Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Tipler, Part Two

In yesterday's post I showed how Frank Tipler distorted the ideas of Lynn Margulis and Ernst Mayr to make it appear they were offering criticisms of orthodox Darwinism comparable to those of ID proponents. In today's post I will examine three other instances of Tipler distorting what other people have said.

Consider the following anecdote:

The California Skeptics Society founder, Michael Shermer, informs me that a proposal to the NSF to fund publication of all of Isaac Newton's to-date unpublished work on theology was rejected even though the proposal was made by one of the world's leading Newton scholars. The reason given, according to Shermer, was that it would be bad for science if it became generally known that the greatest scientist of all time actually believed in God. Clearly, the scientific community is not open to any evidence or any theory that might even hint that God really exists and might actually act in the physical universe. (P. 125)

Does that sound suspicious to you? Is there a scientist on the planet who is not aware that Newton was not only a theist, but also spent a lot of time writing about theology?

On the theory that you should always be suspicious of the “perfect anecdote” I wrote to Michael Shermer and asked him about this incident. I showed him what Tipler had said. Here, reprinted with Shermer's permission, is what he told me in reply:

The scholar in question was Richard Westfall, who wrote a biography of Newton, Never at Rest. He told me that after his bio he tried to get NSF (and other sources) money for publishing all of Newton's theological works. He was turned down numerous times. He was never given a reason, but he speculated it was because science grantors could not see the importance of Newton's theological ramblings. It was definitely not simply because Newton believed in God, since virtually everyone did, scientists included. It was that he spent so much time on what was largely theological speculations of no scientific import.

Exactly. Why would the NSF want to fund the publication of a large body of work that is not likely to be of interest to scientists?

So Tipler took a speculation about the NSF not seeing the importance of Newton's theological work and turned it into evidence for the antipathy of the scientific community, as represented by the NSF, towards religion. Lovely.

Before considering the next example, let me mention that Tipler is well-known for his book The Physics of Immortality, in which he argued that modern physics effectively proves the Judeo-Christian worldview. For example, the first sentence of his book is:

This book is a description of the Omega Point Theory, which is a testable physical theory for an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipotent God who will one day in the far future resurrect every single one of us to live forever in an abode which is in all essentials the Judeo-Christian Heaven.

Needless to say, Tipler's more fanicful conclusions have not found support from very many scientists.

Now consider the opening paragraph of Tipler's essay in Uncommon Dissent:

I first became aware of the importance that many non-elite scientists place on “peer-reviewed” journals when Howard Van Till, a theistic evolutionist, said my book The Physics of Immortality was not worth taking seriously because the ideas it presented had never appeared in refereed journals. Actually, the ideas in that book had already appeared in refereed journals. The papers and the refereed journals wherein they appeared were listed at the beginning of my book. My key predictions of the top quark mass (conifrmed) and the Higgs boson mass (still unknown) even appeared in the pages of Nature, the most prestigious refereed science journal in the world. But suppose Van Till had been correct and my ideas had never been published in referreed journals. Would he have been correct in saying that, in this case, the ideas need not be taken seriously? (P. 116)

It is not clear to me why Tipler chose to identify Van Till as a theistic evolutionist, when it surely is more relevant that he is a physicist and an astronomer. We should also point out that Tipler's implication that Van Till is a non-elite scientist (and that Tipler is himself an elite scientist) is a typical example of the arrogance and condescension Tipler exhibits throughout his essay.

Also odd is Tipler's assertion about listing relevant papers at the start of his book. The preface makes no mention of any such papers. In a seventeen page introduction Tipler makes reference to just a single one of his papers, and that one was published in Zygon. This is a journal about science and religion, not a physics journal. Tipler lists eight of his publications in the bibliography of his book. None of the ones dealing specifically with the Omega Point Theory appeared in physics journals.

The book's introduction does contain two nuggets, one major and one minor, that we ought to mention. The minor one is the description of JBS Haldane as a physicist. Actually, he was a genetecist. The major one is this interesting statement about modern evolutionary theory:

The consensus opinion returned to Darwinism in the 1930's and 1940's with the development of the Modern Synthesis, which invokes nonpurposive mechanisms - natural selection, random genetic drift, mutation, migration, and geographic isolation - to acount for evolution. Organisms are created by blind deterministic mechanisms combined with others that are effectively random. (Here, I might add, is another example of science returning to a previously rejected theory. A return for which I am glad, since the Omega Point Theory presupposes the truth of the Modern Synthesis; indeed its truth is essential for the free will model developed in Chapter V). (P. 9)

If Behe and Dembski is right, then Tipler's prized theory is false. Has Tipler not realized this?

Moving on, did Howard Van Till really say that Tipler's arguments were not worth taking seriously because they hadn't been peer-reviewed? Tipler provides no reference as to where, exactly, Van Till said this. However, Van Till did write a short review of Tipler's book for the magazine National Review in which he does mention that Tipler's arguments had not been peer-reviewed. Here is Van Till's review, in its entirety:

IF YOU call a cat's tail a leg, how many legs does a cat have? Five, you say? No, only four. Just calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one. Even cats know that. With all of the hubris of unbridled scientism, cosmologist Frank Tipler asserts the reduction of all reality to whatever physics is able to compute. In the course of playing his unrefereed game of cosmological speculation, Mr. Tipler labels the hypothetical final state of a closed universe with the Teilhardian moniker “Omega Point,” and then renames it “God.” By another sleight of labeling, the word “resurrection” becomes the name for a conjectured emulation of all humans by a future megacomputer. Readers who respect natural science will be offended by Mr. Tipler's disregard of its categorical limitations. Readers who respect theology will be offended by his abuse of the theological vocabulary. Those of us who respect both will be offended twice. Even Mr. Tipler finds his own conjectures incredible, and rightly so.

Now, I will leave open the possibility that Van Till commented further on Tipler's book elsewhere. These were the only published comments I could find in which Van Till discussed Tipler's work, however.

But if this is the review Tipler is talking about, then it is clear that he was not being truthful in his characterization of Van Till's sentiments. Nowhere does Van Till say that Tipler's arguments are not worth taking seriously. He merely points out, quite correctly in my view, that Tipler is abusing language when he uses theological terminology to describe scientific concepts.

The reference to Tipler's arguments being unreferreed is both correct and appropriate. Van Till was writing a short review in a non-technical publication. In that context, it was perfectly correct to inform the magazine's readers that the fanicful speculations Tipler presents had not won the support of other physicists.

Let me close with one final example, trivial in itself but indicative of Tipler's inability to be straight with his readers. In describing the somewhat chilly reaction of many physicists to his theory, Tipler writes:

My scientific colleagues, atheists to a man, were outraged. Even though the theory of the final state of the universe involved only known physics, my fellow physicists refused even to discuss the theory. If the known laws of physics imply that God exists, then, in their opinion, this can only mean that the laws of physics have to be wrong. This past September, at a confernce held at Windsor Castle, I asked the well-known cosmologist Paul Davies what he thought of my theory. He replied that he could find nothing wrong with it mathematically, but he asked what justified my assumption that the known laws of physics were correect. At the same conference, the famous physicist Freeman Dyson refsed to discuss my theory - period. I would not encounter such refusals if I had not chosen to point out my theory's theological implications. (P. 125)

If Tipler was trying to convince us that the community of physicists is populated by a bunch of rabid atheists, then Paul Davies and Freeman Dyson are two of the worst examples he could have chosen. Both gentlemen have won the Templeton Prize for uniting science and religion. Both gentlemen believe the anthropic principle strongly suggests an ultimate purpose to the universe. Davies has written several books decrying the tendency of scientists to be overly reductionistic in their analyses. And Dyson, in this essay for the New York Review of Books makes it quite clear that he believes some paranormal phenomena are real. Neither one of these gentlemen would reject a theory merely because it has religious overtones.

But, since most of the readers of Dembski's anthology already believe that the scientific community is morbidly anti-religion, who cares if the evidence presented is accurate?


At 12:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you :)

At 1:03 PM, Blogger James Redford said...

Jason, the analysis that you presented in your previous post on Prof. Frank J. Tipler doesn't make the case that Tipler misrepresented Profs. Lynn Margulis or Ernst W. Mayr, since Tipler didn't say that Margulis "is making the same criticisms" (your words) that Profs. Michael Behe and Bill Dembski make regarding Darwinism, but rather Tipler wrote that she "has made much the same criticism of modern Darwinism that Michael Behe and Bill Dembski have made." This leaves open what exactly Tipler had in mind regarding said criticism, to which Tipler goes on to answer at the start of the very next paragraph (which you didn't quote): "The problem that Behe, Dembski, and Margulis address is that random mutation is simply too slow and too undirected to generate the enormous change we see in the fossil record." For that article by Tipler, see:

Frank J. Tipler, "Refereed Journals: Do They Insure Quality or Enforce Orthodoxy?," Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design (PCID), Vols. 2.1 and 2.2 (January-June 2003). Also published as Chapter 7 in Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing, edited by William A. Dembski, Foreword by John Wilson (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2004), ISBN: 1932236309.

Regarding Michael Shermer's statement, he points out that he concludes that the grants to publish Isaac Newton's papers were turned down because "It was that he [Isaac Newton] spent so much time on what was largely theological speculations of no scientific import." Although Shermer therein interjects question-begging comments, since if God is actually a physically existing entity then theology per se isn't without scientific import (indeed, quite the contrary). That is the point of Tipler's aforesaid article: that many modern scientists dismiss out of hand the very idea that God could exist, and so are very reluctant to take anything seriously that suggests that God does exist.

It's that antagonism for religion on the part of the scientific community which greatly held up the acceptance of the Big Bang, due to said scientific community regarding it as lending credence to the traditional theological position of creatio ex nihilo, and also because no laws of physics can apply to a singularity itself. The originator of the Big Bang theory was Roman Catholic priest and physicist Prof. Georges Lemaître; and it was enthusiastically endorsed by Pope Pius XII in 1951, long before the scientific community finally came to accept it. In the aforestated article by Tipler, he points out that many in the field of physics abandon physical law when it produces results they're uncomfortable with, i.e., in reference to religion. As regards the Big Bang, Tipler gives the following example involving no less than physicist Prof. Steven Weinberg:

The most radical ideas are those that are perceived to support religion, specifically Judaism and Christianity. When I was a student at MIT in the late 1960s, I audited a course in cosmology from the physics Nobelist Steven Weinberg. He told his class that of the theories of cosmology, he preferred the Steady State Theory because "it *least* resembled the account in Genesis" (my emphasis). In his book *The First Three Minutes* (chapter 6), Weinberg explains his earlier rejection of the Big Bang Theory: "[O]ur mistake is not that we take our theories too seriously, but that we do not take them seriously enough. It is always hard to realize that these numbers and equations we play with at our desks have something to do with the real world. Even worse, there often seems to be a general agreement that certain phenomena are just not fit subjects for respectable theoretical and experimental effort." [My emphasis--J. R.]

... But as [Weinberg] himself points out in his book, the Big Bang Theory was an automatic consequence of standard thermodynamics, standard gravity theory, and standard nuclear physics. All of the basic physics one needs for the Big Bang Theory was well established in the 1930s, some two decades before the theory was worked out. Weinberg rejected this standard physics not because he didn't take the equations of physics seriously, but because he did not like the religious implications of the laws of physics. ...

So we have no less than Steven Weinberg agreeing with Tipler regarding the "antipathy of the scientific community" (to use your words) for religion, even to the extent that it causes them to abondon good physics! Although the Big Bang is a direct consequence of the laws of physics that were well-established in the 1930s, it took some 40 years before the physics community would accept the necessary implications of their most well-confirmed physics, due to physicists desiring to avoid its religious implications. Again, to quote Weinberg on this, regarding the reluctance of the scientific community (including himself) to accept the Big Bang, from his 1977 book on the Big Bang, The First Three Minutes: "Even worse, there often seems to be a general agreement that certain phenomena are just not fit subjects for respectable theoretical and experimental effort."

Stephen Hawking in his book The Illustrated A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam Books, 1996), pg. 62, wrote:

Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention. (The Catholic Church, on the other hand, seized on the big bang model and in 1951 officially pronounced it to be in accordance with the Bible). There were therefore a number of attempts to avoid the conclusion that there had been a big bang.

Yet you go on to write, as pertains to Prof. Tipler's Omega Point Theory, "Needless to say, Tipler's more fanicful conclusions have not found support from very many scientists." Given the phenomenon that Hawking, Weinberg, and Tipler wrote about concerning the antagonism of the scientific community for anything that even so much as lends credence to religion, that's a quite predictable result. The scientific community avoided accepting the Big Bang for some 40 years due to their discomfort over its theological implications (i.e., creatio ex nihilo, and the fact the no laws of physics can apply to a singularity itself). And here comes Prof. Tipler's Omega Point Theory, which is nothing less than a proof of God's existence according to the known laws of physics!

Nevertheless, 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.

You and Howard Van Till err when you claim that Prof. Tipler's Omega Point Theory hasn't been peer-reviewed and published in scientific journals. As Tipler correctly pointed out in his article under discussion, he gave a listing at the beginning of The Physics of Immortality of some of his papers upon which that book is based. Said list is located on the copyright page, as can be seen in the below picture of the page:

Among the listing above, below are the peer-reviewed physics and science journals in which Prof. Tipler's Omega Point Theory had been published at the time of that book. The below papers are also listed in the bibliography (which you incorrectly claimed otherwise).

- Frank J. Tipler, "Cosmological Limits on Computation," International Journal of Theoretical Physics, Vol. 25, No. 6 (June 1986), pp. 617-661. (First paper on the Omega Point Theory.)

- Frank J. Tipler, "Achieved spacetime infinity," Nature, Vol. 325, No. 6101 (January 15, 1987), pp. 201-202.

- Frank J. Tipler, "The ultimate fate of life in universes which undergo inflation," Physics Letters B, Vol. 286, Issues 1-2 (July 23, 1992), pp. 36-43.

Since the publication of Prof. Tipler's 1994 book The Physics of Immortality, his Omega Point Theory has gone on to be published in a number of other peer-reviewed physics and science journals:

- Frank J. Tipler, "The Ultimate Future of the Universe, Black Hole Event Horizon Topologies, Holography, and the Value of the Cosmological Constant," arXiv:astro-ph/0104011, April 1, 2001. Published in Relativistic Astrophysics: 20th Texas Symposium, Austin, TX, 10-15 December 2000, edited by J. Craig Wheeler and Hugo Martel (Melville, N.Y.: American Institute of Physics, 2001), ISBN 0735400261; and in AIP Conference Proceedings, Vol. 586 (October 15, 2001), pp. 769-772.

- Frank J. Tipler, "Intelligent life in cosmology," International Journal of Astrobiology, Vol. 2, Issue 2 (April 2003), pp. 141-148. Also at arXiv:0704.0058, March 31, 2007.

- 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. Also released as "Feynman-Weinberg Quantum Gravity and the Extended Standard Model as a Theory of Everything," arXiv:0704.3276, April 24, 2007.

- Frank J. Tipler, Jessica Graber, Matthew McGinley, Joshua Nichols-Barrer and Christopher Staecker, "Closed Universes With Black Holes But No Event Horizons As a Solution to the Black Hole Information Problem," arXiv:gr-qc/0003082, March 20, 2000. Published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 379, Issue 2 (August 2007), pp. 629-640.

Reports on Progress in Physics, in which the above 2005 paper was published, is peer-reviewed and the leading journal of the Institute of Physics, England's main professional body for physicists. And Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, in which the above 2007 paper was published, is one of the world's leading peer-reviewed astrophysics journals.

On pg. 107 of The Physics of Immortality, Tipler described Prof. John Burdon Sanderson Haldane as "J. B. S. Haldane, one of the leading geneticists of the twentieth century ..." On pg. 3 of said book, Tipler does include Haldane among a list of physicists he gave, but that's clearly a simple oversight, as from what is written on pg. 107, Tipler obviously knows who Haldane is.

You wrote that "If Behe and Dembski is right, then Tipler's prized theory is false. Has Tipler not realized this?" Actually, as Tipler later points out in The Physics of Immortality, the physical processes which people (including many biologists) commonly think of as "random" are strictly deterministic across the multiverse, and so if the Final Anthropic Principle holds, then life itself was necessarily created by the final 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's description of Van Till as a theistic evolutionist is accurate. And Tipler's summation of Howard J. Van Till's review is completely accurate. I read Van Till's review before I even found your blog or read any of your posts, and that's certainly the thrust of his review. Indeed, far more than Van Till merely saying that Tipler's book wasn't worth taking seriously, Van Till actually said three different times that people should be "offended" by it!

For much more on Prof. Tipler's Omega Point Theory, see his 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 (the final cosmological singularity and state of infinite informational capacity identified as being God):

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. Also released as "Feynman-Weinberg Quantum Gravity and the Extended Standard Model as a Theory of Everything," arXiv:0704.3276, April 24, 2007.

See also the below resource for further information on the Omega Point Theory:


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