Worlds Without End: The Conformal Cyclic Cosmology Of Roger Penrose — Guest Post by Bob Kurland


An extended version of this article is available at Kurland’s place.

Perhaps the best argument in favour of the thesis that the Big Bang supports theism is the obvious unease with which it is greeted by some atheistic physicists. At times this has led to scientific ideas, such as continuous creation or an oscillating universe, being advanced with a tenacity which so exceeds their intrinsic worth that one can only suspect the operation of psychological forces lying very much deeper than the usual desire of a theorist to support his/her theory. –Chris Isham, “Creation of the Universe as Quantum Process” in Physics, Philosophy and Theology–A Common Quest for Understanding.


Elsewhere, I wrote that the conformal cyclic cosmology (CCC) proposed by Roger Penrose deserves an article, “nay, a chapter” on its own. Although there are several cosmology theories that propose multiple universes (see here and here), the CCC is perhaps the only one that might be subject to experimental tests. And if such tests were to confirm Penrose’s hypothesis, what then would be the consequences for Catholic teaching? We’ll answer that question below.

This is only a summary of Penrose’s thesis; for a fuller account go to his 2005 paper, Before the Big Bang: an Outrageous New Perspective, his 2013 paper, On the Gravitization of Quantum Mechanics 2: Conformal Cyclic Cosmology, or his book, Cycles of Time.

The starting point for this theory is the puzzle of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Why does entropy increase for the universe? In one of his other books, The Road to Reality, Penrose poses this question, which appears to contradict a prime principle of physics, time reversibility of physical processes. Why is the Universe so ordered at the moment of the Big Bang? (He estimates the relative volume of phase space into which the universe expands as 10^(10^123), a number greater than all the particles in the universe.)

Penrose’s answer in “Before the Big Bang” is that gravitational degrees of freedom are not activated in the very early universe, and it’s gravitational effects that give rise to the increase in entropy:

The answer lies in the fact that the high entropy of the microwave background refers only to the matter content of the universe and not to the gravitation field, as would be encoded in its space-time geometry in accordance with Einstein’s general relativity. What we find…is an extraordinary uniformity, … interpreted as gravitational degrees of freedom…being not excited at all…the entropy rises as the initially uniform distribution of matter begins to clump, as the gravitational degrees of freedom begin to be taken up. This allows stars to be formed, which become much hotter than their surroundings…and finally this gravitational clumping leads to the presence of black holes (particularly the huge ones in galactic centres), which represent an enormous increase in entropy

So, where does “conformal” enter into the picture? By means of a mathematical transformation of spacetime coordinates, the zero—the singularity at the origin—can be transformed into a finite boundary, as shown in the diagram above. Further, the infinity—the singularity at the end of the universe—can also be transformed into a finite boundary. Penrose’s “outrageous perspective” is to assume that these transformations are more than mathematical devices, but portray reality. Moreover, not only are these mathematically transformed beginnings and ends real, they are conjoined: the end of one universe is the beginning of the next.

An important way in which Penrose’s cosmology differs from other proposals is that it can (in principle) be tested experimentally. Symmetry requirements enable particles with integral spin (which include photons) to cross the boundary between the nth and (n+1)th universe, but not particles with half-integral spin (mass particles such as electrons and protons).

Accordingly there might be signals from a preceding universe shown in the microwave background radiation, COBE. Penrose and Gurzadyan claimed to have found such by concentric circles in the background radiation, presumed to be due to gravity waves formed by collisions between massive black holes in the preceding Aeon.

However this “evidence” has been challenged by several authors who claim that intrinsic structure that can be deduced by statistical manipulation is part of the natural variation of the COBE radiation. In fact, one group showed that statistically significant equilateral triangles could also be deduced by appropriate manipulation.

Other objections have been raised to the CCC thesis: for the conformal mapping at the end of the universe to be physically significant, it is required that no matter be left in the universe. Protons have a finite lifetime (albeit very long—their decay has not yet been observed), but electrons do not. So, unless all electrons in the universe were to be annihilated by positron-electron collisions (or some other interaction), the massless condition would not hold, nor would it hold if neutrinos continued to exist.

Theological Significance

Catholic theologians breathed a huge sigh of relief (presumed) when Abbe LeMaitre’s primordial atom thesis (“The Big Bang”) was confirmed by galactic red shift measurements and became scientifically acceptable. Indeed, Pope Pius XII argued that this scientific theory validated Catholic teaching. LeMaitre himself was not inclined to such a strong view; rather he disassociated the science from theology with this statement (from “The Primeval Atom Hypothesis and the Problem of Clusters of Galaxies”):

As far as I can see, such a theory remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being…For the believer, it removes any attempt at familiarity with God…It is consonant with Isaiah speaking of the hidden God, hidden even in the beginning of the universe.

St. Thomas did not say that reason could prove a universe beginning in time; although reason could prove a First Cause—God—for the origin of the universe (possibly as an eternal entity, since God is eternal); it is an article of faith to believe a universe created in time. The Big Bang notion is consistent with Creation at t=0, but does not prove it. If we believe God is the author of all, a First Cause, then He can create an infinity of universes, as in the bubble universe hypothesis of Lande or in the parallel worlds given by some interpretations of quantum theory. Economy of effort is not required of God.

Accordingly, faith trumps science in this. Revelation gives us reason to believe, and despite the efforts of non-believing scientists to trash a strong confirmation of God’s creative power, the Big Bang, we still can remain confident in that power as the source of being. Such a position is not “fideism”, an adherence to Catholic teaching in the face of empirical evidence to the contrary. It is a recognition of the limits of science, and the authority of theology and philosophy in final verdicts on truth.


  1. JohnK

    There is NO “authority of theology and philosophy in final verdicts on truth.” The statement represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of theology — and of all the sciences, for that matter.

    As the queen of the sciences, theological science presupposes the reality of its object, just as natural science does when it is a science, and not a disguised quest for power. Thus, every science exists within a natural humility, and only within that natural humility may it even exist as a science, and so continue to ask questions of the reality under its study.

    Theology does not, and methodologically cannot, question the reality of its object, let alone provide a ‘final verdict’ on its truth, lest it vanish immediately into the vaporous insanities of the quest for power rather than truth. Rather, like all science, it seeks to ask better and better questions of the Reality under its study.

    The object of all true theological science is Truth Himself speaking truly. Theology does NOT provide a ‘final verdict’ on Him. The situation is precisely the reverse.

  2. John K, I don’t really understand what you’re trying to say. Science has its limits, as does theology. Revelation is not theology. My point was that Revelation is the final authority. Do you disagree with that?

  3. Jim Fedako


    What is wrong with Genesis as the factual record of the beginning, i.e. no Big Bang? Isn’t Genesis the word of God?

    Are you fearful that, because many claim Genesis and (what is called) science are antithetical, adhering to the Word in this instance will appear irrational — the singular slur causing fright in all thinking men and women?

    What is wrong with claiming six 24-hour days, with a trailing day of rest, as the true historical beginning?

  4. Oldavid

    JohnK, very perspicacious and well said.

    However, “Black Holes”, “singularities” and THE “Big Bang” are mere speculations of Materialists trying to propose an idea that the Universe and all that’s in it can (did) cause itself to exist.

    Now, I have no difficulty at all with the notion that an omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent Being could instantaneously (in the beginning) create a complete, fully functioning Universe that “looks as though” it had always been there to anyone who was in it.

    Omnipotence can just as easily create a tree as a seed. Just as easily create a man in the prime of life as a zygote etc. etc.

    There are many unreasonable assumptions in Roger Penrose’ proposition that I don’t want to go into here for now; let’s content ourselves with the premise that “a thing that does not exist cannot cause itself to exist”.

  5. Jim Fedako: You can make that claim, but it is contradicted by physics. Are you saying physics is not correct? Or, as my mother claimed, God put all those dinosaurs and layers to test our faith? I’m trying to be nasty or anything. I just never understood how the two (6 day creation, physics) cannot be anything but mutually exclusive. It’s not that I fear a “slur”—we get plenty of those. I just can’t see anything incorrect in the slur. Perhaps you can clarify?

  6. Oldavid

    I will argue that Creation and Physics are not at all “mutually exclusive”.

    Stuff presented as “scientific” (physics) is often the pure speculation of Materialists masquerading as “experts”.

    A plethora of cunning salesmen con you into thinking that there is a contradiction or conflict. No such contradiction can ever exist. Reality is what it is… but snake oil salesmen can always sell a remedy for a non-existent “affliction”.

  7. With the statements:
    “The Big Bang notion is consistent with Creation at t=0,… ” and
    “…despite the efforts of non-believing scientists to trash a strong confirmation of God’s creative power, the Big Bang…”

    This appears to be another attempt at using the Big Bang as evidence of a creation of the universe at a point in time (or to be more precise a finite time ago since technically time didn’t exist before the BB singularity), and thus a support of the Biblical creation account. When will people understand that using a story full of fictions (like the Big Bang) to support Biblical truths is a very BAD idea?

    The story of Santa Claus has points of familiarity with the nativity (happens around Christmas time, there may even be mentions of Jesus), but with all the fictions involved it’s a very bad idea to try to convince anyone of the truth of the Christian faith (or the nativity) based on the story of Santa Claus.

    Likewise it’s a bad idea to try to convince anyone of the truth of the Christian faith, and particularly the Biblical creation account, based on the Big Bang theory, with all it’s fictions.

    This point (don’t use science fictions to support biblical truths) is so important I won’t even bother to address all the problems with Penrose’s assumptions.

  8. Oldavid: How do you reconcile physics saying the earth is many billions of years old and creation saying it was created in six days?

  9. Duane C–I’m not sure you understand the distinction between “consistency” and “proof”. A “Big Bang” with time beginning at the moment of the beginning of the universe does not prove the existence of a creator or Creator, but it is consistent with that interpretation. Evidently you didn’t read the post to see Abbe LeMaitre’s rejection of the Big Bang as evidence for theological suppositions. “LeMaitre disassociated the science from theology”.

  10. Jim Fedako

    Sheri —

    Then you cannot believe the Bible is God’s word. Your faith is in science, hence your claim that the converse of truth is true (i.e. your belief that it is physics that contradicts the Bible, when it is the converse of that statement which is true).

    Note: for someone who actively reads this blog, you must know that physics contradicts nothing. Physics is a tool — a model — that people use to explain the world around them. They can use physics to attempt a contradiction. However, to claim physics “contradicts” is to fall for hypostization, a sin, so to speak, more alluring than reification.

  11. DAV

    Jim Fedako,

    You don’t have to believe the Bible is intended an accurate description of the universe although the description in Genesis amazingly seems to have gotten the order right. “Day” doesn’t have to be literally read as a 24-hour period. Instead it likely meant (or still does mean) “era” or some unspecified period of time.

    If you view the Bible as stories illustrating how to act (or not act) or things God will do for His believers then you can view it as God’s word. There is really no contradiction with findings in physics or other disciplines if you don’t insist on literal interpretation and concentrate on the apparent allegories.

    And this is from an agnostic.

  12. Oldavid

    April 30, 2016 at 8:10 pm
    Oldavid: How do you reconcile physics saying the earth is many billions of years old and creation saying it was created in six days?

    Fair question, I suppose, Sheri.

    First up, I have never come across a “physics” that “says” the Earth is many billions of years old. “Billions of years” is merely a conjecture that some who call themselves “scientists” have assumed, and selectively collected and interpreted some observations to “prove” that if you wait long enough all things that didn’t exist will come to exist without an effective cause.

    Next up, I prefer the analogy that theology is the king of sciences, philosophy is queen, and all the other sciences are but servants of the court. That is, that the purpose of all science is to identify and love all that is good and true.

    That some of the vassals have effectively chosen to “be as gods knowing (deciding what is) good and evil” (and what is true or false) does not change what is good and evil or true and false in the slightest. That the popular media relentlessly dictates an impossible nonsense as “scientific fact” does not make it either “scientific” or “fact”. The nonsense commonly disseminated as “climate science” should be an adequate testimony to the unreliability of popularised fads to represent what is.

    So then, back to your original question. Short answer is “I don’t”. Longer answer is : age of the Earth is a speculation that (as far as I know) can’t be verified by any repeatable experiment or observation.

  13. It’s lovely and spiritually fulfilling to imagine the Big Bang as the spark of thought in the mind of God, or a child, or a puppy. In a funny way, it may sort of parallel actuality, or at least provide a pretty metaphor. But nothing here is proof of anything real. It’s just fun to imagine.


  14. Bob,

    Who said anything about “proof?” I said “evidence.”

    What is the meaning of this sentence:
    “…despite the efforts of non-believing scientists to trash a strong confirmation of God’s creative power, the Big Bang…”

    …if it doesn’t mean that non-believing scientists deny confirmation of creation provided by the Big Bang? Does that not mean they deny it as evidence?

    LeMaitre’s statement leaves one wondering what caused the singularity. Does it mean he sides with the materialists who believe nothing created everything?

    Incidentally in passing, perhaps you can clarify. You speak of an “infinity of universes” (the multiverse) bubble universes (an illustration Kaku uses as well as Lande), Guth calls them “pocket” universes. All these physicists with their add-on theories (the multiverse, etc.) still support the Big Bang; so those alternate theories do not “trash” the Big Bang in their view.

    So what are the “limits” of science that you speak of? That secular physicists can’t come up with a single theory? Or that they’re too entrenched in their worldview to loosen their blinders to see that their BB theory is not supported by the evidence and is thus wrong? Either way, at the root of most secular universe origin theories (including the brane theory of Steinhardt and Turok; and Hawkings’ No-Boundary Proposal) there’s a BB singularity. Since all those physicists support the Big Bang at some level – how are they trashing it – except by saying it doesn’t support a creation by God? (Which gets me back to my point – we shouldn’t care about claims that the BB doesn’t support creation by God, nor should we use it to support creation because we don’t want to use falsehoods to support the truth of God.)

  15. Oldavid

    Jersey McJones
    May 1, 2016 at 2:08 am
    It’s lovely and spiritually fulfilling to imagine the Big Bang as the spark of thought in the mind of God, or a child, or a puppy. In a funny way, it may sort of parallel actuality, or at least provide a pretty metaphor. But nothing here is proof of anything real. It’s just fun to imagine.

    Your scoffing only indicates that you have no argument.

    Explain to us how Nothing can become Everything for no reason and you will have all the “philosophers”, mathemagicians, “scientists” and ethicists imploring you to take their money and prime time publicity.


    Jim F: You’re right—I have read this blog for long time and should have known better than to ask a question of an all-knowing god such as yourself. I won’t make that mistake again.

    Oldavid: Yes, you have to reject the premises of physics to believe the earth is young. As far as I can see, there is no other way. However, is it based on anything other than physics contradicts the interpretation of creation that you believe? Do you know of proof that physical laws are fluid, did not work in the past, or the calculations are wrong? It’s okay to simply no like the science. I was trying to understand how physics and six day creation work together, but there’s nothing saying one must believe one, both or either. The ideas are mutually exclusive, however, as you seem to indicate. (Thank you for being courteous and explaining to me what you think. If I misunderstood, please let me know and explain further if you can. I really am trying to understand how this works. It may indeed be as simple as rejecting science in favor of religion, yet some people seem to combine the two and make it work. It seems to be which you take literally and which you don’t.)

    JMJ: Nothing in the past is proof of anything, including the theory of evolution and the Big Bang. They’re all just imagination. (You’re illustrating my point about atheists finding it necessary to always ridicule believers.)

  17. swordfishtrombone

    @ Oldavid “[the] age of the Earth is a speculation that (as far as I know) can’t be verified by any repeatable experiment or observation”

    We can see (with telescopes) galaxies that are billions of light years away – how did the light have time to get here if the Earth isn’t billions of years old?

  18. swordfishtrombone: Answer from creationist website—light year is a measure of distance, not time.

    (I only report what I read, I cannot explain it. Please don’t ask.)

  19. Scotian

    Really Sheri I’m shocked. Let’s say that I’m in the habit of stating distances in car-hours, that is the distance it takes a car an hour to drive staying within the posted speed limits. It is not hard to imagine this as people do it all the time. If I then told you that the beach my family was going to was an hour away, would you fatuously say that a car-hour was a measure of distance not time? Light year is no different.

  20. Jim Fedako

    Sheri —

    Nice non sequitur — a method of argumentation that assumes you have incontrovertibly proved your point.

    DAV —

    Why would I purposefully delude myself and “believe” that what I “know” to be false? If I simply assume the Bible is nothing but stories that I can “view” as God’s word, I am wasting my time.

  21. Jim Fedako

    Sheri —

    I just looked at your link.

    Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.”

    Those folks seek confrontation, not to serve God’s purpose, but to serve their own. Their whole scheme is such an obvious setup to garner attention, it’s hard to see how folks were fooled.

    Note: one Christian organization I follow retracted their initial support after they researched the group. You might do the same.

  22. Scotian: I stated this was not my answer, just one I read from creationist websites.

    Jim F: Thank you.

    I have no idea where the link came from—it’s not in my browsing history, it’s 4 years old and I’ve not seen the article before. In the past, a mysterious link to a video I had never seen showed up in one of my comments. Maybe I need to run a lengthy virus check on my computer. Anyway, not my link.

  23. Duane C. I’m afraid I’m too dense to quite get what you’re driving at, so let me state my own position and then you can argue against that.
    With Fr. Stanley Jaki, I believe that science is limited, and it is limited in that empirical proof is required for theoretical propositions. Thus string theory, multiverses, etc, are not really science because either because of strong practical limitations or intrinsic limitations (by definition there is no communication between different universes); such might better lie in the domain of mathematical metaphysics.
    I believe that science cannot disprove the existence of God, nor can it prove the existence of God. That which we know from science is and must be consonant with what I believe as a Catholic–in the words of Pope St. John Paul II, “Truth Cannot Contradict Truth”.
    With respect to the “Big Bang”, it’s presence is inferred from what we can see in the present–see my posts summarizing G.R.F. Ellis’s fine article on Philosophic Issues in Cosmology. With respect to Chris Isham’s quote, I think that’s correct. Some physicists regard the Big Bang as evidence for a creator (or Creator); I regard it as that which would be consonant with Catholic teaching on Creatio ex Nihilo, but so would an eternal universe, as Sts. Augustine and Thomas correctly put forth.
    Now, what in the above do you disagree with?
    By the way, I have the greatest respect for Sir Roger Penrose as an original mind and great teacher–he’s gone out on the limb in his propositions on a quantum mechanical mechanism for consciousness, and I think the proposal for Conformal Cyclic Cosmology is also not well founded. I gave, by the way, objections to this that others have raised. Nevertheless, it is one of the few such proposals (I don’t know of any others) for which there is a possibility of empirical support. And what I wanted to do in this post is to show that even were there to be empirical evidence for CCC, it would not put Catholic teachings in jeopardy.

  24. Oldavid

    Sheri: It’s not the “physics” that says that the Earth is old; it is the interpretation of some observations that makes that claim. There is nothing in any observations of nature that says that an omnipotent creator could not create a Universe that looks old to anyone in it.

    I repeat that creation and “physics” are not mutually exclusive; it is ideological assumptions associated with either or both that cause the apparent conflict. You might like to flick through some of the articles listed here:
    to unsettle your confidence in what is presumptuously popularly presented as “settled science”.

    No, I’ve not read all (or even most) of the articles presented as I find Protestant Bible-Bashers a rather irksome read for the most part.

  25. fah

    This thread seems to have gotten needlessly contentious. Oldavid hit some nails on the head. I want to focus on one: “age of the Earth is a speculation that (as far as I know) can’t be verified by any repeatable experiment or observation,” and a little bit of 2: “Creation and Physics are not mutually exclusive.”

    Since about the time of Galileo, the point of physics has been focused on quantitatively predicting the outcome of controlled experiments. Some purists might even argue that anything else is outside of physics and should be called something else. (As late as the 1970s some universities still housed relativity groups in the math departments, not physics. For example, when Hawking and Ellis wrote their definitive work “The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time” in 1973, Hawking was in the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge and Ellis was in Applied Mathematics at Cape Town.) Thusly narrowly defined, the discipline of physics has been remarkably successful in generating ever more delicate and sophisticated experimental techniques. The utility of a controlled experiment is that one can construct it so as to rule out as many confounding factors as one is aware of so as to test a very specific idea and repeat it successively refining its clarity. Within this discipline “truth” is strictly defined as the prediction of quantitative outcomes of experiments.

    Some other branches of science have very little potential for controlled experiments and must rely on observations of events which were not constructed for the specific scientific purpose. Examples are astronomy, cosmology, evolutionary biology, paleo-anything, climate science, etc. Many of these disciplines are able to do some laboratory experiments and then argue that the results translate in space or time so as to allow explanation of distant events, but that is as close as they get to predicting results of controlled experiments. Instead, they tend to rely on specific physics, chemistry, and biology for explanatory power of the observations. A notion becomes more conclusive as the number of observations explained quantitatively by the notion, preferably involving different observational or source phenomena, becomes larger and larger and the possible alternative explanations become smaller and smaller. In this case the confirmation of the theory is not as distinct as the outcome of a controlled experiment but occurs over time. (I think this is the notion that climate alarmists have of a “consensus”.) Within these disciplines “truth” of a concept can be harder to define, but often it is taken to mean “agrees quantitatively with good precision with most if not all of the observations and is in accord with all supporting concepts testable by direct experiment”. It is a plus if the explanation can also anticipate (predict) new observations perhaps in novel ways. This notion of explaining observations using locally known physics is how workers “explain” the age of the universe or planets or the precise date of supernova SN1054. It is worth noting that in astronomy and cosmology it is an explicitly stated assumption that physical laws as we measure them in the laboratory now also apply at great distances and times separate from ours. Some theories consider violations of these assumptions.

    [There is a slight blurring between observation and experiment in that when one does an experiment one typically records events that happened at some specific time or times and then re-creates (explains) what happened during the interaction previous to the act of recording. In that sense even a controlled experiment is an observation after the fact, but the idea is that the experiment can be repeated and changed in ways to rule out alternative explanations. For example, one might launch a satellite or two and get data from them over a long period of time from great distances and then reconstruct what happened over the course of the experiment. Another blurring is occurring in our increased breadth and sensitivity of measurement techniques. The current issue of Reviews of Modern Physics has an article by Anna Watts et. al. on measuring the equation of state of neutron star matter using x-ray signal timing. Equations of state have traditionally been measured in a laboratory or controlled high energy events.

    Also, it is possible to invoke alternative principles to “explain” how physical processes might change with time. Mach’s principle, that local physics is derived in some way from interactions with the whole of the rest of the universe, could have interpretations such that the strength of fundamental forces would change with time and perhaps six days might have been enough under some scenarios. The Brans-Dicke modification to Einstein’s theory did just that. The problem arises when the theory also predicts other things which are measurable and they do not agree with the proposed theory.]

    In this perspective, if one claims “physics says” then one might restrict such statements to quantitative outcomes of controlled experiments. Referring to interpretive analyses of ages of planets or the universe, existence or not of singularities, etc. one might more carefully use the words “consistent with [some specific] physical theory [and subject to certain restrictions].” Most of cosmology and black hole physics lies within the latter set of interpretive analyses. It is useful to contrast the two perspectives.

    In 1928 Dirac proposed his relativistic equation for the electron wave function and it predicted a previously undetected class of particles called anti-matter, in particular the positron. A few years later, Anderson detected them in his improved cloud chambers and won a Nobel. Since then anti-matter has been regularly created and observed in many controlled laboratory experiments. So one could say “physics says” the Dirac equation is useful for predicting experiments with anti-matter under a certain range of conditions. Or more loosely, the Dirac equation predicted the existence of anti-matter.

    In contrast, the modern notion of a black hole dates from about 1916 when Einstein proposed general relativity and within months Schwarzschild proposed his spherically symmetric solution to Einstein’s equations for the special case in which the universe is asymptotically flat, i.e. there is no other matter in the universe. (A nice tableau of black hole history is at , clicking on the dates shows the events.) About the same time, Reissner and Nordstrom derived a similar solution including charge. These solutions had a number of problems with stability to perturbations and likelihood of formation. It was not until 1963 when Roy Kerr published his (page and a half!) paper giving the solution for a non-charged, rotating black hole. For a number of reasons, this solution is most likely to form in nature and has been heavily studied ever since. A few years later, John Wheeler coined the term “black hole,” stimulated and focused interest in the object and the hunt was on for detectable properties. Einstein’s equations with everything working, i.e. all terms non-zero, has a lot of terms and they are very non-linear. It is a bear to solve analytically, so what people call a “black hole” is actually the solution of Einstein’s equations for matter distributed inside the black hole (typically at the singularity) and everywhere else the universe is empty. This is a very idealized situation but it is the best we can do analytically. For a decade or two, astronomers resisted the idea of black holes, instead trying to explain observations with other physical theories. Eventually, as higher energies (e.g. x-rays) became available for observation, too many objects were observed with too much energy coming out of an object too small to be anything but black holes and the astronomers were finally convinced. In this case physics has not “said” black holes exist by predicting their behavior in controlled experiments (the first case) but has “said” the observations are consistent with the theoretically predicted properties of idealized solutions of equations which are called black holes.

    It is this second sense that application of Penrose’s conformal notions to cosmology are consistent to some aspects of the physics. Penrose’s analytical extensions have been applied to black hole solutions as well as the large scale structure of space-time and they always pose questions of measurability of the extensions. For black hole extensions, the issue has largely been the nature and stability to perturbation of alternate “universes.” The cosmological extensions have very similar issues. In this case, one might not want to say Penrose’s results mean that “physics says” something. Instead it is the case that some notions are consistent with his assumptions.

    A variety of lines of physical thought lead backwards to a singular event, a “bang” of some sort. Here singular means there is a point going back in time at which our present experiment-confirmed physics fails to apply. Speculation on what happened, or not, before that is just that, speculation, at least as far as anything “physics says”. Some have postulated a single “bang” event, in which case the universe started at some point and continues to expand forever until it dies a cold death from the expansion. A one-shot deal. Others have postulated a “bang” followed by an expansion to a point, then a contraction again to a “crunch” at which point some bet on another “bang” followed by another and another ad infinitum, and some bet on just an end. Each of these are consistent with physics as far as we know, although there is some betting on the role of entropy in all this. Some might be consistent with some notions of creation (e.g. Christianity, Hindu, Islamic) others might be consistent with notions of infinite repeatability without creation (e.g. Buddhist).

    In the end, one is welcome to believe whatever one wishes about creation or lack thereof. One should be more careful when claiming that “physics says” something about it.

  26. Scotian

    It is easy to see Bob, you are dealing with young Earth creationists who can not tolerate the deep time of the Big Bang nor evolution for that matter. All this talk of physics is misdirection. Of course, maybe you are just being tactful.

  27. Oldavid: You are basically making the same argument my mother did—God put the layers and so forth in to test our faith. I never found that convincing. It just seemed like some kind of mean God messing with people’s heads (I’m not trying to be sarcastic or demeaning, it’s just that this is my genuine belief about the matter. I do believe in God and the Bible. Just not as literally as some here seem to. I also questions assumptions in physics. It’s just seems more likely “day” was not the same thing we mean now than God put fossils in the ground to test our faith. At least to me.)
    I did read a few creationist articles after the comments on here yesterday, which is where I got my previous comment from. I can only read a few at a time.

    I am probably in most agreement with fah (your comment was most helpful), though I think physicists might not so much. I know saying evolution can’t be proven provokes a very visceral response from biologists. I’m not sure if physicists are equally certain of their discipline. Science has limits, physics has limits, etc. Some things can never be proven, but best evidence leans in a certain direction. I tend to go with best evidence until better evidence is brought in, while all the time asking about the current theory and its limitations. What I am saying, more accurately, is the current theory in physics does not seem to be in agreement with an earth created in six 24 hour days and the earth being very young.

  28. Scotian

    “Oldavid: You are basically making the same argument my mother did—God put the layers and so forth in to test our faith. I never found that convincing. It just seemed like some kind of mean God messing with people’s heads …”

    This is the Omphalos hypothesis of Philip Henry Gosse and the general religious reaction was much the same as yours. Well sort of the same, I don’t think that faith testing was part of Grosse’s idea.

  29. Jim Fedako

    Sheri —

    Please note that the Second Law of Thermodynamics “proves” that no resurrection could ever have occurred. So we are left with a God creating a Passover Plot (Hugh Schonfield’s book from 1965) so as not to upset the “laws” He created.

    And forget Elijah’s chariot, the Red Sea, the plagues, Lazarus, etc. until you are left with the Jefferson Bible — a fully redacted book of reason.

  30. Scotian

    This is the fundamentalist dilemma. How does one determine the correct balance of interpretation?

  31. Jim F: I know the difference between miracles and ordinary life.

  32. Jim Fedako

    Scotian —

    I do not believe it is a dilemma. A challenge? Certainly. However, the standard rules of exegesis allow one to discern, inter alia, the historical from the poetic.

    Of course, as with all things coming from the minds of fallen men, examples of question begging do arise. Nevertheless, a presuppositional fundamentalist approach — flaws and all — makes more sense than starting from a position that the document is errant, with the exercise being the identification of the passages you redact to create your personal Bible.

    Sheri —

    You already ruled out miracles — defined as anything that defies the laws of science. According to science, a resurrection after three days is impossible since it defies the Second Law of Thermodynamics — not to mention the “laws” of medicine and biology.

    You can’t simply wave away what you choose and claim consistency.

    Keep in mind that every snicker you make in reference to your mother’s claim is met by guffaws from atheists when they hear your belief in a resurrection.

  33. swordfishtrombone

    @ Sheri “Answer from creationist website—light year is a measure of distance, not time.”

    No, this is wrong. Don’t read creationist websites. You can spot them by their 1995 vintage webpage design.

  34. swordfishtrombone

    @ Oldavid

    “There is nothing in any observations of nature that says that an omnipotent creator could not create a Universe that looks old to anyone in it.”

    Surely it’s a basic principle of religious belief that god doesn’t lie?

  35. swordfishtrombone: You recognize 1995 vintage webpage design? 🙂

    Jim: I can’t wave away what you call consistency, you mean. (Not snickering. I asked for clarification and the answer was not convincing. It would irrational and illogical to accept something that made no sense to me. I pointed out the beief as something I did not accept. By your definition, you’re snickering at me because I don’t believe what you believe. Some of your language would certainly lend credence to that eval.)

  36. Oldavid

    Phew! this discussion is going too fast for my limited available time to keep up with.

    Bob, Your “Penrose Proposal” seems moderately plausible only if “Black Holes”, “Singularities”, a “Big Bang”, an expanding Universe and a few other things are assumed and then made into the premise that is the backbone of the conclusion.

    I think it should only be necessary to cast reasonable doubt on the presumption of “Black Holes” and “expanding Universe” to reduce the “Penrose Proposal” from an hypothesis to a speculation.

    The notion of “BH’s” has serious problems in both the theoretical and pragmatic observation areas. There are mathemagicians who can point out the flaws in the magic that can only make BH’s work on paper by fudging the inputs pretty dramatically. Here is one such chap who presents a convincing case. The first page of his ‘site gives a bit of an indication of how you might be roasted by the Establishment dragon if you don’t run behind it. The bottom of the page links to most of his papers and protests.

    Observations that point to the non-existence of BH’s include; if there was an immense point source of gravity there should be a disc of “stuff” that is affected by gravity (like light and other EMR, plasma (from an immense number of “solar winds”) and other material stuff) that had narrowly escaped direct collision orbiting at speeds varying from practically the speed of light at the “event horison” all the way out to very slow.

    Such would be the case for a galaxy orbiting a BH at its centre. But that is not the observed rotational characteristic of galaxies. Ah well! let’s just invent some strategicaly placed Dark Matter to “rectify the problem” and retain the supposition of the BH.

    However, James T Dwyer has very neatly described that a galaxy rorating about its own centre of gravity would exhibit the rotational characteristics that are observed in his paper:
    Mass Distribution Characteristics Invalidate the Galaxy Rotation Problem
    James T. Dwyer
    May 1, 2010

    I can’t give a link to where I downloaded the pdf from as it seems to have disappeared. I can send you the pdf if you like by email or you may prefer to contact him directly as above.

    Expanding Universe:
    It is summarily assumed that the redshift phenomenon is caused by the Doppler Effect on radiation emitted from an object speeding “away” to the exclusion of other possibilities.

    An alternative proposal that I think a very likely possibility is the “tired light” model. That is, EMR travelling vast distances through (not empty) space must travel through an obstacle course of varying density plasma, gravitational and other fields pulling in every direction, refraction, diffraction, interference from other EMR of every wavelength from every direction, and possibly other things that I can’t imagine. It seems very likely that our light beam would lose some energy in the process, and since it can’t lose energy as a reduction of momentum its wavelength increases. Shorter wavelength EMR is more energetic than longer wavelengths.

    Kicking Sacred Cows is not a passtime for the faint-hearted, but I hope you will consider the implications of the above in spite of its pedestrian simplicity.

  37. Jim Fedako

    Sheri —

    You keep missing the point. When it is in your favor, you argue science over miracles and revelation — claiming only science can discern truth. Then, you simply wave science away and claim miracles are truth. In Trumping language, “Very inconsistent, very inconsistent.”

    You wave away all science and believe in a resurrection, yet condescendingly smile at your mother’s explanation for a young earth. Yet, you are afraid to explain resurrection through science – waving that challenge away without even a hint of hypocrisy – so that the cosmopolitan scientists of the Dawkins kind don’t turn and chortle a condescending glance your way.

    Trust me on this, Dawkins would find your explanation of the resurrection as barren as you found your mother’s attempt to explain cosmology through creation.

    Maybe she should have just said, “It was a miracle.”

  38. Bob,
    I suspect you get my point but as Scotian suggests are being tactful since my point deals with the validity (or lack thereof) of the BB theory. But I’ll clarify a final time. Not being a Catholic, I am not conversant with catholic teaching, but I am familiar with the Biblical teaching on creation. My point is simply this: any theory that relies on an uncaused singularity (thus resulting in a “Big Bang”) and any theory that follows Big Bang Theory Chronology or sequence of events is not scriptural, and thus should be avoided, and should not be used as a reason to believe. As you mentioned the BB in passing, (but seemed to support it) I mention it in passing (but I don’t support it).

    Scotian, You’re correct, as a YEC, I don’t believe either in BB deep time or Darwinian evolution. But this is not an attempt at misdirection via physics. This is a discussion from one believer to another on the wisdom of using what to those who believe the scriptures should be an obviously false theory. One need merely look at the order of events to see that the Big Bang theory is inconsistent with the scriptural account of creation. (For details see Big Bang Not A Reason.

    In passing with regards to comments on the age of the universe that have been made:
    – The “appearance of age” argument is disfavored for the reason Swordfish suggests – we don’t believe God would be deceptive in that manner.
    – Yes the distances are real, so how did the starlight get here in so little time? (On the 4th day – Gen 1.16,19 – That would be 24 hour days.) I favor Lisle’s Anisotropic Synchrony Convention solution, but others have been suggested. For an overview of Distant Starlight solutions, see Which theory has the fatal flaw – Big Bang or Creation?

  39. Oldavid


    May 1, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    A variety of lines of physical thought lead backwards to a singular event, a “bang” of some sort. Here singular means there is a point going back in time at which our present experiment-confirmed physics fails to apply. Speculation on what happened, or not, before that is just that, speculation, at least as far as anything “physics says”. Some have postulated a single “bang” event, in which case the universe started at some point and continues to expand forever until it dies a cold death from the expansion. A one-shot deal. Others have postulated a “bang” followed by an expansion to a point, then a contraction again to a “crunch” at which point some bet on another “bang” followed by another and another ad infinitum, and some bet on just an end. Each of these are consistent with physics as far as we know, although there is some betting on the role of entropy in all this. Some might be consistent with some notions of creation (e.g. Christianity, Hindu, Islamic) others might be consistent with notions of infinite repeatability without creation (e.g. Buddhist).

    In the end, one is welcome to believe whatever one wishes about creation or lack thereof. One should be more careful when claiming that “physics says” something about it.

    You’ve just glossed over the “problem of entropy” as though it was some ephemeral notion that may, or may not, apply depending on the “requirements” of the observer.

    To someone like me, entropy is a Natural Law that is of how physical reality was designed to work, and does work, no ideological presumptions can ever change it.

    Natural Laws apply to the entire physical Universe even if their mechanism is not fully understood. A phenomenon (such as miracles) cannot be ascribed to “some unknown natural phenomenon” simply because they do not usually occur. The definition of a miracle is something that is a suspension or imposition on the “natural order”… something that only the Author of the Natural Order can effect.

    “Needlessly contentious” the thread may seem to have gotten to be if you assume that there is no contention to the original proposition.

  40. Oldavid

    Duane Caldwell
    May 3, 2016 at 12:52 am
    I suspect you get my point but as Scotian suggests are being tactful since my point deals with the validity (or lack thereof) of the BB theory. But I’ll clarify a final time. Not being a Catholic, I am not conversant with catholic teaching, but I am familiar with the Biblical teaching on creation. My point is simply this: any theory that relies on an uncaused singularity (thus resulting in a “Big Bang”) and any theory that follows Big Bang Theory Chronology or sequence of events is not scriptural, and thus should be avoided, and should not be used as a reason to believe. As you mentioned the BB in passing, (but seemed to support it) I mention it in passing (but I don’t support it).
    As I have mentioned earlier; Bible Bashers irk me. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re wrong because I am irked.

    The thing that irks me most about Bible Bashers is that Christianity is not a product of Scripture… Christianity was alive and kicking for about 400 years before what we know as the Bible was even put together (by the Apostolic Authority). For at least another 1500 years the Bible only existed as a few hand-written copies in monasteries and universities. Even after the invention of the printing press it was rare and only able to be read by a few wealthy and literates.

    Yes, I am supremely irked by Protestant Bible-Bashers.

  41. Jim: I argued no such thing. I asked how one could dismiss physics when it seemingly disagreed with religion. There was no statement that science knew everything or was always right. That was created by the reader not paying attention to the actual question I asked. fah understood what I asked. As for my mother, you are ridiculing me now, so I guess ridicule is a-okay in this discussion. The remainder of your comment is arguing against something I did not claim, so it’s pointless to answer.

  42. Sheri —

    Not to sound like Karl Marx, but ask your question of yourself. You dismiss at will and then question others.

    If my tone sounds like ridicule, it is only frustration due to your unwillingness to recognize that you refuse to apply the same scrutiny to your statements and beliefs that you apply to others.

    You wave away challenges by claiming miracles and than question others (your mother, for example) when they make a similar claim, though in more roundabout language.

    If miracles (violations of so-called laws of science) work in your favored instances, then they are valid in others. I hope you can see that.

    In the meantime, answer how you can wave away physics when addressing the resurrection.

  43. JIm: No, I do not dismiss at will. I dismiss when dismissed by the other person. You dismissed me in your first line, so the tone was set by you. If you don’t want a dismissive tone, don’t use it.

    I would explain why there is a difference in believing in miracles and believing what my mother said, but it would take a very long discussion. I told you I did NOT wave away what she said. I listened politely, asked questions and did not find the answers convincing. That is not being dismissive.

    There is a difference between a miracle and God making a planet with fossils to test people’s faith. All the fossils prove is God is willing to trick people with things to test them. I found no where else in the Bible where God tricked people to test their faith. Do you have a reference to such a case?

    For the fourth (at least) and last time, I did not “wave away physics”. I asked how it was compatible. Your answer was that you wave away physics. Try reading “fah” again. He understood the question as asked and did not attribute things that were not said.

  44. Jim F: Which Bible are we talking about here? The Catholic or the Protestant and how do we know which is the correct one?

  45. Old Avid, there’s quite a bit of other evidence besides the red shift that supports the Big Bang hypothesis, to mention just two items: the microwave background radiation (the discovery of this effectively squashed Fred Hoyle’s steady state theory); the lack of heavy elements in early stars (those found at far distances and therefore in the early life of the universe).

    With respect to conforming to the Bible in matters scientific, I like St. Augustine’s teaching. St. Augustine held that God created the universe from nothing. Two fundamental (and surprisingly modern) notions were introduced by Augustine: based on Sirach 18, Creation was instantaneous (6 days were a metaphorical device); not all animal forms were present initially at creation—for some, the potential or seed to develop later in a different form was given initially. St. Augustine argued that time began with the creation. He also stressed that one should not use Scripture to contradict what reason and experience (“Science”) tells us about the world:

    “Often a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances,… and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do all that we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, lest the unbeliever see only ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn.”(De Genesi ad litteram; the Literal Meaning of Genesis, an unfinished work.)

  46. Sheri –

    You still haven’t answered your own question, “How can you dismiss physics when it seemingly disagrees with religion?” Why haven’t you answered that? It is the crux of this thread.

    Please note the “it was a miracle” is a deus ex machine argument, so to speak. Invalid as it is inconsistent.

  47. Oldavid

    You’re implying that I was Bible-bashing about Creation. No such thing.

    I was simply suggesting that some of the assumptions of the fashionable “established” science don’t hold water either theoretically or observationally. To base an “hypothesis” on very doubtful (perhaps impossible) premise is not a good method… “It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a “SCIENTIST” talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in SCIENCE.”

    Just for the record, I don’t see any reason to doubt St ‘Gus’ version that the whole caboodle was created instantly, fully functional and complete.

  48. Jim: I asked the question to see if people had an answer. Do you often asked questions that you have an answer to because that seems rather pointless to me. I asked the question because I wanted answers. How much clearer can I be? I’m out of ways to explain a simple concept—I asked a question because I was looking for answers.

    (Your failure to proved a case of God tricking someone with false ideas just to test their faith is pretty much saying to me you don’t have an answer. In fact, you changed the subject. That’’s fine. I’m just asking. Saying you don’t know is faster than dragging things out but that’s up to you.)

  49. Sheri,

    I never stated God tricked anyone.

    Did you ever consider that physics, and the rest of the sciences, are the cause of an apparent sleight of hand?

    I do not believe physics, et al., are eternal laws. They are, as I stated above, tools — models — used to describe what we see and experience.

    And when the next paradigm in physics arises, I will not be the least bit shocked.

    Note: Through history, science ends up contradicting science. Nothing eternal here.

    Still, your question goes unanswered. How are you able to believe in a resurrection when it violates the “laws” of science?

    Your answer to that is more important that someone’s blog comment in defense or opposition to a belief in a young earth in light of physics or whatever.

  50. I give up. Obviously, you are incapable of understanding someone asking for information and are going to badger me relentless rather than actually help me understand. I am sorry I asked you. Please do not answer anything I comment anymore as it’s a complete waste of my time and will be ignored. Others who understand that a questioned asked is seeking knowledge may answer and I will respond.

    (Your ego will require you to make some snotty comment about my response because you are incapable of stopping at this point.)

  51. fah

    Sheri, I think I feel your pain. Discussions of this topic somehow become adversarial when, in my view, we should approach the whole matter with as open a mind and sense of humor as possible. On issues of what physics “says” or “proves” however, I think one should be a bit more flexible than to make such statements broadly. To repeat a previous point, it is much more in the spirit of physics to talk about what its current state predicts quantitatively about the outcome of a controlled experiment than to talk about possible interpretations of events for which we are not able to construct a controlled experiment. The former is a much more definite, and check-able, statement of physics. The latter is a useful and possibly entertaining thought experiment that may guide future experiments or observations, but should not be viewed with the same degree of conclusive-ness as the former, i.e. not “Physics” proclaiming Truth from on high. Neither view is wrong, but both are different.

    First, let’s consider the second law of thermodynamics, let’s call it Two. The first thing to note is that it is not a derived statement obtained by methods of mathematical proof from some more fundamental theory. It is an empirically observed relationship that has so far not been observed to be violated experimentally. In that sense it might be viewed in the same vein as Newton’s laws of motion or perhaps the Schrodinger equation for wave functions. In the case of Newton’s laws, they were empirically observed to hold to high precision for quite some time but he did not “prove” them, he postulated them. Indeed, they did hold (meaning they predicted the outcomes of controlled experiments) until Einstein postulated that they needed to be modified to take into account the relative nature of coordinate frames. In other words, Newton’s laws hold as long as certain assumptions about the system under study are met. Similarly, Schrodinger’s equations were quite successful until Dirac clarified the conditions necessary for them to hold, essentially non-relativistic problems.

    Second, it is important to be clear under what restrictions Two holds. Two has several equivalent statements. One particularly apt for this conversation is “The entropy of a closed (or isolated) system cannot decrease.” (A useful working definition of entropy is the log of the number of possible states the system can occupy, sometimes thought of as the amount of information in the system.) The restriction of a closed system is often left out of discussions invoking it. If a system (number 1) is in contact with another system (number 2), then the entropy of system number 1 is not constrained to be non-decreasing. This is what living organisms do, they maintain and even lower their entropy as a system, at the expense of drawing from the external world. If a living system were to be isolated, i.e. hermetically sealed in a radiation proof box, the system internal to the box would begin to increase (at least not decrease) in entropy from its initial state. In the case of resurrection (not being specific to The Resurrection) a dead human body sealed in a hermetic box would violate Two if it came back to life. This assumes that we can know enough about the “dead” state to be able to account for all the possible states the elements of the body can occupy. However, if the dead body were in contact with an external system, whether from a higher source or Klatu’s machine from The Day the Earth Stood Still, then Two would not restrict the entropy of the body from decreasing. This is not a statement about the likelihood of either sequence of events, simply a statement that the entropy of the body could decrease if another system came into contact with it. For example, work is ongoing on efforts to resurrect dead, formerly living things. (See for a recent news article on the subject.) Thus resurrection of a dead body cannot be ruled out by Two unless the body is isolated.

    Another equivalent statement of Two is “A perpetual motion machine is not possible.” In this one, the closed nature of the system is understood. A few decades ago I saved a dear friend from losing a sizable sum of money based on this form of Two. She had been approached by a family acquaintance to invest in a power generation scheme and she asked me for my advice. The developer was very secretive about the details, but she was able to draw a picture of the apparatus for me. It involved barrels on a drive train half immersed in water. If it worked it would have been a violation of Two and a simple analysis showed what would happen if the switch was thrown. I had her ask for a demonstration and predicted what would happen, namely that the drive train would run backwards until all the water had drained from the alleged inlet port, at which point the machine would stop. That is exactly what happened and she did not lose her money. (The American Physical Society went so far as to issue a policy statement on perpetual motion machines, in 2003. It is interesting to note that the statement does not say “physics says” they won’t work, instead it says they should not be funded if “unsubstantiated by experimentally tested physical principles.” This kind of policy statement is rare for the APS and was largely in response to a particularly persuasive development by Tom Bearden, who actually obtained a U.S. patent for his machine. It is worth googling a bit.)

    Now, back to why bringing entropy and Two into the discussion on cosmology will lengthen the discussion considerably and move it even further from the physics of predicting quantitative outcomes of controlled experiments. The key constraint on Two is that it applies to “closed” systems. Until the advent of the black hole concept, the notion of a closed system was fairly straightforward, but black holes messed things up a bit. If one were very far (well outside the horizon and also well outside the radius of a star with the same mass as the hole but not too far to measure its gravity) from a (let’s say spherically symmetric) black hole and one didn’t look at the hole too closely (optically speaking) and funny things were not happening in terms of matter falling in and putting out prodigious energy, then the only thing one could measure would be the gravitational field at whatever distance one was. If that were the case, one would not be able to distinguish the black hole from any other object of the same mass – i.e the gravity field would be the same. Only as one approaches closer to the hole does the gravity field difference become apparent. Close enough one could measure that the field is stronger than a star of the same mass can be (because one is able to get to a smaller value of the radius). So far so good, perhaps it is just a neutron star. Close enough and one gets to the distinguishing and new feature of a black hole – an event horizon. This is the unique feature of a hole that messed up thinking about entropy (another view is that it opened up vast areas for fun and useful thought). As most know, event horizons are essentially one-way boundaries, things can go in, but they can’t get out. (Hawking radiation opens up a whole other conversation and is left out for now.) What this means is that if a system of many different particles with various energies, charges, spins, etc. goes into the event horizon, all of that information or available states, i.e. entropy, is lost in a certain sense and somehow transformed into the entropy of the hole (which has only two parameters to describe it – mass and spin). In a certain sense the inside and outside are closed to each other with respect to entropy. Event horizons were soon recognized in a variety of cosmological models.

    A consistent treatment of entropy inside and outside of event horizons is still an active area of research, but the main point is that the event horizon focused the issue of Two applied to cosmology clearly on the “closed system” restriction, particularly in the presence of event horizons. The possible presence of event horizons (and ways of dealing with them in terms of holographic principles or other constructs) in cosmological models opens up a variety of ways to wiggle around Two and it may even be that exceptions to Two could be found. There are many fun examples of things that could happen, but that becomes a long conversation. The bottom line is that it is probably too soon to say that possible variants of “bangs” or “crunches” are ruled out or required by Two. In any event it should be fun to think about and not a cause of acrimony.

  52. Jim Fedako

    Sheri —

    I gave you my answer. I’ll try again.

    Somehow you are willing to believe in a resurrection, despite a resurrection being in violation of the “laws” of science. So you have already come to terms with science not being an eternal truth. Therefore, accepting God’s Word in other matters — though in violation of science — is not really a stretch.

    Science is just a tool — model — to explain our observations. It is influenced by worldviews that are antithetical to God’s Word — many time on purpose. So the evolutionary view of sediment is as much the result of worldviews — starting propositions — as it is science.

    My answer to your question has been stated from my very first comment. When confronted with science versus the Bible, I accept the Bible. I do not pay much heed to science when it is my salvation and eternity that are on the line.

    Note: Of course, salvation is not dependent on an interpretation of Genesis. But Genesis is worth considering as truth, not just some allegory, etc., but real truth. Why? Because it is (and yes that statement can be viewed as either a saving device or faith).

  53. Jim F: As I predicted, you had to come back. I had seriously hoped I was wrong. (I know you gave your answer, which is why your insistence that I answer what I asked made no sense. You also rudely stated that I was “wrong in my faith in science” when I did not express faith in science. I asked a question.)

    There seems to be a belief here that I said I believe physics when in actuality I only asked how physics and creation could both be believed. I have not stated what I believe. As noted, I am trying to understand these ideas.

    fah: Your explanations of physics is helpful. I also found Bob’s post interesting because of this statement:
    “Penrose poses this question, which appears to contradict a prime principle of physics, time reversibility of physical processes.”
    I have found this idea fascinating and this is the first time I had read about someone who questioned the idea or at least appears to contradict it.
    I’ve read through what you commented. It’s very thought-provoking. It is indeed a long conversation, but an interesting one. You are right—this should be fun to think about and not a cause of acrimony. Thank you.

  54. Oldavid

    A contorted and verbose attempt to get around the problem of entropy… not uncommon… I have seen it before.

    Entropy, as described by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which, simply put, is: “all ordered systems left to themselves tend toward maximum randomness and lowest energy” (potential or differential).

    The “open/closed system” notion is a red herring designed to confuse and deceive the unwary. For the purpose of this ontology the whole Universe must be considered a “closed system” which began in a high state of order and (energy) potentials which has been in a state of decaying towards disorder and uniform distribution of energy. This has been a stumbling block for Materialists of every colour, shade or persuasion since time began.

    A variety of fanciful speculations have been proposed to try to get around the problem including “multiverses” where entropy doesn’t apply dropping “unentropied” “stuff” through a “wormhole” into our Universe, “Black Holes” being a magical source of “anti-entropy” etc. etc. However, the whole ideological speculation comes to a sticky end if “Black Holes”, “Wormholes” etc. can’t and don’t exist.

    The ideological commitment to Materialism in one form or other is so strong that most will not even consider the possibility that Materialism is an untenable superstition given the observed Laws of Nature.

    Indeed, we have a plethora of ‘spurts trying to contort observed Nature and Logic to fit the ideological presumption of Materialism.

  55. Jim Fedako

    Sheri —

    I must have misunderstood — my apologies.

    I just had a tough time reconciling your quest for an answer to the question of mutual exclusivity of physics and faith when you already answered it through the acceptance of the resurrection.

    In my view, there is no mutual exclusivity. I rely on my knowledge of physics every day. I just do not consider it law or believe it invalidates the Bible.

    Physic is a tool that, for the most part, sufficiently explains observations, but is not the real truth. Applying physics to God-given life is like using Euclidean geometry in a non-Euclidean world.

    Note: Of course, a lot of modern physics is nothing other than hocus pocus.

  56. Bob,

    You make a statement that brings up a philosophical question:

    “Often a non-Christian knows something about the earth…”

    The question is, can you know something that is not true? Philosophically, knowledge is often defined as a “justified true belief.” So in order to “know” something, it must be true. Thus you can’t “know” that 3 + 3 = 10 because it is not true. You may believe it, but you don’t know it, because you can’t “know” something that is not true.

    Thus when unbelievers “know” something about the earth that is not true, do they really know it? Suppose that the universe is not 13.7 billion years old as it is commonly supposed. If, that is the case can you “know” that it is 13.7 billion years old? Under the commonly understood theory of knowledge, you cannot. You can believe it, but you can’t “know” it.

    So is it wrong for a Christian to challenge beliefs of un-believers who “know something about the earth” when you believe that “knowledge” is wrong?

  57. fah


    Using fewer words as requested.

    Good statement of the second law: “all ordered systems left to themselves tend toward maximum randomness and lowest energy” (potential or differential).”

    Note the physical system constraint “left to themselves”.

    Compare “left to themselves” to system constraints in alternative, equivalent statements of the second law: “isolated,” “closed,” or “cyclic” systems.

    Exercise: Identify the system property (feature) is common to these four constraint statements and must be specified to satisfy them.

    Hint 1: Do not confuse physical system constraints with specialized math uses of similar terms as in “isolated point,” “open/closed sets,” or “cyclic functions or sequences.”

    Hint 2: The answer begins with the letter “b”.

    Hint 3: It is irrelevant whether or not the complement of the system is empty.

    Hint 4: The original, and many alternative, equivalent statements of the second law do not mention entropy or randomness, but they do contain the key system constraint.

  58. Oldavid

    fah, .
    I’m not good at cryptic crosswords.

    Are you trying to suggest that the Universe is not an ordered system, operating according to consistent Natural Laws? If so it must be an unintelligible chaos of arbitrary fancies.

    That without the arbitrary fancies of Materialists to guide it (left to itself) it would suddenly cease to function?

  59. fah

    The second law of thermodynamics is a postulate within physics for which experiment has yet found no violation. It has a variety of alternative phrasings, none of which are arbitrary or fanciful.

    Regardless of its phrasing, it has two key elements which must be understood to assess its applicability to physical systems, whether “the universe” “the climate” or the “dead body of Christ.”

    The exercise I previously posted is a guided exploration of one of the two essential elements, one which is often neglected by non-physicists. In physics, something one discovers is often more deeply understood than something one is told. That is why so many problems are assigned to students. Understanding the answer to the exercise is crucial to understanding the physics basis of the cosmological speculations of Penrose (and others).

    Understanding and applying the second law to physical systems lies first within the discipline of physics, in which considerations or interpretations based on -isms are not relevant. If one wishes to understand the implications of physics within some other discipline (such as philosophy or sociology) one needs first to understand the physics, else one falls into unfounded speculation. Mathematical detail is not necessary. Conceptual understanding is all that is required.

    Before proceeding, a clear understanding of the two essential elements of the second law must be achieved.

  60. Jesse M.

    Penrose’s conformal cosmology doesn’t have many advocates (perhaps because of the issue of requiring all massive particles like electrons to disappear in the future, and there may be other conflicts with current mainstream physics theories, I’m not sure), but there is another more popular idea about new Big Bangs arising from quantum fluctuations in preexisting universes, known as “eternal inflation”. The notion of rapid “inflation” of the universe around the time of the Big Bang, due to the vacuum being in a different ground state than the current one, is an explanation for some theoretical problems in cosmology like the “flatness problem”, and it does lead to some testable predictions about the cosmic background radiation which have been confirmed empirically. And apparently it turns out that a pretty broad class of models for inflation imply the theoretical prediction that it should never really stop, that different localized regions drop into lower-energy vacuum states that stop inflating, with our observable universe being part of one of these local “bubbles” of non-inflation, but that such bubbles of non-inflating space never overwhelm the inflating regions, so our local bubble should be surrounded by a still-inflating region where other bubbles would continually be forming in the same way, and the whole process could just go on forever. See for a good rundown on the idea.

    Of course this might not really be testable, but if it follows naturally from a theory that does make a bunch of other testable predictions (including both the past tests of inflationary theory’s predictions which I mentioned, and future tests that narrow down the nature of the ‘scalar fields’ responsible for inflation in our own past, perhaps showing that they do have the right characteristics for eternal inflation), this would at least be a good reason to consider it pretty plausible. This is similar to how we might have a high level of trust in a theory quantum gravity’s predictions about what goes on inside a black hole if the theory had passed a lot of experimental tests in regions we can observe (unfortunately this is a pipe dream at the moment, since quantum gravity candidates like string theory are too incomplete make these sorts of testable predictions–optimistically, they are theories-in-the-making, but not yet true scientific theories).

  61. Oldavid

    Sorry I neglected this… I thought the thread was dead and no more comments.
    May 5, 2016 at 7:46 am
    The second law of thermodynamics is a postulate within physics for which experiment has yet found no violation. It has a variety of alternative phrasings, none of which are arbitrary or fanciful.[/quote]
    And I don’t believe that any violation ever will be found because a violation of the 2nd Law requires a contradiction of a certain logical premise; that “a thing that does not exist cannot cause itself to exist”, which extrapolates to “an effect cannot be greater than its cause” etc.

    I don’t care much about “alternative phrasings” that a swamp of cunning salesmen trying to lose the real, obvious meaning in order to sell a nonsense have/do spread around.

    Facts is facts and even if “alternative phrasings” can sell a wrong idea to a susceptible market reality is not altered to suit the fancy no matter how popular the fancy becomes.

  62. Oldavid

    As far as Cosmic Background Radiation is concerned we have another instance of the assumption being the interpretation of “observations” used to “prove” the assumption.

    In this case the assumption is that there was a “BB” that left behind some CBR and the “detection” of CBR “proves” the “BB” notion.

    Two problems with the CBR bizzo:
    1), CBR is practically undefined, the definition being just about anything convenient to the situation/moment.
    2), The apparatus in the satellite supposed to “measure” CBR was fatally flawed so that the “results” acquired should have been ditched according to any real scientific/experimental method. But, because the “results” obtained were what the ideology wanted they are uncritically accepted.

    I can’t give links to the various criticisms because it was a long time ago and not specifically what I was searching at the time.

    Anyhow, you choose! Uncritically accept the “official version” of everything or be cautiously skeptical.

  63. fah

    Unfortunately, trying not to be verbose, I left out the word “equivalent” after alternative. The alternative phrasings of the second law of thermodynamics are not only alternative, but equivalent. They can be shown to be physically and mathematically equivalent to each other. That means that each of the alternative phrasings are true if and only if the other alternative phrasings are true. The physical meaning of each of them is identical. Some are phrased in terms of entropy, some are phrased in terms of work done by a cyclic process, etc.

    To repeat, each phrasing is equivalent to each of the others. Forget about any alternative phrasings except whichever one you prefer, as long as it is correct in terms of the physics.

    Now, the key point. To understand the second law one must understand that it has two key elements. The two key elements appear in all of the alternative statements of the second law. Without understanding these two key elements whatever one may say about implications of the second law is likely to be unfounded.

    To repeat, a clear understanding of the two essential elements of the second law must be achieved. These two elements appear in any statement or phrasing of the second law that is consistent and correct within physics. All that is needed to move on is a clear statement demonstrating understanding of the second law.

  64. Oldavid

    [quote] fah
    May 6, 2016 at 7:39 am
    Now, the key point. To understand the second law one must understand that it has two key elements. The two key elements appear in all of the alternative statements of the second law. Without understanding these two key elements whatever one may say about implications of the second law is likely to be unfounded.

    To repeat, a clear understanding of the two essential elements of the second law must be achieved. These two elements appear in any statement or phrasing of the second law that is consistent and correct within physics. All that is needed to move on is a clear statement demonstrating understanding of the second law.[/quote]

    Let’s say that the two key elements are order and energy. Glib salesmen have been trying to sell the notion that they can somehow negate or create each other, depending on the ideological requirements of the moment or situation. Following is a peasant’s explanation of the relationship of order and energy I put to some arrogant uni students.


    The best (most succinct and precise) definition (description) of entropy is as it occurs in the “Second Law of Thermodynamics”; “All ordered systems, left to themselves tend toward maximum randomness and lowest energy (potential or differential)”. That means that order naturally tends to degenerate into randomness (disorder) and energy potential tends to dissipate into a uniformity without potential because there’s nowhere of lower potential left to go to…

    Because energy must be dissipated in the maintenance, or sustaining, of an orderly system some con men with an ideology to sell will try to pretend that the energy consumed in the process creates the order. A sly mental trick.

    Let’s propose some practical examples to illustrate the process.

    Most mothers like to have an orderly home. Order in her home requires:
    1. An intellect to conceive the order.
    2. The will to want the order.
    3. The capacity, or power, to implement, or bring about, the order.

    Now, that poor Mum who has been toiling away for years to install and maintain the order suddenly finds herself confronted by a clever-dick progeny who’s been to school and learned that energy spontaneously creates order. Smarty tries to convince Mum that letting off a bomb (great release of energy) in the middle of her expertly managed domain, will spontaneously create order and she’ll never have to tidy up again. Good luck with that one Smarty.

    Or let’s lift great weights to great heights. An intellect comes up with an idea of a crane to do the job. Skilled minds and hands divert energy and materials to make the machine using entropy in every step of the process. Smarty, with the benefit of his recently acquired great insights, comes along and proclaims that because the energy to build and operate the crane comes, ultimately, from the Sun then the Sun built the crane. Now, I just happen to know for sure that Central Australia gets lots and lots of solar energy but not one giant crane has ever spontaneously appeared in the desert.

    Oh well, counters Smarty, “that only applies to non-biological systems. Energy applied to biological systems creates an increase in order and complexity opposed to entropy”. Smarty has never heard of the “Law of Morphology” (which is really only entropy applied to biological systems) which says, simply, that “the more complex an organism and the more often it is reproduced, the more likely it is that something will go wrong in the process”.

    So, the thousands of generations of Drosophila (fruit flies) that have been subjected to every imaginable radiation “stimulus” to produce “sped up” “evolution” have only ever produced some wreckage of their DNA or genome… not one super-human spaceman.

    Ultimately, untold thousands of generations of diligent and wise housekeeping Mums are in tune with reality… the Smartys are not.

    Order is a product of Intellect, Will, and Life.

  65. fah


    The two key elements required of a statement of the second law are
    1. An isolated, i.e. bounded system, (this means it does not interact with anything else)
    2. An inequality on the change of a thermodynamic state variable (internal energy, entropy, temperature, etc.).

    Each of (1) and (2) are equally important for the application of the second law. Neglecting the first element is the source of much fuzzy thinking concerning implications of the second law. I have been trying to guide you to an understanding of the necessity of the first element.

    For example, the quaint stories of a Mum and child with bomb, or cranes brought in, or subjecting flies to radiation, or solar energy and life may be fun, amusing, or illustrative of some cherished belief, but without defining the boundary of the system under consideration they have little to do with the second law. There is no harm in believing concepts about intellect, will, and life, but if one wishes to apply the second law one needs to apply it correctly or not at all.

    The importance of this for considerations of the physics of cosmology (the focus of this Kurland post) is that to apply the second law to the universe, one must consider how to define the boundary of the universe. (Note that the boundary may be infinite spatially or temporally or not as long as the thermodynamic properties are well defined.) There are many ways of doing that, but it is essential if one is to think clearly about applying the second law. Without doing so, attempts to apply the second law are hopelessly muddled.

    A variety of equivalent statements of the second law in terms of internal energy, work done by a system, etc. can be found easily by googling. They all contain 1) and 2) above.

  66. Oldavid

    The boundary of the system (as I have said) is the Universe.
    There is no need to apply an arbitrary spatial or temporal boundary unless you try to imply that entropy only exists within your conveniently exclusive definition.

    Many years ago I waded through some pages of Stephen Hawking’s mathematical “proof” that time goes back and forth like a pendulum. At best a fanciful speculation… most likely a fanciful speculation that didn’t “take off” because some other fanciful speculation trumped it in the marketability stakes.

    Thanks awfully for “I have been trying to guide you to an understanding of the necessity of the first element.” but I insist that you have been wasting your undoubted talent on the likes of me… you should be flogging snake oil (or insurance policies, or climate change, or cult beliefs like Scientology, or political candidates, or used cars) to realise/capitalise on your intellectual skills.

  67. fah

    A limitation of the system under consideration (boundary, isolated system, left to itself, etc. etc.) is necessary if one wishes to apply the second law of thermodynamics. It is not necessary to bound or limit a system if one wishes to consider, calculate, or compare entropy or any other thermodynamic quantity in general.

    To repeat, a boundary (meaning a thermodynamically isolated region) is required to apply the second law of thermodynamics. It is essential.

    To apply the second law to the universe, according to physics, requires defining what the notion of a boundary means with respect to the universe. This does not mean, as I said, necessarily a time or space boundary, although that may be the case, depending on how one chooses to consider the universe. Some who think about the universe (within physics) consider boundaries to be things like past and/or future time-like infinities (meaning things that can be caused by things we observe now and things that caused things now – under the assumption causality follows the speed of light). Things we observe now may be thought of as objects within a distance from us that light can have traveled during some fraction of the age of the universe. Or they may not. Others are space-like infinities that are outside the causally connected regions. It is important to realize that these speculations are about what physics might imply, not what may or may not accord with our philosophical notions.

    No one is selling anything. Anyone is free to believe what one wishes. However, if one wants to apply the physics of the second law of thermodynamics one must do it correctly.

  68. fah

    Perhaps the issue is that the second law applies to any system that is properly defined. It applies to two thermal reservoirs put into contact, but isolated from the rest of the environment. It applies to a gas contained within a chamber allowed to expand into another chamber, where both are isolated from the environment. It applies to steam engines, and water wheels. It applies to every thermodynamic system. It applies to the body of Christ placed in an isolate chamber.

    The state variable , entropy, like others such as internal energy, temperature, etc. describe not only the universe, but all of the systems within the universe.

    The second law does not exclusively apply only to the universe.

  69. fah

    The issue is not whether or not entropy exists. It is a well defined state variable.

    The second law does not define entropy (or any other state variable). The second law states (postulates) a constraint on state variables (entropy being one) that describe isolated systems. Requiring the conditions of the second law for it to be applied does not in any way claim that state variables do not exist.

  70. fah

    Finally, if one wishes to consider a particular system, call it the universe, and apply the second law, one can choose to let the boundary of the universe be the inclusion of all things that comprise the universe, either now, in the future, the past, or all of the above. Then the second law says that if one sums up the entropy of the universe so defined, that quantity is non-decreasing. If we couple the observation that the universe is not in equilibrium, then the second law says that the entropy increases as time increases. (This assumes time is well defined for the universe assumed.) Done.

  71. Jesse M.

    “Smarty tries to convince Mum that letting off a bomb (great release of energy) in the middle of her expertly managed domain, will spontaneously create order and she’ll never have to tidy up again. Good luck with that one Smarty.”

    No one actually claims that arbitrary inputs of energy to a system automatically cause its entropy to be lowered, so this is a strawman.

    “Order is a product of Intellect, Will, and Life.”

    There are all sorts of mindless non-biological chemical reactions that create local reductions in entropy of the chemicals that reacted, but are also exothermic so they dump some heat into the external environment, such that the *total* entropy of the system + the environment increases. For example, the page at says:

    “Try allowing some hydrogen chloride and ammonia gases to mix. Immediately, a finely powdered white solid (ammonium chloride, looking like white fumes), is formed. The reaction has occurred spontaneously, though clearly there is a decrease in entropy when a solid product is formed from two gaseous reactants.”

    In fact, living organisms operate on the same basic principle–the local reductions in entropy you get from digesting food, or even from using your brain and muscles to lower the entropy some system in your immediate environment, all generate heat which is dissipated into your environment, so that if you were doing the same things in a closed box with no energy flowing in or out (but a supply of air, food, and water so you could survive for a while), these localized reductions in entropy in your body or environment would still correspond to overall increases in the total entropy of the entire box.

  72. Oldavid

    You chaps seem to be trying to convey an impression that entropy only applies in a bounded or closed system. However, any system that affects another system is, ipso facto, a system. For example; that the Sun expends its resources pumping EMR, charged particles etc. to Earth, “outer space” and the like does not invalidate the overall increase in entropy of the whole Solar System. Likewise the whole galaxy or Universe.

    There also seems to be some (dare I say specious) confusion of the dissipation of energy and the randomisation of order. Let’s treat them as distinct even though the creation of order does require some input of some power (be it metaphysical as in intellect) or physical (as in energy required to put “things” where or how they don’t “want” to be).

    Energetically speaking, no physical process ever occurs except as a “movement” from a higher potential to a lower. Any apparent, localised “reversal” of that process requires an “input” from some other increasing entropy process… the resultant localised apparent decrease in entropy is more than costed as the increase in entropy of the “donor”… as in the logical precept of “an effect cannot be greater than its cause”.

    You chaps desperately need imaginary “things” like “Black Holes” to supply magical “anti-entropy” so that “things and processes” that didn’t exist could be said to cause themselves to exist.

    A simple example to illustrate a principle is only that. You cannot eliminate the principle by scoffing at the example.

    The wonderful phenomenon known as “life” is another fascinating view of all the same stuff. I am no stranger to all that business either. If this was a “forum” we could start a new thread.

  73. fah

    Put simply:

    1) Entropy applies to every system.

    2) The second law of thermodynamics only applies to isolated systems.

    Entropy is a general thermodynamic state variable, like energy, temperature, etc.

    The second law is a constraint that applies to state variables.

    It is like talking about acceleration versus Newton’s second law. Acceleration is a basic variable characterizing motion. Newton’s second law (F=ma) is a relation between force and acceleration and mass. The concept of acceleration is one thing, the law is another.

  74. fah

    This has nothing to do with black holes or anything exotic. It is basic physics.

  75. fah


    I apologize for belaboring this point, but it is an important one. If one wants to think about the implications of physics one needs first to get the basic physics right. Some other examples may help.

    1. The Law of Momentum Conservation (Newton’s First Law of Motion) can be stated as follows. “For a collision occurring between object 1 and object 2 in an isolated system, the total momentum of the two objects before the collision is equal to the total momentum of the two objects after the collision.”

    Note the words “in an isolated system.” It is an essential part of the law. For example, when playing billiards, after one strikes the cue ball, sending it to the rack of other balls, the total momentum of all the balls on the table is conserved. However, if one considers only, say, the nine ball, the momentum of the nine ball may not be conserved. It may go from a state of rest, to a state of motion after the cue ball strikes the rack. However, the sum of the momentum of all the balls, cue ball plus rack, will be conserved. (Until friction slows them all down.) Typically the cue ball loses momentum and the other balls gain momentum in the process but the total is conserved.

    2. Newton’s First Law of Motion: “Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.”

    Here the words “unless an external force is applied to it” means it also applies to an isolated system. The system is isolated from external forces. This is sometimes called the law of inertia.

    There are many such statements in physics relating the behavior of quantities under such constraints. Generally, they can be thought of as conservation laws and typically state that a particular measurable property of an isolated physical system does not change as the system evolves over time. Exact conservation laws include conservation of energy, conservation of linear momentum, conservation of angular momentum, and conservation of electric charge. In this sense, the second law can be viewed as a conservation law for entropy (of an isolated system) where the constraint is an inequality, unless the system concerned is already in equilibrium, in which case the equality holds.

  76. fah


    It just struck me that this may be the stumbling block: “You chaps seem to be trying to convey an impression that entropy only applies in a bounded or closed system.”

    No. Note the other conservation laws I just posted. None of them conveys the impression that the quantities concerned “only” apply in a bounded or closed (more precisely isolated) system. Momentum, charge, energy, entropy, etc. all “apply” to any system. As you point out entropy is a physical attribute of many if not all systems, systems of systems, the universe, or whatever physical system one wants to consider.

    The things that do “only” apply to isolated systems are the conservation laws. The second law of thermodynamics is one of them. It says that the entropy of an isolated system is non-decreasing in time. It does not say entropy does not exist for a system that is not isolated. It simply allows that the entropy of a system that is not isolated need not be non-decreasing, but if the system is isolated, then the entropy of that system must be non-decreasing in time.

    I sincerely hope this helps.

  77. Oldavid

    My preferred statement of the 1st law of motion is “a body will remain in a state of rest or uniform rectilinear motion unless it is acted upon by a force”… that seems to cover all the possibilities with a minimum of words and confusion. Conservation of momentum is an extension of that concerning the distribution of applied force(s).

    However, entropy still applies as there is always a “wastage” in any applied force (energy transmission) in that some of the energy is always dissipated and lost to that “system”.

    Much of the efforts of engineers is devoted to trying to minimise such loss but such loss cannot be eliminated or reversed. No “natural” process will occur except that, overall, it must be a “progression” (or “movement”) from a higher potential to a lower. The energy (momentum) of the cue ball will always be greater than the combined energy of the rack that is struck by the cue ball. Otherwise will have a “perpetual motion” of balls going round the table.

    Of greater importance to our argument is the notion of “order”. The balls do not spontaneously order themselves into the initial rack, no matter how long the players wait and hope. Randomly distributed balls (W’m Briggs might object to the notion of random) will not organise themselves into a rack with a random shot of the cue ball.

    Energy dissipates, order degenerates. Simple!!

  78. fah

    I hope this is a discussion, a mutual exploration of a topic, not an argument, and I think we are moving toward agreement, if not there already.

    You are exactly right. Before being racked on the table and if they are at rest, you can say the balls have a certain entropy, or degree of disorder. If left to themselves, they would remain so forever, i.e. their rate of change of entropy would be = 0. Exactly as the second law requires for an isolated system. They are isolated because they are “left to themselves.” If, however, they are no longer left to themselves and someone like you or I rack them, the entropy of the balls decreases. If we only consider the system to be the balls on the table and do not include the total system (i.e. the external input of the racker) we would have to say the entropy of the balls on the table decreased. In this case a generalized statement that entropy of any system always increases would be false, because the entropy of the balls on the table has decreased. That would mean the second law must not hold for the system defined to be the balls on the table, when the balls on the table are allowed to interact with something else, in this case the racker. Therefore, for the second law to hold for a system, the system must be defined so as to include all quantities that interact with the system. If we include the racker and the balls, the racker expends energy, dissipates heat into the environment and the total system including the balls, the racker, and the racker’s environment (from which he draws energy and to which he dissipates heat) increases in entropy. Exactly as required by the second law.

    In summary and, I think, in agreement: All systems have entropy. Depending on the system, sometimes entropy increases, sometimes entropy decreases, and sometimes entropy stays the same. Whether or not the system concerned obeys the second law, and must have entropy strictly non-decreasing, depends on whether the system is defined so that it includes all thermodynamic quantities interacting with it, i.e. it is thermodynamically isolated (or thermodynamically bounded, or thermodynamically left to itself).

  79. Oldavid

    Ah! fah,
    It seems that we have isolated and identified the essence of our disagreement.

    I contend that you cannot have an isolated system that is acted upon by an “influence” outside the system, because any action on the system becomes (or is), de facto, of (or in) the system. Thus, an overall increase in entropy always applies. This is easy to conceive in terms of energy production, transfer and dissipation, but more difficult to conceive in terms of the creation of order.

    It is commonly assumed that an input of energy into a system spontaneously creates order in the system… that is not the case and is the whole point of the “bomb-in-the-house” analogy.

    The creation and maintenance of order in a dynamic system requires some consumption and dissipation of energy, but the input of energy does not spontaneously create the order. Neither does the input of energy spontaneously create the conception, want, or implementation of order, or orderly processes etc.

    I hope we are still converging to an agreement about what entropy is and how it works.

  80. Jesse M.

    ‘I contend that you cannot have an isolated system that is acted upon by an “influence” outside the system, because any action on the system becomes (or is), de facto, of (or in) the system.’

    What collection of particles one groups together into a “system” is an arbitrary matter of definition in thermodynamics, not something forced on us by external reality–one could divide space into a bunch of cube-shaped 3D “pixels” and treat the (changing) contents of each one as a distinct “system” interacting with its neighboring systems, for example. And once you have defined your system or systems, you have to count the total number of possible “microstates” each system could conceivably be in–a microstate is a detailed specification of the positions and velocities of all the particles that could potentially be your chosen system (and if particles can enter or leave your system, different possible microstates may have different total numbers of particles), up to the limits allowed by the uncertainty principle. Then you have to decide on some way to divide up all the possible microstates into some mutually exclusive groups called “macrostates”, with all the microstates assigned to a given macrostates sharing the same value for some set of “macro” quantities (usually these quantities are the energy, volume, and numbers of different types of particles within each system, though once again the choice of how to divide microstates into macrostates is ultimately somewhat arbitrary, for example you can also use quantities like ‘total number of particles in the left half of the box’ to define your macrostates). Only once you have done all this is it meaningful to talk about precise quantitative values of “entropy” and how they change with time–each of the systems you have defined gets its own value for entropy, and the entropy is proportional to the logarithm of the total number of possible microstates associated with the system’s current macrostate. If you’re not familiar with this concept of microstates and macrostates, there’s a good example involving coinflips on the first page of this pdf file:

    Given this way of defining entropy in terms of systems and their macrostates, then if you have defined macrostates in such a way that different macrostates have different total energy (and physicists and chemists do normally define macrostates in such a way), that implies that if energy can cross the boundary of a system in or out, the 2nd law does not apply to that system. For example, in the exothermic chemical reaction I mentioned earlier, if you define the hydrogen chloride and ammonia gas as one system and the surrounding air as another system, and use the most common definition of macrostates for chemical reactions, then when the molecules in the first system undergo an exothermic reaction the entropy of that “system” decreases, while the heat dissipated into the surrounding air causes the entropy of the air “system” to increase.

    Note that there is nothing in thermodynamics that requires you to divide the world up into “systems” in any particular preferred way, so there’s no basis for saying someone is “wrong” to treat two interacting bits of matter as two distinct systems, rather than a single system.

  81. Oldavid

    systems are only arbitrarily divided up for technological convenience, (although I think that they are often only arbitrarily divided up to suit some ideological prejudice or convenience).

    The beam of light from a distant galaxy that reaches Earth is ignored for convenience when evaluating entropic processes involved in burning a wax candle in a deep, dark mine tunnel simply because the light beam is an insignificant component. If you were going to be particular about it you’d have to allow that the minute beam of light is some of the light reaching Earth. Light is used to make plants grow, bees use plant exudates to make wax, burning wax lights the tunnel.

    That minute beam must be a component of the light energy “stored” in the wax and must be a component of the energy cycle… but it is insignificant.

    But to try to exclude light from the Sun from the “system” would be simply fraudulent.

  82. fah

    I mentioned some time ago that typically in physics the things one discovers oneself are more deeply understood than things one is told. I think we are at that point.

    My recommendation is to google a bit on “applications of second law of thermodynamics” and find two or three physical systems to which the second law is applied within the disciplines of physics or chemistry. There are quite a few things out there, from how toys work to how everyday processes in daily life proceed to how engines are designed. This may give the best understanding of how the second law is defined and used within physics and chemistry. It will also illustrate what questions the physics of the second law answers and which ones it does not, the role played by system boundaries, etc.

    It would be interesting to hear your thoughts after doing that and to hear of some of the example systems encountered.

    [Aside: There is a fair amount of speculation in areas outside of the hard sciences, in which the second law of thermodynamics is examined for some kind of philosophical, metaphysical, ideological or moral application. Some people like thinking about such things, but it would be helpful to understand the physics first, then speculate on its implications. Some of these notions will also come up in a google for applications of the second law, but the first focus should be the physics (or chemistry).]

  83. Jesse M.

    “systems are only arbitrarily divided up for technological convenience”

    Not sure what you mean by that, what I said is as true for the analysis of natural systems as for technological ones. Or by “technological” do you just mean something like “for the purposes of human calculations”? If so I agree, but there can be no meaningful calculations of entropy without doing this.

    “The beam of light from a distant galaxy that reaches Earth is ignored for convenience when evaluating entropic processes involved in burning a wax candle in a deep, dark mine tunnel”

    There are two different issues here–approximations made in the analysis of systems we want to empirically measure and predict, and the ideal theoretical facts that we are trying to approximate. For example, our theoretical models of classical mechanics would assume every object has a precise well-defined mass, but all our measurements of mass can only be approximate with some finite error bars. Similarly, if you want to calculate the entropy of some region of space including a candle, when actually trying to measure it empirically you wouldn’t try to account for every photon, but it would be understood that your estimate is meant to be an approximation for an ideal perfect accounting for every last particle in that region of space, and you’d get a better and better approximation to that ideal by keeping track of a greater and greater fraction of the particles in that ergion. If you don’t specify some definition of what “system” you want to consider, like what region of space you want to look at or what set of molecules, then you can’t even get an approximate estimate, because there isn’t any well-defined ideal that you’re trying to approximate.

    Were you already familiar with the idea that entropy requires one to count all the possible microstates associated with each possible macrostate? If not, please at least look at the link I provided, or better yet take a look at an introductory statistical mechanics textbook like “Thermal Physics” by Schroedger. And if you were already familiar with the idea, are you disagreeing with it? Can you suggest any alternate way of defining entropy in statistical mechanics? If you’re familiar with the idea and don’t disagree, then do you think it’s possible to count the number of microstates associated with a given macrostate if our macrostate doesn’t specify either the precise volume of space or the precise set of particles that we want to look at all the microstates of?

  84. CT

    Theological Science???!!!???

    Now there’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one…

  85. oldavid

    Hmmm. This topic slipped off my radar too early too long ago.

    CT, to make “theological science” into an oxymoron you would need to define science as empiricism and to exclude all metaphysical considerations such as knowledge, truth, logic and so on.

    In doing so you would be painting yourself into a deep, dark corner of “scientismic” rationalism, relativism, agnosticism where the only thing you can know is that you can’t know anything… and “truth” is a mere ideological convenience.

  86. It is Evolution your greatest enemy.
    For it takes away the idea of soul and
    Man’s uniqueness. Nevertheless,

    “For the naturalist, just the same, atheism
    does not necessarily bring an irreligious
    conception of existence. Santayana showed
    how one can have ‘a religious acceptance
    of the world’ while remaining steadfastly
    naturalistic.” ~James Gouinlock, Introduction
    to *The Life of Reason*, MIT critical edition, 2011.

    Apart from that, I enjoy your article very much.

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