|The Physics of Christianity by Frank Tipler, Doubleday $27.50,
ISBN 9780385514248 E
HALFWAY through Frank Tipler's new book, I scanned the table of contents
and was disappointed to find there would be no explanation of the recently
appearance of Mother Teresa's image on a cheese Danish in Nashville,
Tennessee. That was surprising, since Tipler goes out of his way to provide
convoluted physics justifications for similar Christian miracles, including
the image of Jesus on the Turin shroud, long debunked as a forgery by many
experts. When conventional physics doesn't provide a sufficient explanation
for the religious phenomenon in question, Tipler reinvents it.
"I do not think that he intended to pervert reality - but he has"
As a collection of half-truths and exaggerations, I am tempted to describe
Tipler's new book as nonsense - but that would be unfair to the concept of
nonsense. It is far more dangerous than mere nonsense, because Tipler's
reasonable descriptions of various aspects of modem physics, combined with
his respectable research pedigree, give the persuasive illusion that he is
describing what the laws of physics imply. He is not. This book provides
an object lesson in the dangers of pushing science beyond its domain of validity
and using scientific approximations as if they are completely valid in all
contexts. Indeed, while he complains several times that other physicists
let their philosophical prejudices influence their conclusions, Tipler has
clearly let his own desires get the better of him.
Based on personal experience, I believe that Frank Tipler is an honourable
man and I do not think that he intended to pervert reality to serve his goals
- but nevertheless he has. 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.
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.
When stretching the limits of knowledge beyond the pale doesn't suffice,
Tipler resorts to some interesting a posteriori uses of probability. For
example, he argues that the resurrection of Jesus occurred when the atoms
in his body spontaneously decayed into neutrinos and antineutrinos which
later converted back into atoms to reconstitute him. Here Tipler invokes
the fact that within the standard model of particle physics the decay of
protons and neutrons is possible, although he recognises that such decay
would likely take 50 to 100 orders of magnitude longer than the current age
of the universe: thus, the probability of such an occurrence is essentially
zero. However, using a strange "Christian" version of the anthropic
principle, a subject he once co-authored a book about, he then claims that
without Jesus's resurrection, our universe could not exist - therefore, when
one convolves this requirement with the almost, but not exactly zero, a priori
probability, the net result is a near certainty. I have racked my brains
to think of a more extreme example of uncritical and unsubstantiated arguments
put into print by an intelligent professional scientist, but I cannot. Given
some of the junk that has been published in the past decade, that's saying
a lot. I urge potential readers who may feel the need to seek out some empirical
justification for their faith to bestow a kindness on Professor Tipler and
turn to another book with either better science, or better theology.
Lawrence Krauss is Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics and Astronomy
and director of the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and
Astrophysics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. His most
recent book is Hiding in the Mirror (Penguin, 2006)
12 May 2007 NewScientist