely it is to happen – and to have happened already. All that is required is that evolution occurs naturally in the multiverse until, in at least one universe, intelligence reaches roughly our level. From that seed point, intelligent designers create enough universes suitable for evolution, which bud off their own universes, that universes like our own (in other words, suitable for intelligent life) proliferate rapidly, with "unintelligent" universes coming to represent a tiny fraction of the whole multiverse. It therefore becomes overwhelmingly likely that any given universe, our own included, would be designed rather than "natural".
The entire article can be found here. Another, related article by John Gribbin can be found here:
It looks like the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. But could they both be right? Is it possible that there was a creator, but that the creator did not correspond to the Church's idea of God? I believe that the same scientific ideas on which Hawking bases his claim make for a compelling argument that this is indeed the case, although that may not please either side in the debate.
If Hawking and Mlodinow are applying the Copernican revolution to the cosmos and, by so doing, inferring the relative cosmic insignificance of life/sentience/consciousness, one cogent response is that given by Astronomer Dimitar Sasselov in his lecture, which can be viewed here:
But there is something more profound here, something deeper, and that deeper underlying point is that science is in the process of redefining life as we know it, and that is going to change our worldview in a profound way; not in a dissimilar way as 400 hundred years ago, Copernicus’ act did, by changing the way we view space and time. Now it’s about something else, but it’s equally profound … What if that Copernican insignificance [i.e., the Earth as an insignificant grain of "cosmic sand"] was actually all wrong?

Think about those oldest living things on Earth, but in a cosmic proportion: this is not insignificant; this is very significant. So life might be insignificant in size, but it is not insignificant in time. Life and the universe compare to each other like a child and a parent – parent and offspring. So what does this tell us? This tells us that that insignificance paradigm that we somehow got to learn from the Copernican principle – it’s all wrong. There is an immense, powerful potential in life in this universe, especially now that we know that places like the Earth are common. And that potential, that powerful potential, it is also our potential – of you and me. And if we are to be stewards of our planet Earth and of its biosphere, we’d better understand the cosmic significance
and do something about it.
As a further response to Hawking and Mlodinow, it is necessary to point out that the multiverse hypothesis is just that - a hypothesis: it is not established as a theory, much less as a law. Furthermore, the multiverse hypothesis (in all its theoretical permutations) does not prove the non-existence of a cosmic prior intelligence, because the multiverse hypothesis has three flaws: (1) it is not falsifiable, (2) it begs the question, and (3) it violates Occam's razor. Additionally, even if there is a multiverse, we can never know if we're "microorganisms" - or if our universe is a "microorganism" - existing within a "super-organism" multiverse, or if life is teleologically intended to seed the other constituent universes composing the multiverse, or if the other constituent universes composing the multiverse aren't already themselves too teeming with life processes. The multiverse hypothesis merely raises the entire issue to a higher level of abstraction; it does absolutely nothing whatsoever to answer the ultimate questions raised through rational inquiry into the nature and origin of reality. Furthermore, assuming, for the sake of argument, that there is a multiverse and that our universe either came into being via a process of "spontaneous generation" or was designed (as Gribbin maintains) via the Big Bang, by beings with minds similar to ours - the question still remains as to who/what first set the entire process in motion.

In a video that can be viewed here, mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose sets forth the following argument regarding the emergence and expansion of the visible universe:

"There's got to be fine-tuning. This is fine-tuning. This is incredible precision in the organization of the initial universe."

None of the above-cited thinkers seem to give credence to or even seriously discuss the teleology of Plato and Aristotle; the relatively simple and seamless answer to all of the above intellectual agonizing is that the Big Bang was actually a Big Seed - an autotelic cosmic seed. It is respectfully submitted that Gould's concept of religion and science as "nonoverlapping magesteria" is a fallacious paradigm: reality is an integrated, holonic totality; science, philosophy, and religion compartmentalize reality and therefore each views reality from its own perspective - and each is tempted to mistake its own limited perspective as embodying the true, complete understanding of reality. To a significant extent, however, reality is analogous to a Gestalt image: the viewer sees what he chooses to see.

The Big Seed paradigm leads to insights that Hawking and Mlodinow do not seem to consider:
  • there is a Creator, but we do not know the identity of the Creator
  • the Creator - however conceptualized - is best perceived as a spiritual gardener
  • Nature, from the very small to the very large, is permeated by essences and holonic teleology
  • a "vital force" - what Sir Roger Penrose identifies as the incredible degree of "fine-tuning" present within the Big Bang - permeates the cosmos and teleologically brought about the organization of the solar systems and galaxies within the universe, as well as the organization found with DNA and RNA, the laws and forces of nature, atoms, physics and chemistry, etc.
  • matter evolves to Spirit via evolution
  • evolution is correct, scientific, and undeniable; evolutionism is, on the other hand, merely metaphysical nihilism.
  • the emergence of life/consciousness/sentience from an atom-like singularity, the exquisite balancing of the forces, laws, and substances of Nature required to induce said emergence, as well as the progression of the cosmos from a seed-like, minuscule singularity to today's visible universe - self-evidently support the above positions
Additional perspectives regarding The Grand Design can be found here, here, here, and here.

Please closely examine the punctuation mark (period) at the end of this sentence. The entire visible universe - the laws and forces of nature, the galaxies, the solar systems, the planets, the stardust that composes our bodies, literally everything we sense within and without ourselves, the reality in which we are both immersed in and permeated by - emerged and expanded from a point smaller in size than that of a punctuation mark period. At this point in history, given the current limitations on our ability to perceive and comprehend the cosmos, it would seem that Hawking can no more definitively prove that there is not a prior creative intelligence behind the emergence and expansion of the visible universe, than it can be definitively proven that there is a prior creative intelligence behind the emergence and expansion of the visible universe. In conclusion - and nevertheless - it is respectfully submitted to the reader that a better hypothesis is one favoring the existence of a Creator.

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Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.

Thomas Jefferson