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Throughout the past decade popular opinion has developed the perception that religion and science are very much at odds. While science has definitely shook the roots of certain concepts of individual religions, science also has something significant to say in support of a supernatural creator. The anthropic principle is one of the most popular evidences used by modern physics to rationalize faith in their respective religions. Essentially, the anthropic principle is an observation in modern physics and philosophy that shows the improbability of certain conditions of the universe that are either necessary for the existence of complex life or the existence of the universe itself. There are many examples of this “fine-tuning” in the universe in the various physical constants.
One example of this fine tuning can be seen in the entropy of the universe. Entropy is a concept of statistical mechanics that basically defines the complexity of a system. Quantitatively, the entropy of a system is related to the total number of configurations that a system can have. For simplicities sake, one can think of entropy as the amount of “chaos” in a system. The second law of thermodynamics states that the total entropy of an isolated system will generally increase over time. This means that overall a system will generally move from order (low entropy) to chaos (high entropy). Unfortunately, many theists misapply the second law of thermodynamics to evolution, when they could correctly apply this theory to the entropy of the universe. In order for complex life to emerge, it is necessary for the universe to begin in a low entropy state. The probability of a chance low entropy universe is estimated to be as small as 10^10^123 to one. As a point of reference there are estimated to be 10^50 atoms in the observable universe. Assuming the set of possible universes have equally distributed configurations of entropy, only a tiny fraction of these could possibly result in a universe that resembles the one we have today. The only two explanations could be a Creator, or a multiverse.
The fine tuning of the universe can also be seen in the cosmological constants found in the laws of physics. “If the gravitational constant (G) or weak force constant (gw) varied from their values by an exceedingly small fraction (higher or lower)—even just one part in 10^50 (.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001)—then either the universe would have suffered a catastrophic collapse or would have exploded throughout its expansion, both options of which would have prevented the emergence and development of any life form. This cannot be reasonably explained by pure chance.”
“If the strong nuclear force constant were higher than its value (15) by only 2%, there would be no hydrogen in the universe (and therefore no nuclear fuel or water—this would have prohibited life). If, on the other hand, the strong nuclear force constant had been 2% lower than its value then no element heavier than hydrogen could have emerged in the universe (helium, carbon, etc). This would have been equally detrimental to the development of life. This “anthropic coincidence” also seems to lie beyond the boundaries of pure chance.”
“If the gravitational constant, electromagnetism, or the “proton mass relative to the electron mass” varied from their values by only a tiny fraction (higher or lower), than all stars would be either blue giants or red dwarfs. These kinds of stars would not emit the proper kind of heat and light for a long enough period to allow for the emergence, development, and complexification of life forms. Again, these “anthropic coincidences” are beyond pure chance occurrence.”
“If the weak force constant had been slightly smaller or larger than its value, then supernovae explosions would never have occurred. If these explosions had not occurred, there would be no carbon, iron, or earth-like planets.”
These examples of the anthropic coincidence apply specifically to the existence of the universe, however, other examples exist that pertain to the existence of carbon based life. Specifically, the elements of oxygen, carbon, helium, and beryllium needing the precise values and ratios to allow for carbon binding and other chemical reactions necessary for life.
It appears that there is significant evidence that shows a single chance universe is exceedingly improbable, but that is obviously not what most atheist physicists claim today. Today’s naturalists theorize the the universe arose either from a multiverse or that it simply never had a beginning.
The most popular naturalistic explanation for the fine tuning of the universe is the multiverse. While there are many different unrelated theories for how a multiverse might manifest itself the idea is that a multiverse allows for many “attempts” (potentially infinite) at obtaining the values necessary for the universe and intelligent life to emerge. There are several candidates for multiverse theories, but most atheists counter the anthropic coincidence with the multiverse that could arise as the result of string theory. This multiverse is of course reliant on string theory, which is already highly controversial and questionable. The only testable predictions of string theory as a physical theory occur at extremely high energy levels, so it won’t be experimentally verified or disproven any time soon. The only real evidence that supports string theory is the “mathematical elegance” of the theory. Essentially, some modern equations in physics like Einsteins famous E=mc^2 can be derived from the equations of string theory. So while the evidence for string theory as a physical model is very weak, for the moment we will give it the benefit of the doubt. The equations of string theory have many different solutions that give rise to a landscape of possible universes. Combining modern theories of inflation with string theory create a massive landscape of possible universes. While there is some disagreement on the size of this landscape of possible universes, it is somewhere between 10^50 and 10^500 possible configurations.
Two main problems exist with this multiverse as an explanation for the anthropic principle. First, the multiverse described by simply does not provide enough configurations to completely explain the fine tuning of the universe. Sure, 10^500 is a massive number. But it cannot explain the cumulative probabilities of each of the fundamental constants of the universe. The second issue is all of the controversy surrounding string theory itself as a physical theory, and the fact that string theory itself doesn’t directly suggest the existence of a multiverse, it only allows for it.
The only two viable explanations for the anthropic principle are a multiverse, or intelligent design. In my opinion, there is not enough evidence to believe in a multiverse. While it is questionable whether intelligent design and many of the worlds religions were dreamt up by humans, it is certain that the multiverse was dreamt up by them.
Conventional ideas of free will are ingrained in every aspect of our culture. This intuitive assumption, has such far reaching implications that few dare publicly challenge the assumption. However, science and philosophy have a good deal more to say against free will for it, and enough research eventually reveals that the very definition of free will is more ambiguous than one might assume.
Physics is a science ruled by equations and models that paint a picture of a deterministic universe. Early thinkers believed that given enough information, one could calculate future events with perfect accuracy. However, this supposition was eventually proven to be false. Quantum mechanics has completely changed the way philosophers view the development of the universe. Quantum mechanics shows amongst other things that at tiny scales particles exist in superposition states and their movements are government by probabilities in the form of a wave function. Many believe that quantum mechanics opens the door again for free will. However, the introduction of randomness into a system does not equate to choice. If one orders a “random” item from a menu, they did not choose that item. For this reason quantum mechanics has little bearing on the question of free will, though it does support the indeterministic universe. One can therefore choose to ignore quantum mechanics. Without quantum mechanics, the universe would be entirely classical and strictly deterministic. This means that the entire development of the universe could be perfectly predicted given its initial state. This strict determinism is entirely not compatible with free will.
Biology also has much to say about free will. Most researchers believe that human behaviors are in essence a product of their genes (what they were born with) and their circumstances (the events that influenced them growing up). Neither of these phenomenon are directly chosen by the subject, therefore they are not making choices in any other aspect of their lives. The choice is pre-determined given a set of genes and circumstances (debatably with some randomness due to quantum mechanical actions in the brain).
Neuroscience is one of the leading subjects of research related to free will. One of the most controversial experiments related to this is the Libet experiment. In the original experiment, a subject was asked to make a movement at a time of their choosing. The subject would also report the time on a clock when they first felt the conscious intention to move. Libet found that by watching electrical impulses in the brain, he could identify when the subject was going to move around a half second before they had consciously made the decision. This implies that people don’t consciously make decisions, but instead peoples consciousness simply receives the decisions made by the unconscious brain. Assuming this experiment and its many reproductions are accurate, consciousness is simply an observer of the events determined by physics.
Little scientific evidence is available that supports free will. However, modern philosophy has somewhat shifted the controversy to the definition of free will. Most scientists essentially agree on the mechanics and scientific data available, however, they disagree on whether the product should be considered free will or not. Many would say that just because an action is pre-determined does not mean that it was not chosen. Just because a person would always make the same decision given a set of circumstances does not necessarily mean they didn’t choose that course of action. This strain of thought is known as compatibilism, the idea that determinism and free will are not mutually exclusive. While this doesn’t sit well with my intuition, I haven’t yet fully formed an opinion on compatibilism. Overall though, science strongly implies that conventional free will is impossible.
It seems like every day the news is reporting on cyber security. Whether it be millions of stolen credit cards or the nefarious actions of a government agency cyber security has far reaching implications on the public majority. Also, increasingly greater numbers of everyday devices and modern essentials like banking are connected to the cloud, making the impact of potential hacks more widespread. This prevalence brings up the question: what can the average citizen do to avoid being compromised by a hacker?
Unfortunately, if a person is being specifically targeted by an even semi-skilled attacker, there is little they can do. The Department of Defense once reported to over 300,000 security breaches over a month. If the DoD can’t protect itself against advanced threats, than neither can the average citizen. However, average citizens are usually not targeted by hackers. The main threats facing the general population are automated bots, social engineering, and malware, not the actual hackers.
Antivirus is a good defense against malware. While it probably won’t be able to catch a custom payload, well known viruses and worms can usually be caught or clean by antivirus software. Antivirus is usually behind the curve as far as new malware is concerned, but even if someone is infected, the antivirus provider can usually update their software with functionality capable of removing the virus. Unfortunately, antivirus provides almost no protection against a semi-advanced threat.
Perhaps the most important defense for the average person is software updates. Most automated hacking bots rely on known exploits to compromise systems. Automatic updating ensures that a system will be safe within days of an exploit being discovered. This provides an effective defense against automated systems, though it will not protect against a hacker who is specifically targeting an organization or individual.
Passwords are the centerpiece of most secure systems but are also one of the most common weaknesses. Password cracking is generally achieved with massive wordlists of the most common passwords. Some wordlists of a few million passwords are supposed to contain almost 50% of the populations passwords. A password should never be shorter than 8 characters to avoid being brute forced, and people should specifically verify that the passwords they choose aren’t in any popular wordlist. This password issue is extended by the fact that many people leave the default passwords in various systems. It is surprisingly often that someone leaves their default router password or a system administrator never changes the passwords for a service like SSH or FTP. These passwords will surely be cracked in second with any wordlist.
Another common issue is that many people use the same passwords for multiple services. Oftentimes an attacker will compromise a lower security site and extract the passwords. These passwords can then be applied to more critical places like banking and email. If someone uses the same password for multiple services, that password is only as secure as the weakest link. Email compromise is especially problematic because attackers can use it to change or access passwords on other sites. One vulnerability that many people forget about is the security questions that many websites provide if a user forgets their password. More often than not the answers to questions about someone’s mothers middle name or street address can be found on facebook or the internet. Users should if possible use custom security questions that do not pertain to publically available information.
The final and probably most prevalent security issue affecting the average person is social engineering. Attackers will craft custom emails with malicious links or create sites with fake login pages. There is no limit to what an attacker might attempt this way and it is up to the users to be perceptive enough to avoid malicious content.
Relative pitch is the ability to distinguish between pitch intervals. Unlike perfect pitch, it can be developed to a degree though arguably most people will never be capable of reaching the highest levels of perception. I have one of the higher levels of relative pitch, and have had it to a degree since I was 7. I’m not sure if I was born with the ability or if it somehow developed in a short time span while I was young. While my abilities have steadily improved over the years, they have overall been relatively consistent. My abilities are developed enough that people often mistake my relative pitch for perfect pitch.
Traditionally, relative pitch is thought of as the ability to recognize intervals, but I find the ability goes much deeper than that some cases. I think it is better described as the ability to hear “numbers” of sound. Any song is in a key that has 12 notes in it, these notes are relative to the fundamental pitch of the key. While someone with perfect pitch will know the literal note names of each note, (A, Bb C etc.) someone with relative pitch will know the “number” of the note in the key (I, III, IV etc.). For example, in the key of C the II is D and the V is G. Someone with perfect pitch hears C and G while someone with relative pitch hears I and V. The advantage of perfect pitch is that the person can identify specific notes without any reference to a key. The advantage of relative pitch is that the person can identify the notes of a song independent of the key. This means a person with perfect pitch can by ear play a song in the exact key, while a person with relative pitch can play by ear in any key, but without necessarily knowing the original key. Overall perfect pitch is more precise and relative pitch is more flexible.
One common use of relative pitch is the ability to recognize chord patterns. While most pop songs contain different notes and chord letters someone with relative pitch might recognize that almost all songs are built from the same relative chord patterns. This means that many pop songs if translated to a single key will contain the same chords. This ability is especially useful in my life because it allows me to play by ear along with a band without referencing a chord chart. I am also able to transpose effortlessly because certain tonal qualities seem consistent for me across different keys.
Relative pitch has also played a huge role in my ability to write music. Ear training provides the intuition necessary to write note combinations that have good “melodic quality”. Without any ear training the writing must be based in purely theory or blind guess. For this reason anyone planning on writing music should specifically strive to improve their relative pitch.
Relative pitch has completely changed the way I view music and I can’t imagine what my life would be like without it. I encourage anyone who wants to take music seriously to begin learning the Nashville number system for chords and to practice recognizing intervals.