All posts by Wintery Knight

Neil Shenvi: can quantum fluctuations make something appear out of nothing?

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

New article from Dr. Neil Shenvi.

Author bio:

As it says on the main page, my name is Neil Shenvi; I am currently a research scientist with Prof. Weitao Yang at Duke University in the Department of Chemistry. I was born in Santa Cruz, California, but grew up in Wilmington, Delaware. I attended Princeton University as an undergraduate where I worked on high-dimensional function approximation with Professor Herschel Rabitz. I became a Christian in Berkeley, CA where I did my PhD in Theoretical Chemistry at UC – Berkeley with Professor Birgitta Whaley. The subject of my PhD dissertation was quantum computation, including topics in quantum random walks, cavity quantum electrodynamics, spin physics, and the N-representability problem. From 2005-2010, I worked as a postdoctoral associate with Prof. John Tully at Yale where I did research into nonadiabatic dynamics, electron transfer, and surface science.

Here is the introduction to the new article:

Many modern Christian apologists such as William Lane Craig or John Lennox present the origin of the universe in the finite past as evidence that God exists. In response, many modern atheists have sought to undermine such arguments by claiming that the existence of God is not required to account for the universe’s origin, usually by appealing to various scientific models of the universe’s origin. Because my expertise is in theoretical chemistry and quantum physics rather than in cosmology, I don’t have the background to evaluate the scientific plausibility of these cosmological models as alternatives to traditional Big Bang cosmology (nor -I expect- do most atheists!) However, I am qualified to address a claim that I frequently see advanced on the internet as a purportedly knock-down response to the claims of theists: the idea that ‘quantum fluctuations’ in some vague and unspecified sense explain the universe’s origin. In this essay, I’ll briefly explain what quantum fluctuations are and why they should not be invoked to explain the origin of the material universe out of nothing.

My argument is straighforward:

  • P1. If a ‘quantum fluctuation’ occurs, then it can be described by a wavefunction
  • P2. Wavefunctions describe ‘something’, not ‘nothing’
  • C. Therefore, if a ‘quantum fluctuation’ occurs, then it is ‘something’ not ‘nothing’

If this argument is correct, then atheists should not argue that ‘quantum fluctuations’ show that ‘something’ can come from ‘nothing’ because quantum fluctuations assume the existence of ‘something’ not ‘nothing’.

Quantum mechanics is a pretty mysterious area for me, but it’s Neil’s specialty.

Here is his argument in brief:

  • P1. If a ‘quantum fluctuation’ occurs, then it can be described by a wavefunction
  • P2. Wavefunctions describe ‘something’, not ‘nothing’
  • C. Therefore, if a ‘quantum fluctuation’ occurs, then it is ‘something’ not ‘nothing’

He writes:

Regardless of how we view the ontological status of wavefunctions, there is little question that they somehow describe something that actually exists. To say it another way, it seems extremely strange to insist that this particular wavefunction describes something which does not exist! When we make use of wavefunctions in experimental physics, they never refer to ‘nothing’; they always refer to ‘something.’ Even the ‘quantum vacuum’, which people sometimes confuse with ‘nothing’, actually refers to an entity with real properties, the most obvious of which is a zero-point energy that has measurable effects on experiments. To posit a wavefunction which describes ‘nothing’ is therefore to posit a wavefunction which is unlike any wavefunction we’ve ever encountered.

So, you can’t get something from nothing by appealing to quantum mechanics after all.

Now, I’ll just add to his article based on something he mentioned – the quantum vacuum. A further requirement of cosmologies that have our universe come into being as a result of a quantum fluctuation is that there exists a quantum vacuum outside our universe that provides the environment for the quantum fluctuation that creates the universe. And of course, this quantum vacuum is not nothing. Alexander Vilenkin explains:

And of course, we have no direct evidence of that quantum vacuum that must exist outside of our universe. If it exists, then it’s outside our universe – outside of our ability to investigate it. The only argument for its existence is that naturalists need it to be there in order to undermine the cosmological argument.

Here’s William Lane Craig talking about quantum vacuum models of the universe:

William Lane Craig has an article that he published a while back which lists problems with naturalistic cosmologies.

I hope that’s enough for everyone to respond to the speculation that QM can cause a beginning of the universe out of nothing.

Previously, I’ve featured Neil’s defense of objective morality, his lecture on science and religion, his lecture on the resurrection of Jesus, and his introduction to quantum mechanics, all of which were really popular. These are easy to understand, but substantive, too.

Is anyone on the secular left not an intolerant bigoted violent domestic terrorist?

Harassing women is just fine, according to this radical feminist UK Guardian writer
Harassing women is just fine, says radical feminist UK Guardian writer

Well! Whenever there is an attack on conservatives by deranged secular leftists, I try to write about it. Over the years, there have been many – but they were infrequent. Now the left is becoming so violent that it’s a daily occurrence. I decided to collect together a few articles to show you how intolerant and threatening the secular left has become.

Here’s something from The Federalist by Kelsey Harkness, a female conservative:

Jessica Valenti revealed a new standard for liberal feminists on Tuesday: Driving women out of restaurants is wrong, unless they’re a Republican. If that woman is named Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen, the behavior is not only acceptable — it’s to be applauded.

The situation began when the head of the D.C. branch of Democratic Socialists of America tweeted the restaurant name and exact addresswhere Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen sat down for dinner. The dinner came after a very public day for Nielsen, who defended the Trump administration’s decision to fully enforce U.S. immigration laws against all who illegally cross the border — a policy that in some case results in separating children from their illegal immigrant parents due to a settlement entered into in 1997 by the Clinton administration.

The protesters marched through MXDC Cocina Mexicana uninterrupted for 11 minutes, screaming things at Nielsen such as, “Shame, shame, shame,” “Fascist pig,” ‘End Texas concentration camps,” and “No borders, no walls, sanctuary for all.”

The protest was supported by many on the left, including an editor at The Washington Post and Valenti, a feminist writer who recently penned a New York Times op-ed telling conservative women they can’t be feminists. Valenti, who supposedly stands for the championing of women, described the harassment of Nielsen “VERY satisfying” to watch.

“She should never be able to show her face in public again,” she said.

So, according to this feminist writer who writes for the UK Guardian, harrassment and intimidation of women is OK, as long as the woman is conservative. Female conservatives and black conservatives seem to get the maximum level of hatred from people on the secular left. There’s nothing like this level of harrassment by conservatives. If we disagree with something, we write about it or vote against it. We don’t shoot you full of holes like the Bernie Sanders supporter did with the Republican legislators, and like the gun-wielding gay activist tried to do at the Family Research Council.

It wasn’t just the UK Guardian, either… it’s CNN, too:

CNN says that harassing women is totally OK, if they're conservative
CNN says that harassing women is totally OK, if they’re conservative

Another female conservative Joy Pullmann had a lot more details on the hate coming from the intolerant secular left. This is from The Federalist again:

A few weeks ago, this same local chapter of socialists, about 60 to 70 strong, marched down the middle of the street to the northern Virginia home of Lora Ries, who assisted the Trump transition team with homeland security policy and has worked for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They stood outside her home chanting things like: “No borders! No nation! F-ck deportation!” “Aqui estamos! No nos vamos!” (Spanish for “Here we are, we’re not going.”) “Lora Ries, you’re a villain, locking up immigrant children.” “No bans, no wall, sanctuary for all.”

[…]Meanwhile, activists have also begun a doxxing campaign to enable further aggressive social agitation against the homes, privacy, and careers of people who work for ICE and other federal officials.

The “activists” screen scraped LinkedIn to find all the people who enforce the border security, in order to publish their personal information. The goal was to make them easier targets for threats, violence, harassment, vandalism, etc.

Just to remind you, the last time something like this happened, it was the Southern Poverty Law Center publishing the address of the Family Research Council, a conservative think tank. The result was that a gay activists went into the building with a gun, with the goal of mass murdering everyone inside. He was later convicted of domestic terrorism. Nothing was ever done to the SPLC.

Speaking of gay activists, consider this article from the Daily Signal about the kinds of comments that Christians get when they decline to participate in same-sex weddings.

Excerpt:

We were penalized $135,000 for the “emotional damages” we caused by politely explaining our religious convictions and why we could not create a custom cake to celebrate a same-sex ceremony.

The outrageous magnitude of that penalty—based largely on the fact that we dared to quote in our business the scriptures we hold sacred—is, we think, the type of anti-religious bias Kennedy had in mind when he determined that Jack’s commissioners “violated the state’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint.”

We hope the justice system will undo the damage Avakian’s lack of respect and neutrality has inflicted upon us. When the government acts with hostility to someone’s religion or religious beliefs, citizens take that as license to treat one another with even greater hostility.

While Avakian was publicly judging our religious beliefs, Nicole B. voiced her opinion on Facebook: “I hope your shop burns and you never make another cake, wh—.”

Matthew M. wrote: “If being a Christian means being a prejudiced, stupid piece of s—, you both are great Christians!”

But Briana T.’s was one of the most painful to read: “We hope your children get cancer and die … . You are worthless.”

Beyond that, our business was shut down, our vehicles were vandalized, our home was broken into, and we have received more death threats than we care to count.

I was just reading a tweet by the Family Research Council on Twitter, and there are threats of violence in the replies by secularist leftists. Just in case you didn’t know, the FRC publishes research papers showing the benefits of natural marriage for children over other arrangements like cohabitation and same-sex relationships. That’s it, that’s how they got labeled a “hate group”.

Look at the reply to their tweet below:

Threats of violence against the FRC by secular leftists abound
Threats of violence against the FRC by secular leftists abound

Is this what normal rank-and-file secular leftists are like? Should we now think that everyone who identifies as a secular leftist is a potential domestic terrorist? They seem to all either be actively involved in this violence / vandalism / intimidation / harassment, or actively condoning it. They don’t make arguments. They don’t marshal evidence. They just make threats. They just shout and scream. They just vandalize. They just open fire on unarmed people that they disagree with. This is the secular left in America.

A modest proposal for dealing with illegal immigrants at the border

Net annual cost of illegal immigration
Net annual cost of illegal immigration: 116 billion per year (Source: FAIR)

I want to write about Christian apologetics and moral issues, but all the news is about illegal immigration. So I feel that I must address some of the endless stream of lies and misrepresentations of the problem coming from the mainstream media.

Here is a helpful article from the Daily Signal that corrects four of the myths:

During the White House press briefing Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said: “This is a very serious issue that has resulted after years and years of Congress not taking action.”

Here’s a look at four of the more questionable claims made about the enforcement action.

“The Democrats forced that law upon our nation,” Trump asserted last week.

Democrats, backed by some media commentators, counter that it’s not the law but a Trump administration policy.

Actually, experts say, the situation is a combination of a bipartisan law and a Clinton administration policy.

In 1997, the Clinton administration entered into something called the Flores Settlement Agreement, which ended a class action lawsuit first brought in the 1980s.

The settlement established a policy that the federal government would release unaccompanied minors from custody to their parents, relatives, or other caretakers after no more than 20 days, or, alternatively, determine the “least restrictive” setting for the child.

In a separate development, in 2008 the Democrat-controlled Congress approved bipartisan legislation to combat human trafficking and President George W. Bush, a Republican, signed it into law.

Section 235 (g) in that law, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, states that unaccompanied minors entering the United States must be transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement rather than to the Department of Homeland Security.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit expanded the Flores settlement in 2016 to include children brought to the country illegally by their parents.

For consistency between the provision of the anti-trafficking law and the 9th Circuit’s interpretation of the Flores agreement, children who came into the country illegally with parents had to be taken into HHS custody, said Art Arthur, former general counsel for Immigration and Naturalization Services (now known as Immigration and Customs Enforcement) as well as a former federal immigration judge.

“As soon as their parents are detained, the children are classified as unaccompanied,” Arthur, now a resident fellow for law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, told The Daily Signal.

Some media outlets have called the practice of separating children from parents at the border “unprecedented” or a “new low” for the United States.

That is the most important point that needs to be corrected. It’s important to note that families seeking asylum that enter the country legally are NOT separated. The separation is only for people with minors who enter the country ILLEGALLY and then are caught. But the main point is that everything the media is complaining about today was legal under the Obama administration. The only difference is that the media at that time had no interest in making Obama look bad.

Now for something very helpful for this problem. Oh, it’s true that Senator Ted Cruz has introduced a bill that would immediately solve the problem and prevent it from happening again. His solution drew the praise of moderate conservative David French, who normally doesn’t like Ted Cruz, and favors ending family separation at the border for those caught entering the country illegally.

But that’s not the only solution that’s been proposed. Here is John Zmirak’s solution, which he posted at The Stream.

He writes:

Since the law won’t let us hold children more than 10 days, and the squealing elites won’t let us separate them from the adults who claim to be their parents, we need a sane compromise. One that:

  • Respects our national sovereignty and the rule of law.
  • Keeps families together.
  • Lets our bishops go back to attending George Soros’ conferences. And
  • Most important of all, heals Laura Bush’s broken heart. Hasn’t that woman suffered enough?

My plan shifts the cost of this complex policy where it really belongs. It offers the people who clamor the loudest from illegal immigration (and profit from it more than most) the chance to also absorb its costs. In the words of Nicholas Nassim Taleb, we offer them the privilege of having some “skin in the game.”

Yes, Harvard and Yale of course. In fact, all the Ivies. (Yes, Cornell counts.) Also Brandeis, Stanford, Duke and even those state universities that flirt with “elite” status, such as UNC and UVA. Out of respect for Catholic bishops’ firm stance on these issues, major Catholic schools should also take part, such as Georgetown and DePaul University.

At each of these schools the comfortable, often lavish dormitories currently inhabited by students should be filled with migrant families. Students, for their part, will reside in tent cities constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

I’m having a lot of debates lately with stupid, spoiled progressive millennials. They don’t know anything about the world, and they never cite anything to back up their claims. They think that they can pay off the debt by taxing the productive, but they don’t know what the debt is, nor how much the productive pay in taxes. They think that universal health care will reduce health care costs, but they don’t know how much it costs in other countries. They think that illegal immigrants, who by definition CANNOT pay income taxes, would be a net gain to the economy because they pay more in taxes than they use in education, health care, etc.

I really can’t stand these stupid stupid young people. And that’s why I have to say that the Zmirak proposal has a lot more going for it than the Cruz proposal. We definitely need to put the costs of leftist compassion onto the leftists. Maybe we could also house illegal immigrants in the homes of religious leaders who have spoken out in favor of illegal immigration.

Scott Klusendorf discusses abortion and euthanasia at the Summit Forum

Scott Klusendorf, President of the Life Training Institute
Scott Klusendorf, President of the Life Training Institute

Here’s the video, featuring my favorite pro-life speakers Scott Klusendorf. Scott is the founder and President of the Life Training Institute. LTI’s mission is to make a rigorous, rational defense for pro-life positions with respect to a variety of ethical issues. If you listen to Scott, you will learn a lot, and learn it from someone who has been tested on the battlefield of ideas.

Three topics:

  • right to life of the unborn
  • reproductive technologies
  • end of life questions

40 minutes of guided discussion, 20 minutes of Q&A. This video was apparently recorded in the summer of 2016.

Abortion:

  • the 1-minute case for the pro-life position (excellent)
  • dealing with those who dismiss the pro-life case as religious
  • how and when do people win arguments?
  • how does one get better at discussing moral issues?
  • who are some of the best books to get informed about life issues?
  • what are some of the best books from the other side?
  • what is the SLED test? do pro-abortion scholars accept it?
  • if abortion were illegal, who should be punished and how much?
  • is it inflammatory and dangerous to say that abortion is killing?

Assisted reproductive technologies:

  • how should we speak to people considering ARTs?
  • what is the underlying issue in ART discussions?
  • should pro-lifers be opposed to all use of ARTs?
  • what should pro-lifers think about surrogacy?
  • which books provide an introduction to ART ethics?

End of life issues:

  • what is the central issue in end of life discussions?
  • should treatment always be continued or are there situations where treatment can be withdrawn?

Final issues:

  • if a student wants to take courses in bioethics, where should they go to take courses or do a degree?
  • what is the policy situation for pro-lifers in terms of legislation and SCOTUS decision-making?
  • what are some policies that pro-lifers can support as incremental measures that move the issue in the right direction?

I liked this discussion. I tried to listen as someone new to the issue and he did a good job of not assuming any prior knowledge of the debate. My favorite part was his survey of books and arguments on the other side, and what they say. I don’t think that most people realize what the implications of the pro-abortion worldview really are for things like infanticide, and so on. The discussion about who should be punished for abortion and how much was new to me – and that actually came up during the last election, during the GOP primary. Personally, I would let the woman get off, and just prosecute the doctor.

It’s very very good to listen to crystal clear thinking on these controversial issues from someone who has encountered the other side in their writings, and in public debates with them. Not to mention having to interact with people making decisions in these areas.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s progressive immigration policies threaten public safety

Russell Moore and Barack Obama
Russell Moore and Barack Obama

I have a confession to make. I have really been struggling with the Southern Baptist Conventions slide into liberalism, not just on moral issues, but on policy issues as well. The straw that broke the camel’s back for me is the SBC slide towards open borders. Thankfully, not everyone thinks it is “compassionate” to spend other people’s money and risk other people’s safety. The Heritage Foundation, my favorite think tank, is still taking the conservative view on immigration. And they do it by looking at the evidence of how open border policy is working out in other times and other places.

Here’s the latest on Germany from Robin Simcox, writing at the Daily Signal.

Excerpt:

Diana Feldman received an unusual text message from the phone of her 14-year-old daughter, Susanna, late last month.

Written in broken German, the message said she would be back home in a few weeks and that her mother should not try to find her.

Yet the message was not from Susanna. She had already been raped and strangled, and her body was dumped next to some railroad tracks in the city of Wiesbaden in western Germany.

[…]Ali Bashar, a 20-year-old Iraqi Kurd, entered Germany in October 2015 with his parents and was a blight from the beginning. According to the BBC, he was allegedly tied to a robbery, possession of a weapon, and sexual assault on an 11-year-old girl in the refugee shelter where he lived (and where he dealtdrugs).

Bashar’s asylum claim was rejected toward the end of 2016, but he was allowed to stay in the country while he appealed the decision.

Over 18 months later, when he killed Susanna, a decision on his appeal still had not been made. Days after his crime, Bashar and seven other members of his family returned to Iraq. However, he was tracked down by Kurdish authorities and extradited to Germany.

Bashar has since admitted to killing Susanna.

[…]Hussein Khavari arrived in Europe in January 2013. He proceeded to throw a woman over a cliff that summer in Corfu, Greece, and was subsequently imprisoned for 10 years in February 2014 for attempted murder. However, he was released after just 18 months, part of a government amnesty aimed at reducing strain on its overcrowded prisons.

Khavari journeyed on to Germany, where he arrived in November 2015, and claimed asylum the following February. He claimed to be a 17-year-old Afghan upon arrival, saying that his father had been killed fighting the Taliban.

In October 2016, Khavari raped and strangled Maria Ladenburger, a 19-year-old German student, in Freiburg, in southwest Germany. Khavari left his still-breathing victim to drown in a nearby river after his attack. He was sentenced to life in prison.

During his trial, it emerged that rather than being a 17-year-old fatherless Afghan, Khavari was a Iranian. His father was alive and well, living in Iran. Khavari’s asylum claim was also undecided at the time of Ladenburger’s killing.

Another case from southwest Germany, this time in Kandel, saw Mia Valentin, a 15-year-old girl, being stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend last December. The killer, Abdul D., came to Germany from Afghanistan in April 2016, claiming to be 14 years old. In reality, he is now 20.

Such stories—coming in the wake of the mass sexual assault of more than 1,000 women in Germany on New Year’s Eve of 2015—have a variety of consequences.

Now consider this article from June 2016 from the far-left National Public Radio, which is delighted with the new progressive policies of the SBC:

Matthew Soerens of the evangelical refugee resettlement group World Relief praised the move, noting that churchgoers of many religious denominations are eager to aid refugees, and are “strongly opposed to governmental efforts that would block their ability to be a part of this sort of ministry.”

Soerens says Donald Trump’s proposal to bar immigration from countries with a “proven history of terrorism” would likely keep out Christians and other religious minorities as well.

Got that? He wants to let in refugees from countries with a “proven history of terrorism”. The point about Christianity is a red herring, since almost none of the refugees admitted under Obama were Christians.

CNS News explains in this article from October, 2016:

The administration admitted a total of 12,587 Syrian refugees during the just-ended fiscal year, exceeding the target President Obama declared last fall by 2,587 (20.5 percent).

Of the 12,587, the vast majority are Sunni Muslims – 12,363 (98.2 percent) – while another 103 are identified in State Department Refugee Processing Center data simply as Muslims and a further 20 as Shi’a Muslims.

Sixty-eight of the 12,587 Syrian refugees (0.5 percent) are Christians. They comprise 16 Catholics, eight Orthodox, five Protestants, four Jehovah’s Witnesses, one Greek Orthodox, and 34 refugees self-identified simply as Christians.

The Bible says that rape and murder are wrong. Perhaps Southern Baptist leaders like Moore and Sorens are just more concerned with political expediency than sound theology.

Keep in mind that no one in the SBC has a real private sector job where they earn money in a competitive free market by providing goods and services. When they talk about letting in refugees, they aren’t going to be liable for the crimes and social costs (education, health care, public safety, etc.). That’s on you, the taxpayers. And on the little girls who are raped and murdered. The SBC is not primarily concerned about underage sex-trafficking gangs run by Pakistani Muslim immigrants. Their priority is feeling good and being liked. Meeting with Obama in the Oval Office and preening for the cameras and hearing the praises of the far-left mainstream media. They like to be seen as “compassionate” by spending other people’s money and risking other people’s safety.

Once again, I must mention that I myself am non-white, and I favor skilled immigrants from all races. I am in favor of naturalizing skilled immigrants who can keep a high-paying job, refrain from committing crimes, and who are barred from collecting from any social welfare program for some long period of time. But refugees and unskilled immigrants should not be put on a path to naturalization under any circumstances. If individuals want to help them, they are free to help them with acts of voluntary charity. I myself am more interested in funding pro-life, pro-marriage, apologetics, etc. efforts.