Apostles' Creed Readings

Recently, Nicole and I have been running a discussion group on the Apostles' Creed at our Church.  The Apostles' Creed is a traditional statement of faith, used during baptisms, that developed organically in the Western Church over the first few centuries.  It wasn't actually written by the apostles, although it is an accurate summary of their teachings.

We're on hiatus now until mid-January, but some people asked for our written material, so here they are:


I believe in God the Father Almighty
Maker of Heaven and Earth
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary <-  Christmas readings!
Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified
Dead, and buried
He descended into hell
The third day he rose again from the dead
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
From there he shall come to judge the living and the dead
I believe in the Holy Spirit
I believe in the Holy Catholic* Church
The communion of saints
The forgiveness of sins
The resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting

*i.e. universal

Each handout discusses a different line in the Creed, and contains 1) a few quotes from the Bible, 2) a few quotes from Christian writers, and 3) two very quick arguments for why Christians believe that part of the Creed.

If you or your church wish to run a similar group, you are free to print out, use, and/or modify these handouts with no restrictions.  We begin with prayer, and take turns reading from the handout.  Then I've been getting a different church member each Sunday (not necessarily a regular member of the group) to testify for 5-10 minutes what that line in the Creed means to them personally—unfortunately this isn't included in the handouts!—and this opens up a general discussion.  Then we end with prayer.  The whole thing takes an hour.

When we finish the rest of the handouts (sometime in Februrary or March probably), I will update this post, without making an announcement elsewhere.

Have a Merry Christmas everyone!

About Aron Wall

I am a postdoctoral researcher studying quantum gravity and black hole thermodynamics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my first postdoc at UC Santa Barbara.
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8 Responses to Apostles' Creed Readings

  1. TY says:

    Aron (and Nicole) I wish I had that material for our recent Christianity 101 discussion that ran for 1 month in October last, and it was set up and conducted by our Bishop, to whom I will recommend the readings. Merry Christmas!

  2. Flavio says:

    Hello Aron.
    I am originally from brazil, but found your blog through the carrol/craig debate. I would be very happy if you could take a bit of your time to answer a few questions(i know that these are many, but i think you're the only qualified blogger to answer me those):
    1- When scientists talk about how old the universe is, to what referential are they referring to? The CMB? Does that imply that there is a preferred frame of reference?
    2- What is your views on Bill craig Neo-Lorentzian iterpretation of GR?
    3- Is the many worlds interpretation of QM Local? Is there a consensus on the physics comunity regarding that? Cause i've heard that quantum computation is based on the "spooky action at a distance".
    4- What kind of math does a theoretical physicist needs to know?
    5- Does QM imply that the law of identity doesn't hold? Do we need to be commited to quantum logic if we are to believe in QM?
    6-Is the many worlds in QM different from the multiverse? How can different universes exist if they are outside spacetime? Does that imply that they exist in a sort of hyperspacetime?
    7- I intend to be a physicist, but i would like to to do research in areas like AI and neuroscience. As a tenured physicist, is it possible to pursue research that it's outside my area?
    Thank you very much.

  3. Flavio says:

    8- How can "Field" have physical properties, like the EM field? Fields are mathematical objects, and therefore abstract. How can a field have energy?
    You don't need to go deep into answering my questions, just give me a general idea on what you think.
    Thank you very much, big fan of yours.

  4. Scott Church says:

    Hello @Flavio,

    This probably isn't the best thread for these questions, so Aron may choose to move them to ones that are. He'll have his own answers to them of course, but let me take a quick crack at some of my own [or as quick a crack as I can, at least :-) ]...

    1) and 2) - Imagine a two-dimensional (plus time) expanding universe that exists on the surface of a polka-dotted balloon. The expansion occurs when the balloon is blown up, so space-time itself (i.e. - the balloon's "rubber") is what's stretching. In such a universe, every polka-dot will see the balloon's inflation the same way--with itself at the "center" of the expansion, and all other polka-dots receding from it at speeds proportional to how far away they are on the balloon surface. Every polka-dot will be along for the ride, so to speak, and coordinate systems attached to any of them will experience the expansion from the same spatiotemporal perspective. Coordinate systems like these are said to be comoving, and all will measure the same age for this balloon universe. Our universe is a 4-dimensional (3-D plus time) equivalent of this. In our comoving frames the age of the universe is 13.73 billion years old, and since the earth is very nearly comoving, that's what we observe.

    W.L. Craig's "Neo-Lorentzian" interpretation is an attempt to make GR compatible with presentism (also known as the A-theory of time). In A-theory time, only the present moment is real--the past no longer exists, and the future doesn't yet exist. In Craig's view, comoving reference frames define the "flowing" present and are thus preferred. While it is possible to make this work, the end result (IMHO at least) creates far more problems than it solves--if for no other reason, because if there's one sacred, "don't-make-me-come-over-there-and-smack-you" rule in physics, it's covariance--nature is not a respecter of coordinate systems. [Aron has discussed these issues at length here and here.]

    3) and 8) - The short answer is yes... many worlds is a local interpretation of QM, and as such, circumvents the need for "spooky action at a distance." For more on this, and the nature of fields in QM, see Part I and Part II of my Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics series of posts.

    6) - Yes and no. There are different classes of multiverse theories. In the schema most commonly referred to (Max Tegmark's) the parallel "branches" of the many worlds interpretation are treated as "universes," and the collective wave function of them all is considered the multiverse. But the term multiverse is most commonly used in reference to inflationary string landscape cosmologies. In these, it's postulated that eternal inflation seeds a vast number of non-inflating "bubbles" within a vastly larger inflating space-time, where metastable states in the inflaton field have relaxed to their ground (or lower) energy states. These bubbles would then be "universes" isolated from each other in the larger "multiverse" space-time. If string/M-theory is true, then an enormous "landscape" of potential string/space-time configurations may form within these bubbles, each of which would lead to different physical parameters and laws. For reasons that are beyond the scope here, multiverse theories of this type are highly controversial. They aren't likely to be testable anytime soon, and as such, many physicists feel they're not legitimately scientific. The arguments on both sides show little sign of abating.

    4) - Aron will have his own suggestions for where best to begin. But the best introduction I've seen to date, at least for the mathematics of general relativity, is Peter Collier's book A Most Incomprehensible Thing. It begins with an introduction to the mathematics of freshman physics and from there, takes you all the way to manifolds, differential geometry, and tensor calculus one step at a time. This is where I would recommend you start.

  5. Flavio says:

    Thank you for responding my questions, Scott. I think this is my favorite blog. If i comment on old posts, will i be responded? Cause there's a lot of things i want to say. For example, before i discovered this blog, i used to think that the Kalam cosmological argument was the best argument for god. As i am a B-theorist, i think it fais. I now think its the methaphysical/leibnizian one, as you put on " Will the real god God please stand up?".(Even thought i am actually an atheist, mainly because i am a physicalist, and i think "minds" and "persons" cannot exist without brains.)
    I saw your "Part II of Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics", and the consistent histories interpretation strikes me as the best. It seems that the only way to preserve the laws of classical probability and logic would be to deny the ontological reality of U. What do you think? And is there a book where i can explore deeper the different interpretations of QM?
    And finally, is there any posts here or elsewhere and books that adresses the fine tuning and the ontology of complex numbers?(On whether complex numbers have a physical meaning as opposed to a mathematical trick)

  6. Aron Wall says:

    Welcome to my blog!

    Sorry, I'm in Argentina right now and have poor internet access, so I didn't notice your posts in the spam filter. In the future, if your comments fail to appear, please email me rather than simply continuing to try to post them.

    As stated in my comment policy, Comments on old posts will be responded to (if I have time), and in fact in the future I would prefer that you ask your questions on the most appropriate old post, rather than on the most recent post. Thanks! Aron

  7. Scott Church says:

    Hello @Flavio,

    My pleasure Sir! I'm glad you were able to find my QM posts... I tried to link them in my last but screwed up the HTML tags.

    Regarding the consistent histories (CH) interpretation of QM, I do find it more compelling than some of the others, but I'm don't find it convincing. As I noted in Part II of that series, it's not clear to me that CH captures the real essence of wave function collapse as well as its proponents claim, and it's difficult for me to believe that something so mathematically consistent and fundamental to the nature of physical processes can't be meaningfully said to have an ontic reality of its own. I did mention that at present, I lean toward objective collapse theories, but they have their issues too. For the moment, I prefer them mainly because compared to other interpretations at least, their issues strike me as theoretically and metaphysically surmountable. But that said, I don't really think we have a truly workable ontic interpretation of QM yet. In the end, if I had to put money down on something today it'd be the thoughts of J.B.S. Haldane... I suspect that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose but queerer than we can suppose.

    As for books on deeper explorations of the different interpretations of QM, Aron may know of some good ones, but offhand, I'm not aware of any that I'd recommend. One of the problems with popular books on topics like this is that physics takes us to the bleeding edge of human knowledge, where there be many dragons. In such lofty places, the difference between legitimate theoretical speculation and crackpot fantasy becomes ever harder to distinguish, and it's all the more important to keep the former on a very tight leash of finite length. Unfortunately, the lay public is drawn to the latter like moths to the flame, and for those on university salaries who are trying to bring digestible science to them, the prospect of a New York Times bestseller and editors putting thumbscrews on them to produce one are often too much to resist. Any good ones that do exist will be worth their weight in uncut diamonds. But for every such work in print, there will be dozens that will literally dumb down the average reader.

    But that said, you could do a lot worse than the Wikipedia page on that topic and the child pages linked for each interpretation. I might also recommend Bell's book Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics, although it's not an easy read unless one has at least some background in QM already. For fine-tuning questions, I'd recommend A Fortunate Universe by Luke Barnes and Geraint Lewis. The ontology of numbers I can't speak to, although there have been numerous criticisms of Max Tegmark's book Our Mathematical Universe, including this one by Peter Woit. [BTW, for what it's worth, I don't know much about Woit's personal beliefs, but he ain't exactly a cheerful advocate of theism, and as such, not subject to any biases in that direction.]

    One last thing, regarding whether the omniscient God of classical theism requires a brain, if you haven't seen it yet, you might be interested in this post of Aron's.


  8. Aron Wall says:

    To cover the stuff that wasn't already mentioned:

    1. The FLRW model of Big Bang cosmology is a spacetime where space at one time is perfectly symmetrical (homogeneous--the same in every place, and also isotropic--the same in every direction). In this highly symmetric model, there is indeed a preferred frame of reference--you use the time coordinate where what I just said is true! This is called cosmological time and it is the frame of reference in which the CMB looks nearly the same in all directions. It is in this approximation that there is a well-defined age of the universe.

    But, the FLRW model is just an approximation to real cosmology since at short enough distances, matter is lumpy and clustered into galaxies! Once you take that into account, there is no longer a single best frame of reference to use. You could define the age of the universe using the longest timelike geodesic which goes back to the Big Bang, but this is a somewhat arbitrary choice. In any case, these ambiguities due to deviation from FLRW are small compared to the error bars on the measurements of the universe's age.

    3. The word local is very tricky and you have to define it carefully. There are senses in which QM is local, and other senses in which it is not. I don't think I agree that Many Worlds is a local interpretation, but that doesn't matter since its crazy anyway. :-) (At dinner last night, a bunch of physicists seemed to agree with me about why MWI is nuts, so that was gratifying.)

    4. A lot but you don't necessarily need to learn it all at once. Here's a good index of resources.

    5. In general the answer to questions like this is: it depends on your interpretation of QM, which is deeply controversial and confusing, even to the experts.

    7. Once you have tenure, nobody can really stop you from studying other things, but it might still be hard to get grants if you don't have a reputation in the new area. If you want to study AI and neuroscience, why not do your research there from the beginning? You could also consider studying biophysics (if you're interested in the hardware of the brain) or computational complexity (if you are interested in AI and the software of the brain). The latter is more of a Comp.Sci./Math topic, but has recently become a fad within high energy physics, so who knows?

    8. Fields are real physical entities, as far as we can tell. Sure, we use math to describe them, but that goes for particles and everything else too. It doesn't mean there isn't a real physical entity there.

    9. A complex number is just a pair of real numbers, with a rule for adding and multiplying them. Almost any time you have something with 2 real degrees of freedom, you can describe it with a complex number if you want to. This is particularly useful when there is a rotational symmetry that relates the 2 degrees of freedom.

    I was going to link to my Does God Need a Brain post, but St. Scott beat me to it. This is part of a longer series arguing for Theism which you may find interesting.

    I agree that our minds depend on matter (at least in their current form) but God's mind is very different from ours in several relevant respects, so I don't think it's resonable to draw too close of an analogy between them. The fact is, we don't even really understand why our brains can be conscious, so how can you be so confident when it comes to a being (or rather, Being Itself) which is radically different from ourselves? My own opinion (which I argue for in the subsequent posts of that series) is that if God did not possess consciousnes, a physical system such a brain couldn't be conscious either!

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