The soul of a space alien

By Sean Carroll | November 7, 2005 12:50 pm

A couple of thousand years ago, we didn’t know much about how the universe works. It’s no surprise that our ancestors came up with a mishmash of beliefs about nature, humans, and our place in the cosmos.

What is a consistent source of surprise is that so many people still cling to these dusty beliefs, no matter what variety of silliness it leads them to. One of the foundational beliefs of mainstream Western religions is that humans are somehow special in God’s eyes. Could anything shake us from such a conviction? Majikthise and Cynical-C point to one such thought experiment: a story from Catholic News Service about whether space aliens have souls. What would happen to our belief in our own singular status within creation if we found that there were other sentient beings out there, capable of thoughts and feelings and launching wars of choice?

Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno has thought about it, and reached an interesting conclusion: it wouldn’t change anything.

He said his aim with the booklet was to reassure Catholics “that you shouldn’t be afraid of these questions” and that “no matter what we learn, it doesn’t invalidate what we already know” and believe. In other words, scientific study and discovery and religion enrich one another, not cancel out each other.

If new forms of life were to be discovered or highly advanced beings from outer space were to touch down on planet Earth, it would not mean “everything we believe in is wrong,” rather, “we’re going to find out that everything is truer in ways we couldn’t even yet have imagined,” he said.

Not to be nit-picky, but the motto “no matter what we learn, it doesn’t invalidate what we already know” is not evidence that science and religion enrich each other, it is evidence of precisely the opposite. The distinguishing feature of science is precisely that it stands ready to invalidate its previous theories on the basis of new evidence. We approach the universe with an open mind, struggling to understand what it has to tell us; we don’t figure things out ahead of time and use the universe to fabricate a flattering story about ourselves.

But the next sentence was my favorite:

The Book of Genesis describes two stories of creation, and science, too, has more than one version of how the cosmos may have come into being.

That’s a tad misleading right there. Genesis does indeed have two stories of creation, one right after the other (the first starts at Genesis 1:1, the second at Genesis 2:4). The two versions are completely contradictory — in the first, God creates plants, and then animals, and then man and woman simultaneously; in the second, God creates man out of dust, then plants a garden, and woman is only an afterthought. And everyone knows why there are two mutually exclusive stories right after each other: they came from two different texts, written by different people at different times, edited together later into a single document. Fascinating as history, but not a stable foundation on which to build a view of the universe.

Scientists, it’s true, have lots of versions of how the cosmos may have come into being; heck, I have one myself. That’s how we work; we throw ideas out there, compare them to other pieces of information, and toss out the ones that don’t work. If new information comes along, we’re hoping that it conforms to our personally favorite ideas, but if not, that’s exciting and we look forward to learning something.

And when those space aliens get here, I’m definitely going to ask them what they think about the anthropic principle.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Religion, Science
  • Plato

    Heck Sean, you know there are such things as “SRians and GRians, and by their own definition, the limitations of one with good science is not to be able see beyond, has been the shortfall of another’s lack of good science, with tremedous vision.

    So you have two camps, “good and evil?” :)

  • Plato

    Anthropic reasoning ?

    More information on the Landscape Interpretation, by Lenny Susskind is given below.

  • Kea

    Oh dear. The anthropic principle might qualify us for extermination.

  • Anonymous

    It would be cool if aliens came to Earth and said, “Phew! It took us 100 years to get hear traveling at .99*c. We could have visited closer systems, but we really wanted to meet the people that the Universe was created for. See that, Zorx? Bipeds! You owe me 50 kroog.”

  • Elliot

    When they get here, they probably will laugh hysterically (or whatever their equivalent is) when you are able to fully explain the anthropic principle to them. Particularly if they are not carbon based.


  • ed hessler

    This is one of the few times when I feel compelled to say, “Bring ’em on!” because I am also interested in what they have to say about the anthropic principle. I think I can hear the answer, “Say what?!”

  • Ambitwistor

    (On the topic of the anthropic principle:

  • Moshe

    Nice one about the anthropic principle, but I find the quote “no matter what we learn, it doesn’t invalidate what we already know” much funnier, almost a parody of the religious position. Loosely translated it means “you cannot say anything that will make us change our minds”. Even more loose translation is “lalalalalalalala… cannot hear you…” (sorry, directly influenced by my daughter here).

  • Arun

    Since you asked – in the strands of the Indic traditions that assert the reality of the soul, all living things have souls, not just humans; so space aliens pose no problem on that count.

  • Arun

    Also, since you asked, what could wipe out the “dusty” beliefs of the Indic traditions? my answer is – a complete materialist account of consciousness would cause the beliefs to be retired. Please note that as per Hindu ideas, the mind is material; but consciousness is extra-material, (or all pervading). In a sense consciousness is the Hindu superstring.

  • PB

    To be fair, it’s hardly correct to say that science proceeds by new theories invalidating what we previously thought to be true. In every case, it is that we learn how our previous theories were good approximations in some limited parameter space, but that in general more subtle effects may apply. One might use the same logic to defend the Bible: if there were aliens, it would hardly change the general principles taught therein which apply to humans, but it might open up a larger study of extraterrestrial theology.

    As a historical aside, both scientists and theologicians have been incredibly guilty of dogmatic tendencies. For instance, Descartes did not replace Aristotle in the University of Paris until well after Newton’s Principia and several demonstrations that showed that Descartes’ Physics was quite incorrect. I’m sure that you are well acquainted with the more modern examples of Quantum Mechanics and Relativity. To be sure, religions are guiltier of this charge precisely because of the arrogance that comes with having a book purportedly written by the most important being in the Universe. Out of this arrogance, one may trace the wars, the witch-hunts, the burning of heretics, and all the terrible things which have come from established religion; nonetheless, once in a while there still comes a sufficiently humble person in the scheme of things who will admit that the church is in error for clinging to a falsehood and set about making things right.

  • Sam Gralla

    The question of whether space aliens have souls reminds me of the (very seriously debated upon their discovery) question of whether native americans have souls. If I knew anything about either of these topics, I bet it would be fascinating to compare.

    Personally, though, when I meet the aliens, I’m first going to ask them if they like Mozart. Physics can wait.

  • Martin Bebow

    Here’s a thought experiment. Did man develop speech because evolution provided the equipment to speak or did man develop speech because man needed to speak? In other words is evolution a cause or an effect. Can science ever address that question? Does there exist a spiritual need for man to speak? Am I being clueless to think there is such a need? Why?

  • Sam Gralla

    Also, although the belief that *we* are special in God’s eyes does lead to silliness, I wouldn’t say that the belief that intelligent life is special is untenable. Until science shows us how the illusion of choice can arise from deterministic laws of physics (say, by building a human, or a least simulating one), I’d say the mind-body problem is still very much an open question.

  • Elliot

    I think if they are observing human behavior on our planet, the aliens can legitimately ask if we have souls.


  • IN

    I don’t know waht is better in this blog, the posts or the comments! Very well guys! For those interested on consciousness I have a recommendation: “On Intelligence” by Jeff Hawkins

  • spyder

    cheaper than buying a book: read the interdisciplinary journal of research on consciousness online:

    It is worth noting (well now that i reflect on that it might not be worth noting at all) that nearly every cultural grouping of humans, beginning with indigenous tribes and bands through the largest of the “religious” civilizations shares the “experience” of encountering space born aliens beings in some form or other. I enjoy studying why we humans do this, as it seems to be linked to how our consciousness orients itself semiotically, through myths, symbols, signs, rituals, ceremonies, etc., to the non-Earth aspects of the universe (this would include what is referred to above as souls and spirits). Rather than ask about the anthropic principles i might tend to ask about the aliens’ coherent “beliefs” in how the universe manifested itself to them?..

  • Alien

    Dear Earthling Sean,

    About your question:

    “And when those space aliens get here, I’m definitely going to ask them what they think about the anthropic principle.”

    Answer: Bullshit!

  • janet

    I agree with your basic thrust here, Sean, but the first three sentences of this post strike me as unnecessarily snotty.

    Throughout human history, people have known a great deal about the world they lived in and how it worked, including vast amounts of practical knowledge about their environments. Lacking a scientific method, they still managed to invent remarkable technologies and achieve some pretty amazing works of art, architecture, etc. Mythic and religious cosmologies may seem far-fetched and ridiculous to some of us now, but they’re also ingenious and often very beautiful. People’s ideas of how the world works are shaped by what they are taught and by what they are capable of observing; they are not, by and large, irrational, but rather rational responses to limited information.

  • http://www.anthropic-principle.ORG island

    Space aliens would tell you that we humans are an arrogant bunch, and modern science is wrongly prejudiced against it for that reason, because the principle is actually biocentric in nature, extending to every banded spiral galaxy that is on the same evolutionary “plane” as us, in terms of its implications that fall from the observation that we inhabit a preferred “place and time” in the history of our universe. We’re far from alone in that… is anybody awake?

    Methinks that modern science is gonna be sorry that they didn’t try to answer the begged question of what good physical reason exists for why the implied “specailness” might be for-real, rather than to automatically assume that we are so detatched and insignifcant to the thermodynamic process that the principle is no more than a circular reasoned tautology, that’s easily explained-away if we simply make a few leaps of speculative theoretical faith that aren’t even close to being justified in origins science, which is dominated by empiricism.

    Insignificance in not a valid argument either, when the principle is biocentric, due to the cumulative high-energy physics contributions that intelligent life is capable of making to the process, which is unmatched in terms of energy-efficiency, pound-for-pound, so to speak. Fred Hoyle proved that it only requires a few particles anually from each galaxy to account for expansion. What a coincidence NOT!

    So this indicates that particle creation from negative vacuum energy holds the universe flat… What an anthropic coincidence! No, wait… my mistake, it’s actually an anthropic prediction that theories which don’t derive this are cluelessly screwed up about how the physics actually works!

    In other words, space aliens will tell you that “Free-thinkers” are every bit as arrogant as creationists for thinking that space aliens could be much more or less advanced technologically than us… although they might actually trust us to figure out why that might be for ourselves, assuming that we gave them a clear indication that we were finally actually getting a clue as to how the principle actually works… and applies.

  • Sean

    Janet, I think a claim like “didn’t know much” only makes sense as a comparison to our current state of knowlege, and thought it was clear that “how the universe works” refers to physics and cosmology. And people two thousand years ago didn’t know nearly as much as we do today, that’s simply a straightforward truth. It’s not an insult; we aren’t any smarter than they are, we simply have the advantage of a much greater accumulation of knowledge. That’s why I said it wasn’t a surprise.

    Mythic and religious cosmologies may be very ingenious and beautiful; they are also wrong. Millenia ago they were the best we could do, but now we can do a lot better.

  • Kim

    In my view, one of the often overlooked characteristics of religious belief or faith is the element of willfullness, as in “this is what I WANT to believe.” Hence the statement, “no matter what we learn, it doesn’t invalidate what we already know.” What this statement really says is that no matter what happens, it will not change what I want to believe. Religion is rife with wishful thinking, for example, “I wish my loved ones didn’t have to die, therefore there must be a heaven.” Or, “God is good and doesn’t want his children to suffer, therefore evil is a human choice.”

    One of the hardest things about the scientific method is that it often comes up with conclusions we don’t like, such as our common ancestry with apes, 26 spatial dimensions, or the existence of invisible dark matter. In the same way that children have to learn that they are not the center of the universe and that life is not fair, I feel like the wishful thinking element of religion is really immature thinking. It’s time to grow up and realize that the world is not necessarily the way we want it to be. And wishing will not make it so.

  • janet

    Sean — Yes, as I continued to read the post it quickly became clear that you were talking about “how the universe works” in terms of physics and cosmology. I was just talking about first impressions.

    Just a couple of points.

    The example you’re using doesn’t really bear much on physics or cosmology — rather, it’s about xenobiology. These days, the political tussle between religion and science focuses mainly on biology; if the the religious fundamentalists win the political debate on the issue of evolution, they may go after physics next, but I haven’t heard anybody denounce Galileo recently.

    It’s also worth noting that there are plenty of physicists who adhere to one religion or another; meanwhile, I, though no scientist, am a lifelong athiest, materialist, and rationalist. So it seems clear to me that knowledge of cosmology itself is not what makes the difference. Religious people who live in the modern world (which to me automatically excludes fundamentalists) see their religious faith very differently than people did a few centuries ago: it’s not the overwhelming, literal truth that it once was, but rather a more abstract, metaphorical system. I don’t understand religious faith on a gut level, never having experienced it, but it’s obvious that religion provides believers with other things besides a model of how the universe works: ritual, an ethical system, a social and community framework. You don’t need religion to have those things, but in large degree the secular versions directly or indirectly draw upon religious traditions.

    In other words, yes, we know more now about certain aspects of how the universe works. It’s just not clear to me that this knowledge is, or should be, a replacement for religion.



    “Anyone who is not shocked by Quantum Theory has not understood it” –Niels Bohr

    It has been said in some philosophical circles, that the next battle it is not against terrorism but between Religion and Reason.

    This next battle, which some of our bright, contemporary “thinkers” are finally beginning to understand, is not new. It started in the 18 century with the dawn of the Age of Reason. What these “thinkers” do not understand is that, sadly, before the battle is over, with the clear supremacy of Reason over Religion, more than half of humanity will be exterminated. It is then that our race will discover that it was all in vain, that Reason is not the next stage of human evolution, but yet another distraction equally dangerous as Religion.

    Religions is institutionalized ritualistic Magic. Religion has two aspects: the EXOTERIC and the ESOTERIC. The EXOTERIC part is the one that everybody knows about, the big headlines that brainwash the masses. Let’s call it the structure of the ritual. The ESOTERIC part is the hidden knowledge, the Mysteria, the Alchemical or Magical foundation, the force behind the ritual. This secret part is only accessible by the “INICIATED ONES, the MAGIS, the HIGH PRIESTS, the CRAFTSMAN or the master MASON.” The EXOTERIC is the ritual, the ESOTERIC is the force behind the ritual.

    The scientific world is in the verge of discovering the implications of the brain’s quantum activity. Some people called sliders apparently have the ability to turn lights off without touching them. These events are being seriously studied. In European laboratories human subjects are moving little robots with their brainwaves. Scientist are realizing that the so-called paranormal world might be intricately related to brain activity.

    “THE PHYSICS OF CONSCIOUSNESS” by Evans Harris Walker: “To understand what actually goes on, we must first understand how this minuscule world of quantum wonder might effect the world we experience. Then we must understand how the consciousness and will that we have already shown to have quantum mechanical nature can affect matter by manipulating the indeterminacy that underlines every physical event.”

    Today those who “at WILL” can “affect matter by manipulating the indeterminacy that underlines every physical event” are called Magicians, Sorcerer, Witches, High Priest and so on. These individuals are altering reality by “WILLING IT,” their will is driven by their EGOS, which in turn creates an imperfect reality, but a reality nonetheless that they can control for their own benefits. Or in the case of the egomaniacal type, he will use that WILL to “social engineer” our reality his way, because he thinks he knows best. (And no, I am not talking about George W., who is consider by the intellectual elite as dumb as a doorknob and just a puppet of THE BROTHERHOOD.)

    These are the ones that create hell on earth, their “CRAFT” is imperfect so, as a result, their product is imperfect. They are very visible and successful, and so are their activities, but not the consequences, which are inevitably bad for humanity.

    Then there is the other type, the kind that can “affect matter by manipulating the indeterminacy that underlines every physical event.” But this type can infinitely surpass these achievements not by EGO-WILLING, but by using SPONTANEITY. These are call Divine Anarchists or DAnarchysts. The product of their selfless or egoless acts results unequivocally in good for humanity. And they are invisible; they do not call attention to their acts.

    The ego creates vibration, in itself the ego is ONE, the first step in an ondulatory motion of a wave function, while the absence of EGO is ZERO.

    The zero “0” vibration in a human being is acheived by stopping thought or “mind chatter.” At this point the spirit is liberated and is open to Infinity, connecting itself with all it was, is and will be–call it AKASHIC archives, the sublime bank of wisdom. At this juncture, the ultimate, purest intelligence purrs into your body and makes you act spontaneously, in a perfect way, as a DAnartyst. When the spirit goes back to equilibrium, it connects with totality and at that moment it realizes that it is Immortal, Infinite, Eternal and Divine.

    While the perfect state of the spirit is ZERO (no vibration), as soon as the spirit is trapped in matter it is subject to all sort of energetic bombardment (gravity, electromagnetism, geological planetary and galactic), which in turn provokes disequilibrium and makes the spirit acquire vibration. (Matter being the jail of the spirit) and this is when the spirit is subject to hierarchical law.

    One might say, then, that the direction of the spiritual human evolution it is not toward vibration (making dense matter/materialism, capitalism, egoism under hierarchical law) but toward non-vibration.

    Divine Anarchy is how we express Divinity; it is our essence, but most of as don’t know it.

    “And in the beginning there was nothing (CHAOS)”, which is not disorder but the absence of the need for order.
    DIVINE ANARCHY is the expression of the spirit in the cosmos (CHAOTIC and STRUCTURAL) that does not follow hierarchical laws or structure of any kind, and it is only achieved by the extinction of the ego and the acquisition of true spontaneity.

    In the Tarot deck we know that the expression DIVINE ANARCHY or equilibrium is ZERO–the Divine Anarchist par excellence is the fool. The magician is ONE.

    Scientists know that our galaxies were spit out of a white hole–or from a zero point—that’s where everything started. And scientists also know that black holes exist, where matter disappears into the middle of it in a “strangling” zero point. So if one accepts that the vibration mode of the spirit is ZERO, our way in and out of this material universe is ZERO.
    A camel will pass true the eye of a needle before an impure man does. (The camel doesn’t have the “egotistical vibrational charge” the man does.)

    When the spirit enters the body (Matter), it is immediately affected and restrained by hierarchical laws, by RELIGIONS that are suppose to show the way of liberation but instead become the structural jail. And the same thing can be said for pure Rationalism.

    You must act in equilibrium, which is zero, no vibration. Then “WILL” is no longer yours, but from the source–Divine Anarchy and pure knowledge. At that point, there is no fear, no wanting, no EGO driven WILL. Fear creates vibration. Wanting something creates vibration. Acting upon your will based in your ego creates vibrations.

    So EGO prevents us from achieving “bliss,” “nirvana,” “enlightenment,” “satori” and so forth.

    Let’s pause for a moment and see here who on our planet uses their ego to its fullest: political and religious leaders, artists, stars, sportsmen, scientists, and everyone that has achieved success, position or power by his or her own will.

    Visibility is, without a doubt, a sign of EGO. It does not matter if you are Buddha, Zoroaster, Mohamed, Sai Baba, a Mystic or any of the known Prophets; if you create a POLARITY by trying to explain your mystical experience, you are part of the mess not the solution. That’s because words cannot explain a mystical experience. Add to that the person’s particular interpretation based on their cultural background, and you get EGO-POLARITIES, which create millions of followers. Those followers, by defending “their truth” provoke genocide more savage and despicable than Jim Jones, David Koresh and Manson put together and multiplied a million times.

    Krishnamurti recognized this fact and denounce himself, admitting that he was wrong, but it was to late.

    With their signature of energy, these ego-driven “famous” figures marked our lives forever, creating polarities of energy, which in turn, clashed against each other, provoking what we experience today. (Islam vs. Christianity to site an example.)

    In large or small scale, everyone is trying to impose their view on others. Depending in the power of their WILL and their EGOS, they irrevocably effect the environment in which they exist. When this occurs matter becomes harder and harder, egos stronger and stronger. And we end up imitating the most popular of these figures, or becoming ourselves the new EGO-brand in the market.

    This behavior is happening all over the planet. There are very few that have escaped the trap and move freely in this earth and universe as immortals.

    We where “taken” from spontaneity and introduced to Reason, from non ego to ego, from divine to human, from the Golden Age of immortality to finite mortals. That is the message in the myth of LUCIFER, the bringer of the light (LUCIFER from the Latin meaning light-bearing, light-bringing), who gave us knowledge=REASON.

    In the Vedas (ancient sacred text of India from thousands of years before Christ) or the Oahspe Bible, you will find references to Fragapatti, one of the first known “saviors” of humanity. Fragapatti comes to “save” Hoab and the people of Zeredho. According to the text, these people were living in a state of perfection, heaven on earth. But, according to Fragapatti, since they did not know JEHOVIH, his father and GOD creator, they were in spiritual decay. So he gave them the knowledge.

    Fragapatty says:
    … The inhabitants lying at ease, some amusing
    themselves weaving threads of light, then unraveling
    them and weaving them over again; others playing with crystals and lenses and opaque and transparent
    elements, but not one neither doing anything for another; nor, in fact, needed they, for all were capable of doing for themselves.
    (Fragapatti; VI, 10)

    It was apparent that they didn’t, in fact, need to be save.

    By Brian Rotman:
    “For Aristotle, engaged in classifying, ordering and analyzing the world into its irreducible and final categories, objects, causes and attributes, the prospect of an unclassifiable emptiness, an atributeless hole in the nature fabric of being, isolated from cause and effect and detached from what it was palpable to the senses, must have presented itself as a dangerous sickness, a God-denying madness that left him with an ineradicable HORROR VACUI”

    By Marcel Proust:
    “It has indeed been said that the highest praise of God consist in the denial of him by the atheist, who finds creation so perfect that he can dispense with a creator”

    I do not believe in the myth of Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Fragapatti and the saviors that humanity has had until now. But believe you me, we can learn a lot cross-referencing all those myths.

    Matthew 26:39 “And going a little way forward, he (Jesus) fell upon his face, praying and saying ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me. Yet, not as I WILL, but as you WILL.”

    This mythological religious figure is relinquishing his EGO-INFECTED WILL, for the WILL he has known by achieving Divine Anarchy.

    All religions still have the primordial knowledge, THE KYE, but are so changed and diluted that it is all but lost in the sea of utter nonsense, The truth of the mystical experience is so devastatingly mind blowing, that most of those who achieve Divine Anarchy “come back” thinking that they have seen God or talked to him, when in reality they have perceived the grandiose potential of the spirit–they have talked to and seen themselves in the mirror of infinity.

    I think that God does not exist as we have been led to believe. WE ARE GODS.

    “In the zero point of a wave function is the path way to infinity.” –J.A.L DAnarchyst

    –J.A.L DAnarchyst

  • Sean (not the blogger)

    That was “The post the at never ends, it just goes on and on my friends…”

    All silliness aside, Mr. DAnarchyst may want to find a more traveled comments section to type his manifesto. Or better yet, he could put it on his own blog, or one where posters actually asked to read his metaphysical diatribe.

    I will agree though, that this country is coming to a crossroads in regard to the paradigm that will inform our leaders in the coming decades: Proof vs. Persuasion.

    Our leaders are going to make decisions based on either what is proven to work, or what they believe their constituents can be convinced will work. When you compare how much effort is needed to accomplish each course, it is plain to see which is more likely.

    If we want actual solutions to our problems, if we want to have our schools teach what actually goes on in the world of the natural and the physical, then we must have the courage to choose leaders we know will ask hard things from us, rather than tell us we can have everything based on the sacrifices of others. That’s what we have now, and that is why we will fail as a species if we continue the way we are going.

    Those space aliens that do visit us won’t have any questions posed to them about the anthropic principle or Mozart, we will all be gone by then, having persuaded ourselves right out of existance

  • http://www.anthropic-principle.ORG island

    That’s what we have now, and that is why we will fail as a species if we continue the way we are going.

    More detatchment from the process… the anthropic principle indicates that we cannot violate the natural evolution of the ecosystem that we are contributing members of without putting ourselves above nature.

    And the evidence sure doesn’t support either arrogant assumption that’s commonly made by “free-thinkers” and tree-hugger extremists alike… TOO alike.

  • Jim

    A view from the bleachers-
    Since, it has been reported, that there are trillions of bacteria in our gut alone, and that we have a symbiotic relationship with these bacteria, and that they have existed in one form or another in our gut throughout evolution…is it possible that we are just the hosts to these bacteria and not really worthy of any of the positions postulated above?
    It would seem that, if we as humans do have a soul, then that soul must exist in every cell in our body…since there are more bacterial cells in our gut alone than there are in the rest of our body, and if they too could have a soul….well, you see where this is going

  • John

    It seems you’re applying an overly religious take on the anthropic principle. I had taken it that the principle states “of course the universe is set up to support life because if it wasn’t, life wouldn’t be here to ask why it was so.” Note that I do not use the words “set up” to indicate an agent, but rather why the various forces interacted in a way that mass held together well (if the charge of the electron was even slightly different all atoms would break apart, I think), all the various temperatures we needed existed (the “sweet spot” the earth inhabits) etc, etc.

    Given this rather mechanical version of the question, it doesn’t matter how many alien species exist, they must by definition agree with the principle (granted a word besdes “anthropic” would be needed) because it is equally true for all life. If matter could not hold together or if gravity was too strong or space in general been very curved instead of flat so that the universe would have rapidly recontracted, no life would exist. Only the precise balance of forces has allowed the universe to exist in this way. This, by the way is not from the Bible which I am not versed in, but from Hawking.

  • Woody N.

    It is very sad, that so many well educated people have nothing better to do than beat up on each others perception of reality, or lack thereof. To address a comment concerning Genisis, while there are two accounts of creation, it is clear through study that the first mention is that of a plan to create and the second is the carrying out of the plan. It is my hope that in the future , all of you learned individuals will get back to the basics of living here on earth . I believe that if you brilliant minds can understand and elaborate on quantum physics that you can surly come up with a cure for disease, homelessness, and war.

  • Krista

    “To address a comment concerning Genisis, while there are two accounts of creation, it is clear through study that the first mention is that of a plan to create and the second is the carrying out of the plan.”

    Well… that’s a new one, for me. It’s amazing what leaps we can make to come up with explanations that will allow us to keep our preconceived beliefs intact. For many it will not matter what history shows, what the evidence proves… if it is counter to their religious beliefs, they will either ignore it or come up with their own explanations. Of course, I would request evidence for this assumption, but I doubt it would be based on anything but more assumptions.

    If you believe in an omnipotent and omniscient God, you don’t believe in a God that requires a pre-planned blueprint. And, even if God did require it, it would be perfect and the resulting action would follow that plan exactly. Not to mention, God would know exactly what the result of that creation would be… the supposed “fall” would have to be part of that plan. However, that is a purely religious debate… It’s difficult to match religion with logic.


  • janet

    Woody: Given thousands of years of dispute over of the meaning of the scriptures, it’s nonsensical to say that any interpretation of a Biblical passage is “clear.”

  • Sean

    I like the idea that God had to make a rough outline, and then re-arranged things in the finished product. But that’s not there in the text, no matter how carefully you study it. And doesn’t affect the fact that it’s two different stories strung together by a later editor.

  • someguy

    “And doesn’t affect the fact that it’s two different stories strung together by a later editor”
    Sean, it is good that we have someone to distill centuries of debate on this text and let us know what the facts are. Is humility and the relentless pursuit of knowledge officially incompatible?

  • Gary Tjaden

    Magical Thinking and Origins

    (rebuttal to DIVOKHAN)

    For many, many years, Magical Thinking has controlled our ideas on how life on Earth began. Before the concept of Magic Evolution became politically correct, most people believed that a Magic God who spoke Magic Words was responsible for everything around us. Magic God spoke, and “POOF!”, massive or complex things instantaneously appeared or processes happened.

    When Magic Evolution became our intolerant master, proponents of Magic Creation were scorned and ridiculed and rendered institutionally disadvantaged for believing in a Magic God who could make anything just by speaking Magic Words. Although Magic Evolution, too, could conjure complex, self-replicating life forms out of just a few chemicals, of its own accord and with no known controlling mechanism, it called itself Science and insisted Magic Creation was Religion only, disconnected with Science.

    Magic Creation fought back, though, pointing out the problems with Magic Evolution and showing that Earth’s geology and Fossil Record could also be interpreted by Magic Creation. Magic Creation pointed out the record of massive Sudden Death in the Fossil Record as evidence for a Worldwide Flood. Magic Evolution interpreted it as an explosion of Sudden Life.

    Magic Creation insisted that all Life was created in basic categories, able to reproduce itself, but only within these categories. Although all life forms were created to adapt to changing conditions, they were unable to cross over into different categories. Magic Evolution insisted that all Life descended from a single, primitive cell that assembled itself from raw materials in such a way that it could reproduce itself. Its descendents mutated, mutated again, and continued to mutate until the whole world was filled with complex and diverse life forms, all related to the First Mother/Father Cell. Magic Evolution said that lizards turned into birds and whales crawled up out of the sea to become land animals.

    Although both accounts of Origins sound preposterous, the battle lines were drawn, and it was a fight to the death. Magic Evolution gained control of the education system, indoctrinated the children, often embraced fraudulent evidence as Truth, and denounced any alternative thinking as Religion. Magic Creation fought back, publicizing the loopholes and improbabilities in Magic Evolution, pointing out the frauds and hoaxes. Genetic reshuffling resulting in different colors or sizes of an animal or plant is a common occurrence, they argued, but self-synthesis of completely new DNA codes resulting in new functions has never been observed.

    Magic Evolution couldn’t demonstrate how life created itself, Magic Creation couldn’t demonstrate there was a Magic God. The War of Origins was a stalemate.

    The Law of Cause and Effect

    The universe we know operates on the Law of Cause and Effect. If we see an Effect, we know that something caused it. If we initiate a Cause, we know an Effect will follow, perhaps imperceptibly, perhaps a little later, but always, there will be an Effect.

    Science is the attempt to understand Causes and Effects. Once they’re understood, others can perform the same Cause and observe the same Effect. This is Experimental Science. Experiments can be performed to prove whether a Scientific Idea is True or False.

    Theoretical Science is the attempt to explain Causes or Effects that are undergoing testing, or can’t be tested at all. Magic Evolution cannot be tested because we cannot travel back in time to observe it, and we cannot demonstrate it in a laboratory experiment. If Magic Evolution could demonstrate an experiment in which a DNA molecule created itself out of a solution of simple chemicals, then reproduced itself, then Magic Evolution would become simply, Evolution, the Truth. Anyone could reproduce the experiment and achieve the same results. There could be no other alternatives.

    In the same way, Magic Creation can’t be tested, because we cannot travel back in time to observe it. If we could obtain absolute proof that it was true, perhaps by face-to-face public contact with one or more of God’s representatives, then Magic Evolution must be discarded.

    By misinterpreting the Ancient Writings, Magic God Believers ignore the Law of Cause and Effect and cast contempt on Religion. They think that Magic God spoke, and it happened, because Magic Words are sufficient to be the Cause. Understood correctly, a powerful being, not Magic God, ordered the surface of the Earth to be altered to make it suitable for life, then ordered his subordinates to complete the synthesis of life, using highly advanced technology. God (we don’t know his real name), the powerful leader of an extraterrestrial civilization, gave the orders, others carried them out. To our dwarfish Earthminds, this feat of planetary landscaping and creation of life might seem farfetched, but to an ancient, highly advanced extraterrestrial civilization, it would be child’s play. They’ve done it before…

    It took technology to create life, not spontaneous generation of life from non-life, not miracles. There are no such thing as “miracles”, only Effects we cannot explain with our limited understanding of the universe and the forces it contains. It took highly advanced technology to write and assemble the codes of life into a wide range of living, functioning creatures capable of adapting to changing environmental conditions. If you believe life created itself, then you, too, believe in miracles.

    So then, we really have two major possibilities on Origins: Life created itself, or, Life was brought here or assembled here by Extraterrestrials who went somewhere else, afterwards. It’s not so much the evidence we see, but what we want to believe that makes us either Evolutionist or Creationist. Both require Faith, Faith in what seems Impossible. Neither have hard scientific proof. Neither can be proven experimentally. We just believe. What we see in geology and the fossil record is colored by what we believe. To some, a few teeth and a jawbone becomes a grunting, stooped-over half-ape, half-human, covered with thick hair…

    Some Evolutionists delight in insulting Creationists and deriding them and their qualifications with mean-spirited invective, when they themselves lack the ability to respond with logical proofs based on hard science. Some Creationists, whose God is some fuzzy, luminous nebulosity, located somewhere outside of creation, respond with religious jargon about sin and repentance and grace.

    We can get our MBS degrees from BSU and be able to prove our opponents are all morons while we exult in our triumphs. We can spew religious jargon and state that if the Bible says anything we believe it to say, it’s true. What we all need is to experience the forgiveness and the kindness of the one human whose memories came from somewhere else. If he came today, as he did a few thousand years ago, we too, would kill him. Isn’t that what we do to aliens?

    True Christianity will make us all softer, kinder people. It’s not connected very much to churches and religion.

  • Count Iblis

    Perhaps the Anthropic Principle explains why we find ourselves living in a civilization where people are susceptible to superstition. :)

    You can imagine that biological creatures that are less susceptible to superstition develop their technologies faster than we do. At a certain point the biological creatures will be replaced by mchine intelligence.

    So, one would expect that the total number of individual biological creatures that will ever live will be LESS in case of the less superstitious creatures. It is thus more typical for a biological creature to find him/herself in a ”backward” civilisation that evolves more slowly.

  • Elliot

    Maybe the anthropic principle can be applied to NHL Hockey as well. The fundamental parameters of the universe are fine tuned such that a bunch of men can put on skates and beat each other up with sticks while trying to hit a puck. Because if they were not tuned this way there could be no NHL Hockey. You can see why I think AP is just silliness.


  • Plato

    If we are to accept No tolerance for discrimmination of any kind, even reverse discrimmination, then this must apply “equally” to aliens?

    this should extend to all circumstances

    Thanks Lubos for your patience and putting up with my “altered” ego :)

  • Count Iblis

    Elliot: ”Maybe the anthropic principle can be applied to NHL Hockey as well. The fundamental parameters of the universe are fine tuned such that a bunch of men can put on skates and beat each other up with sticks while trying to hit a puck. Because if they were not tuned this way there could be no NHL Hockey. You can see why I think AP is just silliness.”

    Well, I don’t see that that this is necessarily a problem. Only in single universe theories do you get tautologies. In a multiverse you can consider the fact that there exists places where unfortunate copies of you live that have to do without NHL Hockey.

    You can, in principle, do statistics on the set of all your copies. This also means that you can’t use the argument that since we live in a single universe the rest of the multiverse isn’t relevant. That would only be true if you could pin yourself down at a single place in the multiverse. But you can’t because you have an infinite number of exact copies that live in possibly slightly different (unknow to you) circumstances.

    One can imagine that a fundamental parameters are fine tuned to yield intelligent observers. But on a set of observers, you wouldn’t expect a strong correlations between fundamental parameters and various sports. If you change the fundamental parameters to get rid of NHL Hockey, then you very likely get rid of the observer as well.

  • Elliot

    OK lets work our way back. At what specific point can you define intelligent observers to have emerged. Are the ancient Greeks with their mythological explanations of the universe intelligent observers? Are early hominids? Dinosaurs? Astrologers? Do we need to wait for Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Hubble, or later before we are actually intelligent observers.

    I realize the NHL example is a red herring but this “principle” is fraught with linguistic, logical issues and imprecision, that make it very hard for me to include it in my own conceptual category of real science.


  • steve menyhar

    how can anyone who believes in the scientific method have any confidence in any form of relious dogma when science tells us that all of creation will evolve into emptiness and darkness in absolute zero with all processes ended? what will the gods be up to at the end of the universe? what were they up to before the big bang?

    the bible tells us that god was lonely so the universe came into being. looks like god is in for some more alone time again. the a new universe will come into being.

    so loneliness seems to be the answer to why there is something rather than nothing.

  • Count Iblis


    OK lets work our way back. At what specific point can you define intelligent observers to have emerged.

    Well, in multiverse theories you could narrow down the definition of an observer to an exact copy of you. This is, in principle, well defined.

  • Elliot

    but if I were to suddenly die in one of the multiverses, would the anthropic constraints no longer apply? My fundamental point here is that if tomorrow an giant asteroid hit the earth wiping out human life. It would have absolutely no effect on the values of the dimensionless constants set billions prior. That would violate causality.

  • Count Iblis

    Elliot, first you need to define precisely what kind of multiverse we are talking about. Once you do that, you have fixed the ensemble of universes and the statistical distribution of the circumstances in which your copies live. Anthropic reasoning as used by Tegmark et al. just says that the prior probability of an observer finding himself in some universe is proportional to the prior probability of a universe multiplied by the probability of that universe giving rise to that observer.

    There are some issues with normalization here, but this roughly the idea. If the multiverse contains only two universes A and B, which are intrinsically equally likely, but universe A had a billion times more Elliots than universe B, then Elliot would be billion times more likely to find himself in A.

    After you die, the information that you had once lived is still there, so the constraints still apply. Information cannot be erased because that would violate unitary time evolution.


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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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