Mar 03

SeanCarrollMysteries of Modern Physics: Time; Teaching Company Series, by Dr. Sean Carroll ★★★

I’ve been doing much reading on the issue of time, mostly focused on the aspect of God existing outside of both space and time. The title of this series suggested that physics might provide help in this regard. In reading debates on God and time I noted that the more conservative philosophers came under criticism for not understanding the new modern scientific thinking regarding time. Perhaps I was missing something, so this series seemed to be relevant in my quest for understanding. It wasn’t.

Dr. Carroll was a reasonably good lecturer and was easy to follow. The pace of the lectures was quite slow. Ultimately, the focus on the real issue (the physics of time) was continually side-skirted. In the first portion of the course, Carroll discusses the physics of entropy and its reversible nature. Even though I knew that entropy was time-directional, the extent of this discussion seemed irrelevant to grasping why entropy was uni-directional. Carroll then spent a section talking about the psychology of time, our perception of time. All relevant, but it doesn’t explain time itself. Finally, Carroll delved into the latest big-bang theory of the development of the universe, and other thoughts on contemporary physics. In order to work, the big-bang theory must arbitrarily assign a small entropy to the beginning of the universe. You wonder how many more rabbits were pulled out of the hat to create the big-bang according to modern physics? The ultimate rabbit trick is the multiverse theory, where the universe separates into two different universes with every action. Carroll is correct to identify the multiverse theory as the “ultimate free-lunch”, in that it is unproveable, and offered as a slight of hand in order to defend the physicist’s fundamental philosophy of life rather than trying to describe nature. Indeed, discussions on the latest and greatest in physics suggested that physicists were smoking some fairly strong weed, and reading too many fantasy books. Einstein’s theories were of no help either, because though one could slow down time in your personal perspective, you always returned to time-on-earth as it otherwise would have been. Einstein doesn’t explain speeding up time by slowing down… how could one slow down not relative to any other point in the universe? Such “slowing down” motion would always be perceived from the observer at point zero as accelerating, yes?

This lecture series was a bit too long for what Dr. Carroll attempted to do, which was to explain time. Although he gave a lovely discourse on physics, time remained the same. Time remains unexplained and unexplainable, and we are caught (created) inescapably in time, to know nothing other than a universe (or heaven) that has a history and the clock ever clicking. For us, there will never be a physics where time is not a part of the equation.


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Mar 08

The God of Miracles, by C. John Collins ★★★★★

The subtitle to this book is “An exegetical examination of God’s action in the world. Collins, in this book, attempts to form a Biblical basis for God’s interaction with the world, and to describe the nature of possible interactions with the world. To accomplish this end, Collins presents the three leading camps of thought that describe the nature of God’s ongoing interactions with his creation. They are providentialism, supernaturalism, and occasionalism. Collins begins by describing what we would consider to be unorthodox views of Gods interaction with the world, such as with Deism, which simply put, states that God puts the world into motion and then leaves it alone. Thus, miracles and supernatural interactions with the world do not and cannot exist, according to the Deist. To summarize the three “orthodox” stances, providentialism holds God to have created the world with such intricacy that unusual events are built into the creation and no event violates the natural laws that God built into the world; supernaturalism believes that God created the world with intrinsic laws that govern its normal behavior, yet God interacts with the system and is not bound by the normal laws that govern the system; occasionalism holds that there are no automatic laws that govern the behavior of the universe, but that God is active at every moment in its operation, so that unusual occurrences (miracles) are simply a part of the normal behavior of God in the universe.

The remainder of the book provides arguments for and against each position. First, Collins defines terms such as nature, miracle, and causation. Then, he explores Scripture to see where instances in support of each of these three stances might occur. Collins summarizes with a leading toward supernaturalism. The last chapter of this book discusses primarily the issue of intelligent design and how it fits into Christian thinking about the creation and sustenance of the world.

This book was written before “Science & Faith” but is supposed to be an academic attempt as the same subject matter as Science & Faith. I actually found this book easier to read, and provided better pause for reflection than the Science & Faith text. Both texts are complementary with minimal duplication in discussion, and thus both books are strongly recommended by me. I realize that Collins has come under attack from both the liberals and the 7-day creationists for his stances. I find Collins 100% committed to Scripture, and no way diverting away from proper exegesis of the text. He provides an excellent defense against those who truly deviate from a strong respect for the Scripture as God-breath words, an example being the theistic evolutionists. I would hope the reader maintains a critical but unbiased mind in reading his texts.

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Dec 23

How the Earth Works, by Michael Wysession (Teaching Company Series) ★★★

This teaching company series, taught by a Geophysicist, discusses the mechanisms and processes that make the earth the way it is. Wysession is able to interlay the various processes, whether they be geologic, biologic, or astronomic, in discussing what gives us our world. The lecture series can be divided into three parts, with a grading on each part…

I. Plate Tectonics – 5 stars – the longest part of the course, it also is the best part of the course, taught where Wysession is most expert. Details of how the continents were created, how plate tectonic theory was developed, how earthquakes and volcanoes occur, are all discussed in popular lay terms that can be understood by anybody.

II. The Weather – 3 stars – though the weather is an important process in molding the earth, another Teaching Company course on Meteorology has done a far superior job of detailing how weather is formed, and the processes that lead to our climate and living conditions.

III. Biology and “My Soapbox” – 1 star – Wysession adequately discusses the role of biological organisms in helping to form the earth. He does a far worse job of playing biologist. Much of the last lectures of the course are more a soapbox on various subjects such as climate change, humans elsewhere in the universe, and the destiny of man, which would have best been left out of the course. Many of the last lectures have no relation to discussing how the earth works, but rather create a dummy pulpit for Wysession. I do credit Wysession for maintaining a sense of scientific uncertainty about matters such as climate change, and he doesn’t become preachy like Algore.

The course could be improved in many ways. Most importantly, I wish Wysession would have spent a few lectures discussing in depth the mechanisms for studying earth. He could have better discussed the various instrumentation for “sounding” the depths of earth. He could have given us more detailed explanations of land formations that help us understand the world we see, to allow us to engage in the process of being junior geologists. I would have been interested in having a rough feel as to how a geophysicist mathematically models things like earthquakes.

Wysession is an excellent teacher and adequately uses props and visuals to get his point across. This is a series worth watching, though the final lectures would be best deleted or changed as mentioned above to get the discussion back to the intended topic for the course.

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