June 5, 2007

Frank Tipler {TECH}s up the Bible

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at June 5, 2007 5:01 PM

When I was in high school, a physicist named Frank Tipler published a book called The Physics of Immortality. The book purported to show that modern cosmology was not only compatible with Christianity, but predicted something like Christian theology including the concept of an afterlife. At the time I was still a believer, and was becoming interested in physics, so I was curious to see what the book had to say.

It was bad—really bad. So much so that even with only a high school knowledge of physics, and a predisposition to accept its conclusions, I found it ridiculously implausible. It wouldn't even have made it as bad science fiction (although Charlie Stross borrowed the concept in a more interesting way in Iron Sunrise). Years later, taking Caltech's intro astronomy course, I had the pleasure of hearing the professor deliver a very unflattering digression on Frank Tipler.

I was reminded of all this when I found out (via Sean Carroll) that Tipler has a new book out: The Physics of Christianity. And it sounds even sillier, if possible. It seems that Tipler is now interested in explaining various Biblical miracles though physics, for example: (from Victor Stenger's review)

In the case of Jesus walking on water, protons and electrons in the normal matter in a layer of water under his feet are annihilated. The neutrinos produced go off invisibly downward with high momentum, the upward recoil enabling Jesus to keep from sinking.

This is actually similar to what you see in other The Physics of... books, such as in The Physics of Harry Potter's explanation of how the Sorting Hat could be implemented with SQUID sensors. But those books are, as Sean Carroll points out, just fun exercises in comparing fictional worlds to the real world. On the other hand, Frank Tipler is trying to explain supposed actual historical events, and it's hard to see what the point is of making up some story about a hypothetical decay process underpinning various miracles. Does it really change anyone's understanding, believer or not, to go from "Jesus could walk on water because he's omnipotent" to "Jesus could walk on water because he could annihilate protons with electrons on demand, because he's omnipotent"? It doesn't do any explanatory work.

And so what all this suggests to me is that Frank Tipler thinks the Bible should be more like Star Trek. A while back I found this post on an RPG-related blog, which explains how technical language gets inserted into Star Trek scripts:

I am told that the writers of Star Trek scripts do not usually come up with all of the jargon that the characters use. Instead, they just make the notation {TECH} wherever the characters should say something technical, and someone else will come along to fill in each such instance with some chunk of technobabble. This has an important story consequence: since the science is completely arbitrary, it's necessarily the case that the plot can't really hinge, in a compelling way, on the technical and scientific choices the characters face. It's all just {TECH}, and at best technobabble can provides sci-fi color, and at worst it's an excuse for a deus ex machina resolution.

So I imagine that Frank Tipler reads the Bible and sees a bunch of {TECH} notations that he feels compelled to fill in himself. And the last sentence of that quote describes the effect pretty well, which is why even as a believer I found Tipler's book unsatisfying.

Tags: Christianity, Physics, Psychoceramics, Religion

Hmmm... I think under normal circumstances I'd write some sort of ranty post here. However, I'm a really bad mood right now and not in the kind of way that makes it more likely for me to write anti-Christian rants or anything of the sort. I'm more in one of my moods in which I write poetry (which I haven't done in a while) but the only inspiration I have for the moment is the desire to write "88 lines about 44 math-men", which definitely is not befitting to my current mood. Sigh... I'll probably just go play Zelda. I've been neglecting that.

Posted by: Mason | June 5, 2007 11:44 PM

At the time, I had no idea what kind of researcher Frank Tipler was, but he was a very good lecturer and nice professor when I took multivariate calculus from him. Very friendly, very willing to answer questions, and he did a good job of combining rigorous foundations and pragmatism. It's unfortunate that he's a crank for his day job...

Posted by: such.ire | June 20, 2007 8:01 AM

Hmm...god. Well, I don't think God existed until we invented him, which would make him, at most, 1e5 years old. Of course, Jesus could have walked on water if his density was far less than water. Still, either way, leaves us with the problem of how to support himself without tripping -- this situation isn't very stable dynamically, whether the force keeping him up is buoyancy or "exotic proton decay."

Also, I am curious to wonder what concept of Tipler's that Charles Stross borrowed in Iron Sunrise? Tipler also postulated that "life" might undergo a (countably) infinite number of states in a finite time, hence living "forever" while existing only up to the Big Crunch.

Posted by: Tanim Islam | July 2, 2007 7:13 PM

In the book The Physics of Christianity, Prof. Frank J. Tipler analyzes how Jesus Christ could have performed the miracles attributed to him in the New Testament without violating any known laws of physics, even if one were to assume that we currently don't exist on an emulated level of implementation (in that case, then such miracles would be trivially easy to perform for the society running the emulation, even though it would seem amazing from our perspective). This process uses baryon annihilation, and its inverse, via electroweak quantum tunneling controlled by the cosmological end state of the Omega Point (since in physics it's just as accurate to say that causation goes from future to past events: viz, the principle of least action; and unitarity).

Tipler is not claiming that the above miracles are proven to have taken place by physics, simply that they need not have violated any known laws of physics. Tipler proposes tests that can be performed on certain relics which could verify whether in fact said miracles did take place via the described processes.

Arcane, you said that The Physics of Immortality was "really bad," yet you gave no examples of what was bad about it.

Tipler is Professor of Mathematics and Physics (joint appointment). His Ph.D. is in the field of global general relativity (the same rarefied field of Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking), and he is also an expert in particle physics and computer science. His Omega Point Theory has been published in a number of prestigious peer-reviewed physics and science journals, such as Reports on Progress in Physics (which is the leading journal of the Institute of Physics, England's main professional body for physicists), Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (one of the world's leading astrophysics journals), the International Journal of Theoretical Physics, Physics Letters B, etc.

Cosmologist Paul Davies said that he could find nothing mathematically wrong with the Omega Point Theory. Prof. John A. Wheeler (the father of most relativity research in the U.S.) wrote that "Frank Tipler is widely known for important concepts and theorems in general relativity and gravitation physics" on pg. viii in the "Foreword" to The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1986) by cosmologist Prof. John D. Barrow and Tipler, which was the first book wherein Tipler's Omega Point Theory was described, and in quite some detail.

The leading quantum physicist in the world, Prof. David Deutsch (inventor of the quantum computer, being the first person to mathematically describe the workings of such a device, and winner of the Institute of Physics' 1998 Paul Dirac Medal and Prize for his work), wrote in his 1997 book The Fabric of Reality regarding Prof. Tipler's Omega Point Theory:

I believe that the omega-point theory deserves to become the prevailing theory of the future of spacetime until and unless it is experimentally (or otherwise) refuted. (Experimental refutation is possible because the existence of an omega point in our future places certain constraints on the condition of the universe today.)

Prof. Deutsch later comments within a concluding paragraph of the same chapter regarding the synthesis of the topics in his book, which includes the Omega Point Theory:

It seems to me that at the current state of our scientific knowledge, this is the 'natural' view to hold. It is the conservative view, the one that does not propose any startling change in our best fundamental explanations. Therefore it ought to be the prevailing view, the one against which proposed innovations are judged. That is the role I am advocating for it. I am not hoping to create a new orthodoxy; far from it. As I have said, I think it is time to move on. But we can move to better theories only if we take our best existing theories seriously, as explanations of the world.

See David Deutsch, extracts from Chapter 14: "The Ends of the Universe" of The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes--and Its Implications (London: Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1997), ISBN: 0713990619; with additional comments by Frank J. Tipler. http://geocities.com/theophysics/deutsch-ends-of-the-universe.html

See also Prof. Tipler's below paper, which among other things demonstrates that the known laws of physics (i.e., general relativity, quantum mechanics, and the Standard Model of particle physics) require that the universe end in the Omega Point:

F. J. Tipler, "The structure of the world from pure numbers," Reports on Progress in Physics, Vol. 68, No. 4 (April 2005), pp. 897-964. http://math.tulane.edu/~tipler/theoryofeverything.pdf Also released as "Feynman-Weinberg Quantum Gravity and the Extended Standard Model as a Theory of Everything," arXiv:0704.3276, April 24, 2007. http://arxiv.org/abs/0704.3276

To point out again, Reports on Progress in Physics, in which the above paper was published, is peer-reviewed and the leading journal of the Institute of Physics, England's main professional body for physicists. Of course, the referees at the Institute of Physics would not publish Prof. Tipler's Omega Point Theory in their journal if they thought that it was demonstrably flawed.

And see the below website for more information on the Omega Point Theory:

Theophysics http://geocities.com/theophysics/

Posted by: James Redford | January 19, 2008 9:06 PM
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