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Sean Carroll’s “Ten Considerations” for Naturalists

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This is the final post in our long series exploring physicist Sean Carroll's new book, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016). In the book's penultimate chapter, which in my view is the book's strangest, Carroll offers an alternative to the Bible's Ten Commandments, what he calls his "Ten Considerations." They read like a mushy collection of Oprah-isms: Life isn't forever. Desire is built into life. What matters is what matters to people. We... Read More

Learning Morality from Bill and Ted

BillTed

Early in this review series, I mentioned how Sean Carroll's new book, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016), gradually becomes weaker as you move through the chapters. It starts off strong and invigorating as he talks about cosmology and fundamental physics, his specialities. But as he moves into the philosophy of mind, meaning, and morality, he gets a bit wobbly. Moving From Ought to Is That's evident especially in his chapter on "What... Read More

Is Free Will Real or Are We All Determined?

A photo by Matthew Wiebe. unsplash.com/photos/tBtuxtLvAZs

Throughout Sean Carroll's best-selling book, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016), Carroll seems comfortable holding two apparently contradictory views. This has been show throughout our review series. For example, he's fine both believing that causality is illusory (at the fundamental level of reality) and true (at the macroscopic level.) We see this again in the chapter he dedicates to free will, which begins with this assessment (emphasis... Read More

Why Does the Universe Exist? Atheist Physicist Sean Carroll Answers…

Nothing

I have to admit, when I first opened Sean Carroll's new book, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016) I immediately flipped to chapter 25, titled "Why Does the Universe Exist?" For many thinkers, ancient and modern, this is the philosophical question: why is there something rather than nothing? Your answer to this question drives your answers to most other big questions, including those about God, meaning, morality, and more. So I was... Read More

The Power and Danger of Bayes’ Theorem

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I've noted many flaws and points of confusion in Sean Carroll's new book, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016), but one of the strongest sections is its explanation of Bayes' Theorem. The Theorem is a quantitive way to express confidence in certain beliefs. It requires assigning credences (or probabilities) to events or statements, and then tweaking them based on new information. For example, suppose you're wondering whether a randomly... Read More

Is the Passage of Time Real or Just an Illusion?

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One of the main targets of Sean Carroll's new book, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016), is causality. Like many naturalists, he sees where the causal chain leads—a series of contingent causes demands a necessary First Cause. So if you want to avoid a First Cause, you must get rid of causality. As discussed in an earlier post, Carroll's first attempt appealed to the conservation of momentum. It wasn't clear how that principle... Read More

Sean Carroll, Determinism, and Laplace’s Demon

IceCream

Today we continue our series looking at physicist Sean Carroll's new book, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016). After exploring whether the universe needed a cause to get started, Carroll next turns to the topic of determinism: is reality determined or free? Laplace's Demon Carroll's answer relies on a famous thought-experiment involving "Laplace's Demon". Pierre-Simon Laplace was an accomplished French physicist and mathematician.... Read More

Is Sean Carroll Correct That the Universe Moves By Itself?

SeanCarroll

Many theists, including myself, believe that some of the strongest arguments for God rely on the logical need for a First Cause of the universe (or First Mover, depending on which argument you use.) This sort of argument goes back at least to Aristotle, who thousands of years ago suggested that, "Everything that is in motion must be moved by something" (and by motion he meant any change whatsoever, not just locomotion, or spatial change). However, physicist Sean Carroll thinks Aristotle... Read More

The Big Problem with Sean Carroll’s “Poetic Naturalism”

CaptainKirk

Today we continue our look at Sean Carroll's anticipated new book,The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016). Carroll starts his book by diving right into the deep end. The first chapter in the first section concerns a huge topic: the fundamental nature of reality. Carroll explains that philosophers consider this the domain of ontology, but then he offers a strange definition. Ontology, he says, is "the study of the basic structure of the... Read More