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Published on April 3rd, 2012 | by Nicene Guy

35

Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit

Claims by prominent and not-so-prominent physicists that the universe can create itself from nothing are not exactly new. Indeed, such claims have been made since the discovery of quantum mechanics, or at the very least since Bohr and Heisenberg formulated their interpretation of quantum mechanics, which is sometimes referred to as the Copenhagen Interpretation [1]. A similar theory was invoked by Fred Hoyle in his support for a steady state condition of the universe (which amounted to a rejection of the Big Bang theory, whose name he coined). This condition he held as a means of rejecting the beginning of the universe in time, a rejection which Hoyle made for explicitly metaphysical and theological reasons: namely, as a rejection of theism [2].

A possible timeline of the Big Bang.

Unfortunately for the steady-state theorists and big-bang deniers, the weight of empirical evidence points to the universe’s having a beginning, thus vindicating Fr Lemaitre’s “Big Bang” theory. They are therefore forced to try a different approach to “proving” that there is no Creator, an endeavor which is more metaphysics than physics, even if that former word is considered a “dirty” word among most physicists today [3]. The result involves far more philosophical speculation than physical science, albeit speculation dressed in the language of mathematics and presented as the latest of theoretical science. And while one or two of these competing theories may ultimately prove to be true—none is really testable at this time, and some cannot be testable at any time [4]—too often the theory leads to philosophically (and especially metaphysically) shabby conclusions, which conclusions are rarely warranted by the actual empirical science in which physicists are principally trained.

One such conclusion—perhaps the most important and certainly the most frequent of late—is that the universe can still create itself out of nothing. “Nothing” is then conveniently redefined as something, which is very obviously not nothing. That something might be the theory of gravity, or it might be virtual particles, or a quantum wave function, or spacetime, or (most recently) relativistic quantum fields. In the latest case of this redefinition of “nothing,” the physicist in question was so brazen as to complain that theists who didn’t accept his argument had merely “moved the goalposts” concerning the meaning of “nothing!”

In his now decades-old book “The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas,” the well-known Thomistic philosopher Etienne Gilson sets out rather explicitly just what is meant by “nothing.” In doing so, he is setting forth a definition which St Thomas Aquinas used (emphases mine):

“We speak of creation whenever something which was not, begins to be. In other words, there is creation wherever a transition occurs from non-being to being, in other words from nothingness to being. Applying this notion to all existing things, we may say that creation, which is the emanation of all being, consists in the act whereby all things pass from non-being or nothingness to being [Summa Theologica I.44.1]. This is the meaning of the expression that God has created the world from nothing. But it is important to note that in this assertion the preposition “from” signifies in no way the material cause; it means simply a sequence. God has not created the world from nothing in the sense that He caused it to issue from nothing as from a sort of matter, but in the sense that, after the nothing, being appeared. ‘Creating from nothing,’ in short, means ‘not creating from something.’ This expression, far from putting any matter at the beginning of things, systematically excludes all conceivable matter, in the same way as when we say that someone is sad about nothing, we mean that his sadness has no cause.”

Note that this definition cites Saint Thomas Aquinas, who lived and died in the 13th century, and who is considered not only a doctor of the Church, but arguably the doctor of the Church [5]. If theists have moved the goalposts, we did it at least 800 years ago [6], which ought to be quite ample time for the apologists of a Creator-less creation to reformulate their arguments. The renowned physicist and Anglican clergyman Rev. John Polkinghorne says this much more succinctly when he writes that

“The thought of the Creator’s sustaining the world in being has traditionally been expressed in Christian theology by the phrase creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. It does not mean that God used some peculiar stuff called nihil from which to make the universe, but that the universe is at all times held in being, rescued from the abyss of nothingness by the divine will alone” (Science and Theology: An Introduction).

Indeed, arguments that the universe creates itself out of nothing without a Creator because of “gravity,” or “quantum fluctuations,” or what have you, are not so much arguments for the creation of a universe out of nothing as they are arguments that the universe was formed from a sort of “prime matter” [7], which might be anything from the vacuum state’s fluctuations to string theory’s strings and branes to wave functions. Concerning that prime matter, Saint Thomas Aquinas writes that

“God brought things into being from no preexisting subject, as from matter…

Any further caption would pretty much be redundant here. Source.

Now, the order that obtains between act and potentiality is this: although in one and the same thing which is sometimes in potentiality and sometimes in act, the potentiality is prior to the act, which however is prior in nature to the potentiality. Nevertheless, absolutely speaking, act is necessarily prior to potentiality. This is evident from the fact that a potentiality is not actualized except by a being actually existing. But matter is only potentially existent. Therefore, God who is pure act, must be absolutely prior to matter, and consequently the cause of it. Matter, then, is not necessarily presupposed for His action.

Also, Prime matter in some way is, for it is potentially a being. But God is the cause of everything that is…Hence, God is the cause of prime matter—in respect to which nothing [else] preexists. The divine action, therefore, requires no preexisting matter” (Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 2, Chapter 16).

Thus, what is so often described by the modern physicist as “creation” is only what St Thomas would have called “change.” There is no passing from nonbeing to being, but only a change from one condition to another, as when (for example) the quantum wave state describing the universe collapses and brings forth photons and “matter” and eventually stars and planets and the rest. However, this change presupposes something which might be changed, that is it presupposes some “prime matter” with which everything began, prime matter whose existence must also be explained.

Even that prime matter must be given its existence by a Creator—as St Thomas notes above—and cannot merely come into existence because for the laws of physics (which are themselves not even “nothing”). If so many prominent physicists fail to recognize this it is, in the words of Fr Stanley Jaki,

“partly because of [their] notorious scoffing at philosophical considerations. [They have] no sensitivity to the fact that the ontological difference between being and non-being is infinite, even if the entity in question is a mere fraction the mass of the alpha particle. But unless there is sensitivity to that non-quantitative infinite distance, there will be no adequate concern for the equally infinite distance between being and boing when it involves the total mass of the universe” (Cosmology: An Empirical Science?).

As for the doctrine that God created the universe from nothing, modern science has hardly made a dent in this. As the late Professor Ralph McInenry notes, St Thomas Aquinas himself sought to show that there is no contradiction between a thing’s being created by God and its being eternal in duration [8]. Aquinas rather famously noted that the doctrine which the universe has a beginning in time is a matter of faith—he didn’t believe that it could be actually proved—but that even an eternal universe might be created.”This analogy occurs to Thomas: the sun might always illumine an object, but left to itself [the object] would not be illuminated. So its being in darkness is naturally prior to its being illumined, whether or not there ever was a time when it was not illuminated” (A First Glance at Thomas Aquinas: A Handbook for Peeping Thomists). In much the same way, non-being is prior to being for the universe and any “prime matter” from which it came, whether or not there was a time when this prime matter did not exist. Thus, there is an ontological gap which must be crossed between being and non-being for the universe to exist. This ontological gap is infinite, and thus may only be crossed by an infinite cause, God. It is only His existence which prevents the universe from being sucked over the abyss into nothing-ness, that is, into non-existence. The latest scientific theory can do nothing to either prove or disprove this point.

Footnotes

[1] For more discussion (and critiquing) of this, see Fr Stanley Jaki’s collection of essays, “The Limits of a Limitless Science and Other Essays.” In the essay Beyond Science he writes,

“Even worse proved to be the [intellectual] disease sparked by Heisenberg and Bohr as they claimed that the uncertainty principle definitely discredited the principle of causality. The ultimate form of that disease is the claim that the physicist can literally create matter, indeed entire universes out of nothing….Yet even the most elementary form of causality is not within the competence of physics. No physicist has ever observed causality. Physicists merely observe a succession of events, as all non-physicists do. Only by taking recourse to metaphysics, tacitly or not, can physicists and non-physicists alike take this or that succession of events for causal interaction.”

[2] In his “Theology and Modern Science,” theology professor Fr James Wiseman writes (citing Fred Hoyle’s “The nature of the Universe“):

“Hoyle’s alternative theory was that of a steady-state universe, no doubt advocated by him not simply on scientific grounds but also because he sensed that the big bang theory implied a Creator, an implication unacceptable to someone who had once written that ‘religion is but a desperate attempt to find an escape from the truly dreadful situation in which we find ourselves.'”

[3] So remarked Professor Gennady Shvets in a departmental colloquium a the University of Texas a few years ago. The remark was met  mostly with winks and smiles.

Parallel Universes: great for “Star Trek,” but not as experimentally verifiable science.

[4] For example, the theory of multiple universes which is sometimes drudged up as a refutation of the fine-tuning of physical constants to support life in the universe. Such a theory is put forth by no less eminent a physicist that Professor Stephen Weinberg, who cites this theory specifically as a refutation of the fine-tuning in the essay A Designer Universe? (Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?, edited by Paul Kurtz). That there cannot be any scientific  verification of “other universes” is a fact which is conveniently and  even studiously ignored by the defenders of these theories, since if any  information can flow from one universe to the other, then the two are  not really separate universes

[5] In his Aeterni Patris, Pope Leo XII—who reigned near the end of the 19th century—more-or-less declared that Saint Thomas Aquinas would be the Church’s more-or-less official philosopher. Again, this declaration was made well over 100 years ago, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise when at least the Catholic subset of theists insist on this definition of creation out of nothing. At with over a billion adherents worldwide, the Catholic Church is hardly a minor and unheard-of sect of Christianity, or indeed of theists in general.

[6] And, in fact, this concept of creation can be traced to earlier Christian sources. Professor Edward Feser suggests that Saints Anselm (12th century), Augustine (4th-5th centuries), and Athanasius (2nd-3rd centuries)–“to stick with just the A’s”– would have had no problem with this definition of creatio ex nihilo. For his part, Fr James Wiseman notes that the Hebrew verb bara’ meaning “to create” is only used when the subject is God, but the verb ‘asah “to make” is used of both God and men. “‘Making’ is thus analogous to human ‘manufacture,’ by which an object is fashioned so as to receive its particular character, whereas ‘creating’ is not comparable to what humans do. God alone could ‘create’ heaven and earth, whatever this activity might mean more exactly” (Theology and Modern Science). So this supposedly modern “goal-post moving” concept of creation from nothing looks to have its roots in Genesis, the first and oldest book of the Scriptures.

[7] This is somewhat debatable, of course. Could the quantum foam for the vacuum state be considered “prime matter?” I am not here claiming unequivocally that this is the case, but rather by analogy.

[8] Thus, if the universe does come into existence due to, for example, a fluctuation in a quantum vacuum state which was “always there,” it does not prove that the universe was causeless, or even that the quantum vacuum state itself is uncreated.

—–

JC is a cradle Catholic, and somewhat of a traditionalist conservative. He earned his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Texas at Austin in the summer of 2014. He is currently a visiting assistant professor of physics at a university in the deep south. He is a lay member of the Order of Preachers. JC has been happily married since June of 2010. He has at times questioned – and more often still been questioned about – his Faith, but he has never wandered far from the Church, nor from our Lord. “To whom else would I go?”

• Iudicanti Responsura

JC rules! Great essay, thank you.

• J.Q. Tomanek

Another great article from a Texan 😉

• http://hereisthechurch.wordpress.com Allie

Love this. You have such great posts on science!

• http://equusnomveritas.blogspot.com JC Sanders

Ah, thanks guys (and gals).

• http://jesuschoosah.blogspot.com/ Nathan DeParis

Thank you so much for this JC. I was just having a discussion with non-believers. I was thinking of posting this along in the comments, but I’m not sure it would make headway or be a proper time.

• john o’neill

excellent, truely and timely…

well done.

• http://magisterialfundies.blogpsot.com Rick DeLano

Excellent article.

The only level which I wish would have been plumbed is……what is the Principle- the metaphysical foundation- which underlies all of this?

Why is it so vital that we have an expanding universe?

There is an alternative, consistent with observations.

Why is it so vital that the universe’s expansion be accelerating?

Theres is an alternative, consistent with observations.

Why is it so imperative that there exist a multiverse?

There is an alternative, consistent with observations.

JC, you have written an excellent article here.

The real truth- the real battle, the foundational battle- lies one level deeper.

It lies with the alternative, in each and every one of the above cases, which is consistent with observations but utterly anathema to the modern mind.

That alternative is, precisely, the alternative to the Copernican Principle.

Buckle up.

• Linus

While it is true that Thomas did not think it could be proved that the universe had a beginning ( thus depending upon the eternal creating and sustaining creative act of God ), one has to wonder what would be the purpose of a universe that always existed. Also, it would seem to detract from the Uniqueness of the Eternal Trinity to suggest that ” matter ” was co-eternal, eventhough totally dependent because totally limited in being. I plop down for a created universe for these reasons.

• Steven

wow, good article

Ex nihil, nihil fit has always struck me as irrelevant to the beginning of the universe though. If there was no time before the universe, then the universe has ‘always’ existed: at no point in time failing to exist. So, it’s struck me as incoherent to say something that’s always existed ‘came into being’ at some point. Thus, I’ve interpreted the universe’s beginning (if it had one) in terms of B-theory. That’s why ex nihil, nihil fit strikes me as irrelevant, “since on tenseless theories of time the universe did not begin to exist in virtue of its having a first event anymore than a meter stick begins to exist in virtue of having a first centimeter.” – Craig, William Lane., and James Porter Moreland. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. pp. 184.

• http://equusnomveritas.blogspot.com JC Sanders

@Linus: It seems to me that Saint Thomas held that it could not be demonstrated by reason that the universe was created in time. However, he held that it was, as a matter of faith. A non-expanding universe–as per Rick DeLano’s comment–would remove some of the physical evidence for creation in time (e.g. an expanding universe). Others could argue, as Steven does, that even an expanding universe does not prove an actual beginning “in time.” So in a sense we are still at the same point as St Thomas, in that there is no absolute way of proving by reason alone that the universe had a beginning in time; on the other hand, we do have some evidence not available to St Thomas which suggests that it is physically possible that the universe began to exist. But a created universe need not have been created after time began, as the sunlight-illumination analogy shows. Professor Eward Feser gives another useful analogy for God’s creation, which is that God creates the universe in the same sense that a musician creates music: so long as the musician plays, there is music, but once he stops, so does the music.

I have an expanded version of footnote 4 (linked in that footnote), in which I cite Professor James Wiseman to the extent that theists should not wed ourselves to any particular scientific theory. He was referring specifically to the Big Bang, but it could apply just as easily to geocentrism in its many forms, Copernican heliocentrism (or Keplarian heliofocism), Intelligent Design theory, etc.

• http://equusnomveritas.blogspot.com JC Sanders

@Steven (and continuing my previous comment),
“Ex nihil, nihil fit has always struck me as irrelevant to the beginning of the universe though. If there was no time before the universe, then the universe has ‘always’ existed: at no point in time failing to exist. So, it’s struck me as incoherent to say something that’s always existed ‘came into being’ at some point.”

The statement “Ex nihil, nihilo fit” is a point of metaphysics and not of physics, but it is one which physics cannot disprove. The subject of physics is physical things–bodies and their material properties and interactions, etc–and so “nothing” falls outside of its competence. So does existence, for that matter, since it must presuppose that things exist in order to study their properties and interaction. Indeed, a universe which always has existed unchanging would count if anything as evidence that “ex nihil, nihilo fit” is a true statement. It’s only when things suddenly come into existence that we would think to question “ex nihilo, nihil fit” as an axiom, and even then we tend to ask “what cause this thing to start existing” instead of assuming “gee, nothing caused this to exist!”

The assumption that time did not exist prior to the universe does not disprove that the universe had no beginning. Rather, it assumes that the universe’s existence began when time’s existence also began (e.g. it began at time t=0). This is rather before the Planck Time (~10^-43 seconds), which is as far back as we can probe according to current theory. Anything prior to this time becomes conjecture, albeit conjecture dressed up in mathematics. Science, however, requires observations. There, of course, a second meaning of the word “beginning”, which is what I think Moreland and Craig are getting at in the passage you cited.

• http://magisterialfundies.blogpsot.com Rick DeLano

JC:

You write (citing Wiseman) that “…theists should not wed ourselves to any particular scientific theory….. referring specifically to the Big Bang, but it could apply just as easily to geocentrism in its many forms, Copernican heliocentrism (or Keplarian heliofocism), Intelligent Design theory, etc.”

I agree that the theist is free to hopscotch around as the tactical circumstances dictate when considering the question of scientific theories of creation.

The Catholic, I submit, is (or ought to be) much less so, at least with regard to the metaphysical underpinnings of these scientific theories.

There is a very important difference between geocentrism and all the other theories to which you refer above.

Geocentrism was unanimously understood by the Fathers to be the *actually true* cosmology, as attested by the inerrant Scriptures.

Geocentrism alone among all of these theories *has been taught as a theological and metaphysical truth* by the official magisterium of the Catholic Church.

This is a very important fact, and one which I submit Catholics have been (still are!) loathe to grant sufficient consideration, in light of the (subsequently exploded) myth that heliocentrism was “scientifically proven” during the Enlightenment.

Geocentricity in any particular theoretical elaboration is of course a matter of science, and as such is contingent and quite mutable.

But as a matter of theology and of metaphysics, it is strictly accurate, it seems to me, to say:

Geocentrism is the only cosmology ever taught by the Catholic Church.

As a matter of science, it is certainly accurate to say:

No experiment has ever directly measured any motion of the Earth, either around the Sun or about its own axis.

• Howard Richards

Rick Delano, show that you can do the math required for a non-moving Earth at the center (or rather, the bottom) of the universe. If you do not know how to do this, you do not understand the problem well enough for your opinion to have merit.

There are experiments for which the only simple explanation is that the earth rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun. Name them, then perform the math needed for a physically consistent alternative. I know how to do this, because I am a physics professor. I’ll wager you do not. You show not the slightest inkling of understanding how hard, and how artificial (in every sense of the word), such an undertaking would be.

Meanwhile, all you do is make Catholics look like fools to those who really do understand physics. Great job.

• Howard Richards

It is 100% true that physics cannot explain the emergence of the universe from nothingness. However, physics cannot really be sure that the universe (in a state we are familiar with) *did* emerge from nothingness.

Basically, there are three possible models.

1. The universe was created from nothing a finite time ago. This is the view of all the great monotheistic religions. (When did we start calling monotheism theism? Polytheism and pantheism are not close enough for them all to be lumped together into “theism”.)

2. The universe has always existed in a more-or-less changeless state. This was Fred Hoyle’s view.

3. The universe, in some sense, has always existed, but it has undergone radical changes, and some of its earlier forms are essentially incomprehensible to us now. This is the view of many modern physicists, especially those with an atheistic axe to grind.

Astronomical observations rule out option 2, but they are unable to distinguish between options 1 and 3. That distinction has to come on other grounds.

• http://magisterialfundies.blogpsot.com Rick DeLano

Dear Howard Richards:

I must admit that this subject seems to be one that evokes a certain “sparks coming out of the ears”, which seems to be all out of proportion to the matter considered in strictly objective terms.

You claim that the math cannot be done in a geocentric frame- this is an absurdity, and if you teach it in your physics classes then your students ought to sue you for a refund of their fees.

It has been known for a century and more that the math can be done in any reference frame- in fact *must* be able to be done in any reference frame, if relativity is true.

You certainly know this, and yet you seem willing to hope nobody else does, whilst at the same time alleging that it were somehow “embarrassing” to point out that science itself has had no choice but to admit, in its own Relativist math, that each and every argument advanced as “proof” against the geocentric conception of thje cosmos by Galileo, by Newton, by Foucault, by every one of the heliocentrists of the 17th through the 19th centuries, *has been completely falsified by direct experiment*.

The truth, Howard, concerning “doing the math” in modern physics is exactly as Einstein has already told you, had you only listened to him:

“The struggle, so violent in the early days of science, between the views of Ptolemy and Copernicus would then be quite meaningless. Either CS [coordinate system] could be used with equal justification. The two sentences, ‘the sun is at rest and the earth moves’, or ‘the sun moves and the earth is at rest’, would simply mean two different conventions concerning two different CS [coordinate systems].”

—“The Evolution of Physics: From Early Concepts to Relativity and Quanta, Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, New York, Simon and Schuster 1938, 1966 p.212

Max Born, a fellow who also taught some physics in his day, concurs:

“…Thus we may return to Ptolemy’s point of view of a ‘motionless earth’…One has to show that the transformed metric can be regarded as produced according to Einstein’s field equations, by distant rotating masses. This has been done by Thirring. He calculated a field due to a rotating, hollow, thick-walled sphere and proved that inside the cavity it behaved as though there were centrifugal and other inertial forces usually attributed to absolute space.

Thus from Einstein’s point of view, Ptolemy and Corpenicus are equally right.”–“Einstein’s Theory of Relativity”,Dover Publications,1962, pgs 344 & 345

So, Howard, I am a little confused about who should be feeling embarrassed here.

Are you sure you are not simply…bothered by the shocking truth that your own physics requires the abandonment of every alleged proof by which the Enlightenment persuaded the world the Church had erred in upholding the Scriptural and Patristic doctrine of a geocentric universe?

You may be embarrassed by this, Howard, but not I.

I am quite intrigued by it, and intend to do everything I can to put these interesting facts before the interested Catholic (and non-Catholic).

May you be blessed this Triduum!

• Howard

No. Please read again. I did not say that the math cannot be done. I said that I do not believe that YOU can do the math. You do not know what you are talking about. I am carefully avoiding giving you an explanation, or even the key words, because I am challenging you to prove me wrong. So far, you have not even made an attempt.

It is easy to explain the motions of the planets and stars in a coordinate frame in which the earth both moves and rotates. It is not impossible, but it is so difficult as to be practically impossible, to explain them in a coordinate system in which the earth is completely stationary. There is no point whatsoever in doing it the hard way. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that the hard way is “more true” than the easy way.

I am asking you to reference specific experiments and show that you understand what they were doing. I am asking you to explain your alternative explanation. You know the names of some physicists; congratulations. I want you to show that you understand physics, not merely that you have read a book or two on the history of physics.

And while we’re at it, do you know of any of the Church Fathers who denied the existence of centaurs? St. Augustine expressed some skepticism, but St. Jerome placed one in the history of St. Anthony. If none of them explicitly denied the existence of centaurs, by your standards it seems that their existence must be de fide.

• Howard

On another track, position in space is an accident; it does not pertain to substance. Now God does sometimes hide substance under other accidents, which is why (except when the miracle is meant to be very explicit) it would be impossible to perform an experiment that would show that the consecrated Host is anything other than a piece of bread. This is done for an important reason: otherwise, we could not receive Communion. Angels also sometimes appear with the accidents of a body, which does not really pertain to their substance. This is also done for an important reason: it allows them to interact easily with us humans.

To the best of my knowledge, though, there are no examples of God hiding accidents under some other appearance, except (you would say) in the case of the “true” coordinate system, which has Earth unmoving at the center.

It would seem that this would need an important reason, too. It cannot be to bolster our faith or convince skeptics, since we cannot observe any preference by nature for this coordinate system. Nor does it give us any spiritual benefits I can think of, unlike Communion.

There is one argument that is sometimes advanced against the whole science of palaeontology, which is that God has arranged things so that it looks like the most naive reading of the Biblical account is not true, though it really is, as a way to test our faith. Please do not advance that argument either there or here. That comes dangerously close to making God a liar; it certainly asserts something unworthy of Him.

What, then, would you say is the reason for hiding a “true” coordinate system in such a way that no experiment shows a preference for it?

• http://magisterialfundies.blogpsot.com Rick DeLano

Dear Howard:

I suggest that you cannot do the ten pages of tensor equations Thirring did to prove that all the necessary Coriolis and centrifugal forces arise in the case of a stationary Earth in a rotating cosmos.

Whether you can or can’t, please let us admit it would be ridiculous for me to assert that their truthfulness depends upon your ability to reproduce them independently.

Your subsequent argument from appearances doesn’t work either.

From the deck of a vessel sailing upon the ocean it appears quite obvious that the heavens rotate about the Earth, and navigation is still done via that coordinate system to this day- including *all* GPS navigation.

This fact does not establish the geocentric system experimentally, any more than the observation of a retrograde motion of Mars proves the heliocentric system experimentally.

I believe the phrase is “red herring”.

Anyway, the entire matter is dispensed with in my quote of Thirring (citing a peer reviewed paper, btw) above.

If you have a problem, take it up with him, in a peer reviewed journal.

I am sure your career would benefit greatly from your ability to refute Einstein and Thirring, but forgive me if I decline to hold my breath.

Your subsequent argument appears to boil down to:

“It makes so much sense to me that things ought be be a certain way, it would be dishonest of God to fail to have accommodated my understanding”.

There is perhaps no more hilariously unscientific way of thinking imaginable.

All of science, after all, consists in the successive overturning of theories that made “perfect sense”.

Right up until they didn’t.

If it is certainty and logical consistency you seek, I suggest the Holy Scriptures and the apostolic interpretation of them as evidence by the unanimous interpretation of the Fathers.

If you prefer to read the book of Nature, expect your expectations to be regularly overturned.

It is in the nature of your contingent approach.

As Popper has noted, all scientific theories have, in the end, the same probability of being true.

May you be blessed this Triduum!

• http://magisterialfundies.blogpsot.com Rick DeLano

Oops- my apologies. I neglected to include the Thirring citation.

Here ’tis:

“One need not view the existence of such centrifugal forces as originating from the motion of K’; one could just as well account for them as resulting from the average rotational effect of distant, detectable masses as evidenced in the vicinity of K’, whereby K’ is treated as being at rest.” –Albert Einstein, quoted in Hans Thirring, “On the Effect of Distant Rotating Masses in Einstein’s Theory of Gravitation”, Physikalische Zeitschrift 22, 29, 1921

I believe this constitutes a definitive refutation of any attempt to argue against geocentrism based upon any gravitational or so-called “fictitious” forces (Coriolis, centrifugal, Euler) observed as arising on Earth (e.g., K’ in the citation above).

Here is another, for handy confirmation:

“If one rotates the shell relative to the fixed stars about an axis going through its center, a Coriolis force arises in the interior of the shell, that is, the plane of a Foucault pendulum is dragged around”–Albert Einstein, cited in “Gravitation”, Misner Thorne and Wheeler pp. 544-545.

All of which explains what Einstein so matter-of-factly reports to us decades ago, but it appears that even our physics teachers still cannot quite bring themselves to believe:

“”The struggle, so violent in the early days of science, between the views of Ptolemy and Copernicus would then be quite meaningless. Either CS [coordinate system] could be used with equal justification. The two sentences, ‘the sun is at rest and the earth moves’, or ‘the sun moves and the earth is at rest’, would simply mean two different conventions concerning two different CS [coordinate systems].”

—“The Evolution of Physics: From Early Concepts to Relativity and Quanta, Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, New York, Simon and Schuster 1938, 1966 p.212

Now I understand that this apparently bothers you a great deal, Howard. It bothers many. But please……don’t shoot the messenger.

Deal with it.

• Howard

OK, at least you were able to find the words “Coriolis force” and “tensor equation”. You’re right: It would probably take me 6 months to do those calculations, because my area is not relativity, but I do have an inkling of how difficult it would be.

You seem to be admitting now that you cannot do 10 pages of tensor equations to find the solution. Good. Now if we have two models, one of which can be done with sophomore-level vector calculus in half a page, and the other requires 10 or more pages of tensor calculus, but they give the same results, which one does Occam’s Razor say we should prefer.

That is why nobody, I repeat, nobody uses geocentric coordinates for planetary motions. You may wish to believe that geocentric coordinates are the best, the only true, coordinate system. If you keep this to yourself, no harm is done, only you won’t be able to calculate where to look for the ISS or the planet Jupiter. When you start trying to (1) equate that cockeyed system with Catholic dogma and (2) belittle the skills of people who do things you cannot, though, your actions are seriously counterproductive.

Yes, from the deck of a boat it appears that the sky rotates around the earth. And from a seat in a train, it appears that the earth rushes behind you. There are situations in which it is easiest to use geostationary coordinates, like when you are describing the Indianapolis 500. There are times when it is easiest to use train-centric coordinates, such as when you toss your bags up onto a rack. There are times when it is easiest to use heliocentric coordinates, such as calculating planetary motions. And there are times when other coordinate systems are useful — the center-of-mass frame of reference for a linear accelerator, the average speed of the observable universe based on the Cosmic Microwave Background, etc. None of these frames of reference is special, but they each have certain kinds of problems for which they are best.

It is perfectly OK to think in a geocentric way for poetic purposes. (Though remember, the Fathers *did not* think of the Earth as being the *center* of the universe. They thought of it as the *bottom*.) I like to look at stars and think of them in a Ptolemaic way as each being a fiery chariot driven by an angel, so that Elisha’s experience of 2 Kings 6:17 is reproduced. And hey, you can always say that the Earth is the bluegrass capital of the universe, with little likelihood of correction. But this is poetry, really, not science. Science does not acknowledge any preferred reference frame. If you haven’t picked that up from Einstein, you have only been reading for what you want to see.

I don’t think you are insisting on this for the sake of science, especially when no scientist will agree with you that the geostationary frame is somehow uniquely “true”. You have some other agenda which impels you to seize on comments from the Church Fathers that seem to support geocentrism but (perhaps) dismiss St. Jerome’s story about the centaur.

Well, I’ve got to go work now.

• http://magisterialfundies.blogpsot.com Rick DeLano

Since you have admitted that there exists no scientific basis upon which to establish any motion of Earth around Sun, I believe this concludes our business.

You are actually in error when you state that “no one” uses the geo frame wrt planetary motions, in fact the JPL software license by NASA for deep space probe navigation requires that the computation ultimately be corrected for the ECI (Earth Centered Inertial) frame, even after its initial computations are done in solar barycentric.

This, by the way, raises the entirely separate and fascinating issue that the Earth is treated as the only frame in which the speed of light is constant, in that same JPL/NASA GPS software.

But, the main and original point at issue, that of “embarrassment”, having been, I think, conclusively addressed, I wish you all the best.

I have to go worship now.

Always happy to address these issues, btw.

• Howard

No. I did not admit “that there is no scientific basis upon which to establish any motion of Earth around Sun”. The Earth most certainly goes around the Sun in the coordinate system which is most appropriate for describing the solar system. You are stubbornly resisting the fact that neither I nor any other scientist believes that a heliocentric coordinate system is the One True Coordinate System, but we will all deny that there exists a One True Coordinate System.

Going back at least to the introduction of vectors into physics, the has been a growing attention to expressing physics in the most general form whatsoever. So, for example, $\vec{F} = m \vec{a}$ is a more general expression than the combination $F_x = m a_x$, $F_y = m a_y$, and $F_z = m a_z$, because the vector notation does not depend on whether the coordinate system is Cartesian, spherical, or cylindrical, nor on how the coordinate system is oriented.

This generality has been very productive. Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity are the most obvious examples, but others emerge in quantum mechanics. One you may have heard of is isospin, which allows protons and neutrons (or up and down quarks) to e treated on equal footing. Then there’s Noether’s Theorem, which shows that conservation laws come from symmetries. The conservation of linear momentum arises because there is no preferred origin, and the conservation of angular momentum arises because there is no preferred orientation.

This should give you some idea of why physicists will always react badly to a claim of One True Coordinate System that is somehow supposed to be rooted in science. Not only is there zero evidence for such a preference in nature; the real progress has come from the more general formulations. Assertions that the geostationary coordinate system is the One True Coordinate System, with backing not from science bur from your own opinions about the Church Fathers, is not going to impress anyone. Not scientists, and not, I dare say, Patristic scholars, but I’ll let them chime in one way or the other if any are reading.

Certainly the whole reason you argue for a geostationary model is the fact that some Church Fathers apparently made use of it. I’d be interested in citations, since I doubt they would use it for anything more than either a commonplace expression (“the sun was rising”) or as an analogy to help someone understand something more important. I will also ask yet again for you to respond to St. Jerome’s story about the centaur. Your basis for believing that Catholic dogma demands that we accept the geostationary system as the One True Coordinate System seems to also require us to believe in centaurs — unless you can find any Church Fathers who found it worth their time to refute the existence of centaurs.

By the way, an Earth-center *inertial* frame of reference still has the Earth rotating, which most true believers in geocentrism deny. Do you? Regardless, it is not a “correction” to re-express positions in that frame of reference; it is a translation to make it easier for Earth-bound observers to find things in the sky.

• Howard

I have one more thing to add, then I’ll let this rest, and that is to try to use sports as an analogy.

Nothing in the rules for football prevents a coach from punting on first down every time. It is perfectly legal. Nothing in the rule book says that the coach should not do this.

In fact, you might notice that the style of offense changes over time. In one decade the wishbone may be most popular, in another the “fun and gun”.

And you might find comments by famous coaches saying how important it is to do the unexpected. What could be more unexpected than to always punt on first down?

But there is a difference between knowing the rulebook of football and knowing football. Always punting on first down may be legal, but it is also wrong. It is false to say, “There is nothing in football that says it is wrong to always punt on first down.” Anyone with experience of the game knows that you will fail in your objective — which is to win — if you follow this strategy.

General relativity is like the rulebook describing which coordinate systems may be used. The objective of physics is understanding, both in terms of general principles and in terms of specific calculations. As with football, there are some strategies that are permitted by the rules which nevertheless are destined to fail at these objectives.

• http://equusnomveritas.blogspot.com JC Sanders

“It is 100% true that physics cannot explain the emergence of the universe from nothingness. However, physics cannot really be sure that the universe (in a state we are familiar with) *did* emerge from nothingness.

Basically, there are three possible models.”

This is essentially consistent with Saint Thomas’ Point that reason alone cannot prove that the universe had a beginning in time. However, in his day, model number 2 was the predominant theory among non-Christians (e.g. pagans, perhaps some Jews and Muslims), a universe which always existed in a more-or-less changeless state. Most people who rejected this model did so on the grounds of revelation, theology. Father Lemaitre’s theory points to a universe with a beginning, whether concurrent with the beginning of time or what, or at the very least to a universe which undergoes some form of change (be it a crunch or a vacuum state fluctuation or whatever). But this is more evidence for a beginning than what St Thomas had to work with–at least regarding a “physical” beginning as opposed to a metaphysical one–even if it isn’t absolutely conclusive.

Happy Easter.

• http://magisterialfundies.blogpsot.com Rick DeLano

@JC:

St. Thomas explicitly rejects an infinite series of efficient causes in ST I Question 2 but explicitly allows an infinite series of efficient causes in ST I Question 46. I am always interested in hearing new and interesting resolutions to this apparent contradiction.

But the matter serves again to bring out the strange and deadly modern aversion to Catholic metaphysics, one which I personally believe is directly related to a sort of Catholic “Stockholm Syndrome”, a reaction to the traumatic experience of l’affaire Galileo.

Howard has provided us a running and excellent insight into this condition. First he thunders that geocentrists must be out to “embarrass the Church” (how interesting, since the Church has never taught any cosmology but geocentrism).

Once it becomes clear, however, that his own physics deprives him of each and all of the “proofs” of heliocentrism which were hammered into the public mind from the 17th-19th centuries, he retreats to the amusing “argument” that since it is easier to do the math in a given reference frame, it is therefore somehow still “proven” that such and so a frame is the “true” frame- all of which is complete balderdash and directly contradicts the very Relativistic physics he insists he teaches youngsters.

The simple truth is that Scripture, unanimously interpreted by the Fathers, informs us that the Earth is motionless.

Just as Scripture, unanimously interpreted by the Fathers, informs us that the Universe had a beginning.

Bully for science if it can catch up to these Truths.

Too bad for science if it can’t.

The world is created for the Incarnation of the Son of God. The Earth is the centerpiece and crown jewel of that world, of that creation.

This is the only metaphysics which can fruitfully guide the scientific discoverer.

Certainly we owe it to the poor scientists who have followed their Copernican notions all the way to the very edge of self-falsification (a multiverse which can never, even in theory, ever be the object of scientific investigation!) to tell them that we offer them a clear alternative:

The Copernican principle is wrong.

It was never a scientific principle in the first place.

It was, is, always has been and always will be, metaphysics.

Our metaphysics is superior.

When we have recovered our courage to say so, then it will be morning.

• Alan Robinson

Dear Rick DeLano and Howard, I had considered myself well informed on most topics until now. I am not invested in any system but would like to know if the earth revolves around the sun. What are the difficulties in stating it clearly. I’m not very good at math, but i am sincere in wanting an answer.
Peace be with you,
Alan

• http://magisterialfundies.blogpsot.com Rick DeLano

Alan:

According to Einstein, the question is meaningless.

No optical or mechanical experiment can, according to Einstein, ever establish the answer to your question, since the laws of physics can be perfectly derived whether one assumes the Sun is going around the Earth or the Earth is going around the Sun.

The laws of physics are precisely the same in either reference frame, and no experiment can ever establish one frame to the exclusion of the other.

“It’s all relative”, as they say nowadays.

This is, one hundred plus years after the fact, a matter of complete and utter shock to the great majority of folk who have been educated from birth in the supposed “certain” knowledge that the Earth must go around the Sun.

Completely false.

Experimentally disproven with one hundred per cent certainty in 1887, in the Michelson Morley experiment, in the face of which experiment Newtonian physics (and its metaphysical assumption of absolute space) was abandoned and replaced with Relativity.

So, if one accepts Relativity, one must also accept that any question of absolute motion is a question beyond the experimental competence of physics.

The question of absolute motion belongs to metaphysics and theology in this case.

It is quite obvious to anyone willing to check that the Scriptures plainly state that the Earth- the very first object created in the universe- is stationary and that the Sun (and the rest of the cosmos) is in motion around it.

This view was unanimously shared by the Fathers, and was officially taught by the Church’s magisterium right up into the nineteenth century.

Every single argument employed at the time to persuade the minds of men that the Church was wrong has since been experimentally falsified.

All of them.

Without exception.

Foucault pendulum, oblation of the Earth, retrograde motions of the planets, phases of Venus……each and all of these completely demolished after Michelson Morley’s results were interpreted under the rubrics of relativity.

Now.

If Relativity is false (I believe it is, and I believe that experimental evidence in support of this position will become overwhelming within the next couple of decades)- if relativity is false then science will have no answer at all for the results of Michelson Morley.

The alternative interpretation of Michelson Morley- always rejected on philosophical, not experimental, grounds- is that the Earth is simply not orbiting the Sun.

Hope this helps.

• Alan Robinson

Dear Rick DeLano,
Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. I am grateful. It is eye opening to know that there are other possibilities to the nature of the universe than what i learned in school and reading books for mass consumption.
I have recently entered the Church and take great comfort in knowing that the truth has value even when it is not popular. Recently I have noticed that no matter how far one looks out into space or how deeply one looks into the smallest known particles, more questions arrise than are answered. Perhaps it is the infinite gap between the created and God the creator an science alone is not able to build a bridge that long. I take great comfort in the Church and her recognition of the value of truth even when not popular.
Peace be with you,
Alan R.

• Alan Robinson

Dear Rick DeLano, I am not an expert on St. Thomas but I have read a good portion of Summa. I reread st 1 question 2 and st. 1 question 46. I did not read that he argued for an infinite series of efficient causes in 46. Could you specify in what objection, answer to objection, or “I say” he contradicted st. 1 question 2.

• http://magisterialfundies.blogpsot.com Rick DeLano

Hi Alan:

In Q 2 Article 3, in his famous “Five Ways” passage, St. Thomas states:

“……if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false.”

In Q 46, however. Aquinas denies that the beginning of the universe can be proven by having recourse to this “infinite regress” argument

Article Two, Objection 6, states:

“Further, if the world always was, the consequence is that infinite days preceded this present day. But it is impossible to pass through an infinite medium. Therefore, we should never have arrived at this present day; which is manifestly false.”

But since this is an objection, we know immediately that Thomas will argue *against* it.

And in the next objection (#7), the question of infinite regress is explicitly raised in the context of efficient causes:

“Objection 7. Further, if the world was eternal, generation also was eternal. Therefore one man was begotten of another in an infinite series. But the father is the efficient cause of the son (Phys. ii, text 5). Therefore in efficient causes there could be an infinite series, which is disproved (Metaph. ii, text 5).”

But Thomas, in his reply to Objection 7, *denies* the impossibility of just such an infinite series of efficient causes, in a most interesting way:

“……..it is not impossible for a man to be generated by man to infinity…”

Which does, on the face of it, seem to imply a contradiction.

Thomas here introduces the notion of two distinct “infinities”- infinity “per se” and infinity “per accidens”.

It is this distinction concerning which I am always interested in hearing new and potentially enlightening explanations.

• http://magisterialfundies.blogpsot.com Rick DeLano

@ Alan:

You wrote “Recently I have noticed that no matter how far one looks out into space or how deeply one looks into the smallest known particles, more questions arrise than are answered. Perhaps it is the infinite gap between the created and God the creator an science alone is not able to build a bridge that long.”

Bingo.

This is why theology and metaphysics are themselves superior to science, and science has now reached the end of its rope, and will either purge itself of its Copernican Principle metaphysics, or self-falsify.

Modern science begins with a sneering dismissal of the scholastics arguing over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

It now proposes an infinity of multiverses, none of which can ever be the subject of scientific investigation.

In other words- if the multiverse hypothesis is adopted- then science reports its own demise.

It is, in that case, unable to tell us one single thing that is true about the universe as a whole.

The alternative, of course, is to purge itself of the metaphysical assumption which requires the multiverse.

But that would mean renouncing the Copernican Principle itself.

Checkmate.

PS: Welcome to the Church!

Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia!

• Alan R

Dear Rick DeLano,
I have not forgotten that you raised the question of an apparent contradiction in Summa regarding efficient causes. I have been studying, praying and pondering over this since you pointed it out. I will attempt an answer without refrencing the specific questions, objections,and “I say” sections because the can be refrenced above by others who, like me attempt to reconcile the two.

The first, efficient cause per se seems to my understanding to mean that it is of it’s own essence the cause of the effect by its very nature. Here I believe that his refrence to movement is raised. If there is movement now, it is because there is a mover. By natural reason alone (assuming the intelect is sound and the will is good) one must come to the conclusion that there must have been a first cause of movement. I suppose that I could use the analogy of a chain. Although I may not be able to see the beginning of the chain and what pulls it, if it is moving, it is not the cause of it’s own movement but there is something pulling it. What pulls the chain is the effecient cause per se and by reason one could follow the links back to what pulled it.
Efficient cause per accedens, indicates an effecient cause of which the effect is not part of the essence of the cause as in a necessity but as a potential, and here St. Thomas refers to generation. Man was the effect of the efficient cause per se (God), man in his essence can potentially generate but may not necessarily. One with a sound intelect and good will cannot by reason alone conclude that man has not been infinetly generated backward in time because the links are not necessarily connected but only potentially connected. In this case we can only know generation has not occured in infinete regress by revelation.

I am open to being informed about any errors or erronious inferences I made. Thank you for the thought provoking question and for taking the time to respond to my earlier comments.

Peace be with you,
Alan R

• http://magisterialfundies.blogpsot.com Rick DeLano

Hello Alan:

Thanks you so much for taking the time to think this through carefully and prayerfully.

I am very happy.

Permit me to examine your thoughts on this question which continues to interest me.

A: “The first, efficient cause per se seems to my understanding to mean that it is of it’s own essence the cause of the effect by its very nature.”

>> Is not the father the cause of the son by his very nature?

A:”Here I believe that his refrence to movement is raised. If there is movement now, it is because there is a mover. By natural reason alone (assuming the intelect is sound and the will is good) one must come to the conclusion that there must have been a first cause of movement.”

>> I agree. However I must ask- if there is a son now, is it not because there is a father? By natural reason alone (assuming the intellect is sound and the will is good) must not one come to the conclusion that there must have been a first cause of generation?

A: “I suppose that I could use the analogy of a chain. Although I may not be able to see the beginning of the chain and what pulls it, if it is moving, it is not the cause of it’s own movement but there is something pulling it. What pulls the chain is the effecient cause per se and by reason one could follow the links back to what pulled it.”

>> This seems perfectly sound. But again I must ask: let us use the analogy of a lineage. I may not be able to see the beginning of the lineage and who founded it, but if it is still generating sons, it is not the cause of its own generation of sons, but there is something generating it. What causes that generation is the efficient cause per se and by reason one could follow the links back to who founded it- the first father of that lineage. Therefore it seems impossible that humanity could be generated back to infinity, on exactly the same grounds that a chain could not have links extending back to infinity. Yes?

A: “Efficient cause per accedens, indicates an effecient cause of which the effect is not part of the essence of the cause as in a necessity but as a potential, and here St. Thomas refers to generation.”

>> It is always right along about in here that things start to get very difficult for me. So, it seems a link must necessarily cause movement in the next link, but a father only potentially causes a son.

I do not think this is correct at first consideration.

The link only potentially causes the next link to move, since the cause of its own movement is only potentially sufficient to move the next link.

The father only potentially causes the son, since the cause of the father is only potentially sufficient to generate the grandson.

I do not, still, see a difference in essence here.

A: “Man was the effect of the efficient cause per se (God),”

>> The link was the effect of the efficient cause per se (God)…..

A: “man in his essence can potentially generate but may not necessarily.”

>> A link in a chain may potentially generate movement in the next link but not necessarily……

A:” One with a sound intelect and good will cannot by reason alone conclude that man has not been infinetly generated backward in time because the links are not necessarily connected but only potentially connected.”

>> I am afraid that I cannot agree that this has been demonstrated. If a moving chain link can be, by sound intellect and good will, determined not to have been infinitely generated backward in time, then so can a son be, by sound intellect and good will, determined not to have been infinitely generated backward in time, because neither the son, nor the link, is necessarily, but only potentially, generated.

The link may or may not move the next link. The son may or may not generate the grandson.

But this does not, it seems, in any way remove the necessity for a first mover of the chain, and a first father of the sons.

A:”In this case we can only know generation has not occured in infinete regress by revelation.”

>> I do not agree. It seems in both vases we can know by reason alone that the rte can not have been an infinite regression.

Thank you very much again, Alan.

• Alan R

Dear Rick DeLano,
I agree, I have not reconciled the apparent contradiction of the two conclusions made by St. Thomas. Thank you for charitably exposing the errors in my reasoning. I will try to be more careful in my reply. In the meantime, I’ll continue to ponder this and pray for help in reconciling the statements or accept that I am not able to. I want to let you know that I am grateful for this exchange because I feel that I will either arrive at the truth (whether there is a contradiction or not) or I will see clearly the limitations of my own intellect to grasp it.
Peace be with you,
Alan R

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