Does the Multiverse Theorem Solve “Fine-Tuning”?

I have have been exploring the observations around cosmic fine tuning, and I’ve explained the possible explanations for it are either:

  • Natural necessity
  • Chance or
  • Design

Given the incredible coincidences that Sir Fred Hoyle observed that makes nature life permitting, seems like an incredible assumption to say either that the universe HAS to be this way, or it just happened to be this way by chance.

To increase the odds for a finely tuned universe by chance, some have suggested that perhaps there are an infinite number of parallel universes, all with slightly different configurations of cosmological constants. If that is how things are, then there are just a few life permitting parallel universes in existence, and we happen to inhabit one of them.

SO – the universe is not designed by a designer (God). Rather, we just happen to inhabit a parallel (or bubble) universe that is life permitting. It was bound to happen some time, given the infinite number of parallel universes that exist.

I love Star Trek as much as the next guy. But – I don’t buy this idea. There are problems.

First – it seems to violate Occam’s Razor. William of Occam was a Franciscan Friar who observed an important problem solving principle. “Entities should not be multiplied without necessity.” In other words, when we look at the WHOLE problem, to identify the correct solution we should not make it more complicated than necessary. We should go with the simplest possible answer that meets the conditions reflected by the whole problem.

When we posit the multiverse, we are ignoring three simple solutions (chance, natural necessity and design) and positing a much much more complex solution. An infinite number of universes, and a mechanism for generating each one.

The multiverse theory would not violate Occam’s Razor if I can show that none of these simpler options work. But I’ve heard no one prove to me that a universe designed for life is impossible. So – until that happens, I’m going to be sceptical of a solution that’s just too complicated (the Multiverse theory).

Second – the multiverse theory requires that an impossible, infinite series of events has and will occur. An infinite number of universes will pop into existence. The problem here is another philosophical one. You cannot have an actually infinite number of events in the real world, although you can have the idea of an infinite number of events in your mind. Why?

Imagine you have laid out a line of dominoes and you start them dropping, one at a time. Each one knocks the next one over until you reach domino 1, which then knocks over the final domino 0. You can actually do this experiment if the number of dominoes is an absolute number (say N). You start at N, and drop the dominoes till you reach 0. But if N is infinite, then there are an infinite number of dominoes in the line. You will never reach dominoes 1 and then finally 0, because you cannot step through an infinite number of events one at a time in nature.

The multiverse theory posits the idea that an infinite number of universes have existed, and then another one pops into existence, and then another. Like dominoes 1 and 0. This does not make sense.

If there is a multiverse, then it must have had an absolute beginning, an ultimate origin, and a particular number of parallel universes have appeared. This idea has been confirmed by the Borde-Guthrie-Vilenkin theorem which requires an absolute beginning to an expanding universe. This would apply to one universe, or a parallel set of universes.

An infinite multiverse is logically and naturally incoherent.

Third – there is absolutely no empirical evidence that a multiverse exists. It’s a very cool idea that allows the rebooting of beloved franchises (Star Trek) in the real world. But nothing more. Worse, scientific methods cannot prove or disprove it. Therefore to try to solve the fine tuning problem by appealing to a baseless assumption sounds like a really bad idea!

Fourth – a universe generator still needs to be fine tuned. Right? Because there has to be an absolute starting point for a finite number of parallel universes, there has to be something that causes these universes to come into existence. This therefore pushes us back to the original problem. Why is the multiverse generator finely tuned to produce multiple universes?

Fifth – chance and natural necessity seem unlikely explanations for the multiverse generator. But a cosmic designer seems a much better explanation. And so we are back to God as the inference to the best explanation for the existence of the universes.

Summary

I don’t buy multiverse as a solution to the fine tuning problem, though I do accept it as a solution to the cinema, TV and literature problem…how do we keep this story moving forward?

How Can You Justify the Claim, “Nature is Fine Tuned for Life”

Can you reasonably claim that nature is fine-tuned for the existence of life? I’ve been discussing this question with some folks this week, and I’ve noticed that there’s some scepticism about this claim.

This is interesting to me as astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle discovered the “fine-tuning” phenomenon last century, and the tasks of scientists ever since has been to try to account for such a state of affairs. Can you claim the universe is fine-tuned for life? Yes.

 

What does “fine-tuned” mean?

It does NOT mean designed. This has been an area of confusion in my discussions. When I say the Universe is fine-tuned for life, I am not initially saying the universe is designed for life (tho I do go on to form an argument suggesting it is).

“The term ‘fine-tuning’ is used to characterize sensitive dependencies of facts or properties on the values of certain parameters.”[1] The parameters we are talking about here are the parameters that appear in three categories of nature:

  1. The laws of nature.
  2. The constants of nature.
  3. The initial conditions of the universe.

In all three categories, there is a very sensitive dependency on many values in nature relating to the existence of carbon-based, biological life. These are just highly specific settings in nature, just numbers. These numbers are not set by natural laws, they are numbers discovered by scientists that operate and setup these laws.

Fine-tuned does not mean designed. It means set up in a highly particular and dependent way

 

Is “fine-tuning” Controversial Among Scientists Today?

It seems that most scientists concede that the universe is setup to support life. This is not a controversial topic. For example:

The late Stephen Hawking – “The laws of nature form a system that is extremely fine-tuned … [o]ur universe and its laws appear to have a design that both is tailor-made to support us, and if we are to exist, leaves little room for alteration.”[2]

Freeman Dyson – “The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming.”[3]

 

What is the evidence for “fine-tuning”?

There’s a lot of evidence in nature for fine-tuning. Much of it appears in some amazing coincidences that appear in nature. One example is the formation of the carbon atom in the heart of stars. Carbon is the building block for life in the universe.

Hoyle realised that carbon should not, under nuclear physics, be able to form. That is, unless there was an amazing resonance that just “happens” to prolong the lifetime of an unstable beryllium nucleus for 1 hundred billion billionths of a second, long enough for the chemical reaction to proceed and for Carbon to be the result. If it wasn’t for the fact that nuclear resonance exists at just the right energy, there would be virtually no carbon in the universe, so probably no life.[4]

Hoyle went on to describe a series of surprising “put up jobs,” coincidences that occur in nature. There are many, many of these. If these coincidences did not occur, then this would change the basic parameters of physics, and this would prove lethal to life. It’s worth pointing out the following.

First – physicists cannot create an alternative universe with alternative cosmological constants. We have to view the universe from our vantage point within it, not outside. However, the point about the mathematical predictability OF the universe is, we can observe the effect of a possible change to the constants in the mathematical equations themselves. And the results are startling. “The cliché that ‘life is balanced on a knife edge’ is a staggering understatement – no knife in the universe could have an edge that fine.”[5]

As scientist Paul Davis has said, you can claim that these parameter values are simply a given, “but that attitude seems a bit unsatisfactory. We can certainly imagine a universe in which [the constants are set differently]. The facts that the value[s] … are just right for life (like Goldilocks’ porridge) cries out for an explanation.”[6]

Second – there are over thirty of these fine-tuned parameters. Not all are life dependent, but many of them are.

 

 

What if the fine-tuning is Controlled Be Another Super-Law?

Someone might just say, once physicists discover an overall theory of everything (TOE) then the fine-tuning problem goes away. The TOE will explain the fine-tuning.

Will it? If a TOE is found (and there’s no guarantee it will be) then won’t that just shift the subject under discussion? It will no longer be, “Why are the parameters finely tuned for life?” Instead it will be, “Why is the TOE fine tuned to set the cosmological constants in the parameters that lead to life?” In other words, a glorious TOE would bring together the physical laws under one theory, but it won’t explain there is such a state of affairs in the first place. The “why” question remains open.

 

Couldn’t the Universe Just Have Looked Different If It Had Different Cosmological Constants?

Could other laws permit other life forms? If the fine tuning looked different, could other types of life be evident? Possibly! But that’s not really the point. The point to draw from the finely tuned cosmological constants is that the region of life permitting values in nature is incredibly small compared to all the possible values for these parameters in nature. And this state of affairs cries out for an explanation.

But am I just presupposing that life must be as it is, because that is what we have to work with? Isn’t it possible that life would simply have been different if the coincidences had lined up a different way in nature? We wouldn’t have carbon based life, we would have had some other form of life?

One problem with this idea is that many of the fine-tuned cosmological constants do not require carbon-based life. Yet there appears to be careful dependencies between the many cosmological constants that set up different aspects of the universe’s ability to support life. For example, Robin Collins observes the cosmological constant, which controls the formation of stars. “If the cosmological constant were much larger … no stars could exist. Without stars, however, there would be no stable energy sources for complex material systems of any sort to evolve. So, all the fine-tuning argument presupposes is … [life] in our universe require[s] some stable energy source.”[7] So we aren’t just saying here that the laws determine the form of carbon based life we are familiar with, but rather that the overall finely tuned system of nature is setup very particularly to form any type of life that could exist at all. The universe isn’t just finely-tuned for us … but for any kind of life.

Besides, whether or not we are comfortable with the idea of fine tuning, we must be careful about playing the “science fiction card” to avoid its implications. “Any genesis of life we consider must be based in science, not science fiction. Any universe in which life can arise must provide the conditions for the storage and processing of information; a thin soup of only hydrogen and helium simply does not provide this.”[8]

 

Conclusion

The universe is finely-tuned to support the existence of life.

Why? Well, there appear to be 3 options:

  • Natural necessity (it had to be that way and there’s no reason)
  • Chance (we are lucky it is this way)
  • Design (it is intentionally this way)

Hoyle’s famous quote gives you his knee-jerk “why” response to his discovery of fine-tuning:

“Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly miniscule. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”[9]

[1] Fine-Tuning, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, published 22nd August, 2017, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fine-tuning/.

[2] Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam, 2010), 161-162, quoted in Melissa Cain Travis, “Science and the Mind of the Maker”, (Eugine: Harvest House Publishers, 2018), loc 847.

[3] Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe, (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 250, quoted in Melissa Cain Travis, “Science and the Mind of the Maker”, (Eugine: Harvest House Publishers, 2018), loc 847.

[4] Paul Davies, The Goldilocks Enigma, (London: Penguin Books, 2006), 153-155, summarised.

[5] Davies, 170.

[6] Davies, 157.

[7] William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2012), 276.

[8] Lewis and Barnes, A Fortunate Universe, 13, quoted in Melissa Cain Travis, “Science and the Mind of the Maker”, (Eugine: Harvest House Publishers, 2018), loc 896.

[9] Fred Hoyle, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Hoyle.

It is the Most Spiritual of All The Trek Movies

A vast cloud has been detected in outer space, and it’s heading toward Earth. Every being who has crossed its path has been lost. Admiral James Tiberius Kirk sees in this crisis an opportunity to escape a tedious desk job, and get back to his first love. Hopping galaxies in the star ship he used to call home.

So begins Star Trek the Motion Picture (TMP), which is – to my mind – the most spiritually aware of all the classic Trek movies. It’s also probably the most “Star Trek” of those films, because it touches on themes that affect us all. No, it doesn’t have “God” in it, or the famous line “What does God need with a star ship?” That’s left to the inferior Star Trek V. But the spiritual themes are more mature and deeply embedded in this first one.

During the torturous pre-production period for TMP, the Paramount Studio executives reportedly urged Gene Rodenberry to elevate the story to religious sorts of levels. They didn’t want a swash buckling Star Trek on the big screen. They wanted 2001 a Space Odyssey, a thoughtful and inspiring tale.[1] Right or wrong, I think that’s kind of what they produced.

It is forty years since TMP was released. I vividly remember going to see it in Glasgow during Christmas 1979. Of being amazed by how incredible it looked, but confused by the different feel to the TV Show I loved. Yet even as a youngster, I sensed the weighty themes at play in this movie.

So – what spiritual themes are found here? Someone might say – “It was just slow. It dragged. It was boring. Just like church is.” Well, that’s not quite what I was thinking of.

The Need to Know Who We Came From

It turns out that the cloud threat, V’Ger, is heading to Earth. But not to destroy it. Rather, V’Ger is travelling vast distances to meet with and to eventually join with its creator. Spoiler alert – V’Ger is actually NASA’s Voyager 6 probe, repurposed by a distant and advanced civilisation that made it sentient and sent it home again.

There’s a sense in which mankind’s religions have a similar aim. It is the attempt of the individual to somehow reach and to understand the greater reality, the one who is responsible for us being here in the first place or some state of ultimate spiritual fulfilment. So many people want to somehow relating to this bigger reality that has to do with where they came from. In the TV cut of TMP, Commander Decker actually says that V’Ger has done what people do, it has make God in their own image.[2]

The Need to Become, So That We Can Know

As the star ship Enterprise intercepts the cloud, V’Ger has to take the form of a member of the Enterprise bridge crew in order to engage and interact with Kirk, Spock, Bones and the rest. They lose their bridge officer, Lieutenant Ilia, only for her to return again in a slightly different form. While taking a shower. Go figure!

By using Ilea, V’Ger trying to understand and engage with the crew of the Enterprise, to learn everything it can, becoming like them so that it can know and understand more. V’Ger has to change itself, and take on something knew so it can know more.

The Need to Live a Significant Life

Admiral Kirk has been on his own quest, to recover past glories, and get back to his hearts deepest desires. Being Captain of a star ship. Yet in doing so, he finds that the Enterprise has changed. She’s not the same vessel she used to be.

Kirk has a need for fulfilment in life, of feeling that he is able to contribute in a significant way. Surely this is a longing within each of us? And it has similarities to the longings within V’Ger. Is this all I am? Is there nothing more? Kirk intuitively knows what he’s good at, and he wants to reclaim this position at all costs. Even if he must sacrifice other people to achieve it. Perhaps he realises that life is short, and in the end you need to spend the years you’ve got doing what you love, and doing something that makes a difference somehow?

The Journey to the Next Level of Life

Probably my favourite character arc is that of Spock. Kirk’s friend has been on a quest of his own for 10 years since we last saw him. His aim has been to finally purge all emotion from his life thru Kolinahr. And yet tragically Spock has failed in this quest. In an attempt to understand why, he realises that he must discover just what V’Ger is and what it’s aims are. And he uses the Enterprise and her crew to do that. But are his aims noble? Or … like Kirk may be doing … would he put his needs above those of others on the ship? It’s a fascinating tension there in the second act of the story.

Spock’s overall journey is one of abject failure which results in a reconnection with the people who had previously been his adopted family on board the star ship Enterprise. Spock finds what he needs in his interactions with V’Ger, and experiences a break thru from the failures and disappointments of the past into a new place of purpose and significance and belonging in his own life.

What about Bones? Sadly – he’s just along for the ride in this picture! What a shame.

The Need to Know and Be Known

V’Ger, has been travelling the universe learning all that can be known. Who cannot relate to the sense that there is so much that we do not know? But we have the urge to learn more. And what about so many big questions? Who am I and what is my purpose in life? I long to understand. Yet there is more. More than knowing answers, is actually being known by another. Personal intimacy is more important and vital than all the learning one can do, particularly with the one who originally created us.

 

The Themes

It turns out, Star Trek the Motion Picture is a story about knowing:

  • Knowing that you have managed to make contact with the person who created you
  • Changing to become like someone else so you can know what they are like.
  • Knowing what you want, and doing everything you can to get it.
  • Knowing that you have failed, and needing to find out whether you can move to the next stage of your life or not.
  • Coming to the realisation that knowing everything that can be known is not enough. The more important thing – is being known by the one that made you.

 

Christianity

It is fascinating for me then that, while TMP reflects human spirituality in its thematic structure, it is a very human form of religion we find there. Yet Christianity turns the tables on this very human search for meaning and knowledge. We might not realise it, but Christianity shows that it is not possible for the creature to restlessly reach for the greater thing. In the end it’s not mankind’s role to be like V’Ger, and seek to join with its creator. Actually it is the opposite. God comes looking for us instead.

Are Christians making God in our image here? Well, who would have imagined that the transcendent creator would stoop so low as to come in search of little me. It’s an absurd suggestion, it’s wonderful, it’s Christianity.

God wants to be known by me, and is willing to find us to let that happen. We are the people who have gotten lost and are in deep need of being rescued. God’s the one looking for us, not the other way around. He has the resources to become like us to find us, and to help us know what our purpose is in life. He can help us connect with him, to achieve what V’Ger, Kirk and Spock were all trying to get to. A life of true meaning, being known and loved for ever.

 

 

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”).” Matthew 1:23, NIV

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10, NIV

Though he was God,[a]
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges[b];
he took the humble position of a slave[c]
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,[d]
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:6-11, NLT

 

[1] They were also confused about whether they wanted a movie or a new TV series. Eventually, Star Trek Phase II was dropped in favour of a new movie in the wake of the success of Star Wars at the box office.

[2] “In Thy Image” is actually a title for a proposed episode for a new Star Trek series which never happened, and instead was used as an inspiration for TMP.

Rise of the Machines?

This summer, I had lunch with Doctor Mihretu Guta at Biola University. Mihretu specialises in the areas of metaphysics and the philosophy of mind. That particular day over lunch, he was speaking to us about his assessment of the field of artificial intelligence. And he has some fascinating observations to make here. You can listen to Mihretu talk about AI on Sean McDowell’s recent podcast.[1]

I would summarise his important points like this:

 

First – today we enjoy the benefits of weak AI.

We’ve got very useful computer based tools available to us today. Our phones incorporate facial recognition technology, self-driving cars are coming on line, we use SIRI to help us talk to and locate people, and we can order products from Amazon that get to us incredibly quickly. These are partly to do with computer tools, or weak AI.

What is weak AI? It is a machine which is fed an algorithm, a set of instructions that we gave it. It follows those instructions correctly, quickly and hopefully reliably!

By convention, we call these things AI. But these technologies are not thinking machines. They are not engaging in conscious thought. They are simply doing what we told them to do, and triggering on certain events to achieve certain tasks.

 

Second – strong AI is what some people are trying to get to.

In strong AI, people are talking about a conscious machine. Something that becomes creative and begins to spawn its own machines. But it is hard to see how you can get from a machine following an algorithm to a machine creating brand new algorithms out of its own creativity.

 

Third – we sometimes speak of weak AI like it is strong AI.

A confusion occurs in culture.

The AI we are talking about today is purely functional. It is doing tasks within a very specific context. It is not a thinking, creative machine that decides what it wants to do and works out its own way to do it. But – we begin to talk like it is. We import ideas from books and movies we like, and sometimes we fool ourselves that our cool gadgets are strong AI.

We may talk of strong AI, but there are issues to face when trying to create it:

1 – We are the thinking beings here, and we are the ones inventing machines. Thinking always requires a thinker to be somewhere. We therefore have ONTOLOGICIAL SUPERIORITY over machines. We are always the ones that built them.

2 – However clever our machines appear to be, they cannot take away from us our ontological superiority over them.

3 – Miharetu does not think people have a metaphysical property as rational beings to bring about a conscious being that is similar in kind to us.

4 – Miharetu is joined in this scepticism toward strong AI by John Searle, who is a naturalistic philosopher of mind. Searle also rejects the notion that we can invent a strong AI.

 

Fourth – an important step to strong AI is an understanding of consciousness.

We have to understand what consciousness is before we can create machines that are conscious. Yet no one is even thinking about this. He observes that the AI researchers today usually dismiss the subject of consciousness in 3 lines. They haven’t even tried to grapple with this area.

Part of the problem is that consciousness is something we have. It is deeply subjective and requires someone to be conscious. It is not something we can dissect from a third person perspective. Rather, it is something we experience. Thinking always requires a thinker.

Machines aren’t conscious. We cannot even articulate what our consciousness is, never mind imbue some machine with it.

 

Five – we are simply of a different order from our machines.

Whoever we are, we have the ability to navigate our way through life, following our own thoughts and ideas and intentions. We create opportunities and respond to events that occur from our own rational, creative and conscious selves. We have general intelligence. We live in our environment and we cope within it, we adjust. We establish a social network, we conduct our lives appropriately.

Machines are different order from us. They lack this general rationality. We give them rules to follow and they don’t think about it, they just do it. We are simply of a different order from them. We can build them to mimic human characteristics, but they are not thinking as they do so. They are simply following the instructions we programmed them with.

[1] Artificial Intelligence and Our View of Human Persons, Think Biblically Podcast, accessed 19th November 2019, https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/artificial-intelligence-our-view-human-persons-mihretu/id1300837524?i=1000453915653.

 

How Serious is the Skynet Threat?

You know there’s a new Terminator movie coming…right? How vulnerable are we to Skynet and the threat of dangerous, killer robots? I don’t mean the characters in a movie. I mean us. In real life?

Jeff Bezos says we are in a golden age of AI.[1] Who are we to disagree with him? His company Amazon are using cool AI techniques to get orders placed, processed, packed and delivered to us more quickly than ever before. It’s not just Amazon. Netflix use AI techniques to improve video quality while we binge our telly, and Uber use AI techniques to find a driver quickly. Actually…our lives are increasingly affected by AI. And – we are always looking forward to the next new and cool application of AI that brings us our next dopamine hit!

But are we actually at risk from the rise of the machines? Some people think so. The Way of the Future Church is about respectfully handing control of the planet from “people to people + machines.”[2] Clearly these people think people are CURRENTLY in control of the planet. Wow. The average natural disaster or unexpected occurrence in life might suggest otherwise.

I studied Computer Science as an undergraduate, and I’ve worked in embedded software as a developer and applications engineer for thirty years. I’ve loved the stories about sentient machines, but I’ve never thought we were at risk of ever seeing one. I love the AI techniques that make life easier for us. But I’ve never expected machines to take over from the people coding their algorithms. Am I right to think so?

Bob Marks, Director of Walter Bradley Institute and Distinguished Professor of Computer Engineering at Baylor University would agree with me. He defines AI as “anything we can do that is gee whiz with a computer.”[3] Are there things that a human can do that AI cannot? Absolutely. AI is a technology that is coded for by humans, and there are vitally important characteristics of humans that AI cannot share.

 

1 – Humans are Creative, AI Isn’t

In order to write code, the engineer must engage his creativity. The human experiences qualia, they are conscious as they design the latest clever algorithm. But creativity is not a trait that is codable for.

All computers conform to the Church-Turing thesis. This effectively means that computers today cannot do any more than they could do in the 1930s. What they CAN do…is do the same thing many billions of times faster than before. Computers execute pre-coded algorithms increasingly quickly. That is all.

For Skynet to rise, AI must be capable of coding smarter AIs, which in turn code smarter AIs. Only humans are creative in this way. AI isn’t.

But couldn’t AI become creative?

 

 

2 – What is Computer Creativity?

Marks says computers can’t become creative, and he appeals to the Lovelace test to explain why.[4]

If a computer program responds with an output that cannot be explained by the original actions of the computer programmer, then we can say the computer is displaying creativity. Studies have shown that computer programs can make surprising actions, but they always stick to the bounds of their programming. They don’t creatively develop new capabilities in the course of their operation. Computers follow the algorithms they have been coded to follow. You cannot code for creativity or consciousness.

 

3 – But What About Advanced Deep Learning, Neural Networks?

It sounds pretty short sighted to say AI can never be creative. Or is it?

We need move beyond fun fantasy and start to understand what it is the computers can and cannot do. I knew someone once who called computers “very fast idiots.” The most advanced deep learning neural networks that are being developed today are an example of his judgement.

By allowing a deep learning network to go over the game of GO again…and again…and again, it can get to the point of being able to soundly beat the GO world champion. Google’s AlphaGo did this convincingly, soundly winning a three match series.[5] But does that mean that AlphaGo is smarter than the human its playing? No – it means AlphaGo can play Go better than the human. That is all.

Think about it this way.

AlphaGo made surprising moves when playing Go…and these moves allowed it to win the matches. So – it was just doing what it was coded – and trained – to do. But is AlphaGo truly creative? If it asked for a drink, or made an insightful observation about its opponent’s financial situation between moves – these would be instances of AI creativity. But AlphaGo cannot do this.

Neural networks are not creative. They are good at dealing with specific tasks that display high levels of ergodicity. It’s trained to do a very specific task – to play Go. Nothing else.

For example, studies have been done around training them to recognise tanks. But you would never use them on a real battlefield. Why? Bob Marks explains that it turns out the networks spent more cycles learning about the landscape behind the tank than the tank itself! Also, the use is so very specific – that you could not trust it in constantly changing battlefield conditions. The computer algorithm is not conscious and it cannot explain what it is doing. Rather – it is following very specific, repeatable rules. When the situation changes and no longer matches the conditions trained for, the computer lacks any creativity to deal with this situation. Battlefields are all about changing situations! Neural networks would be instantly vulnerable to making bad decisions.

So much for Terminators.

 

4 – What About Quantum Computing?

These computers also obey the Church-Turing thesis. There’s no magic leap into conscious AI here.

 

5 – Will I Lose My Job?

Marks thinks this is possible for some people. But he also thinks this will give humans increased time to enjoy life and do more creative jobs that AIs are incapable of doing.

 

Conclusion

In summary, Marks reasonably concludes that while AIs will improve the quality of our lives, they will not pose any threat to us. Unless, of course, someone applies one of these dumb, non-creative machines in inappropriate ways! But then there’s nothing new there. It’s not Skynet that threatens us…its actually other people and ourselves.

 

 

[1] Jeff Bezos is Launching…, The Verge, updated Jan 17th, 2019, https://www.theverge.com/2019/1/17/18186481/amazon-remars-jeff-bezos-conference-ai-machine-learning-robotics-space.

[2] Way of the Future Church, http://www.wayofthefuture.church/.

[3] Computer Engineer Bob Marks Discusses the Perils and Promise of AI, Discovery Institute, September 4th, 2019, https://www.discovery.org/multimedia/audio/2019/09/computer-engineer-bob-marks-discusses-the-perils-and-promise-of-ai/.

[4] Ibid.

[5] AlphaGo Takes the series title, Wired, Thursday 25th May, 2017, https://www.wired.co.uk/article/deepmind-go-alphago-china-may-2017.

Challenging Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracies do happen. Lots of people think they are common. 71% of Americans think the government are hiding the truth about UFO’s, 9/11 was an inside job, and the Apollo moon landings (or at least the first one) was a hoax. But how likely are these conspiracy theories? And what logical tools can we use to explore them?

First – here’s a real conspiracy. On June 17th 1972, burglars were arrested in the Watergate complex in Washington DC. They were discovered to be part of a small group connected to President Nixon’s re-election campaign, seeking to wiretap phones and steal documents.[1] Conspiracies are about small groups of people attempting something immoral. Watergate failed because the group was exposed.

So – what about UFOs and the Apollo moon landings?

Ken Samples points to five questions we can ask of these claims to test the logical basis of the conspiracy claim.[2] These logical tools reveal the majority of conspiracy theories to be false.

1 – Does the theory hold together?

Does it have a solid foundation or is it contradictory? For example, think about the claim that aliens are visiting the planet. Given the vast distances that would have to be travelled, and the physical laws that would have to be overturned in order to achieve this, the theory starts to look contradictory. The facts required for the UFO government conspiracy don’t hold together.

 

2 – Does the theory comport with the facts?

Good theories don’t only fit with all the facts, they also tie them all together. The Watergate burglars were where they should not be, with wire tapping equipment, and one of them had the telephone number of Nixon’s government office. These are simply facts. But the theory that they are conspiring to steal information they should not lawfully have – ties these facts together.

A bad theory will reject some of the facts because they are inconvenient to the theory. For example, people who try to claim that the Jewish Holocaust did not happen during WW2 have to reject the data available from Jewish, Axis and Allied sources. They may mount a theory, but they will have to hide certain facts that the theory does not comport with.

 

3 – Does the theory avoid unwarranted assumptions?

Often when you start to investigate a bad theory, people make unwarranted claims to make the theory stand. For example, consider the claim that the Apollo moon landing was faked. The documented evidence shows that 400, 000 people were employed on Apollo and over 20,000 industrial firms and Universities were active in the enterprise. It was a massive undertaking in financial terms and man hours. It was also massive in the sheer number of people that had to be involved to make it happen.

If we are to claim that the astronauts did not reach the moon, then we have to make the assumption that all these people, or at least a significant proportion of them, were willing to keep this secret. But not just that, but they were all able to KEEP this secret in the face of jubilation around the world, and fifty years of celebrations. This starts to sound like an unwarranted assumption. After all, it would only take one person to crack … and the game would be up! Yet in fifty years, there has been no whisper of falsification by those actually involved. Just by people with a conspiracy axe to grind.

 

4 – How well does the theory handle counter evidence?

When counter evidence comes to light, how well does the conspiracy theory deal with this? For example, on the moon landing, how does the hoax theory cope with counter evidence like:

  • the photographic evidence from American and Chinese satellites showing the Apollo equipment remaining on the landing sites.
  • the bouncing of lasers off of instrumentation on the moon.
  • moon rocks.

 

5 – Is the theory open to falsification? If so, how?

Can a theory be proven false under certain circumstances? Or is it simply impossible to falsify it? Conspiracy theories tend NOT to be open to falsification. There is always another unwarranted assumption that stops the process of falsification.

However – a good theory IS open to falsification. This is one of the reasons that a good theory has rational weight. For example, if there was no connection between the Nixon government and the Watergate burglars, the conspiracy theory could have been quickly falsified.

 

 

Conclusion

It’s fun to kick conspiracy theories around. But when we put them through these logical filters – most of them drop out as false.

So – the next question is – what happens when we expose the theory that Jesus rose from the dead – to these logical tools? Well – the theory comes out to be a sound one. I’ll talk about that next.

[1] Watergate Scandal, History, accessed 29th August, 2019, https://www.history.com/topics/1970s/watergate.

[2] Logically Questioning Strange Ideas and Controversial Theories, Reasons to Believe, accessed 29th August, 2019, https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/reflections/read/reflections/2017/07/11/logically-questioning-strange-ideas-and-controversial-theories.

Replicants and Life Without God

Joi-Agent-K

It didn’t make much dollar at the box office. And neither did its predecessor. There are complaints that its too long. But then people complained the original was too slow.

Blade Runner 2049 is not short of critics…and plain old-fashioned apathy amongst the movie going public.

 

Full disclosure – I went to see this movie FOUR times at the cinema. Why? Because box office and buzz are not always good measures of an important movie. Sometimes the important movies come and go unnoticed…because their significance isn’t generally recognised. (e.g. Blade Runner…The Shawshank Redemption…etc)

 

So – why do I think the sequel to the original Blade Runner movie is significant? There are many reasons. I’m going to put my finger on one. And I will give some PLOT SPOILERS in the process.

 

Spoiler-Alert

 

 

Still here? Good.

 

The original Blade Runner focussed its narrative on REPLICANTS, artificial humans. Blade Runner 2049 continues this narrative. Only more so. In fact, the film’s protagonist – Agent K – is himself a replicant – there’s no mystery here…its revealed within the opening minutes of the movie. The story does this…partly because the healthy humans in this universe live in the off-world colonies…and this story is set on earth. But the deeper reason is because replicants help us – the viewing audience – understand ourselves.

What are replicants? They are sophisticated androids that are virtually indistinguishable from human beings. You’ve got to know what you’re looking for to spot a replicant. That’s why skilled Blade Runner units are required to track down the replicants of interest in society. It’s also why we in the audience can find ourselves empathising with these characters and their experiences.

I’ll go further than that. We don’t just empathise with the replicants. We recognize ourselves in them – not just in the choices they make, but in their ontology – what makes them “them”.

Replicants are material constructs…sophisticated biological mechanisms that serve a purpose amongst other sophisticated biological mechanisms. Yet they long to be more. Some long to live longer. Others long for their “lives” to be filled with deeper significance in fulfilling relationships.

Is this any different from the way so many people live their lives today?

People’s world view often has no place for God. Their naturalistic assumption is they are only physical, complex biological computers lacking an essence or soul. There were constructed in line with the physical laws laid down in our Universe. But they don’t transcend them in any way. This life is all there is. There’s no purpose or significance beyond it. Craig puts his finger on the inevitable consequences of such a world view:

“There is no God, and there is no immortality. And what is the consequence of this? It means that life itself is absurd. It means that the life we have is without ultimate significance, value, or purpose.”[1]

That’s why I find Blade Runner 2049 such a profoundly moving experience to watch. Because it shows “people” coming to terms with the reality of a meaningless, absurd life. And I think so many of us in the real world today are facing that same dark and hopeless discovery.

 

Longing for Meaningful Relationships:

Agent K’s treasures his girlfriend, Joi. She too is an artificial person. Yet she’s not physical – just a portable hologram that speaks encouraging and loving words to him. Perhaps there’s more to Joi because we see her devotion to K in her desire to experience a physical relationship with him. And also – to name K. There’s nothing so intimate with another person – than to share a special name. She names him Joe.

K tragically loses his precious Joi, that meaningful relationship comes to an abrupt end. In one truly heart-breaking moment, while reflecting on his loss, K watches an advert selling the Joi hologram product to prospective customers. And he suddenly realises that Joi’s special name for him – Joe – is just simply part of the standard package. All the Joi’s do it. There’s nothing special or unique after all about his Joi, and also his time with her because in reality he was simply using a mass produced product.

Here’s the reality for us today – if we view people as biological products – then I don’t think there’s any ultimate meaning to our existence. No ultimate meaning in relationships with other products. We just exist – interact. Anything that does occur – might seem important at the time. But because reality has no meaning – these experiences will therefore also have no ultimate meaning.

Yet there’s a drama in Blade Runner 2049…that mirrors the real world. K intuitively knows there’s more to it than that. K gives voice to the inner sense within us – the audience – that human beings are MORE than just biological products. We are people with potential – our lives have meaning – and that’s why we spend our lives looking for meaning. Outrage builds within us…no, there is more than this. I am more valuable than that!

 

Longing for a Purpose Greater than Ourselves:

The movie presents some grand and overarching concepts. Yet its final act suddenly narrows in and focusses down on a very personal mission.

Agent K tracks down Rick Deckard, who had been in exile since the events of the original movie. K finds an opportunity to achieve a bigger more important purpose with the rest of his “life”. Deckard has a child that he’s never met and known. Agent K decides he’s going to allow Deckard to finally meet and know his child…to build the real and meaningful relationship with them that he’s been longing for himself.

K essentially sacrifices his life – to allow Deckard to know his child. In a scene poignantly reminiscent of Rutger Hauer’s “Tears in Rain,” K saves and lifts Deckard to safety. But not just safety…to meaning and a future with the child he’s never met.

The significance of this task is unquestioned by K. That’s probably one reason why he’s willing to die to achieve it. In his last moments…do we see him praying in the snow? Or are his lips just moving as his system breaks down?

As an audience – we’re left reflecting on K’s selfless, heroic act. And we know that the outcome is worth the sacrifice. We intuitively know that there are some things in the world that are truly noble, some purposes that are greater than us. Reuniting families, restoring broken relationships is one of them.

 

Meaning and Purpose Because there’s a God:

In his press tour, I heard Harrison Ford describe the Blade Runner 2049 story as, “the triumph of the human spirit.” Personally, I’m more struck by its rage against the meaningless…the sense that ultimate value and meaning does exist in the universe, even though life seems to try and convince us otherwise.

And if that’s true – and I think it is – it’s only because there’s a transcendent person who is responsible for everything, who gives it meaning. A loving God who crafted us, who chooses to give the ultimate purpose and meaning that transcends our seemingly absurd lives.

I’d suggest that – if there are resonances within us that question, and rage against the seeming meaningless and absurdities of life…its because actually life isn’t absurd. There is a God with a purpose and plan for our own good. We aren’t biological products. We’re much loved children.

 

[1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, (), 72.

RESPONDblogs: T2 and the Free Will Dilemma

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I sat in a packed cinema tonight to watch the newly restored 4K/3D release of Terminator 2. I know this movie so well – its over 25 years old now – yet it looks and sounds like it was just made last week. I genuinely appreciated the 3D conversion on the film – combined with the new sound mix – it really brought out details that I’d simply never seen and heard before.

The experience has never been better. And the various messages contained within it have never seemed more relevant!

It struck me tonight that – this story is about free will. Specifically, the struggle to regain the free will that’s been lost. It vividly illustrates how important it is that people are given the option to choose our future, rather than have it cruelly and inevitably determined for us.

 

The Importance of FREEDOM in the Terminator Universe

John Connor is destined to lead the fight against the machines in the year 2029. There appears to be no choice for him in this. The machines will inevitably trigger the nuclear fire that will exterminate the majority of the human race – leaving John to lead the human resistance against them. This is a future that mankind is hurtling toward with no seeming hope of rescue.

But the movie doesn’t dwell so much on this future struggle. Rather, it focusses on the inevitable and impending nuclear holocaust we face in the here and now (actually…in the 1990s. T2 is now a period piece…). The movie asks whether or not this awful fate can be averted? And if so…how?

 

This is a story about the battle of wills – the machines against the humans – and the battle ground is free will vs determinism. The freedom to live one’s life and to make choices…verses the tyranny of a determined existence. I hesitate to call spoiler alert on a 25 year old movie…but spoiler alert if you’ve not seen it yet:

The future machine army is trying to regain their future freedom by sending back Robert Patrick’s T1000 Terminator to kill John Connor in the past (makes perfect sense to me). Using the T1000, they plan to be free of John’s annoying resistance.

Meanwhile, the core family of John, his mother Sarah Connor and Arnie’s ageing T101 fight for the present freedom of humanity. They are fighting to somehow achieve freedom from the inevitable, horrifying nuclear fire that…if it occurs…will act as a prelude to the future man-machine war that John will lead. Yet perhaps freedom from this impending future is possible? And if so – this could mean that the holocaust is averted and the machine uprising is prevented?

 

Everyone is trying to regain their freedom in this film. Does the family succeed? Perhaps – with the awful cost of Arnie’s T101. Man – this scene tugs at one’s heart strings even more in 3D!

 

The Importance of Freedom to the Christian Worldview

James Cameron’s T2  has endured for many reasons. One of them – is the theme of human freedom that runs deeply through it. “There’s no fate,” Sarah Connor carves in a tabletop. There’s no fate but what we make. The future’s not set. At least it shouldn’t be set…

This is all a very Christian perspective on life. We are made with free will, the Bible tells us. We are urged to choose a life of obedience to God and his ways, going all the way back to Adam in the garden. You’re free to eat from any tree…except that one, because the results will be bad for you.[1] But the fact Adam…and we are urged to obey, tacitly assumes we have a choice in the matter. We don’t have to and we’re free to choose. God doesn’t set the future for us. We are not determined – we are free.

 

Whether or not God knows who WILL choose to obey him in the end or not (Molinism) we are free to choose now…and rightly so. We are built to exercise our free wills.

 

That’s why movies like T2 resonate so strongly. That’s why news reports where people have their human rights curtailed – and their freedom denied to them – provoke such outrage in people. Freedom is a core human value

 

The Problem of Human Free Will and the Consequences to Evil

What a shame then that this world contains so many examples where people exercise their freedom to curtail and remove the freedom of others. Nations threaten and intimidate other nations by firing missiles at them. Individuals find themselves being trafficked as a sexual commodity that is bought and sold to the highest bidder. Populations are wiped out in genocide.

 

Why doesn’t God do something about it?

If he’s there…and he cares…wouldn’t he intervene and rescue the suffering people now? Wouldn’t a loving God step in? Not necessarily. God created us with free will. He clearly wants us to exercise it. He wants people to have the freedom to live their lives…whether those people accept him or reject him. He’s not interested in coercing us. Rather, He’s looking for those who freely choose him and his ways.

 

Clay Jones makes the point that, when people ask why God doesn’t intervene in this world, they are not considering the outcome of that sort of intervention. If God somehow supernaturally intervenes every time someone begins to outwork acts of evil…causing others to lose their freedom….life would be very different for all of us. Actually, no one would be free any more.[2]

 

Yet as T2 reminds us…freedom is part of the core of who we are. We demand it – and rightly so.

What does this mean?

 

Imagine you are sitting at home with your partner and children, working on your laptop, and a pornographic image flashes up in your web browser…with a link urging you to explore further. What do you do? Your family are sitting there with you. At that moment – your freedom is curtailed. You might want to explore further – but you cannot. You aren’t free to do so because of the negative impact this would surely have on your partner and your children at that moment.

 

Now – perhaps in this instance, that’s a good thing. You’ve been given an easy way out to avoid the pornography. But if you lived every moment of your life with the gaze of a controlling deity…you would not ever be free in ANYTHING.

 

So it would be if God intervened miraculously every time someone began to cruelly remove someone else’s freedom. Everyone would be forced to acknowledge God whether they wanted to, or not. We would resent being coerced into worshipping him.

But that’s not what God wants. That’s not the way God works. He gives enough evidence for people to find him and engage with him if they wish to. But he doesn’t give himself away too much. One reason is, He wants to protect our free will.

 

That’s not to say there won’t be a final accounting for our use of our free will…because the Bible warns of a final judgement when everything concealed will be revealed…when justice will be seen to be done by every person. We’re accounted to live once…and then there’s the judgement.[3] Judgement Day is real…but it’s not Cameron’s proposed nuclear fire. It happens subsequently. (Aside: 4Ward’s VFX work showing the nuclear fire consuming LA really SHINES in the new T2 release. Chilling…yet you have to watch it.)

 

But in the here and now, in the same way we are free to exercise our wills, God’s also free to exercise his. He is free NOT to intervene…to ensure our freedom in the here and now. Yet whether we like it or not…it seems that our future is bound up with him. There are positive and negative consequences to the free will choices that we make in our lives now.

 

Image courtesy of Phil Cooden, https://flic.kr/p/Xa4KbR.

[1] Genesis 2:16-17.

[2] Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil, (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2017), 109-158.

[3] Hebrews 9:27.

RESPONDblog: Christianity’s Not As Mysterious As You Think

I found myself at Vasquez Rocks National Park this weekend. Actually – this was completely intentional. I was hunting for a shooting location used by the makers of the Original Series of Star Trek from the 1960s. What can I tell you…? I’m nerdy like that.

The episode I was thinking of is called “Arena”; Captain Kirk finds himself facing the war like Gorn creature on the surface of an asteroid with a suspiciously “earth-like” atmosphere. Which is handy. A superior race, the Metrones, have decided that Kirk must fight his adversary to the death. Not so superior, eh? In reality – William Shatner was acting his socks off with a poor guy sweating in a green rubber suit.

I wanted to find the spot where their iconic battle happened. After all…I remember watching the episode as a child.

My strategy on arriving at Vasquez Rocks National Park was to launch myself “Kirk like” into the mysterious and rugged countryside…to explore various trails and various rock formations in the 35 degree heat. “That looks kinda familiar…maybe they filmed it there? Oh no – hang on – maybe it was here? Man…I’m hot.”

After an hour or so trudging around in the oven like heat…I returned to the visitors centre for a rest. I sensed that I hadn’t really found what I was looking for. Walking back to the car…I noticed a big sign that I had driven past an hour ago when I first entered the park. It read, “To the Rocks” – with a big arrow pointing up a well built road to my left.

Genius that I am – I asked myself – “Hang on. Why don’t I follow that arrow…and just drive up that road? I wonder what’s up there?” I jumped into the car…drove up the signposted road…and eventually arrived at a large visitors car park. Exiting the car…I looked around. I was already hot…but I was getting warmer. I recognised these rock formations.

I began chatting on Twitter with my friend Alan. I explained what I was doing and – very helpfully – he sent me an image of the Star Trek episode that showed the location I was looking for. I gulped at the image on my phone screen. Raising my head, I looked again at the entrance to the visitors car park I had just driven through.

Would you believe it?

Star Trek had filmed the iconic Gorn battle scene HERE – within the visitors car park at the end of the road!! Of course. With so much equipment…the lights and cameras transported by truck…the film crew needed a wide space to set things up. It made perfect sense to use the car park. It’s slightly disappointing to me though that the scene was captured…in a car park. This Star Trek episode has lost some of its mystique to me now…

On reflection – I made this trip much much harder for myself than it needed to be. I hadn’t actually rewatched the episode on Netflix before travelling to the location…I was working from memories and assumptions in my head about what the location looked like. Life would have been easier…if I’d just googled a picture first. Worse – when I arrived at the park…I didn’t follow the clear and obvious signage that was provided and staring me in the face! I decided to purposefully wander off into the countryside instead.

In the end…finding what I was looking for was really easy and straightforward. It just required me to look at the source material…and follow the obvious instructions that were available.

It occurred to me as I reflected on these hilarious mistakes, that this might not be too different from how many people approach Christianity. One friend…sceptical of Christianity… said to me recently, “Why don’t I get it like you, Stuart?”

Well – maybe its like me hunting for the iconic Kirk vs the Gorn location without watching the episode first? We’re relying on our half remembered ideas about what Christianity is about…but why don’t we just go back and look at what it actually IS all about? The life of Jesus as documented in the New Testament. How about we actually read what, say, the Gospel of Mark actually records that Jesus said and did?

Further, so many people I’ve spoken to assume that the claims of Christianity are unreliable today. Their starting assumption is that the history of Christianity is very complicated…and so one needs to dig really deeply to work out what actually happened to cause the Christian church 2000 years ago. And frankly – that is too much work for most people. Well – perhaps we are missing the clear and obvious signpost that is staring us right in the face? We’ve dived off into the countryside…and come up with nothing useful as a result. And we’ve probably given up. Instead – why don’t we come back to the starting point and follow the clear signage that has been provided to lead us to what we’re looking for? Stop assuming its hard and complicated – and just follow the road and see where it takes us?

You know, historians have identified that the oldest and so the earliest description of Christian belief is recorded in 1 Corinthians 15. There’s an ancient creed written there in this letter that predates all of the layer gospel biographies of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) by decades. The creed itself may date to just a few months after Jesus’ crucifixion…capturing what the first Christians stood for. This is the clear and obvious signage that I’m talking about. What does it say?

“that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born”

1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV

It’s not complicated. Its laid out clearly. Just follow the signpost. Jesus was raised from the dead – this fact was widely accepted and assumed by both friends and enemies of Christianity during the 1st century. The first Jesus followers worked to help other people become friends and followers of this Jesus too. He was crucified on a cross, but he’s not a dead, ancient figure of history. He’s a vital and real person who is still alive today.

So why don’t we get this? Possibly because…we think we know better. Can I suggest to you…from experience…that we don’t know better. Christianity is worth “getting”. It really is. And it’s not hard to do. It just requires us to lay aside our wrong thinking…and follow the evidence provided.

As I drove away from Vasquez Rocks and pointed my car to home, I laughed out loud as I joined highway I-14. What did I find funny? You can actually plainly see the Star Trek shooting location as you drive up the highway! It’s SO obvious. It’s clearly laid out for all to see…it’s not mysterious..not hidden away in some obscure spot in the desert.

All you have to do to find what you need…is first not convince yourself that finding it is just too hard. And second, follow those signs that point to Jesus Christ.

RESPONDblog: Galaxy Quest + My Limited Worldview

The movie Galaxy Quest tells the story of a group of washed up actors, tired and bored of living with the enduring fandom around their old space opera TV show from 20 years ago. It introduces us to Jason Nesmith, the actor who played the captain on the NSEA Protector space ship in the space opera. And he’s signing autographs at a fan convention…when suddenly and finally he explodes in a “Shatner-istic, get a life” way. Who does he explode at? Branden – a geeky fan who is asking for an autograph, while also pressing him on a tricky episode plot hole that Nesmith couldn’t care less about.
Nesmith roasts him.

“It’s just a TV show. You got it?!”

The movie also tells the story of a group of alien beings – the Thermians – who have been watching Nesmith’s old TV Show from outer space…and have come to believe that the stories told in the show are actually real, rather than just hokey entertainment.

Now, in addition to their viewing habits, we learn the peace loving Thermians are facing an oppressive and controlling space gangster called Sarris who wants to oppress them. They fear Sarris…yet are actually quite technologically advanced. So they decide to emulate their heroes on the TV show and build an advanced space ship to fight Sarris…and they make the ship look and behave just like the NSEA Protector.

They make it work in exactly the same way as the ship on the show. So…the computer will only work if the girl on the bridge repeats all the data the computer provides the bridge team. And the controls for the ship’s pilot are laid out just as the actor playing the pilot pretended to fly the ship.

BUT – the Thermians have a problem – they cannot use their cool spaceship technology to defeat Sarris. They are smart enough to build their ship. They aren’t brave enough to use it.

Their solution? They decide to naively travel to earth…find their heroes from their favourite space TV show…and take them back to their planet to pilot the ship and defeat Sarris for them! After all…these guys are their heroes…and have defeated evil many times on the show. They’ve watched it on their equivalent of TV. They think its all real.

And for some cool and interesting reasons – read pride and boredom here – Nesmith and his crazy, LA based actors from the cast say “yes” to the Thermians’ request…and travel to their alien planet to man the new and very real NSEA Protector space ship. What they don’t bank on, however, is the very real jeopardy this puts them in. And so these actors must work out a way to cope in this conflict…and survive.

I’ve been sitting in a class at BIOLA University taught by PhD professor John Mark Reynolds this week. And he reminded me of the coolest part of Galaxy Quest.

What’s the coolest part?

During their conflict with Sarris – Nesmith and his crew find themselves running through the bowels of the ship to find the engine room…so they they can diffuse the reactor and stop the ship from exploding. While doing this, they realise that – in the course of the original TV show run – they never did an episode of the show where they visited the bowels of the NSEA Protector. So – they have no idea where to go to find the reactor to diffuse it. Worse – they have no idea what do do if and when they get there.

That’s a big problem. So what do they do?

Genius idea. They contact the geeky kid Branden that Nesmith roasted during the fan convention at the start of the movie. The kid who had grown up watching the show, who bought and pored over the deck plans of the NSEA Protector. Who knew this show and the ship inside out.

Nesmith contacts Branden…but before he can ask him for help finding the engine room…Branden stops him. Not realising the very real jeopardy Nesmith is in, Branden blurts out…”Look. About the convention. I know its just a TV show. I understand completely that’s its just a TV show. There is no ship…I’m not a complete brain-case…you know?”

And Nesmith responds with three words that transform Branden’s life.

“It’s all real.”

And without hesitation…and with a whoop of confident delight…Branden explodes. “I knew it. I just knew it!!!”

Here’s what’s cool about this scene. It poses a question to us.

What if my settled view of reality…actually is more about me just settling for a narrow perspective…the little bit that I understand. And dismissing the notion that there is so much more to know! Right now – I simply don’t fully understand everything that could be known about life and reality. But there’s a future awaiting me…

Further – what if that future reality is bigger…and more amazing than I could understand today. What if it truly is bursting with goodness, with truth and beauty in a way that I’ve yet to know on this planet…so its greater than I can fully comprehend right now. So much so…that when I finally DO experience it…I might just go slack jawed…and then burst with something like…

“I knew it!! I just knew it.”

Just like Branden.

And maybe then we will reflect back…and remember. We had a suspicion that there was more to life than just this one…we had this inner sense of it…maybe from our time as a child. But we’ve grown up since then. We’ve allowed other people to convince us otherwise. We’ve cooperated as others have systematically robbed us of our hope for ultimate goodness, truth and beauty.

What a shame that has happened.

One day – we will know. We will know it for ourselves in a fresh and wonderful way. And we’ll just exclaim, “You know what? I knew it!”

I’m looking forward to the day when I begin to really experience the full wonder of creation. In the here and now…I’m living in just a fraction of it…I sense that that’s true. But there is SO much more to come in the reality that’s to come.

Why do I think that? Well…because there’s this person in history called Jesus who transformed the world with his goodness, his beauty and the truth he brought to this planet. His beauty…in what he did and said. And it all culminated in his defeat of death and his invitation to join him in the bigger reality that is to come. This points to a future reality, a bigger sense of knowing reality as it truly is in all its goodness, its truth and its beauty…in a sense that I can only imagine today.

What a shame so many of us have been duped into thinking that our narrow view of the world is the right and only one…when we haven’t given ourselves the chance to consider that there is so much more that is awaiting us.

Do you know what? My anticipation is rising…there’s going to be a whoop of delight that’s going to burst out of me that day when I see that which I confidently expect to see in the reality to come with Jesus.

I knew it. I just knew it…!