String Theory and Heaven

I hadn’t heard much about Dinesh D’Souza since the Reagan era when for some mysterious reason his views were widely promoted in the media. He has continued since then to play the role (supposedly according to the New York Times Magazine) of “one of America’s most influential conservative thinkers.” His last book was The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and its Responsibility for 9/11, and he has a new one out called Life After Death: The Evidence. In a recent magazine interview he explains the main thesis of the book, that string theory has vindicated Christian theology by proving the existence of heaven and hell (they’re out there in the multiverse somewhere).

How might science explain heaven and hell as places that could exist?

Scientists now posit through string theory the presence of multiple realms, multiple dimensions. One of the implications of the big bang is that space and time had a beginning, and that space and time are properties of our universe. If that’s true, then outside our universe or beyond our universe, there would be different laws of space and time, or no space and no time.

The idea that our universe may not be the only one and that there may be other universes operating according to different laws is now coming into the mainstream of modern physics. So the Christian concept of eternity, which is God outside of space and time, is rendered completely intelligible. It opens up possibilities that would have seemed far-fetched even for science fiction a century ago.

Update: Here’s the link to the interview: String Theory and Heaven.

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30 Responses to String Theory and Heaven

  1. Pawl says:

    Boldly going where angels fear to tread.

  2. andy.s says:

    Of course Christianity posits only 3 universes, ours, Heaven and Hell(*). This is more parsimonious than 10^500, making Christianity more likely than string theory.

    I wonder what the vacuum state for hell is?

    —————————
    (*)Limbo and Purgatory being submanifolds of Hell proper.

  3. point says:

    You’d better behave yourself, Peter, or you might get sent to a universe with branes, supersymmetry and a negative cosmological constant.

  4. Geoff says:

    It is completely obvious from reading scripture that the vacuum state for heaven must be calculated using the Bogolubov transformation. As any self respecting Christian will tell you, Bogolubov is Russian for God’s love. It is equally obvious that the vacuum state for hell is ill defined since hell is clearly expanding and thus creating new damned souls 🙂

  5. Rutger says:

    There is nothing new about claims like this, see the ‘physics vs eastern philosophy’ craze a while back. Further, I bet there are people who have written that the standard model proves there is no god/1 god/many gods. To suggest that string theory is the only theory to fall foul of these types of wild extrapolations is not quite fair (not fair and balanced? :)).

  6. It’s good to have a laugh 🙂 The tragedy is the influence some people have and give an aberrant picture of reality. Very often, not the truth matters but the perception of things.

  7. Bob Levine says:

    ” …So the Christian concept of eternity, which is God outside of space and time, is rendered completely intelligible.”

    What I find bizarre is that D’Souza seems to think that the existence of multiple subuniverses, corresponding to all those different vacuum states, somehow implies that the contents of at least some of those universes are exempt from causal relationships (‘outside of space and time’). Is there any reason whatever to believe that string-based models of the ‘landscape’ include such oases of noncausal being?

  8. Alejandro Rivero says:

    The main difference between Kaluza Klein and Modern String Theory is that the former is a theory of “needed extra dimensions”, while the later is a theory of “wasted extra dimensions”. Given that there is no role for the extra dimensions in string theory, this proposal is as good as any other. Any conceptual vacuum, g-d fills it.

  9. andy.s says:

    Damnation : i.e. |Mortal Sin>, is one of the eigenstates of a person’s wave function (which layman refer to as a ‘soul’).

    Other eigenstates: |Original Sin>, |Grace>, |Venal Sin>.

  10. Stephen says:

    All this may sound ridiculous, but I find the following sentences meaningful:

    “outside our universe or beyond our universe, there would be different laws of space and time, or no space and no time.”

    “So the Christian concept of eternity, which is God outside of space and time, is rendered completely intelligible.”

    One may argue about the word “completely”, but the line of reasoning is actually showing that a concept which was very mysterious in theology, becomes illuminated by modern physics in a beautiful way.

    However this is not new, and it has nothing to do with string theory but just with other concepts, such as general relativity and the possibility of having theories with coupling constants which take different values from the ones that we observe.

  11. Chris Oakley says:

    andy.s,

    Not to be pedantic, but what you say is only true in the Heisenberg Picture as

    |Mortal Sin ⟩ = exp(iH’ t) |Original Sin ⟩

    where H’ is the unperturbed Hamiltonian plus a deviation towards wickedness (obviously t = Day of Judgement here). In the Schrödinger Picture, they are the same ket, measured at different times.

  12. Yatima says:

    Sounds like a schizophrenic is free-associating on the couch. Charming.

    Dante has been in that general vicinity a long time ago anyway, with his universe a 3-sphere, hell at one end, and heaven at the opposite end: http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.11968

  13. h says:

    As any Hindu can tell you, you are all (not even?) wrong.
    The world is flat, and is supported on the back of a turtle,
    which swims in an infinite sea, which resides in … the multiverse?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtles_all_the_way_down

    Why be Christian and die only once?
    As a Hindu you can have multiple lives and visit the entire multiverse!

  14. Barry Cunningham says:

    This just reflects the fact that even the flat-earthers have noticed what many others have known for a long time: string theory is a religion. The only wrinkle is that since they believe there is only one true religion, they think it must be theirs.

  15. Scerny says:

    Sorry Peter, this will be totally off topic, but of interest:

    Does anyone know what happened to Lubos Motl’s blog? Currently it’s down, blogspot saying the blog can not be found.

    Scerny Pvrizek

  16. Tim vB says:

    You can justify Christianity by conventional physics, you don’t need string theory:

    The-Physics-of-Christianity

    One thing I don’t understand is: Do the authors expect every Christian to get a physics Ph.D.? Or may true believers just believe without understanding anything of the scientific foundations of their religion?

  17. Koray says:

    If physics tells us that there may be other universes, it still doesn’t render “God outside of space and time” completely intelligible just as “outside of Houston, Texas” doesn’t mean somewhere else in Texas, or the US, or the earth.

  18. Hal Porter says:

    As a non physicist, does string theory posit an immortal soul that wafts off to another universe after we shuffle off this mortal coil?

    And what are the implications for the trinity, the virgin birth, and the rising of the dead after the great shout.

    Rattle my bones and tie them together with strings!

  19. anon says:

    D’Souza has published a book after “The Enemy At Home” and before “Life After Death”. It was called “What’s So Great About Christianity”. I read it, and I thought it was very good, and I don’t even believe Christianity. I also don’t have the same political views as D’Souza; mine are libertarian, which D’Souza rejects. Dinesh D’Souza is a very serious thinker, and it is unwise to discuss him dismissively. I haven’t read “Life After Death”, but my concern is that Woit’s original entry might not accurately describe the main thesis of the book.

  20. Bob Levine says:

    “Dinesh D’Souza is a very serious thinker, and it is unwise to discuss him dismissively. I haven’t read “Life After Death”, but my concern is that Woit’s original entry might not accurately describe the main thesis of the book.”

    Anon, just look at the content of what D’Souza says in the passage Peter quotes. The theory that D’Souza explicitly refers to, and which he takes to be synonymous with ‘Science’, is, like all other physical theories, a statement of a set of constraints on dynamical variables defined in terms of space and time. The ‘multiple universes’ D’Souza alludes to are just those possibilities which conform to those constraints. And D’Souza believes that among the members of this set of possibilities conforming to those constraints, there will be at least one which is subject to NO constraints on (entities definined in terms of) space and time, since there supposedly is *no* space or time in this member of the set of universes. Serious or not, what kind of thinking is involved here?

  21. Peter Woit says:

    anon,

    I’ve added the link to the full interview of D’Souza, which I forgot to include when I originally wrote this posting.

    As to questions like that of whether D’Souza is a serious thinker or an idiot, my preference is to let people read for themselves what he has to say, and make up their own minds. To me personally, this seems like an open-and-shut case…

  22. luny says:

    A cursory reading of the bible shows God is not “outside space and time”. He creates the world, messes around all kinds of people to “test them” (Adam+Eve,Job,Abraham,…), realizes humanity is going to the dogs, floods the world after arranging an ark, and finally sends his son to save humanity.
    He might be on a different brane, but his timeline is the same as ours

  23. anon says:

    I think it’s a mistake to underestimate D’Souza’s intellect, or to describe him in a mocking or dismissive way, but I suspect that you, and many other physicists, will be predictably hostile to D’Souza without even doing a serious reading of his work. There are, however, two factual errors in the blog post. One is about which book was his last one. The second is about the “main thesis” of his newest book. The publisher’s description is:

    “Drawing on some of the most powerful theories and trends in physics, evolutionary biology, science, philosophy, and psychology, D Souza shows why the atheist critique of immortality is irrational and draws the striking conclusion that it is reasonable to believe in life after death. He concludes by showing how life after death can give depth and significance to this life, a path to happiness, and reason for hope.”

    The main thesis of the book is that it is reasonable to believe in life after death. Using ideas from string theory to defend that main thesis is only a small part of the book’s contents.

  24. Peter Woit says:

    anon,

    My apologies about any inaccuracies. I haven’t read the book, but I did read the full interview with D’Souza that I linked to and quoted from. He goes on there in a way that makes clear that he has no understanding at all of what he is talking about. That he has written a book claiming that the “cultural left” is responsible for 9/11 just seems to me additional evidence that he’s an idiot. Maybe he’s only an idiot on some days, a serious intellect on others. Those who believe this are welcome to investigate the rest of his writings.

  25. anon says:

    I’ve read “The Enemy At Home”, and it isn’t his best book, but it’s not a complete joke either. It had some parts I found convincing, others not so much. The title they chose for that book is not a very good one, and not very representative of the contents of most of the book. Regnery often has a lot of input about the books they publish and how they are marketed, and I suspect that it might have been their choice of title, perhaps to help sell the book to consumers of an “anti left” political persuasion. I certainly have many disagreements with D’Souza, but I don’t regret reading his books. I doubt you’ll read his book, but none of his books that I’ve read are simple or bad enough to warrant a quick ad-hominem dismissal.

  26. Peter wrote:
    >Maybe he’s [d’Souza] only an idiot on some days, a serious intellect on others.

    Peter, I’ve followed his career for a long time: let’s just say he is no dumber than Limbaugh.

    Seriously, I’ve seen him give a good speech (on C-SPAN), good timing, some funny lines. And, being an ignoramus on science is probably par for the course for political pundits (cf. Gore’s comment on the earth’s core temperature).

    The country is full of guys with emphatic political or cultural opinions who have broad public platforms (Tom Friedman, Deepak Chopra) but who are not exactly experts (or even literate) in any real field of scholarship. To give a recent example, CNN a couple weeks ago had Bill Nye “the Science Guy” on as an expert on global warming (for whatever it is worth, Nye believes in global warming, although he could not say anything coherent about the actual science).

    D’Souza may be no worse than the others.

    Dave Miler in Sacramento

  27. anon wrote:
    > [N]one of his books that I’ve read are simple or bad enough to warrant a quick ad-hominem dismissal.

    Please contact Dinesh’s publisher and offer that comment as a blurb for his next book.

    Dave

  28. Eric Baird says:

    If a “broad” interpretation of Multiverse theory allowed Heaven and Hell to be out there somewhere, then presumably it’d also have to allow Valhalla, Zeus’s Great Hall atop Mount Olympus, the Elysian Fields, Samsara, Tian, and every other religion’s special places.

    So the mainstream Christian idea that there’s only one true God, and only one way to get salvation, would be kinda broken.

  29. Tim vB says:

    When I read the interview Mr. D’Souza lost me with the very first point he tried to make: The concept of hell contradicts Freud hypothesis that religion may be explained by wishful thinking. Nobody likes the concept of hell? If there is a life after death, what happens with all the bad guys that lived rich and happy lives on earth? Surely you want them to be punished?! So of course you need a concept like hell if you want to sell your idea of a live after death!
    Mr. D’Souza may have oversimplified his ideas, after all it is an interview – but he failed to convince me that he has anything interesting to say about religion or

  30. Tim vB says:

    …philosophy, and he proved that he does not understand theoretical physics at all…
    (I accidentally submitted my comment before I had finished…)

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