The Physics of Bronze Age Mythology

Normally, when one sees a book title of the form The Physics of Imaginary Thing X, the implication is that X (Star Trek, superheroes, the Buffyverse, etc.) is being compared to the real world in order to illuminate how the real world works in a fun and memorable way. What would it take for warp drive to work, and how much energy is required to o’erleap a tall building in a single bound? If, as they often are, the movies are horribly wrong, can we use that wrongness to explain what is right?

Plenty of possible titles exist for future works in the same genre, but it looks like Frank Tipler has taken the matzo with his latest:

The Physics of Christianity.

Unfortunately, Tipler didn’t write a book in the pattern of The English History of Shakespeare or The Geography of Homer. Instead, he effectively took Star Trek and argued that because science-y words could be slung around to make warp drive sound possible, everything on the show must be true!

That’s apologetics for you.

According to Victor Stenger, The Physics of Christianity delivers more of the same Omega Point stuff woo-watchers have grown to know (if not exactly love). If Christianity is really about a singular state of infinite computational power in the distant future of the Universe, well, the Pope is royally screwed. And couldn’t our holy scriptures have taken at least a little time off from giving detailed instructions for genocide to say a few things like, “All matter is made of atoms,” “Germs cause disease” or “Check out the redshift on those distant galaxies”?

Lawrence Krauss points out that Tipler’s physics varies between out of date and just mistaken.

Tipler, for example, claims that the standard model of particle physics is complete and exact. It isn’t. He claims that we have a clear and consistent theory of quantum gravity. We don’t. He claims that the universe must recollapse. It doesn’t have to, and all evidence thus far suggests that it won’t. He argues that we understand the nature of dark energy. We don’t. He argues that we know why there is more matter than antimatter in the universe. We don’t. I could go on, but you get the point…

I’ve added some links for additional reading. These are all, I venture to say, mistakes which any physics undergraduate could catch. Indeed, they should be apparent to lay readers who have kept up with any physics or astronomy of the last ten years.

Why is this sort of nonsense not laughed into obscurity? Ah, yes, it’s that last word in the title. What powers it has, to quell the mind and blunt the spirit.

4 thoughts on “The Physics of Bronze Age Mythology”

  1. As I posted over at CosmicVariance, Prof. Tipler has been bemoaning over at NRO and PajamasMedia that Postmodernism (ie intellectual laziness) has infected Physics as deeply as, say, English literature departments. He blames condensed matter folks with stiffling the inquisitiveness of undergraduate and graduate students in GR and HEP, by not making either a hard and fast requirement for a degree.

    Love to hear your thoughts

  2. (guffaw)

    As far as the undergraduate part goes, I only have direct experience with one program (MIT), and the problem there wasn’t intellectual laziness or a predisposition to condensed matter physics. No, the problem was that you couldn’t get any damn sleep your whole junior year.

    In fact, looking back on it, I think the professors I had as an undergraduate did a pretty good job “cheating,” that is, introducing subjects like GR and HEP in broad strokes before we had the full mathematical apparatus one normally relies upon when working in those fields. There seemed almost to have been a great sport among professors to see who could take the undergrads closest to the edge of current research. I was in the second year of students to take Barton Zwiebach’s string theory class, the one which became the book, and that was not a time for intellectual laziness.

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