Procreation without sex

British biologist Robert G. Edwards won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Medicine for developing the technique of in vitro fertilization.  Beginning in 1978, some 4 million children were born who were conceived outside the womb.

Robert G. Edwards’s breakthrough development of in vitro fertilization, which led to the birth of the first “test-tube baby,” Louise Brown, in 1978, gave humanity the power to do what previously was considered the province of God: create and manipulate human life.

In the ensuing decades, the pioneering techniques that won the British biologist a Nobel Prize on Monday have played a part in controversial scientific advances such as cloning and the creation of human embryonic stem cells while redefining fundamental social roles such as what it means to be a parent or a family.

“The impact on society has been profound,” said Lori B. Andrews of the Chicago-Kent College of Law, who studies reproductive technologies. “The creation of a child outside the body for the first time has had scientific and personal implications far, far beyond the 4 million children who have been born through in vitro fertilization.”

via Robert Edwards wins 2010 Nobel prize in medicine for in-vitro fertizilation.

I’m not saying that this technology is in itself wrong to use. The biggest problem with it is the engendering of “extra” embryos who are left frozen or killed for their stem cells.  But consider “the impact on society” and where we might go from here.

With birth control technology, people can have sex without procreation.  With in vitro technology, people can have procreation without sex.   Does this render the family technologically obsolete?  With no necessary natural function, is it reduced to just a companionship group?

Mental experiment:  An artificial womb is invented.  Will women  still want to go through pregnancy and labor?  (Would you?)  Or will society take advantage of the opportunity to manufacture whatever children are needed and no more?   Would we still take care of them in family units, or would this task fall to a state institution?   Or would everything just go along as it does today, with marriage and parenthood, but without the unpleasantness of childbearing?

The quantum experiment

Thanks to Bunnycatch3r for alerting us to this fascinating and lucid re-enactment and explanation of the famous “double slit” experiment that opens up the weirdness of quantum events.  (I witnessed this experiment performed in our Patrick Henry College physics class.)

I’m having trouble embedding the video, so if it doesn’t show up on your browser hit “comments” and it should be there. Or, just go here. That site will also show you some actual experiments so that you can see it for yourself.

UPDATE: tODD points out (comment #19) that this particular animated experiment comes from a New Agey source and uses language that confuses the science and bends it to the service of that worldview. And, yes, at PHC we did the “double slit” experiment with a laser, which does show that light behaves as both a particle and a wave. We didn’t have the equipment to do the observation of one photon, which is where some controversy comes into play.

Quantum photonic computers

A dramatic practical application of “weird science” may revolutionize computers in the next five years:

A new photonic chip that works on light rather than electricity has been built by an international research team, paving the way for the production of ultra-fast quantum computers with capabilities far beyond today’s devices.

Future quantum computers will, for example, be able to pull important information out of the biggest databases almost instantaneously. As the amount of electronic data stored worldwide grows exponentially, the technology will make it easier for people to search with precision for what they want.

An early application will be to investigate and design complex molecules, such as new drugs and other materials, that cannot be simulated with ordinary computers. More general consumer applications should follow.

Jeremy O’Brien, director of the UK’s Centre for Quantum Photonics, who led the project, said many people in the field had believed a functional quantum computer would not be a reality for at least 25 years.

“However, we can say with real confidence that, using our new technique, a quantum computer could, within five years, be performing calculations that are outside the capabilities of conventional computers,” he told the British Science Festival, as he presented the research.

The breakthrough, published today in the journal Science, means data can be processed according to the counterintuitive rules of quantum physics that allow individual subatomic particles to be in several places at the same time.

From a sidebar:

Why quantum computing?

To make use of properties that emerge on an ultra-small scale. “Entanglement” – the ability of subatomic particles to influence one another at a distance – and “superposition” – the fact that a particle does not have a definite location and can be in several places at once – are the two most important properties.

Yes, it’s weird but why is it useful?

Because quantum particles can do very many things at the same time, unlike an electronic “bit” in conventional computing. The use of quantum particles, or “qubits”, permits parallel computing on a scale that would not be possible with conventional electronics.

What particles are you talking about?

Many scientists are working with atoms or ions trapped in ultra-cold conditions. But the latest discovery by the Bristol-led team uses photons – light particles.

How does a quantum chip actually work?

There are several models. The Bristol version sends “entangled” photons down networks of circuits in a silicon chip. The particles perform a co-ordinated “quantum walk”, whose outcome represents the results of a calculation.

via / Global Economy – Computers set for quantum leap.

Physics and the Uncaused First Cause

Christian physicist Frank Tipler, via Stephen Hawking, offers an update on St. Thomas Aquinas:

In 1966, Stephen Hawking published his first — completely valid — proof for the existence of God. Over the next seven years, he followed this with even more powerful valid theorems proving God’s existence.

So how did Hawking, who successfully proved God’s existence, remain an atheist? Simple. He simply denied that the assumptions he used in his proofs were true. As a matter of logic, if the assumptions in a proof are not true, then the conclusions need not be true. What assumptions did the young Hawking make? He assumed that the laws of physics, mainly Einstein’s theory of gravity, were true. In the summary of his early research, namely his book The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, Hawking wrote:  “It seems to be a good principle that the prediction of [God] by a physical theory indicates that the theory has broken down, i.e. it no longer provides a correct description of observations.”

Hawking then began working on quantum gravity, in hopes that God would be at last eliminated from the equations. Alas, it was not to be: God was even more prominent — and unavoidable — in quantum gravity than in Einstein’s theory of gravity. In his latest book, The Grand Design, Hawking has pinned his hope of eliminating God on M-theory, a theory with no experimental support whatsoever, hence not a theory of physics at all. Nor has it been proven that M-theory is mathematically consistent. Nor has it been proven that God has been eliminated from M-theory. There are disquieting signs (for Hawking and company) that He is also unavoidable in M-theory, as He is in Einstein’s gravity, and in quantum gravity. . . .

The alert reader will have noticed that in the above quote, Hawking did not actually use the word “God.” But this is what he really meant. To see this, let us recall just what the word “God” means.

Consider the opening words of the (original) Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God, the omnipotent Father, Maker of all things visible and invisible.” These words give the basic definition of “God” used by Christians and Jews: God is the Cause of everything, but He Himself has no cause. God is the Uncaused First Cause. In his Second Way, Thomas Aquinas proves the existence of the Uncaused First (efficient) Cause, and Aquinas concludes, “to which all give the name ‘God’ (quam omnes Deum nominant).”

So now let us return to the theorems of the young Hawking. By following the history of the universe back into time — in other words, by following the causes of the current universe back into time — Hawking proved that all of these causes had a common cause; a common cause that did not itself have a cause. This common cause was an Uncaused Cause that was beyond the control of the laws of physics, beyond the control of any possible laws of physics. Rather, the entire universe began at this Uncaused First Cause.

In exactly the same way that Aquinas used the word “create,” we can say that the Uncaused First Cause, whose existence was proven decades ago by Hawking, “created” the universe.

Hawking called this Uncaused First Cause a “singularity.”

But given the properties of this “singularity,” it is God.

via Pajamas Media » Proving the Existence of God.

A physicist on Hawking’s self-creating universe

Physicist Stephen Barr discusses Stephen Hawking’s recent book, explaining his arguments, explaining what physicists mean by multiple universes, and, finally, explaining why none of this diminishes the case for God at all.  Instead of my trying to paraphrase or quote from what was said, you can just read it yourself:

Much Ado About “Nothing”: Stephen Hawking and the Self-Creating Universe | First Things.

One God or billions of universes?

Physicist Stephen Hawkings says that there is no need of a deity to have created the universe.  Instead, according to this review of his new book, he posits the existence of billions of universes, at least one of which (ours) happens to have the physical laws that would allow for life.

With that background [a survey of the history of physics], Hawking and Mlodinow get to the real meat of their book: the way theories about quantum mechanics and relativity came together to shape our understanding of how our universe (and possibly others) formed out of nothing. Our current best description of the physics of this event, they explain, is the so-called “M-theories,” which predict that there is not a single universe (the one we live in) but a huge number of universes. In other words, not only is the Earth just one of several planets in our solar system and the Milky Way one of billions of galaxies, but our known universe itself is just one among uncounted billions of universes. It’s a startling replay of the Copernican Revolution.

The conclusions that follow are groundbreaking. Of all the possible universes, some must have laws that allow the appearance of life. The fact that we are here already tells us that we are in that corner of the multiverse. In this way, all origin questions are answered by pointing to the huge number of possible universes and saying that some of them have the properties that allow the existence of life, just by chance.

via Review of ‘The Grand Design,’ by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow..

As some of you readers never tire of reminding me, I don’t always grasp what the scientists are saying.  Can anyone explain this multiple universe theory?  Specifically, what is the evidence for it (or is it just a theoretical construct)?  Isn’t it just a way to account for the fine-tuning of the universe for life without having to believe in God?  And isn’t it more rational and a better application of Ockham’s razor (when in doubt, choose the simplest solution) to believe in a Creator?