Commmunity, Compassion, and the Universe
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Ken: Dr. [00:00:30] Ross, thanks for being here.
Dr. Ross: Oh, it's my pleasure.
Ken: Yeah. How are you holding up under the COVID situation in the last year and a half or so?
Dr. Ross: Here, in LA county, we're still under fairly severe lockdown, because we have very high case load; so we have to wear masks. But I'm fully vaccinated, so I'm getting around, even traveling on aircraft.
Ken: Yeah. And you used to travel and speak a lot. Did you get a lot of writing done during this time?
Dr. Ross: [00:01:00] Oh yeah. I definitely am going to have to give COVID-19 an acknowledgement in my next book.
Ken: Right. That's funny. Okay. So obviously, I was looking for things, as you know, to discuss; and on Reasons to Believe, just you alone on your blog, you have over 300 blog articles. On Amazon, it shows you have over... I don't know. Was it was about 2 dozen books; or at least the books you've written, or you're [00:01:30] a part of, have co-authored, or have been a part of the writing. And on Reasons to Believe, if you type in Hugh Ross, you get about a hundred resources. And the amount of things to talk about with you is so enormous; but I'm glad to know that I picked at least one or two that you haven't talked about before. Is that right?
Dr. Ross: Oh yes. You're the first.
Ken: Great. Yeah. [00:02:00] So, it's kind of a big word, but altruism; I learned that from your blog actually. But falling under helping others, I was really amazed to find that it can be a pain reliever. So first, what is a definition of altruism?
Dr. Ross: It's doing good things for other people without the expectation of any reward. And we do see some altruistic behavior amongst non-human animals; but what's unique to humans, is that we [00:02:30] do good things for other people at no relationship to us whatsoever: people in foreign countries, for example, where there is absolutely no possibility that they could ever pay us back.
Ken: Right. Then what is the opposite of altruism?
Dr. Ross: Spite.
Dr. Ross: And again, that's where humans are unique. We're the only spiteful species, where we do harm to other people, where it's actually going to harm ourselves to do it. [00:03:00] Good examples of that would be Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, did a lot of harm to their own citizens, at great harm to themselves.
Ken: So really, I found it interesting, some of the quotes you had in your article; I'll get to one of them. But altruism really is the best we can be, right? The most noble. And then spite is really the worst we can be.
Dr. Ross: Right.
Ken: Because in either case, it has nothing, no benefit for ourselves. [00:03:30] So, if you're hurting somebody or manipulating somebody, and it's not even benefiting you, which is an ethical situation in itself; that's like a level of bad, right?
Dr. Ross: Yeah. That's a real definition of hate; where you're so hateful, that you harm other people, even when it's going to do damage to yourself.
Ken: Right. I like that you quoted French philosopher, theologian, Blaise [00:04:00] Pascal, if I got his name right, from the 1600's, calling us "the most noble and wretched of creatures."
Dr. Ross: Yeah. We manifest the two extremes.
Dr. Ross: Extremely good and extremely evil.
Ken: So, that makes us different than animals, right?
Dr. Ross: Yeah.
Ken: Because animals can't express that high level of nobility, nor that malice.
Dr. Ross: Right. That's correct.
Ken: Wow. So, what are the studies that show... [00:04:30] What is the pain reliever aspect of this? Or what does it do to us if we are on the good side of helping people?
Dr. Ross: Yeah. It's a series of experiments done by scientists in China, where they took volunteers, and they subjected them to painful experiences. And in one case, they noticed that those individuals, those volunteers that were doing altruistic acts, experienced significantly less pain [00:05:00] than those that did not. So they contrasted people who were doing actual harm to others, those who were neutral, and those who were altruistic; and only in the altruistic case, did you see a significant drop in pain. And an obvious application, this could really work; they did an experiment on cancer patients. And so, one group of cancer patients were helping other cancer patients. The other group were just simply helping themselves. And it's like the group that was helping other cancer patients, [00:05:30] big drop in pain levels. And we could do quite well in our health industry if we could just lower the level of medication we have to give to people for pain. And what this is demonstrating is, instead of taking a pain reliever pill, do an altruistic act.
Ken: Right. "Help two people, and call me in the morning."
Dr. Ross: Exactly.
Ken: That's right. So, to switch topics a little bit; [00:06:00] I also was interested in this one you wrote about, "It's not good for us to be alone." So really, it's not good to be a hermit. Right?
Dr. Ross: Right. And there's been a lot of studies done by scientists on the damage that happens when you have long periods where you're cut off from other human beings. What was interesting about this set of studies, is that they showed that even short periods [00:06:30] of social isolation have damaging consequences. And by short, I mean a single day. So if you go a single day without social contact with other human beings, it does have... What they noticed, is it affects the brain. The brain doesn't function as well if you isolate yourself, even for 24 hours. So it's really making the point every day, bring some social contact in your life. Every day, do a good deed for another [00:07:00] human being; it's going to help you. And you work for a financial company. A lot of research is showing that people who actually will donate some of their money for an altruistic, cause rather than just simply putting it in their bank; they're going to feel better about themselves, and they're probably going to make wiser decisions about how to invest their money.
Ken: Right. Interesting. Specifically, What did they... How did they examine, how did they get... They [00:07:30] studied zebra finch, right?
Dr. Ross: Right. Yeah. Because they wanted to actually examine what was going on in the brain; and to do that, they actually needed to do surgery on the brains. And they felt, "We're not going to do that in humans." And so, they used zebra finches as a proxy, because zebra finches are birds that are highly social, just like we human beings. Moreover, the brain structure of these birds is quite similar to [00:08:00] the brain structure of human beings, so it's a good proxy.
And so they would take these finches, and just have them not have contact with other zebra finches for 24 hour period, compared that with those that did, and then they operated on the brains. And then they were able to discern, yes, there's serious disruption in brain function and brain gene expression for those zebra finches that were alone just [00:08:30] for a 12-hour period.
So even 12 hours can have consequences. And so, it's not just people who are put into isolation for weeks and months on end that experience damage; even short term. And I think this has applications for our prison system; is that why it's probably not good to isolate the prisoners, even for a short period. We need to find some other way to keep them safe. But likewise, [00:09:00] for the rest of the human population, it's important that we make sure we have regular social contact. Where I work, I tell our employees, "Instead of just calling one another on the phone, go to their office; have that face-to-face contact. You need the exercise anyway, but it's also going to help your brain function."
Ken: Right. And do something for them. Do some altruism.
Dr. Ross: "Do some altruism for them. Yeah. That way you'll really benefit."
Ken: Right. And [00:09:30] it all goes together, doesn't it? You can't have altruism without community, or interaction with people. So if you can fit in your daily life, just involving yourself with people, and being kind, where it doesn't necessarily benefit yourself, as a way of life. Actually, I'm going to get philosophical here, Dr. Ross; then it ceases to be altruism, because if you have that knowledge, you know it's going to help you. Right?
Dr. Ross: Well, yeah, there's that aspect. And [00:10:00] I tell our employees, "Being altruistic, getting some social interaction in your life, you're going to be able to think more and more logically. And that's what we're paying you to do."
Ken: That's right.
Dr. Ross: "Is to be thinkers. So, don't think of it as wasting time; this is actually going to improve your productivity here."
Ken: For sure. Now, we can't have you on, and not talk about something involving astrophysics; you're Canadian, [00:10:30] right?
Dr. Ross: Well, I'm a dual citizen. I've been living here in the US for four decades.
Dr. Ross: But I still have Canadian citizenship.
Ken: Okay. Just a minute or two about... It's a vast career to say in a minute or two; but a little bit about your background. How you got to what you're involved in now?
Dr. Ross: I was born, raised, and educated in Canada. I got fascinated by astronomy when I was seven years of age. The new astrophysics [00:11:00] would be my future career from AJ and onwards. I was just really focused on studying astronomy and physics all through my growing up years. And it was at age 16, I then spent a year studying cosmology, and realized the universe had a beginning. And a that's when I went on a quest to find the cosmic beginner; and had no idea where to look, but I tried to find that cosmic beginner. And the writings of the great philosophers, especially Immanuel Kant and Rene [00:11:30] Descartes.
And finally, I began to go through the world's holy books. And it's through studying a Gideon Bible that was given to me in a public school, that I realized, "This is a book that has a message that's completely compatible, what I understand through astrophysics." It even predicted a big bang cosmology. And so, it was at age 19, I became a Christian; and now I head up an organization where we have a group of research scientists that study the discoveries [00:12:00] in the frontiers of scientific research, to demonstrate the more we learn about nature and science, the more evidence we'll find for the supernatural handiwork of the creator of the universe.
Ken: And Reasons to Believe has been around what, 35 years or so?
Dr. Ross: We're in our 36th year right now.
Ken: Okay. Yeah. So I think this was a few books ago, right? Maybe 2016 or so, The Improbable Planet?
Dr. Ross: That's correct.
Ken: So it's [00:12:30] not that I... It's a large topic, and I'll try to put it in this kind of framework of every day there's about 69 million people eat at McDonald's. That doesn't make me feel like a very valuable customer, frankly. And then, I don't know a lot about astronomy, but I do know that it's said by other astronomers, that there are enough stars, or equal to, or [00:13:00] maybe... I'm sure you would know... Eight or 10 times the amount of sand on earth is the amount of stars out there in the universe. So that makes me feel like a very small, insignificant person. But if I look at the facts that you bring out in The Improbable Planet, it's not so much... It seems like even if there's billions of people, it seems to come to the conclusion that each one of us has value, with the odds of us even having life on this [00:13:30] planet.
Dr. Ross: Yeah. We look at the vastness of the universe; from what we recognize, is that make the universe the tiniest bit less massive, and then the first four minutes after the cosmic creation event, so little hydrogen will be fused into helium, future stars will not make any elements heavier than helium. You've got a universe with no carbon, no oxygen, and no nitrogen. And it goes the other way; [00:14:00] you make the universe slightly more massive than it is, then future stars rapidly convert all that hydrogen to helium, into elements as heavy as iron or heavier. But once again, you end up with a universe with no carbon, no oxygen, no nitrogen, and no possibility for life. In other words, if you want one planet on which life can exist, you need a universe that has a trillion, trillion stars in it, where those trillion, trillion stars [00:14:30] make up just a quarter percent of all the stuff of the universe.
Moreover, the universe has to be precisely the size that it is. We live in an expanding universe, but it's got to expand to a certain size before advanced life is possible. Every feature of the universe we observe must be fine-tuned to make our existence possible. And I've got a book coming out next year called Designed to the Core, where I say, "We live in a unique, super galaxy [00:15:00] cluster, that looks like no other galaxy, super galaxy cluster in the universe. And it alone has the design features to make life possible."
And we live in the only galaxy cluster that has the features that permits our existence. The only galaxy group; 200 different features of our Milky Way Galaxy must be fine-tuned to make the existence of us human beings possible. And there's only one locale within our Milky Way Galaxy [00:15:30] where existence is possible. And we're orbiting the only star; for 60 years, we astronomers have been trying to find a star that's sufficiently like our sun, that it could be a candidate to have advanced life on a planet orbiting it. Lots of stars are twins of one another; but our star, the sun, we've yet to find an adequate twin.
And likewise, the planets; we've now found almost 5,000 planets beyond our solar system. [00:16:00] And my peers anticipated we'd find a bunch that were just like the planets in our solar system. Well, 5,000 excellent planets later, we've yet to find a single planet that's like any one of the eight planets in our solar system.
And it led to an amazing discovery: every planet in our solar system must be fine-tuned to make advanced life possible here on planet Earth. A couple of months from now, we're going to be celebrating Thanksgiving. [00:16:30] I don't know what it's like for your family, but when we pray, we're going to be thanking God for Mercury, for Venus, for Uranus and Neptune; because there'd be no Thanksgiving dinner if those planets weren't exactly the way they are.
Dr. Ross: And moreover, and the five asteroid belts that are in our solar system, have to be fine-tuned to make turkey possible on your Thanksgiving table.
Ken: We kind of pushed Pluto out of the family, though, didn't we? He doesn't show up at Thanksgiving anymore.
Dr. Ross: Yeah. Yeah. [00:17:00] Yeah. If your boss says, "You've been Pluto-ed," that's not a good thing. That means you've been demoted.
Dr. Ross: But the problem was, when we discovered Pluto back in 1930, its size was greatly overestimated. We've now found asteroids that are bigger than Pluto. So we have two choices; either force all of our school children to memorize the names of 40 planets, or we demote Pluto. So we demoted Pluto.
Ken: [00:17:30] Poor Pluto.
Dr. Ross: Yeah.
Ken: So, in your general education through high school, you learn that life is sustainable on earth by the gravity of the moon; and of course, the sun is very important. But you add the element of the other planets being important to life on Earth.
Dr. Ross: Yes.
Ken: And so how, as you reference... Explain that a little more.
Dr. Ross: Well, for example, it's important [00:18:00] that our planet earth get a just right delivery of comets and asteroids, of just the right size and just the right rate. And the gas giant planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune; they act as gravitational shields, to ensure we don't get bombarded too heavily, but also ensure we don't get bombarded too lightly. And to make it work, you need to have a planet the mass of Jupiter, [00:18:30] the distance that it is from the earth, where it has most of the mass of the planets in the solar system.
And then the second shield needs to be the second most massive planet; and it needs to be more distant than Jupiter; that's Saturn. And then you also need the assistance of two smaller gas giant planets; and that's Uranus and Neptune. But those four gas giant planets generate orbital mean-motion resonances; but the smaller, [00:19:00] rocky planets, Mars and Venus, Mercury, and even our moon, play a role in breaking up those mean-motion resonances, so that the orbit of the earth is not disturbed in any substantial way. Literally, every planet plays a role; and even our moon plays a role in maintaining the stable structure of our solar system.
And recently, we've just discovered, this was a few weeks ago, that the moon formed as a result of [00:19:30] two rocky planets colliding with one another; the proto-earth and another rocky planet, Theia. And so, the moon began much closer to the Earth than it is right now. And because it formed as a result of this collision event, it started off hot. And so the early moon had a liquid iron core; and because it started so close to the Earth, the tidal forces of the Earth circulated that liquid iron, causing a dynamo and a magnetic [00:20:00] field. And if it wasn't for the combination of the moon's magnetic field and the Earth's magnetic field, the early sun would have sputtered away all of our atmosphere and all of our ocean. And so, the mass of the moon, the heat that it had when if formed, its proximity to the earth; all must be fine-tuned, so we have the atmosphere and the ocean we need for our existence today.
Ken: Is there a mathematical number put to that, of what [00:20:30] all these things lining up to have life on Earth?
Dr. Ross: Yes. You'll find at reasons.org/finetuning, a 300-page compendium that I've composed; it's all free. You can download it. But it lists 850 features of our solar system, our galaxy, that must be fine-tuned for existence to be here. And the bottom line probability, less than one chance in 10 [00:21:00] to the 1,050th power, that you're going to find another planet anywhere in the entirety of the universe that's going to have the necessary conditions. And to put that in context, that's roughly equivalent to you winning the California lottery 150 consecutive times, where you buy just one ticket each time. Or some mathematician friend of mine told me, "It's no different than the probability of winning the lottery 150 consecutive [00:21:30] times, where you don't buy any tickets at all."
Dr. Ross: It's an insane, utterly remote problem.
Ken: So that number is basically zero.
Dr. Ross: Yes.
Ken: It's almost zero, right?
Dr. Ross: Well, you've got 1,050 zeros after the one.
Dr. Ross: Again, the number of protons and neutrons in the entire universe is only 10 to the 79. So this is far more remote, that you blindfolded, could pick out a specially marked proton, from all [00:22:00] the quadrillions and quadrillions and quadrillions and quadrillions, et cetera, of protons in the entire universe, by a wide margin.
Ken: Wow. You don't strike me as the kind of guy that would watch a movie like Dumb and Dumber, but it reminds me of Jim Carrey, whose lady friend basically gives them sort of that scenario of the chances they have to be together. And he says, "So you say there's a chance." Right?
Dr. Ross: Yeah. Yeah. That was one in a million. He says, "Oh, there is a chance."
Ken: Yeah, [00:22:30] right. You do watch it.
Dr. Ross: What it takes to be winning the California lottery that many consecutive times I, wouldn't put any money on us.
Ken: That's right.
Dr. Ross: So, likewise, I wouldn't put any money in the fact that our planet and our moon are here by strictly natural means.
Dr. Ross: Somebody had to find that.
Ken: And those are things within the universe. What about on Earth? You talk about living in the Ice Age period, how that was important. Did I get that right?
Dr. Ross: Yes. [00:23:00] You got that right. That's one of the unique features of our planet Earth, is that we have an Ice Age cycle, and that requires an enormous number of factors to be fine-tuned. But without that Ace age cycle, it would not be possible that billions of people on the Earth at one time, enjoying a high technology standard of living. And what's really remarkable, is the Ice Age cycle is characterized by extreme climate instability. [00:23:30] We've been in an Ice Age cycle for the past 2.6 million years, but only over the past 9,000 years have we had extreme climate stability.
And I mentioned in my book, The Improbable Planet, how you have to have three really big asteroid collisions. Pardon me, it's in my book, Weathering Climate Change. And they have to hit the earth at just the right time, just the right place, in concert with the [00:24:00] Ice Age cycle, to set up this amazingly stable period of climate stability. And so, it's not an accident that we have this climate stability, and it's not an accident that we live in an Ice Age cycle that provides us with all the resources we need to feed billions of human beings.
Ken: Right. Yeah. It's mind-blowing information. I got to ask you; so for a simpleton like me, I can hear all the numbers; and I can't wrap [00:24:30] my mind around it. As an astrophysicist, do you ever really wrap your mind around how large the universe is, or how small the odds are that we could have life on this planet? Do you ever really grasp it? Or is it still just kind of like numbers out there?
Dr. Ross: Well, I deal with big numbers all the time, so it's a little bit easier for me to grasp this. Nevertheless, I'll confess to you, it's mind-boggling for [00:25:00] all of us in astrophysics. The numbers are just incredible; but yeah, we deal with big stuff all the time, so it's a little easier for us to comprehend the significance of this.
Ken: All right. Well, I've enjoyed this conversation. I can't thank you enough for being on, and for your life's work. Not only have you provided just a plethora of materials for people, and all the speaking you've done [00:25:30] around the world, and the writing. You're just a kind man; so I appreciate you, and I appreciate your time. Thank you, Dr. Ross.
Dr. Ross: Oh, you're very welcome.
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