One of my favorite projects recently was preparing an unusual article for The Interpreter that looks at Joseph Smith’s cosmology in light of some truly eye-opening views on the cosmos found in recent Chinese science fiction. Along the way I look at some common charges that what Joseph Smith gave us isn’t all that novel after all and just a cheap regurgitation of ideas already abounding in his day. The article, which I hope you’ll read and share, is “Joseph Smith’s Universe vs. Some Wonders of Chinese Science Fiction,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 29 (2018): 105-152. It was a bit risky for The Interpreter to publish this unusual piece, but I hope it won’t tarnish them too much.
In looking at how others in Joseph’s day reacted to the increasing awareness that there are many stars in the galaxy, and then considering how modern theology deals with the overwhelming magnitude of the Creation that we can now witness through the Hubble telescope and other means, I continued to be struck with the significance of the question, “Why bother?” If God is wholly other, totally immaterial, utterly incomprehensible, totally fulfilled independently of us troublesome humans, why bother with the Creation? So that we can admire His works, some say. But why does He need anyone to admire Him? Why go to such length to create such an astounding cosmos? I find much more compelling guidance in the universe of Joseph Smith, where God declares what His motivation and agenda is: “This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” the statement made not of a wholly other entity, but of a heavenly Parent yearning for the welfare of His children, His sons and daughters.
What Joseph gave us is much more meaningful that we may have realized.
Postscript: An Unnecessary Distraction from “Electric Universe” Supporters
Talking about science fiction, cosmology, and religion in the same breath is a risky endeavor because it sometimes brings out some pretty wild statements about science from some quarters. Some people have gotten caught up in some strange theories that sound “educated” and “better than Einstein” but really lack a plausible foundation. Already in my Inbox is a dogmatic comment from someone declaring that talk about the Big Bang, etc., is all ridiculous compared to the real science of the “Electric Universe,” the theory that plasma and electricity, not gravity, dominate the interactions between the bodies of the universe.
The Electric Universe (EU) theory holds, for example, that the sun is not driven by fusion at its core, but is a plasma ball whose electromagnetic forces are the key to its behavior and its interactions with the solar system. But that aspect of the theory utterly fails and should take about two minutes to debunk. The fusion model predicts a significant flux of neutrinos coming from the core of the sun. The EU model does not. The fusion model predicts that the photons from the sun should show a smooth spectrum typical of thermal radiation, while the EU model, with the sun more like a big fluorescent light, should have a much different spectrum with numerous share lines, not s smooth curve. Both issues provide strong empirical support for the fusion model and contradict the EU model. See “Testing the Electric Universe” by Brian Koberlein, February 25, 2014. Further details on the neutrino issue are discussed by Brian Koberlein in “Neutrino Rain,” October 6, 2014.
‘The EU model disputes relativity and many other aspects of science for which there is growing and detailed empirical support. Good theories make specific predictions that can then be verified. Bad theories fail over and over, and require special patching to try to add on something to explain the contradictory data. Revision of many details of theories is common and does not of itself rule out the merit of a general theory that was incomplete, but when the theory fails to make any meaningful predictions that can later be verified, and when every test becomes a question mark or direct refutation, there’s a problem.
Further resources on this unnecessary distraction (a distraction because this post is about the article at The Interpreter, not about radical alternatives to mainstream science):
- Michael Shermer, “The Electric Universe Acid Test,” MichaelShermer.com, Oct. 2015.
- Sarah Scoles, “The People Who Believe Electricity Rules the Universe,” Vice.com, Feb. 18 2016.
- “The Electric Universe Theory Debunked,” Neutrino Dreaming, Sept. 29, 2011.
But to get a feel for how debates tend to go when the EU theory is being advocated, spend some time reading the comments for “Testing the Electric Universe” by Brian Koberlein, where Dr. Koberlein shows incredible patience in dealing with basic issues over and over. He also raises many other important issues along the way, including the important observation that making a little ball of cool plasma in a laboratory that looks like the sun and shows some interesting hot spots or other sunlike things does mean that it has any plausible connection to the complex phenomena that the massive sun actually has. Yes, plasma can be bright and hot and do some cool things, but the laboratory experiments I’ve read about don’t come close to providing a plausible model for the sun–the mathematical and physical rigor needed is not there. Making something tiny look like something big doesn’t mean the tiny lab model in a highly contrived setting tells us anything meaningful about a vastly bigger and much different system.