an experimental physicist explains his faith

by venting 17 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • venting

    What do you think of this story? All I can do is quote from someone much smarter than me. "men offten mistake strength of their feelings with strength of their argument" venting.

  • cantleave


  • IsaacJ22
  • OneEyedJoe

    While I was in the early part of my journey towards being mentally out, I read the article and wrote down my critique of it for myself. Here's what my thoughts were:

    1st paragraph on his background contains this gem:

    Atheism is predominant in China, so at school I was taught about evolution.

    This is a complete non-sequitur. The implication is that evolution was developed so that atheists could feel better about themselves, when the reality is that evolution came about in an attempt to explain the variation that we see in nature. If anything, evolution leads to atheism, not the other way around.

    In the "How did you become interested in the bible" subheading, the last sentence in the paragraph was quite encouraging:

    So I decided to give the facts some careful thought.

    Lets see how these facts play out:

    First, I knew that a closed system cannot become more organized or remain organized unless acted upon by an external agent. That is the second law of thermodynamics. Since the universe and life on earth are highly ordered, I concluded that they must be products of an external agent, a Creator. The second fact was that the universe and the earth seem to be specifically designed to support life.

    First off, his understanding of the second law of thermodynamics is a bit discouraging if he's really an expirimental physicist. Hopefully this isn't typical of those in the physics community (it isn't). For a system to be closed, it cannot be acted upon by an external agent. That's the very definition of a closed system. Or, maybe he doesn't have a terrible understanding of the 2nd law thermodynamics, but he's just purposely introducing the idea of an 'external agent' to make it sound like the idea of god seem somehow scientific.

    Next up - the universe in no way violates the laws of thermodynamics (if it did, they'd probably not be considered laws). Even better, life itself does not violate the 2nd law. His mistake is assuming that the earth is a closed system. Where this the case, it would be a barren, frozen, lifeless landscape. While not completely closed, our solar system is much closer to a closed system, and once you include the sun in the system, life no longer violates the laws of thermodynamics. The way life works is by "borrowing" entropy from the sun to create local order even while the total entropy of the system increases. For the layman, entropy is the measure of how chaotic a system is. A great example is when you put a cold turkey in a hot oven. It starts out with low entropy (because the air and oven walls are hot, while the turkey is cold - this is a form of order in this context) and progresses to a higher entropy state as the heat in the system evens out. The turkey gets hotter and the air gets colder (assuming the oven is off). The concept in our solar system is similar, the sun creates energy and that energy dissapates and the entropy of the system is always increasing. When the sun's energy hits the earth, plants use some of the entropy from the sun's dissapation of energy to decrease their internal entropy (by storing off the energy temporarily). This 'borrowing' of entropy is also how life would've gotten it's first start (either borrowing from the sun's entropy or by borrowing from the earth's entropy as it releases geothermal energy)

    Ok, moving on...The second "fact" that he gives is that the universe seems to be perfectly suited to host life. This demonstrates that he definitely wasn't paying attention when evolution was taught in school. Life clearly has some pretty specific needs in order to exist. First, let's look just at the local environment - the earth. Clearly the earth seems 'perfect' for life. But would it be reasonable to assume that, where there no creator, life would be equally likely to form and evolve on a planet that is completely unsuitable for life? To anyone with an understanding of the theories of abiogenesis and evolution that life would always appear to be very specifically suited to its environment. As creationists like to point out, life requires many variables to be 'just right' in order to form. If life only forms in certain specific circumstances, wouldn't it make sense that life only exists in an environment that seems perfectly suited to host life? Furthermore, if life evolves in order to better fit the environment (it does) it would make sense that life would evolve into forms that are extremely dependant on certain aspects of the environment. When there are untapped resources, life will evolve to take advantage of them. This does not reflect an intelligent designer that created life with the intent to take advantage of some specific aspect of the environment, it reflects life's ability to incrementally become more efficient at exploiting available resources.

    Next, looking at the universe as a whole. There was just the right mix of matter and antimatter after the big bang to leave us with enough matter left over to form stars and later planets. The balance between the 4 fundamental forces is also just right to allow life (as we know it) to form. Is this evidence for a creator? No. Current cosmology currently theorizes that new universes are being born all the time. There are likely an infinite number of other universes out there, each possibly with their own unique laws of physics. This being so, it is only in the universe where the settings are 'just right' for life to form, that intelligent life is able to form and contemplate why the universe seems so perfectly suited to them. This is essentially the same concept I talked about above, just on a grander scale. Just as there are trillions of planets in the universe (making the chances of one being quite hospitible to life rather high) there are likely infinite other universes, making the chances of one being perfect for life quite high (actually, if there's an infinite number of universes, you can be assured that there is also an inifinite number of universes that host life)

    Moving on:

    Practically all life on earth depends on energy from the sun.

    Shocking! Life has evolved to depend on what is, by far, the most abundant energy source available. Who would've guessed! He goes on to describe how the sun imparts energy to the earth and the earth, again, seems perfectly suited to life. He is describing a process that likely takes place on any number of planets in the universe with an atmosphere containing oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon (elements which are readily generated by stars, and distributed throughout the universe when they go supernova). Really this next paragraph is just an extension of the same tired argument.

    Next up:

    Only a very narrow band of the vast spectrum of solar radiation is visible light, but light is vital for life. Plants need it to produce food, and we need light to see. The atmosphere’s special transparency to light cannot be a coincidence.

    Why can't this be a coincidence? If the earth didn't get the right amount of the right type of light, he wouldn't be a live to make such rash assumptions (or, more likely, he'd be making the assumptions on another planet that was better suited). Or, perhaps we would've developed eyes that detect other wavelengths of light, and plants would photosynthesize with other types of light. Again, sticking with the same argument that just boils down to forcing things to fit a framework that you've already decided on.

    When asked why the way light is filtered is significant:

    Some ultraviolet radiation is critical. We need a small amount of it on our skin to produce vitamin D, which is vital for bone health and evidently for protection from cancer and other diseases. However, too much of this particular radiation causes skin cancer and eye cataracts

    So, we evolved a dependency on ultraviolet radiation due to it’s abundance. There could’ve been an early mutation that resulted in the production of Vitamin D in response to ultraviolet radiation. If Vitamin D helps prevent cancer, then this mutation would increase reproductive success of the population that had it since they would be able to tolerate more sunlight. Is the fact that people actually DO get cancer from too much sunlight - an amount of sunlight that would be difficult to avoid if we didn’t have clothes and housing - evidence that god wants us all to die of cancer?

    The last bit sums it up:

    In its natural state, the atmosphere allows only a tiny amount of this ultraviolet radiation to reach the earth’s surface—and it is just the right amount. For me, that is evidence that someone designed the earth to sustain life.

    This is his entire argument! the earth seems perfect for life, therefore everything was created for life. The converse argument makes much more sense and requires no mystical designer - the earth was here first and happened to be suited for our particular flavor of life, so life formed and adapted to take advantage.

  • prologos

    oneEyedJoe, good refutations for that simplistic presentation by wt writers! thank you, but

    are you not getting carried away by pointing us to multiverses* bubbling up as we speak? and

    do you have a good explanation what is at the root, where is the enrgy source for all that generating activity?

    * I recall somewhere the proposition that you need more than one universe to have enough random probabilities to start up and sustain life,but

    that was before the exo- planet bonanza.

  • OneEyedJoe

    For a more in depth explanation of the origin of multiple universes, I recommend the books by Stephen Hawking. I think The Grand Design is the one that goes into the details of M-theory. While I have some understanding of the concepts, I'm certainly not as adept at explaining it as hawking is, so I'm not going to try.

    I may well have gotten ahead of myself by delving into it, but its a topic I'm interested in so it came to mind. You're correct that the multiverse stuff isn't necessary to explain abiogenesis in our universe, but creationists often like to point out things like the ratio of the strengths of the electromagnetic force to the strength of the strong nuclear force as being within a very narrow range that allows complex chemical compounds to form. Its the fundamental properties of our universe like this that may require a multiverse theory to explain why we find ourselves in a universe perfectly suited to bring about life. It also may not be needed, because we're obviously biased to look at ourselves as the model of what life is. There may be some other form (or, perhaps, infinitely many other forms) of intelligent life out there that could not have formed in a universe like ours, but would readily form under different physical laws. It may be that if our universe had formed in such a way that nothing but pure energy existed some unimaginable form of intelligence made of pure energy would be pondering the question of how their universe happened to be so perfectly suited to their existence.

  • prologos

    talking of pure energy, a piece of news puzzled me. it was:

    that the universe aquires more (dark) energy* as it expands, so that is appears that energy is a property of the ur-void of the cosmos that existed before -and still does- the expansion started.

    I very much prefer to hear the essence of what you and others get out of these books.

    thank you.

    *dark energy at the reason for the ACCELLRATED expansion that supposedly exists.

  • venting

    Thanks OneEyedJoe. I knew someone could chew this up and spit it out! Venting.

  • prologos

    venting: that why it is called a 'digest' like in reader's digest.

    the mature ones pre-digesting the heavy stuff for the novices. and

    the BIG question will always be for novices, that are innocent enough to be bothered with it.

  • opusdei1972

    venting I can give you my own experience. I am Ph.D. in Satistical Physics (one of the fields of theoretical physics). Currently, I work as a professor and researcher in a University. I was baptized as a Jehovah's Witness one year after I started my undergraduate studies in the university. I have to say that I tried for many years to avoid arguments and readings against the Bible. I wanted to be a witness because I lost my father who was a witness, so I thought that I could see him in the new order by being a faithful witness. Of course, I always felt that I was a bad witness, because I put first my carreer to have a family and support them. So I always did the minimum in the field service, so rarely I was a pioneer.

    For many years I did not want to use my critical skills to test the arguments of the Watchower Society as well as the Bible. When I wanted to use my brain ( in the same sense as I use it to solve problem of physics) so as to analyze the Society's claims, I had to admit and conclude for myself that I was living in a lie. Recently I was doing the same thing for the Bible. However, it does not mean that I am an atheist. But currently I don't believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God.

    I think that those scientists who are supporting the Watchtower Society are in the same denial status as I was when I did not want to use my critical skills.

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