Antichrists and aliens and the end of the universe

Young-earth creationists don’t like astronomy.

That’s understandable, since when we look across the vastness of space we’re also looking across the vastness of time. With the Hubble telescope and the other cool toys we’re using to look farther than ever before, we can see that the universe is really, really old. We have the pictures to prove it. Astronomy lets us take such pictures — photographs that show the age of the universe and that show how it has evolved over all those billions of years.

Young-earth creationists don’t like astronomy because they don’t want to see such pictures. They don’t believe in billions of years or in evolution over time and so they’d prefer not to look.

The only way they can bear to see what astronomers show us is if they subscribe to some version of the Omphalos hypothesis, or Last-Thursdayism — the theory that the universe is only a few thousand years young, but that God created it to appear much older. That idea has the virtue of not being disprovable, but those creationists who subscribe to it still won’t be inclined to enjoy astronomy, since Last-Thursdayism suggests that all the marvels it shows us are, as James McGrath puts it, “beautiful lies told by God.”

But I don’t think it’s just weird fundamentalist notions of origins that create a disdain for astronomy. The same disdain results from weird fundamentalist notions of eschatology.

Premillennial dispensationalism says the entire universe will be destroyed. The rest of the universe may object to this idea.

Consider, for example, the premillennial dispensationalist scheme promoted by Tim LaHaye. It’s the same basic idea that Hal Lindsey taught back in the 1970s — the Rapture-Antichrist-Tribulation-Armageddon scheme popularized by dozens of charlatan preachers and popular movies like The Omen. According to this scheme, the “Rapture” is imminent and at any moment every real, true Christian will be whisked away to Heaven “in the twinkling of an eye.” After that, the Antichrist will take over the world and reign for seven miserable years before Jesus returns, in force, to destroy the Antichrist and his army and the rest of the Earth, solar system and universe.

The end of the entire universe, in other words, will be precipitated by one tiny little human Antichrist on Earth rising up to set in motion all of the supposedly prophesied events leading up to that end.

So if you believe in Tim LaHaye’s End Times “Bible prophecy” ideas, then you’re also not going to want to hear that NASA recently confirmed the existence of a planet in the habitable zone of a sun-like star. You’re not going to want to listen when the astronomers of the Kepler mission describe the vast potential for countless other planets orbiting countless other stars that may be home to countless other forms of life — including intelligent life, peoples and civilizations.

For most Christians that idea is — as it is for everyone else — a fascinating source of speculation, imagination and inspiration. Look up at that stars and the vastness of space. Is anyone like us out there looking back? I like to think so.

For a particular kind of cramped Bible-Christianity, though, the possibility of intelligent life anywhere other than on Earth is frightening and troubling, because our Bible doesn’t say anything about life on other planets. I have a hard time grasping this objection. We humans from Earth read a Bible written by and for humans from Earth. Why should it have anything to say about whatever people might be living somewhere else? That’s not our business. It’s not what our Bible — or who our Bible — is for. If there are people on Kepler 22b, then I’m sure their scriptures don’t have much to say about us either.

It can be fun to think about how such other people on other worlds relate to God. The Vatican Observatory has hosted such discussions. And C.S. Lewis pursued the idea in his space trilogy. But I can’t fully grasp why so many Bible-Christians fear and reject the idea as somehow incompatible with their faith.

For subscribers of Tim LaHaye’s End Times innovations, though, it’s clear why the possibility of life on other planets must be rejected. I’d guess that LaHaye himself wouldn’t strongly reject the idea — he’d simply regard every other intelligent race in the universe as unsaved Space Ninevites who deserve to have their sinful worlds destroyed at the same time ours is. But if any of the thousands of speculative storytellers who have dreamed of advanced alien races are right, then we’d also have to consider this: Those aliens would never let LaHaye’s imagined apocalypse happen.

It’s their universe too, after all. So if we were to stipulate, for the sake of kicks and giggles, that anything like LaHaye’s heretical mythology were true, then every species in the universe would have an overriding interest in making sure that all of the items in his prophecy check list were prevented from occurring.

I don’t just mean there might be some benevolent rogue Gallifreyan racing about to save the Earth once again. It wouldn’t just be the Doctor working to prevent LaHaye’s apocalypse — the Daleks would be trying to stop it too. And the Atraxi, Slitheen, Klingons, Romulans, Vulcans, Rylans, Sykarians, Jedi, Sith, Wookies, Kryptonians, Halosians, Weevils, Cardassians, Ferengi, Skrull and Ood. Any of them and all of them.

My point here isn’t mainly about theology, but about entertainment. I want to see and hear and read these stories.

Imagine a world in which both of the following are true: 1) Tim LaHaye’s notion of the events that will precipitate the end of the entire universe, and 2) A powerful, technologically advanced alien race is secretly monitoring Earth. You’ve got the basis there for a space-invaders movie in which the aliens aren’t coming to colonize or depopulate or to steal our water/air/unobtanium. They’d be coming here to stop the Antichrist — to save the Earth and the rest of the universe along with it. (Although those aliens might also opt for Plan B: destroy the Earth entirely to make sure the prophecies never come true.)

Or imagine that your basic space-federation of technologically advanced alien races is monitoring Earth and they’re not sure whether or not LaHaye’s prophecy scheme about the end of the entire universe is true. It might be prudent, just to be safe, to install some operatives down on Earth who could secretly identify and eliminate any potential Antichrists before they can rise up to bring about the end. I’d watch that movie.

Of course, if you think about it, one effective strategy for preventing the rise of the Antichrist/end of the universe would be for these alien agents to make sure that we Earthling humans were fully informed about the prophecies so that we, too, would be vigilantly working to prevent the rise of any such figure. The aliens might try to spread this information by encoding it into a popular novel — or maybe into a whole series of novels. It’s even possible this has already happened.

On the other hand, as much fun as I think such stories would be to see and hear, they’d also have the troubling effect of reinforcing the cycle of bad theology and pop culture. That’s the cycle in which some theological notion gets extracted and embellished to tell an entertaining story. The story becomes more popular and more widely known than the original, unembellished idea in its appropriate context. The story’s variation of the original idea thus begins influencing the original belief, which mutates into something more like the version from the story. Then the success of the first story leads another storyteller to extract and enhance this mutation of the original belief, adding new twists and new embellishments that, in turn, come to replace the original idea and to be viewed as canonical. And then again and again through the cycle.

Keep that up for a century or so and you end up with the kind of situation in which most church-going American Christians think the book of Revelation is about the Antichrist taking over the United Nations.

Which is why it’s not really possible to say I’m talking about entertainment and not about theology. By this point in the cycle, entertainment is the source of much of our theology.

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  • Anonymous

    Back in 1277 Aristotle and his emphasis on the uniqueness of Earth was getting a lot of play at the Sorbonne. The Bishop of Paris wasn’t too happy and condemned a whole set of ideas, including the idea that god couldn’t create other races on other planets, as that teaching would limit the power of god.

    I’m not a big religious type, but I always have my doubts when some crawling mutant starts going on about what god can and cannot do. Maybe there are limits, maybe there are not, maybe there is no god, but if there were, he, she or it wouldn’t be taking marching orders from a toad like you.

    P.S. Anyone for a Star Trek ‘Piece of the Action’ story based on a left behind copy of Left Behind?

  • Anonymous

    P.S. Anyone for a Star Trek ‘Piece of the Action’ story based on a left behind copy of Left Behind?

    I don’t understand.

  • http://twitter.com/mattmcirvin Matt McIrvin

    “A Piece of the Action” was a very (intentionally) goofy episode of the original Star Trek that took place on a planet whose culture was described as extremely imitative.  On a previous Starfleet visit, somebody had left behind a book on Chicago gangsters of the 1920s.  By the time Kirk and friends visit, the whole place looks like the set of a movie about Al Capone, the planet is ruled by rival gangs, and the people go around wearing fedoras and talking like Edward G. Robinson about heaters and molls.

    So Kaleberg is wondering what the place would look like contaminated by Left Behind.  I don’t suppose it’d be a pretty sight.

  • Jenora Feuer

    Back when Peter David was doing the restarted Star Trek comic book in the late 1980s, he actually pulled out a reference to this episode.  Kirk was on trial for various violations of the Prime Directive, and one of the witnesses brought forth was one of the gang leaders from that world, who had been deliberately told very little of what was going on, and thought he was just there to bring Kirk his ‘cut’.  Needless to say, there were a number of other episode callbacks as various witnesses were brought in.

    Culminating in some of the crew watching this over a video feed chatting amongst themselves.  “It’s like a parade of all the Captain’s most embarrassing moments come back to haunt him.  I keep expecting somebody to come up and dump a barrel of tribbles on him.”

  • Tonio

     Cool concept. Was that David’s answer to the original series’ inconsistencies regarding the Prime Directive? David Gerrold criticized those in The World of Star Trek, and noted that the third season of the show dispensed entirely with it. And Harlan Ellison has argued that the show treated such civilizations as stand-ins for ghetto minorities, and despite his bitterness at Roddenberry he has a point. Personally, I’ve found some of the TOS novels to be more enriching than the series itself, which too often descended into cliché.

  • Jenora Feuer

    I don’t know if that was ‘his answer’ or not.  I know Peter David had some of his own annoyances at Paramount at the time; I remember reading a rant he had on Usenet regarding the first issue of the comic book, about having to rewrite parts of the issue twice (the second time after the art had been completed and gone in for layout, resulting in a physical paste-up job that was obvious to anybody looking closely at the printed art) because of disagreements with Paramount over what was and wasn’t ‘canon’ and allowed to be in the comic.

    Certainly there was a feel to the story that the trial was largely politically motivated, that nobody really cared Kirk was bending the rules as long as he got results that people generally liked.  But it’s been a long time since I read it, I really mostly just remembered that one scene.

    My favourite story of that run, though, would have been the ‘red shirt eulogy’ issue.  A bit maudlin (Kirk has to write a eulogy for one of the men on security detail who died saving him from a group of pirates setting up an ambush, and discovers that he had no surviving family, and nobody on board actually knows the guy well enough to say much about him), but a good character piece and definitely touched on an aspect of command that gets ignored far too often.

  • Anonymous

    There was a Star Trek episode in which a previous mission had left a book about Chicago gangsters on some developing planet. The natives had taken it as gospel and modeled their society on it, complete with 1920s automobiles, calling their guns “heaters”, a system of protection money instead of taxation, and so on. Kirk and Spock wind up having to cut the Federation in for a “piece of the action”. It was silly, but a lot of fun.
    Imagine some poor planet visited by an advanced civilization, but winding up with a copy of one of the Left Behind books and then modeling their civilization on it. The return mission most likely would be mistaken for the anti-Christ, or the Second Coming. Better yet, give one to the Klingons and the other to Kirk and Spock. I’m sure it would be silly, but it could be a lot of fun.
    – K

  • Anonymous

    Imagine some poor planet visited by an advanced civilization, but winding up with a copy of one of the Left Behind books and then modeling their civilization on it. The return mission most likely would be mistaken for the anti-Christ, or the Second Coming. 

    I’ve thought for awhile that _Galaxy Quest_ could be reinterpreted as a hidden parody of the Second Coming. (“We modeled our society based upon all of your historical documentaries!”)

  • P J Evans

    ‘Someday they might show up and ask for a piece of our action.’

  • Tricksterson

    There would be only one viable solution to that world.  Nuke it from orbit.  It’s the only way to be sure.

  • http://thegoldweredigging.blogspot.com/ FangsFirst

    Imagine a world in which both of the following are true: 1) Tim LaHaye’s
    notion of the events that will precipitate the end of the entire
    universe, and 2) A powerful, technologically advanced alien race is
    secretly monitoring Earth. You’ve got the basis there for a
    space-invaders movie in which the aliens aren’t coming to colonize or
    depopulate or to steal our water/air/unobtanium. They’d be coming here to stop the Antichrist
    — to save the Earth and the rest of the universe along with it.
    (Although those aliens might also opt for Plan B: destroy the Earth
    entirely to make sure the prophecies never come true.)

    I want a story with both, and Earth is really and truly just a pawn
    between a divided universe that can’t agree on which solution is
    proper–sort of some “save the earthies!” types, and some “one planet is
    expendable” types, and all the nuanced greys between it. And, I guess,
    the related monochromatic extremes.

  • Skiriki

    Wasn’t the “aliens and humans come together to stop an Anti-Christ and Satan and the End of the World as We Know It” plot the basic premise of The Fifth Element?

  • Anonymous

    Wasn’t the “aliens and humans come together to stop an Anti-Christ and Satan and the End of the World as We Know It” plot the basic premise of The Fifth Element?

    I have no idea. I was too busy sulking over the fact that the opening sequence promised me a much better movie. (Historical science fiction! With archaeology! And a cute lead!)

  • http://thegoldweredigging.blogspot.com/ FangsFirst

    And a cute lead!

    Hey, Ian Holm was totally in the rest of the movie!

  • wendy

    Which is why it’s not really possible to say I’m talking about entertainment and not about theology. By this point in the cycle, entertainment is the source of much of our theology.

    In the 2001 Commonwealth Census, 70,000 Australians listed their religion as Jedi. So did 21k Canadians, 15k Czechs, 53k New Zealanders, 390k English and Welsh people, 14k Scots. 

    Don’t even get me started on Scientologists. 

  • Tricksterson

    And, let’s face it, Trekkies, at least the hard core ones.  They might not call themselves a religion but they basically are.

  • Tonio

    How about the Cardassians versus the Kardashians? (I’ve never seen the latter show and never intend to see it.)

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    For whatever it’s worth, the first installment of my story based on this idea went live at my blog about an hour and a half ago.  I was thinking of cross-posting at Right Behind, but it’s not actually going to be particularly Left Behind-ish and it won’t be the manic fanfic mashup Fred visualized, so I don’t think it’s apropos.

    I’ve been reading a whole lot of good, old-fashioned space opera and mil SF lately, so that’s what I’m going with here.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    It seems to have a bit of a Iain M. Banks-ian vibe to it with the ueber-long ship names ;)

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     It seems to have a bit of a Iain M. Banks-ian vibe to it with the ueber-long ship names ;)

    Oddly, I’ve never read any Iain M. Banks.  The long ship names in this case come from the question of how an extremely long-lived race with a strong oral tradition would keep track of things.  And they’re based more on some thoughts I had about how alien races are traditionally depicted after reading the first two books of Ian Douglas’s Star Carrier series, which is really freaking good.  It’s very “Arthur C. Clarke reads a bunch of Tom Clancy and decides to write Mil SF.”

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    The thing about ship names in the Culture series is that the ships are piloted by super-intelligent artificial “minds” who pick their own name.  Usually they pick something whimsical, particularly those who are built for a more “forceful” purpose.  So you get vessels with names like “A Frank Exchange of Views”, “No More Mister Nice Guy”, “What Are The Civilian Applications?”, or “Hand Me The Gun And Ask Me That Again.” 

  • Anonymous

    Plan B: destroy the Earth entirely to make sure the prophecies never come true.

    Given the most recent season, your choice of the Doctor’s picture is quite apt.  It’s a different prophecy and a different target, but the same general plan.

    As to the Next Gen movies, I’m afraid there’s very little to recommend them.

    Generations – Really quite bad.  The highlight of the film was when Kirk and Picard go punch an old guy.  Oh yeah, and never let Troi have the wheel of your starship.
    First Contact – Quite fun as a stand alone action movie.  Picard takes on the role of Ahab with the Borg as his white whale.  The big problem is that the characterizations don’t make much sense if you’ve watched the show.  Divorce it from continuity and it’s enjoyable.
    Insurrection – This is the only one of the four that actually felt like an episode of the series.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t one of the good episodes.  The basic idea had potential, but the writing just isn’t there to support it.
    Nemesis – By far the worst of the lot.  Given the success of First Contact, they went back to a dark, action film only this time with really nonsensical action scenes.  Given the success of Wrath of Kahn, they completely copied the plot except with a villain lacking any motivation or relationship with the Enterprise’s captain.  And then there’s B4, the until now unknown third Soon android whose whole point seems to be a dune buggy chase and undercutting any emotional connection to the film’s conclusion.

    Really, I’d recommend the Red Letter Media reviews over the actual films for all save First Contact.

  • Anonymous

    Who’s up for a game of Left Behind Fizzbin? 

    Ace= Buck
    King= Rayford
    Queen = Bruce
    Jack = Nicolae
    Joker = Jenkins

    * Each player gets six cards, except for airline pilots, who get seven.
    * The second card is turned up, except during a phone call.
    * Two Nicks are a “half-fizzbin”.  If you have a half-fizzbin, a third Nick is a “shralk” and results in your soul doomed to eternal damnation.
    * One wants a Rayford and a Deuce, except during a locust attack, when one wants a Buck and a Threesome.
    * If a Rayford has been dealt, the player gets another card, unless the player is a woman, in which case she has to give it back.
    * The top hand is a “royal fizzbin” but the odds against getting one are greater than the odds of Rayford or Buck actually doing something.

  • hapax

     

    One wants a Rayford and a Deuce, except during a locust attack, when one wants a Buck and a Threesome.

    /is enlightened/

    So that’s the lyrics I couldn’t understand in the Manfred Mann song!

    She was blinded by the light
    Like Rayford and a Deuce
    Buck is roamin’ in the night
    Blinded by the light…
    She lay down but she’ll never get a fizzbin
    God’ll make it come out right

  • Anonymous

    My favourite story of that run, though, would have been the ‘red shirt eulogy’ issue.  A bit maudlin (Kirk has to write a eulogy for one of the men on security detail who died saving him from a group of pirates setting up an ambush, and discovers that he had no surviving family, and nobody on board actually knows the guy well enough to say much about him)

    There’s one tiny not-pick that I have with Galaxy Quest.  Crewman Guy is terrified because his character doesn’t have a last name.

    Guy: Nobody knows. You know why? Because my character isn’t important enough for a last name, because I’m gonna die 5 minutes in.

    But in Star Trek each of the expendable characters had a last name; the fatal flaw was they didn’t have a first name (e.g. Green, Kaplan, Marple, Hendorff, Ensign Rizzo.)

  • Anonymous

    I love the recommendations on this blog–I find so many good stories here!  Loved “The Star.”

    Someone mentioned the aliens=demons theory earlier in the conversation. I had a coworker who legitimately believed that aliens are demons and they are trying to corrupt us by, uh, breeding with human women.  We had several conversations about this theory, usually while a third coworker sat there pretending not to know us.  I always thought that would make an interesting story.  A bizarre sort of paranormal romance, perhaps, but certainly an interesting one.

    The Phoenix Nebula is my picture on here, which is making me sort of sad now.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    The example I have seen given on why simultaneousness isn’t real always struck me as using a strawmen.  Twice.  I’m not saying that I doubt the result, I’m sure if the result were false someone would have said so by now, but the example I’ve seen goes like this:

    We can say that two events are simultaneous if light from the two events reaches the point half way between them at the same time.

    Sure.  Why not?

    Imagine that lightening struck train tracks at two different places.

    Got it.

    And we checked to see if they were simultaneous by observing the events from half way between those two strikes relative to the train (which is moving relative to the tracks).

    Wait, what?  No one would ever do that.  It makes no sense.  Events exist in time and space (otherwise they would be nonevents) and that means that events have velocity.  What that velocity is depends on the frame of reference from which we are measuring, but the velocity is always going to be there.

    A lightening strike has a duration and in that duration it may or may not have moved relative to the train.  Unless the average velocity of the two events was exactly the same as the velocity of the train it makes absolutely no sense to imagine the point midway between the two events as stationary relative to the train.

    If we want something to be at the midway point between the two events both when the events occur and when light from the events reaches it then its velocity must be the average of the velocity of the two events and it seems highly unlikely that that would be precisely the same as the velocity of the train.

    And we checked to see if they were simultaneous by observing the events from half way between them relative to the tracks.

    Seriously?  The only possible way that the train thing could ever be considered a reasonable thing by anyone is if the train were moving at the exact same velocity as the average of the velocity of the two lightening strikes, and if that were true then the tracks would definitely not be moving at said velocity and thus any point that was stationary with respect to the tracks would be moving with respect to the events and would not remain the midway point for long, definitely not long enough to preform the experiment.

    If the test on the train is good then the one on the tracks is borked, if the one on the tracks is good then the one on the train is borked, and the overwhelming likelihood is that both tests are borked because we’ve completely ignored the motion of the lightening strikes themselves, and thus made it so that the only way our midpoint could actually be a midpoint is by extraordinary coincidence rather than design.

    Since the two results are different, we must abandon the idea of simultaneous events.

    No.  If there is such a thing as simultaneous events then the two results should have been different.  At least one of the tests was borked, more likely both were, and regardless there was a measurable difference in borkiness.

    By finding the results different we got the expected result and therefore have no reason to abandon the null hypothesis that the idea of simultaneous events is meaningful.

    As I said, I don’t doubt the end result (because I’m sure that if using a reasonable means of measurement would have salvaged the idea of simultaneous events someone would have said something by now) but the example seems to have such a, “Why would you ever consider measuring it that way,” thing going on that it just throws me.

    Why not use an example that shows that even measuring things in a reasonable way things still break down?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    It’s a thought experiment, chris the cynic. Highly artificial, but it points up the basic issue with the finiteness of the speed of light: information about events is not instantaneously transmitted from place to place, and at speeds close to that of light, this actually becomes an issue.

    There’s no problem with differing descriptions of the events because the observers all know the Lorentz transformations and can correctly adjust for the different frames of reference.

    And even loss of simultaneity cannot destroy cause and effect. If something happens before something else that happens in all reference frames.

    If we want something to be at the midway point between the two events both when the events occur and when light from the events reaches it then its velocity must be the average of the velocity of the two events and it seems highly unlikely that that would be precisely the same as the velocity of the train.

    This is the key to the loss of simultaneity: That the observer standing at the “midway” frame of reference can claim simultaneity while the observer standing in the train cannot, because the train is moving and the speed of light is fixed and finite.

    Also, in physics, we can always transform into an “average velocity” frame; it’s called the center of mass frame, and in this case I think the transformations would show it’s comoving with the train.

    In fact, this definitional issue is ALSO why we lose simultaneity. Which observer gets to claim “midway”? If the stationary one, then the events may be simultaneous in that frame of reference and not in the moving one. But if the moving observer claims “midway”, then this is only possible if the lightning strikes in such a way as to be at the same time in the moving frame, which would of necessity drop simultaneity in the stationary frame.

    The ultimate object lesson of this is that all inertial frames are of equal validity and there is no privileged observer – no state of absolute rest against which there is some benchmark we can use.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    I think you misunderstood what I was saying, and if you did it was my fault for being less than clear.

    My point was this: If one wants to show that things are different under relativity than they would be in a universe with a single objective frame of reference, it makes little sense to use an example in which things would be the same.

    If I knew nothing of relativity and I believed that there was one objective frame of reference and one objective clock and one objective order of events and one objective velocity for a given object at a given time and then, believing all this, I wanted to define simultaneousness based on whether or not the light from the events in question crossed a certain point at the same time, how would I go about determining what that point was?

    It would not be the objective midpoint because, not knowing about relativity, I would assume that light from an event moving toward the objective midpoint was moving toward the midpoint faster than light from an event stationary with respect to the midpoint, which would in turn be moving toward the objective midpoint faster than light from an event moving away from the objective midpoint.

    Which means that if, in my hypothetical objective frame of reference, two events happened at the same time the light from them would almost certainly not reach the objective midpoint at the same time.  (The only exception being if the events were, on average, objectively stationary.)

    So, since I did not know about relativity, I would determine that the point I needed to measure from was the subjective midpoint (the midpoint from the perspective of the two events), not the objective one.  Otherwise I wouldn’t be taking into account the differing speeds of light that an objective universe would require.

    Which means that, even though there was an objective frame of reference, the only way to use that particular definition of simultaneous would be to do it based on the average frame of reference of the events.

    Now, all of the reasoning leading up to this point has been wrong because it started from the false premise that we live in a universe which has an objective frame of reference.  But what happens if you apply that means of measuring things to this universe and try to determine whether two events happened at the same time?  Everyone gets the same result.

    Everyone gets the same result because in an objective universe the only way to run that test properly is to do it from a very specific subjective frame of reference, and in a universe where there is no objective frame of reference it is still the case that everyone using the same subjective frame of reference will get the same result.

    Or, conversely, what if we applied the thought experiment’s method of checking to see if the two events are simultaneous to an objective universe?  You’d still get a discrepancy.  I’m not sure if it would be the same discrepancy, but it would be in the same direction and the kind of nuance that would separate them doesn’t make for an illustrative thought experiment.

    My issue with it isn’t that people can figure out how it would look from another viewpoint, my issue with it is that it would work basically the same way (for completely different reasons) in a universe with an objective frame of reference, so it doesn’t seem like a good way to illustrate a difference from such a universe.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I have no idea what you mean by objective and subjective frames of reference. The concept of some “master” frame of reference can’t exist in a universe governed by special and general relativity.

    The key thing about relativity at all is that things that should appear “common sense” don’t. The reason why we lose simultaneity has to do with the way relativistic effects profoundly distort positions and velocities. (electromagnetic fields, too; what happens is that such fields tend to get “squashed” perpendicular to the direction of motion)

    The other thing is that you need to not hold onto the idea that all observers will observe exactly the same thing when it comes to relativistic effects on the progression of events – the final result may be the same all around, but the ordering of those events may not occur at the same time. The reason why this apparently happens at all is because of a peculiar asymmetry: we humans are on a slowly moving quasi inertial frame, while the relativistic particles we observe are all moving very fast and close to the speed of light, and they have no appreciable physical extent.

    Under such circumstances it is possible to a very good approximation to say that both the “front” and “back” of, say, a K meson pass through a detector at essentially zero time as far as any compensation for that effect is concerned.

    The analogy to the K meson is the other highly artificial thought example of two people with knives a small distance apart who shall cut a piece of wood as it flies by, and do so at the same time (as they define it in their reference frame). However, because of length contraction the wood should be smaller than it wouild be at rest wrt the woodcutters.

    The apparent paradox is reconciled by realizing that the distortion of positions and velocities in the Lorentz transformations requires that in the wood’s frame of reference, the cutters do not cut simultaneously.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    I keep on making this post overly long, I’m going to try starting fresh and keeping it short, but you know me, so we’ll see how that goes. 
    The concept of some “master” frame of reference can’t exist in a universe governed by special and general relativity.That’s pretty much my point.  Examples that would work the same way in a universe that did have a single objective frame of reference as they do under relativity seem like bad illustrations of the principles of relativity because they utter fail to distinguish a universe governed by relativity from one that cannot contain it.Something like the twin paradox is a good example of relativity because it shows us how things differ between a universe with an objective frame of reference and one governed by relativity.  With an objective frame of reference the same amount of time would pass for everyone, and thus the twins would be the same age at the end of the thought experiment.  With relativity it doesn’t work that way, and thus thus the twins are different ages at the end.That difference (“without relativity = same age” as compared to “with relativity = different ages”) is what makes it a helpful example.  You read/hear/whatever it and learn that something you wouldn’t expect to be true is true.  You also learn one of the things that makes a universe governed by relativity different from one that is not.
    The train thought experiment doesn’t work that way.  The result (the discrepancy between when the light hits the midpoints with respect to the track and the train) is exactly what you would expect in a non-relativistic universe.  I don’t get how that makes it a useful example.

    It would be one thing it were presented as, “This works exactly as common sense says it should, but not for the reasons common sense says it would*,” but I’ve never seen it presented this way.  Instead it’s just, “Imagine [thought experiment] and we see that everything worked the way common sense told you it would.  Isn’t that different?  Done.”  Except… no.  It isn’t different.  It’s the same.

    *Which is true, because the reasons that common sense says it would work out that way include things that, while completely intuitive, are objectively false.

  • Apocalypse Review

    In non-relativistic regimes, lightning bolts that hit the train “at the same time” would appear to do so for both stationary (wrt the train) and train observers. That’s the whole point. Our everyday experiences are, for all intents and purposes, “without Einsteinian relativity”.

    It’s when you invoke relativistic effects that you need to keep the spacetime interval invariant and this is part of the loss of simultaneity.

  • Apocalypse Review

    Clarification: dx/dt (the velocity) of the train is so small wrt the speed of light that this allows us to consider the bolts striking as being effectively simultaneous within the limits of nonrelativistic observations.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Just a brief reminder, we live in a relativistic universe, all discussion of one with an objective frame of reference is entirely hypothetical.  I’ve tried to hammer this point in with a sledgehammer in the post below, but you can never be to sure so I’m adding this reminder.

    In non-relativistic regimes, lightning bolts that hit the train “at the same time” would appear to do so for both stationary (wrt the train) and train observers.

    No, because in a non-relativistic universe the speed of light would not be constant as measured from all frames of reference.

    Everything would be moving at one objective speed, which means to figure out how thing 1 moves with respect to thing 2, we would take the objective speed of thing 1 and subtract the objective speed of thing 2.  We could do this because it’s a non-relativistic universe so there is such a thing as “objective speed”.

    That would apply to things like ping pong balls and also things like light.

    So if you’re moving straight toward a light source in a non-relativistic universe, light coming to you from the source is moving, relative to you, at the speed of light plus your own speed.  Or faster than the usual speed of light.  (That is, faster than the objective speed of light emitted from an objectively stationary source.)  If you’re moving straight away from a light source then the light coming to you from it would be moving relative to you at the speed of light minus your own speed.  Or slower than the usual speed of light.

    If you are on the moving train and the lightning is stationary relative to the tracks (i.e. the lightning strikes and the tracks have the same objective velocity), the light from the strike behind you will take longer to get to you than the light from the strike in front of you.  Which means that if they happened at the same time (and since this hypothetical universe is objective there is such a thing as “the same time”) and you were at the midpoint when they struck the light from the strike in front would reach you before the light from the strike in back.

    Conversely, for the observer standing on the tracks, at the midpoint at the time of the strikes, light from the two events would arrive at precisely the same time.

    In a non-relativistic universe.

    Because in a non-relativistic universe the speed of light would not be constant in all inertial frames of reference.

    In an objective universe there would be a single correct order of events, there would be such a thing as “the same time”, there would be a single objective truth about whether X set of events occurred simultaneously or not, but you still wouldn’t get the same result from both viewpoints in the experiment.

    The only way that you would even expect to get the same result from both viewpoints is if you already thought the speed of light were constant in every frame of reference, but in that case you would have already assumed relativity to be true, in which case we’re not talking about a universe with an objective frame of reference.

    Or to put it yet another way, imagine there is an objective frame of reference.  There are three possibilities:
    1 The frame of reference of the observer on the train is the objective frame of reference.
    2 The frame of reference of the observer on the tracks is the objective frame of reference.
    3 Neither is the objective frame of reference.

    Since the frame of reference of the observer on the train is different from the frame of reference of the observer on the tracks they cannot both be the objective frame of reference.  That would mean that there were two equally valid frames of reference that were distinct from one another, and thus instead of an objective frame of reference we would have multiple equally valid subjective frames of reference.  (And be in a universe that was at least semi-relativistic.)

    So we have three cases.

    In case one the observations from the observer on the train would be objectively correct, and the ones from the observer on the tracks would be objectively wrong.  They would not agree.  (Though by making use of transformations each observer would be able to determine what results they would have gotten had they been in the other frame of reference.)

    In case two the observations from the observer on the tracks would be objectively correct, and the ones from the observer on the train would be objectively wrong.  They would not agree.  (Though by making use of transformations each observer would be able to determine what results they would have gotten had they been in the other frame of reference.)

    In case three both sets of observations would be objectively wrong.  What is more, since they differ from the objective frame of reference, whatever it may be, in different ways that means that they would be wrong in different ways.  They would not agree.  (Though by making use of transformations each observer would be able to determine what results they would have gotten had they been in the other frame of reference.)

    A non relativistic universe would be one where there was only one right answer to a question like, “How fast is that car going?” or “Which came first?” but it isn’t one where those answers would always be the first result you got.

    Say you live in that universe, let’s say on a hypothetical flat earth suspended on the back of a turtle whose incredible balancing skills keep it within a snail’s pace of objectively still.

    Even if it is absolutely, 100%, non-relativisticly, totally objectively true that a car is going 50MPH, someone going in the same direction at 20MPH is going to clock them as going at 30MPH, and they’ll only reach the objectively correct answer by converting away from their subjective frame of reference.

    All (inertial) viewpoints getting equally valid answers is relativity, in a non relativistic universe only one viewpoint gets the right answer.  That’s what it means.  One frame of reference is right, all others are wrong.  People in different frames of reference will get different answers and in almost all cases (all save one) those answers will be wrong.  But they could then be transformed into right answers by converting to the objective frame of reference.  Of which there would only be one.  

    Sorry if I seem to be beating this point into the ground.

    It’s just that it’s kind of a key point.  For a universe to be non relativistic doesn’t mean that everyone gets the same results, it means that not all results are equally valid.  There is, as Invisible Neutrino put it “some ‘master’ frame of reference [that] can’t exist in a universe governed by special and general relativity.”  That’s what makes it different from a relativistic universe.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    “non-relativistic”, in physics, is usually understood to mean “in regimes of velocities far below the speed of light and in moderate gravitational fields such that relativistic effects are unimportant*”.

    I’m starting to wonder if there aren’t some fundamental definitional differences that are tangling up this discussion and if it starts from that fact that I’m using standard assumptions in physics about what “non-relativistic” and “relativistic” are understood to mean, then I think we either better back up all the way or call this discussion to a halt.

    One reason is that I really don’t see a problem with the lightning bolts thought experiment. You do. That’s probably just the way we look at things, I guess.

    Incidentally, so you’re aware, when I’m not at my home machine and cba to remember my disqus password, I post under my “blog name”, Apocalypse Review.

    —-

    * What this means is that the Lorentz transformations collapse into the Galilean transformations, for all intents and purposes**.

    ** Electromagnetism, even if the observer is inertial and not near the speed of light, must still be properly handled with the Lorentz transformations***.

    *** There are entire courses where you learn how to handle E&M with the Galilean transformations, though God only knows why such an archaic pedagogy is still used.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic


    Incidentally, so you’re aware, when I’m not at my home machine and cba to remember my disqus password, I post under my “blog name”, Apocalypse Review.

    I thought you were… you, but I wasn’t completely sure so I figured it best say “Invisible Neutrino” instead of “you” because if I said, “As you put it” and it turned out the two names belonged to different people that might lead to unnecessary conflict.

    I’ve had more than enough conflict already, there was actually a painful shouting match in the middle of writing my first post of the day.  By painful I mean emotionally so, but the truth is my throat still feels it.

    So I went with the safe option.

    I was going to say more, I had five paragraphs written, but honestly at this point I think I’m spent and I don’t like posting something if I might not be able to come back around for a follow up.  Perhaps tomorrow.

    Apologies for unclear terminology, I thought that since I was talking about entire hypothetical universes from the beginning the meaning wrt speed wouldn’t get in the way.

  • Elena Zuk

    I’d pay to see “Nicolae vs The Reapers”

    ‘If I have to tear you apart Carpathia, I will.’

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    You know, I tend to think that the God of the Left Behind series tends to act like the Reapers from Mass Effect:

    “YOU LIVE BECAUSE WE ALLOW IT.  YOU WILL DIE BECAUSE WE COMMAND IT.”

  • Kingston

    I’ve been thinking about how “godlike” an aliend would have to be to be able to convincingly fake the rather limited LaHayet idea of God. Given how small scale his idea of the universe, the answer is, not very. A Culture Mind could do or indistinquishably fake everything “God” does in the LB books, with a little preperation. (Including pretending to be a complete dick.)

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     > A Culture Mind could do or indistinquishably fake everything “God” does in the LB books, with a little preparation.

    What miracles attributed to any putative god in any human account of gods’ behaviors could _not_ be either performed, or faked beyond a human’s ability to distinguish, by a Culture Mind?

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    This conversation reminds me of the work of H.P. Lovecraft.  To understand his influence, you have to understand the way the world was when he was writing.  The cosmic horror genre found its place because it was being created in a time when humanity’s understanding of the universe was going through vast changes.  Then-recent advances in optics was starting to show that our galaxy was not unique in the cosmos, and those distant extra-galactic “clouds” were actually other galaxies, each compariable in size to our own. 

    People were begining to realize that, vast as the galaxy we inhabited was, the universe we were in was vaster still, and our planet was dwarfed by an almost overwhelming scale against which it was set.  Our place in the universe, which once seemed so important, was almost insignifigant by comparison.  Every new discovery we made only revealed how little we actually understood, and how any assumption we form can be turned over in an instant. 

    This sense of being small and alone against things incalcuably more vast than we can comprehend was a big theme in Lovecraft’s work, and he played it for all the horror it was worth.  What help can a god of our planet offer us, when the universe is so much more big than our own limited percpetion?  How much more of the universe existed beyond even our recent discoveries?  When are deepest held convictions about who we are and our place in creation are shattered in the face of overwhelming evidence that contradicts it, how will we react?  Wil we ignore it, desperately clinging to our old beliefs as a child might hang onto a familiar blanket?  Or will we accept it, and in doing so damn ourselves to insanity as our minds take on more than they can bare? 

  • Anonymous

    Then-recent advances in optics was starting to show that our galaxy was not unique in the cosmos, and those distant extra-galactic “clouds” were actually other galaxies, each compariable in size to our own.

    There’s a fascinating book on LibreVox — a public domain popular-astronomy book from the early 1900s. Many of the things they say are outdated, of course — but the speculation about things we take for granted today is fascinating.

    I’m envious of them in one way, though: they actually had (pretty constant) access to a pitch-dark sky. In college, I could go out to the sports fields north of campus and see meteors on a normal night. (Then they built massively light polluting buildings all over campus — stupid modern architecture. Large glass windows, we hates them.) These days, I dream of taking a road trip north (possibly as far as Canada) for a few days and hope that we get good weather.

    Maybe next winter. If I’m lucky, we’ll get to see the Northern Lights as well.

  • Paradoctor

    There’s also the Minbari and the Centauri and the Narn and the Vorlons and the Shadows. And you don’t want to annoy the Vorlons. And you _definitely_ don’t want to annoy the Shadows.

  • Dalet

    Now, now, everyone, let’s cut Mr LaHaye some slack. The New Testament can often be simply incomprehensible until you’ve read it in the original Klingon.

  • jeremy

    If aliens did write the LB books, it would explain their unorthodox approach to pacing, logic, written English etc.


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