Our sun is less than halfway through its life. It formed 4.5 billion years ago, but itʼs got 6 billion more years before the fuel runs out.
—Martin Rees, professor of cosmology & astrophysics, Trinity College and the University of Cambridge
Many people [who accept evolution] think we humans are the culmination, the end part of the process, but no astronomer accepts that because one thing we do learn in astronomy is that the universe has more time ahead of it than itʼs had up till now. I mean the sun has been shining for four and a half billion years and it will go on for another six billion so the sun is only halfway through its life and the universe may go on forever. As Woody Allen said, “Eternity is very long especially toward the end.” And so thereʼs plenty of time, and so the message I draw from that is that evolution may not be even at the halfway stage, and any creatures that witness the demise of the sun in six billion years time, they wonʼt be humans, theyʼll be as different from us as we are from a dog, because the time between now and then is even greater. And you can make that statement even stronger because evolution in the past has happened on the timescale of Darwinian natural selection, a few million years for species to evolve and become extinct, whereas future evolution here on earth, and of course even more so if communities move away from the earth into space, is going to take place on the technological time scale, within a few generations any people living away from the earth will use all the resources of genetic understanding to modify their descendants to adapt to that alien world. And so the post-human era will begin, the human species will diversify, and that could happen in a few centuries. And so weʼve not only got as much time lying in the future as weʼve had in the past, but evolution controlled by humans or their descendants (and their descendants may be organic, they may be machines) will be much much much faster. And so to answer your question of what special message astronomy gives me, it gives me the message that… we are not the end, we are the century that will determine what happens in the far distant future. We could snuff ourselves out, on the other hand we could see the initiation of a post-human era here on earth and far beyond.
—Astronomer Royal of the United Kingdom, Martin Rees (he describes himself as a practicing Christian who doesnʼt actually believe) Emeritus Prof. of Cosmology and Astrophysics, Univ. of Cambridge, interviewed on The 7th Avenue Project, KUSP, central coast public radio, Oct. 14, 2012
Another version of the Martin Rees quotation:
Astronomers have a special perspective on the far future, for reasons I can explain quickly. The stupendous time spans of the evolutionary past are now part of common culture — except, maybe, in the US Bible Belt, and in parts of the Islamic world. But most people still somehow think that humans are the culmination of the evolutionary tree. That hardly seems credible to astronomers. Our Sun formed 4.5 billion years ago, but itʼs got 6 billion more before the fuel runs out. It then flares up, engulfing the inner planets. And the expanding universe will continue — perhaps forever — destined to become ever colder, ever emptier. To quote Woody Allen, eternity is very long, especially towards the end. Post-human evolution — here on Earth and far beyond — could be as prolonged as the Darwinian evolution thatʼs led to us — and even more wonderful. And of course evolution is even faster now than it was when it was governed by natural selection — intelligent species can use genetic technology, and perhaps machines will take over.
Quotations from Paul Davies on God the universe and everything, including cancer:
I am not comfortable answering the question “Why do you believe in God?” because you havenʼt defined “God”. In any case, as a scientist, I prefer not to deal in “belief” but rather in the usefulness of concepts. I am sure I donʼt believe in any sort of god with which most readers of your article would identify.
I do, however, assume (along with all scientists) that there is a rational and intelligible scheme of things that we uncover through scientific investigation. I am uncomfortable even being linked with “a god” because of the vast baggage that this term implies (a being with a mind, able to act on matter within time, making decisions, etc).
I want to stay away from a pre-existing cosmic magician who is there within time, for all eternity, and then brings the universe into being as part of a preconceived plan. I think thatʼs just a naive, silly idea that doesnʼt fit the leanings of most theologians these days and doesnʼt fit the scientific facts. I donʼt want that. Thatʼs a horrible idea. But I see no reason why there canʼt be a teleological component in the evolution of the universe, which includes things like meaning and purpose. So instead of appealing to something outside the universe — a completely unexplained being — Iʼm talking about something that emerges within the universe. Itʼs a more natural view. Weʼre trying to construct a picture of the universe which is based thoroughly on science but where there is still room for something like meaning and purpose. So people can see their own individual lives as part of a grand cosmic scheme that has some meaning to it. Weʼre not just, as Steven Weinberg would say, pointless accidents in a universe that has no meaning or purpose. I think we can do better than that.
We can — if we try hard enough — come up with a complete explanation of existence from within the universe, without appealing to something mystical or magical lying beyond it. I think the scientists who are anti-God but appeal to unexplained sets of laws or an unexplained multiverse are just as much at fault as a naive theist who says thereʼs a mysterious, unexplained God.
Perhaps we have reached a fundamental impasse dictated by the limits of the human intellect.
If future scientists are human beings, they may be stuck with the same problems that we have. The way we think, the way we like to analyze problems, the categories that we define — like cause and effect, space-time and matter, meaning and purpose — are really human categories that cannot be separated from our evolutionary heritage. We have to face up to the fact that there may be fundamental limitations just from the way our brains have been put together. So we could have reached our own human limits. But that doesnʼt mean there arenʼt intelligent systems somewhere in the universe, maybe some time in the future, that could ultimately come to understand. Ultimately, it may not be living intelligence or embodied intelligence but some sort of intelligent information-processing system that could become omniscient and fill the entire universe. Thatʼs a grand vision that I rather like. Whether itʼs true or not is another matter entirely.
Both religion and science appeal to some agency outside the universe to explain its lawlike order. Dumping the problem in the lap of a pre-existing designer is no explanation at all, as it merely begs the question of who designed the designer. But appealing to a host of unseen universes and a set of unexplained meta-laws is scarcely any better… I propose instead that the laws are more like computer software: programs being run on the great cosmic computer. They emerge with the universe at the big bang and are inherent in it, not stamped on it from without like a makerʼs mark. Man-made computers are limited in their performance by finite processing speed and memory. So, too, the cosmic computer is limited in power by its age and the finite speed of light. Seth Lloyd, an engineer at MIT, has calculated how many bits of information the observable universe has processed since the big bang. The answer is one followed by 122 zeros. Crucially, however, the limit was smaller in the past because the universe was younger. Just after the big bang, when the basic properties of the universe were being forged, its information capacity was so restricted that the consequences would have been profound. Hereʼs why. If a law is a truly exact mathematical relationship, it requires infinite information to specify it. In my opinion, however, no law can apply to a level of precision finer than all the information in the universe can express. Infinitely precise laws are an extreme idealization with no shred of real world justification. In the first split second of cosmic existence, the laws must therefore have been seriously fuzzy. Then, as the information content of the universe climbed, the laws focused and homed in on the life-encouraging form we observe today. But the flaws in the laws left enough wiggle room for the universe to engineer its own bio-friendliness. Thus, three centuries after Newton, symmetry is restored: the laws explain the universe even as the universe explains the laws. If there is an ultimate meaning to existence, as I believe is the case, the answer is to be found within nature, not beyond it. The universe might indeed be a fix, but if so, it has fixed itself.
Yes, the universe looks like a fix. But that doesnʼt mean that a god fixed it.
We will never explain the cosmos by taking on faith either divinity or physical laws. True meaning is to be found within nature.
In science, a healthy skepticism is a professional necessity, whereas in religion, having belief without evidence is regarded as a virtue.
Cancer cells come pre-programmed to execute a well-defined cascade of changes, seemingly designed to facilitate both their enhanced survival and their dissemination through the bloodstream. There is even an air of conspiracy in the way that tumors use chemical signals to create cancer-friendly niches in remote organs… It will be in the convergence of evolutionary biology, developmental biology and cancer biology that the answer to cancer will lie. Nor will this confluence be a one-way street.
(End of quotations from Paul Davies)
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