On Frank J. Tipler’s “The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God, and Resurrection.”


On Frank J. Tipler’s “The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God, and Resurrection.”

This daring book with a catchy title, written by a physicist at Tulane University, elaborates on the conviction of the author that the results of current cosmological theories have finally proved the existence of God, and much more. Readers of E. T. Bell’s Men of Mathematics may remember the questionable anecdote in which Euler reportedly told an unbelieving Diderot in Catherine the Great’s court, “Sir, (a + bn )/n = x, hence God exists.” The mathematically untutored Diderot (so  the story goes) could not reply and promptly went back to France. This book may be regarded as a more serious, and considerably expanded, version of Euler’s quip. The book interprets the many insights of modern cosmology in terms that should be soothing to the average person who has been let down by the dismal long-range predictions of 19th century thermodynamics and 20th century astrophysics. Scientists like Pierre Duhem, Balfour Stewart, and P. G. Tait once tried to circumvent the ominous Clausius prediction of a heat death that would eventually consume the entire universe, but they did not carry the day. Now at last we have a more optimistic treatise whose cheerful thesis is developed on the “physical assumption that the universe must be capable of sustaining life indefinitely” (p. 11). Its message should also be exciting to theologians and others who speak with some authority, if not first hand experience, on afterlife, for it argues that an essential consequence of 20th century scientific probing is the discovery that heaven and purgatory do exist, as reported in some of the highly revered holy books of the world. More important, Tipler claims to have shown that resurrection of the dead will occur, as reiterated periodically in many dominical sermons. But before we rush to make special arrangements for our caskets on this basis, let us note that by “resurrection” the author means simulation of ourselves “in the computer minds of the far future” (p. 227).  It is all based on the picturesque Omega Point Theory. “Omega Point” refers to the final state of the universe. It is to the future what the Big Bang is to the past: a terminal point on the time axis. It is not some poetic metaphysical concept but comes in the context of quantum cosmology with wave function, boundary condition, and all. Tipler gives half a dozen (what he calls) experimental tests for his theory (pp. 139–153), although the final confirmation may not come in the next hundred billion years. The universal wave function is the Holy Spirit. The Omega Point not only will resurrect us but also will love us. Furthermore, there are aspects of Tipler’s theory (Turing-test-passing subprogram) that correspond to angels (p. 157). His theory also absolves “God of moral responsibility for evil” (p. 264), which has often been an embarrassment for traditional theologians. Tipler declares himself to be a non-Christian, indeed an atheist. He confesses that he does “not yet even believe in the Omega Point” (p. 305). But he assures the orthodox that he will attempt to avoid any of the standard heresies regarding the doctrine of the Trinity (p. 313) and is eager to prove that 20th century science is confirming Judeo-Cristain visions of the divine. Nevertheless, in conformity with the multicultural spirit of our times, Tipler is commendably inclusive in his references to religious beliefs. He shows that “the resurrection model in the Omega Point Theory is natural to the Chinese tradition” (p. 272). He assures us that “the afterlife predicted by the Omega Point Theory is quite consistent with the afterlife expected in most African societies” (p. 280). He quotes from Hindu scriptures to let us know that “the afterlife of the Rig Veda is completely consistent with the. . . Omega Point Theory” (p. 273). Similarly, though some Buddhist scholars may insist that their religion is atheistic, Tipler finds reasons to believe that “the Blissful Realm of Japanese Buddhism seems completely consistent with the Heaven predicted by the Omega Point Theory” (p. 278). Also, “The nature of resurrection according to the Qur’an is essentially the same as that outlined in this book” (p. 299); and his theory is “in agreement with the universal Muslim belief on the absolute oneness of God” (p. 304). Furthermore, unlike most other attempts at a United Nations approach to religions, Tipler’s does not ignore the religious beliefs of Amerindians. “If the Omega Point Theory is true,” he informs us, “the hopes of the Native Americans will be fulfilled” (p. 283). Tipler’s insistence that theology should be a part of physics (p. 10) is essentially a call to return to medieval scholasticism, in which there was indeed no distinction between science and theology. He correctly recognizes that “religion can be based on physics only if the physics shows that God has to be personal, and further, that the afterlife is an absolutely solid consequences of the physics,” and asserts that his Omega Point Theory accomplishes these feats ( p. 327). However outlandish some of Tipler’s claims may sound to the average practicing physicist, his arguments are based on both an understanding of current physical theories and a study of sister disciplines like philosophy and religion. Even when he talks of the soul and immortality, of resurrection and paradise, Tipler defines the terms using concepts like the Penrose c-boundary, the Poincaré recurrence theorem, and levels of implementation (computer jargon referring to processes within virtual machines). Immortality for him is when information processing never ends. Only here and there are his psychological motivations explicitly stated. For example, after giving a series of arguments in favor of Everett’s many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, he states that if this interpretation it true, “then we can prove to be true what most people would very much like to be true” (p. 172). Essentially, the Omega Point Theory conjectures the evolution of super-minds before the final dismal astrophysical catastrophe gobbles up the whole universe in one final black hole. These minds would then persist indefinitely, rejoicing in their own virtual reality. Besides being fascinating in its bold proclamations, this is, in fact, a very weighty book, filled with complex ideas and sophisticated results. Unlike some others who rush to these themes where angels fear to tread, Tipler displays an impressive breadth of knowledge and engages the reader in quite a bit of profound thinking. Unfortunately, many practicing physicists are likely to chuckle at Tipler’s claims without even going through his pages, and very few non-physicist readers will be able to decipher the bulk of his Appendix for Scientists, which demands more than a modicum of knowledge of global general relativity, current advances in high energy physics, and computer complexity theory: framework on which the Omega Point hypothesis rests. Tipler intends his work to be a “popular book,” and indeed it has been featured on at least one popular TV show. However, not too many people whose lives have been enriched by faith in God will even bother about the mathematical proofs for the divine principle. The ergo est formulation of God’s existence is of interest only to professors, authors of books and papers, and debaters, not to the spiritually awakened souls of the world. In 1888, when the positive sciences were on the ascendant, Madame Blavatsky published The Secret Doctrine, a massive tome replete with ancient writings and quotes from 19th century scientists, to establish that all the results of the physics and cosmology of her period lay implicit in the occult writings of ancient Egyptians, Hindus, and Buddhists. Tipler’s book is on target with our Zeitgeist. We live in an age when people feel they have had enough of science and rational thought, which have led us to theories that make God irrelevant and ethics a function of situations. Our sciences have dragged us to doubt and to atheism, while technology, with all its creature comforts, has engendered pollution, population problems, and the depletion of rain forests. Add to all this a degrading drug culture, crippling crime waves, promiscuous sex, broken families, and low SAT scores to boot: we have had it. It’s time to sing, “Give me that old time religion…” The only snag has been that (at least for the college-educated lot) it is difficult to be convinced de rerum natura by soothing songs and eloquent sermons. Most book-readers find it difficult to rid themselves of the suspicion that science tells it like it is, while religion and poetry are only meant to make us feel good. Now, if only science (not theology) can prove that there is indeed a Santa Claus, some of the deepest emotional problems of the modern world would be considerably alleviated. This calls for a rebirth of the old physics> Books like The Tao of Physics and the Dancing Wu Li Masters, condemnation of Descartes and the belittling of the Enlightenment, holistic medicine and multiculturalism, all have set the stage for such a paradigm shift, unwittingly spawning a resurgence of interest in astrology, telepathy and psychic revelations.

Tipler has written a masterpiece for the Age of Aquarius, conferring much-craved scientific respectability on what we have always wanted to believe in. His insight that “in the end, reason will sway emotion” (p. 9) may not be entirely correct, for often it is the opposite that occurs.

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About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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