• Big Bang: Is there room for God?

     

    An interesting article from the BBC. I think this sort of thing should happen more often – there is certainly more room for philosophy in   science than is presently given:

    Big Bang: Is there room for God?

    By Victoria Gill BBC

    A computer-generated image of the Big Bang

    The discovery of the Higgs boson is so fresh that the exhibit in Cern’s museum has not yet been updated.

    In the exhibit – a short film that projects images of the birth of the Universe onto a huge screen – the narrator poses the question: “Will we find the Higgs boson”?

    Now that the Higgs has finally been spotted – a scientific discovery that takes us closer than ever to the first moments after the Big Bang – Cern has opened its doors to scholars that take a very different approach to the question of how the Universe came to exist.

    On 15 October, a group of theologians, philosophers and physicists came together for two days in Geneva to talk about the Big Bang.

    So what happened when people of such different – very different – views of the Universe came together to discuss how it all began?

    “I realised there was a need to discuss this,” says Rolf Heuer, Cern’s director general.

    “There’s a need for us, as naive scientists, to discuss with philosophers and theologians the time before or around the Big Bang.”

    Cern’s co-organiser of this unusual meeting of minds was Wilton Park – a global forum set up by Winston Churchill.

    It is an organisation usually associated with high-level discussions about global policy and even confidential exchanges on matters of international security, which perhaps emphasises how seriously Cern is taking this exchange.

    But even the idea of a “time before the Big Bang” is impossible territory for physicists.

    It is a zone of pure speculation – before time and space as scientists understand it came to exist, and where the laws of physics completely break down.

    So does that make it a realm where science and religion can come to an understanding?

    One of the meeting’s most outspoken participants, Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, says definitely not.

    “One gets the impression from a meeting like this that scientists care about God; they don’t,” he says.

    Science and faith

    • The first person to propose the Big Bang theory was a catholic priest. Georges Lemaitre was also professor of physics at the Catholic University of Louvain when, in 1931, he proposed in an academic paper that the expanding universe must have originated at a finite point in time. His religious interests were as important to him as his science, and he served as president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences from 1960 until his death in 1966.
    • Charles Darwin, who could be said to have sparked the religion v science debate, struggled with his own faith. Darwin trained as an Anglican parson and, in his diaries from explorations on his ship, the Beagle, even referred to himself as “quite orthodox”. In his autobiography, Darwin wrote: “The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble to us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.”

    “You can’t disprove the theory of God.

    “The power of science is uncertainty. Everything is uncertain, but science can define that uncertainty.

    “That’s why science makes progress and religion doesn’t.”

    But the suggestion that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible was a point of contention during the meeting.

    John Lennox, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, is also a self-declared Christian. He thinks the very fact that human beings can do science is evidence for God.

    “If the atheists are right the mind that does science… is the end product of a mindless unguided process.

    “Now, if you knew your computer was the product of a mindless unguided process, you wouldn’t trust it.

    “So, to me atheism undermines the rationality I need to do science.”

    But this seemingly intractable God versus science debate was only a part of the meeting.

    Prof Heuer said he wanted the participants to “develop a common understanding” of one another’s viewpoints.

    But even exchanging ideas was, at times, tricky; scientists and philosophers often speak a very different language.

    An image of data recorded at Cern during experiments is search of the Higgs boson (c) CernThe discovery of a “Higgs-like particle” preceded this religious and scientific meeting

    Andrew Pinsent is research director at the University of Oxford’s Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion. He is also a trained physicist who once worked at Cern.

    “We have to educate one another in the terms that we use,” he says.

    For example, he explains, “philosophers have been discussing the meaning of [the word] truth for centuries”.

    But for many physicists, it is uncomfortable territory to use that word when talking about what we know about the Universe and the Big Bang.

    Prof Krauss says that the word is at the heart of “one of the fundamental differences between science and religion”.

    “People who are religious believe they know the truth,” he says.

    “And they know the answer before even asking the question. Whereas, with scientists, it’s the exact opposite.

    “In science, although we use the word truth, what really matters is if it works.

    “That’s why it’s a sensitive issue, because if you know the truth, there’s no need to deal with this little question of whether something works or not.”

    The Big Bang

    Stellar explosion

    Despite the barrier of opposing world views and incompatible lexicons, Dr Pinsent believes that engaging with philosophy could help science to better address the very big questions.

    “There has been no new conceptual breakthrough in physics in a quarter of a century,” he says.

    He says this is partly because science in isolation “is very good for producing stuff” but not so good for producing ideas.

    He invokes Einstein as an example of a truly philosophical scientist.

    “[He] began by asking the sorts of questions a child would ask,” says Dr Pinsent, “like, ‘what would it be like to ride on a beam of light?'”

    And Rolf Heuer is open to the idea of bringing philosophy into Cern itself.

    “I wouldn’t go so far as to let them run experiments here,” he jokes, “but I wouldn’t see any problem to have a philosopher in residence.”

    Too specialised?

    The main conclusion of the event has been simple: keep talking.

    “We face a problem in our culture of hyperspecialisation,” says Dr Pinsent.

    “This ignorance of other fields can cause problems, like a lack of social cohesion.”

    And although Prof Krauss said the meeting felt at times like “people who can’t communicate trying to communicate,” even he sees some value in this somewhat esoteric exchange.

    “Many people of faith view science as a threat,” he said.

    “I don’t think science is a threat, so it is useful for scientists to show that they don’t necessarily view it that way.”

    As one contributor put it during the meeting: “Religion doesn’t add to scientific facts, but it does shape our view of the world.”

    And since Cern is searching for clues about how that world came to exist in the first place, it wants to see how its discoveries might fit into any world view.

    Category: cosmologyScience and religion

    Tags:

    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      Those sentences from John Lennox just show (to me) the complete idiocy of this entire issue.

       

      “If the atheists are right the mind that does science… is the end product of a mindless unguided process.

      But it’s not.  Our minds exist because they have survival value.  Just look around.  Humans are the most fit species to ever walk the Earth.  Sure, we cheat, using our minds to develop technology to keep us alive in situations where we would otherwise be dead, but that’s kind of the point.Of course, evolution isn’t an ‘unguided process’ either.  Of course, I think that Lennox means that evolution is not guided by a ‘plan’ or a ‘mind’ to direct it’s actions.  But in this case, evolution is guided.  By natural selection.  Organisms that are more fit tend to survive and breed more than organisms that are less fit.

      “Now, if you knew your computer was the product of a mindless unguided process, you wouldn’t trust it.

      Couple of points here.  The first is that ‘design’ as applied to computer chips for example, does not mean that computers can be trusted.  Anyone else remember how the first pentiums (or was it 486s) were off on floating point operations because errors crept into the design?

      We trust computers because they have been shown to work and provide accurate results again and again, even when checked against the real world and hand calculations.  That’s what science is.  It’s evidence, not belief.  No one (well, maybe in the Southern US) just believes computers work, we know that they work because we’ve tested them… it’s called science.

      Two, let’s just assume for a moment that evolution, as I described above, is correct.  Do you trust your dog?  Do you trust your wife and child?  Do you trust your pastor?  Because all of those are developed by the same process as you were.  (again, with the caveat that Lennox has a common misunderstanding about evolution)

      But what about the other way?  Well, first what is the other way?  Goddidit?  Lennox would rather believe that a capricious monster is responsible for everything than a scientifically ammeanable process? 

      Then does he also believe that pi = 3 as stated in the Bible?

      “So, to me atheism undermines the rationality I need to do science.”

      This is another indomitably stupid thing to say.  Atheism is non-belief in gods.  That’s all.  It has nothing to do with rationality (as we’ve seen recently).  It has nothing to do with whether science works or not.  It has nothing to do with anything, except the non-belief in deities.

      So, to me, Lennox has a lot of common misunderstandings about how the world actually works and has allowed his belief system to interfere with his thinking.  He hasn’t been skeptical about what he reads and doesn’t question the authority that planted these false ideas in his mind.  Maybe he is quite intelligent, but he doesn’t use that intelligence.

      • Thanks for that. I went ot see a John Lennox lecture. He was OK arguing for God – the usual stuff – and then does a quantum leap to get to his version – a Northern Irish God that he just so happened to grow up with.

      • i agree with your points. I think Leenox is referring to the Argument from Reason (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_reason as proposed by Lewis, and latterly, Reppert) as well as The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eaan EAAN as proposed by Plantinga).

        In effect, the quotes would appear to be the conclusion to those arguments (one of which I am starting to have here http://www.amazon.com/review/R3GPWUDH4VVNE6/ref=cm_cd_pg_next?ie=UTF8&asin=0199812098&cdForum=Fx3KVCAWOMIM86N&cdPage=2&cdThread=Tx2CLLEAM53P2ZD&store=books#wasThisHelpful)

        • Andy_Schueler

          The EAAN has got to be one of the silliest arguments I´ve ever heard. One of Platinga´s premises is:

          R as the proposition that our faculties are “reliable”, where, roughly, a cognitive faculty is “reliable” if the great bulk of its deliverances are true.

          And this is so obviously and transparently wrong that it still baffles me how a respected philosopher could come up with it. Every child that has ever seen an optical illusion should realize that our cognitive faculties are not reliable. Our abilities of perception, memory, decision-making, belief-forming etc. are all prone to very long lists of biases:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_biases_in_judgment_and_decision_making
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_memory_biases
          And it´s not just that one of his premises is downright stupid, his conclusions are no better, because he argues that evolution is unlikely to be true if our cognitive faculties are indeed unreliable, but the reliability of our cognitive faculties is completely irrelevant for this question – what matters to assess whether evolution is likely to be true is the reliability of the scientific method.

          • Andy, to play devil’s advocate, 

            Are you saying that the bulk of our faculties are false? I don;t think he is saying they are 100% but he is saying, on balance, that they are reliable.

            I haven’t greatly looked into EAAN but I would love to read a good, concise refutation. Any pointers?

            • Andy_Schueler

              It depends on what we use our faculties for – for assessing whether an animal is dangerous and for whether fight or flight would be the best option in such a case, they are pretty reliable. But when it comes to science, politics, philosophy and so on, I would say that they are not reliable at all. 
              A great example for that is partisan thinking in politics:

              Democrats and Republicans alike are adept at making decisions without letting the facts get in the way, a new study shows.
              And they get quite a rush from ignoring information that’s contrary to their point of view.
              Researchers asked staunch party members from both sides to evaluate information that threatened their preferred candidate prior to the 2004 Presidential election. The subjects’ brains were monitored while they pondered.
              The results were announced today.
              “We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning,” said Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory University. “What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts.”
              Bias on both sides The test subjects on both sides of the political aisle reached totally biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted, Westen and his colleagues say.
              Then, with their minds made up, brain activity ceased in the areas that deal with negative emotions such as disgust. But activity spiked in the circuits involved in reward, a response similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix, Westen explained.
              The study points to a total lack of reason in political decision-making.
              “None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged,” Westen said. “Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones.”
              Notably absent were any increases in activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most associated with reasoning.
              The tests involved pairs of statements by the candidates, President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, that clearly contradicted each other. The test subjects were asked to consider and rate the discrepancy. Then they were presented with another statement that might explain away the contradiction. The scenario was repeated several times for each candidate.
              A brain-scan technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, revealed a consistent pattern. Both Republicans and Democrats consistently denied obvious contradictions for their own candidate but detected contradictions in the opposing candidate.
              “The result is that partisan beliefs are calcified, and the person can learn very little from new data,” Westen said.
              Other relatively neutral candidates were introduced into the mix, such as the actor Tom Hanks. Importantly, both the Democrats and Republicans reacted to the contradictions of these characters in the same manner.
              The findings could prove useful beyond the campaign trail.
              “Everyone from executives and judges to scientists and politicians may reason to emotionally biased judgments when they have a vested interest in how to interpret ‘the facts,'” Westen said.

              http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11009379/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/political-bias-affects-brain-activity-study-finds/#.UIqQk8VmJOI

              I haven’t greatly looked into EAAN but I would love to read a good, concise refutation. Any pointers?

              Elliott Sober published a refutation of the EAAN:
              http://fitelson.org/plant.pdf 
              he´s trying to argue that the conjunction “Evolution is true” & “Naturalism is true” is not as unlikely as Platinga claims within the bayesian framework that he uses. 
              I would do it differently – I would try to refute the EAAN by pointing out that the reliability of science is not based on the reliability of our thought processes, but rather on the reliability of the scientific method, which corrects for the many biases in our thought processes.

      • Copyleft

        Yeah, I’ve gotta say Lennox’s argument stuck out as particularly and blatantly silly in an otherwise thoughtful discussion.

      • Reasonably Faithless

        Fantastic response to Lennox.  I would add to your point about the dog that, on Lennox’s view, God made the dog – but this gives us no more reason to trust the dog’s opinions than our own.  He is simply making the genetic fallacy.  And, as you say, we think the way we do because after millions of years, this has proved to be the best way to survive.  It seems most people (evolutionists or otherwise) would agree that knowing the truth is generally better for survival than believing falsehoods.

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      Question, on the Wikipedia page you listed, Plantinga defines naturalism as “the idea that there is no
      such person as God or anything like God; we might think of it as
      high-octane atheism or perhaps atheism-plus.”

      But on the naturalism page I read: “Naturalism (philosophy)
      is any of several philosophical stances wherein all phenomena or
      hypotheses, commonly labeled as supernatural, are either false or not
      inherently different from natural phenomena or hypotheses.”

      Isn’t that kind of like Michael Behe changing the definition of science to allow ID.. oh and BTW alchemy, witchcraft, voodoo, astrology, etc.?

      I seem to be seeing some subtle differences in the Naturalism definition and what Plantinga says. 

      I’m not a philosopher, so I don’t get into all these details much, but does that make sense?

      • What, philosophers redefining terms or committing equivocation in order to satisfy their conclusions?!! Heaven forbid!

        That could be an issue with the wiki article since that was taken from an online article and made to look like it was a definition from the original argument.

        Effectively, it comes down to this:

        “Thus, Plantinga argued, the probability that our minds are reliable under a conjunction of philosophical naturalism and naturalistic evolution is low or inscrutable. Therefore, to assert that naturalistic evolution is true also asserts that one has a low or unknown probability of being right. This, Plantinga argued, epistemically defeats the belief that naturalistic evolution is true and that ascribing truth to naturalism and evolution is internally dubious or inconsistent.”

        The problem for me being that he needs to do an analysis of all beliefs ever known to man and then weigh up whether they were right or not in order to even start advancing his case, no?

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      See that’s why this philosophy stuff drives me to drink (if I drank).  So Plantinga is saying that all the evidence that supports naturalism and evolution isn’t important because humans are biased?

      This reminds me of an incident a few years ago.  I was playing name that gap with a creationist and he swore up and down that the reason for belief in God was because science couldn’t answer x.  The day after this claim, a paper was published that show a step-by-step process, of not only how it happened, but that it does happen, naturally.  We never saw that guy again.

      Anyway, it doesn’t matter that our minds are not reliable.  Doesn’t statistical analysis, blind and double blind studies, and peer-review (sort of) take care of the unreliable human mind, our inherent biases, and all that squishy stuff? 

      I used to tell my students, that in any experiment or process, it’s most likely the humans that will screw things up.  To do the best work, you need to remove humans from the picture as much as possible… and that includes in the data analysis.  but I digress.

      • Again, I am not that aware of EAAN, but it would seem to me that that is a slam dunk. It seems that Plantinga is positing that the belief in evolution is in some sort of vacuum, that we can assess the probability of evolution being true merely by assessing how often we are right or wrong. But the truth of evolution, aside from what humans think, is not affected by that probability.

        Moreover, as you say, humans rectify faulty cognitive processes with a rigorous procedure: the scientific method with peer-review.

        As Baba Brinkman says, performance, feedback, revision.

        http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2012/09/06/bloody-awesome-rap-and-evolution/

    • JohnM
      • Andy_Schueler

        Once you’ve arrived at “A god”, you just look at evidence for the different candidates out there.

        What “evidence” supports your God over any other one ? 

        And there’s a reason why people like to hate on “God of the bible”, while they don’t bother wasting their time on criticizing Zeus.

        Yes, and this reason is that the followers of the two big monotheistic faiths were notoriously violent and murdered everyone who refused to bow down to their God. 

    • Gandolf

      I agree John Lennox ideas seem silly. That minds are very useful , would already seem to be enough reason they would have evolved, without any need to be guided by anything other than evolution.

    • JohnM

      Andy_Schueler:

      Yes, and this reason is that the followers of the two big monotheistic faiths were notoriously violent and murdered everyone who refused to bow down to their God.

      And the old Zeus( Ju-peter ) worshipping Roman empire, wasn’t? You know.. Crucifixions.. People cheering gladiators in Colosseum.. People being thrown at the lions, because they refused to sacrifice to the Roman Gods. All that sort of stuff.

      I’m also living in a country that used to worship Thor and Odin.. They had a habit of jumping in long boats and going on weekend-trips down the cost, killing, plundering and raping the women. That was their way of pleasing their gods..

      Seriously.. Come back when you have studied history.

      • Andy_Schueler

        And the old Zeus( Ju-peter ) worshipping Roman empire, wasn’t? You know.. Crucifixions.. People cheering gladiators in Colosseum.. People being thrown at the lions, because they refused to sacrifice to the Roman Gods. All that sort of stuff.

        And as soon as christians had the power to do so, they started torturing and murdering everyone who they considered to be a “heretic”.  

        I’m also living in a country that used to worship Thor and Odin.. They had a habit of jumping in long boats and going on weekend-trips down the cost, killing, plundering and raping the women. That was their way of pleasing their gods..

        And you think christians were any different ? The spanish conquest of south america was nothing but murdering everyone who refused to convert to christianity and stealing their gold (whether they converted or not). 

    • JohnM

       Andy_Schueler :

      And as soon as christians had the power to do so, they started torturing and murdering everyone who they considered to be a “heretic”.

      Again, you need to study some history.

      Emperor Constantine wasn’t a follower of Christ. He was as pagan as they come.

      Christ was a pacifist. Any follower of Christ, is a pacifist.

      And you think christians were any different ?

      Christ was different. So by definition, any follower of Christ, would be different.

      The spanish conquest of south America was nothing but murdering everyone who refused to convert to christianity and stealing their gold (whether they converted or not).

      That’s the Roman Catholic Church for you. And they actually murdered far more Jews and Christians.

      • Andy_Schueler

        Christ was a pacifist. Any follower of Christ, is a pacifist.

        The cleansing of the temple described in the gospel of John and the entire book of revelation tell a different story. 

        Christ was different. So by definition, any follower of Christ, would be different.

        Allah is different, so by definition, any follower of Allah is different. See how silly that sounds ? 

        That’s the Roman Catholic Church for you. And they actually murdered far more Jews and Christians.

        And why did they murder Jews ? Because of the antisemitic garbage in the Bible like John 8:42-44
        “42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

        • JohnM

          If one is not following in the footsteps of Jesus, then why would one be a follower of Jesus?

          And why did they murder Jews ? Because of the antisemitic garbage in the Bible like John 8:42-44

          Not at all. It was and still is, because the Catholic Church preaches replacement theology. Just like Muslims. At least know what you are talking about.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Not at all. It was and still is, because the Catholic Church preaches replacement theology. Just like Muslims. At least know what you are talking about.

            You can blame the catholic church all you want, when it came to hating and persecuting Jews, protestants are at least as guilty as catholics are. Martin Luther noticed the antisemitic garbage in the NT as well and he took it very seriously. Try reading his work  “On the Jews and their lies”:
            http://jdstone.org/cr/files/martin_luther/onthejewsandtheirlies11.html

    • JohnM

      No, we actually do have a True Scotsman. He’s called Jesus Christ.

      And he defines what it means, to be a follower of Christ.

    • JohnM

      Andy_Schueler:

      You can blame the catholic church all you want, when it came to hating and persecuting Jews, protestants are at least as guilty as catholics are. Martin Luther noticed the antisemitic garbage in the NT as well and he took it very seriously. Try reading his work “On the Jews and their lies”

      You’re right. The Lutherans were just as bad, as the Catholics. And Martin Luther did write one of the most disgusting anti-semetic texts, ever written.But once again you seem to be rather ignorant of history. The Lutherans and the Catholics were far from the only groups around, during the reformation.A group that I have a lot of sympathy with, were the Anabaptists. You are welcome to watch the video below, and learn more of their history.http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=E7qFUIpOQScOr I can give you some references, if you are one of them rare Book-reading atheists :P

      • Andy_Schueler

        But once again you seem to be rather ignorant of history. The Lutherans and the Catholics were far from the only groups around, during the reformation.

        There are, and always have been, genuine pacifists among christians – the Jehova´s witnesses are another good example.
        This doesn´t change the fact that it is very easy to justify violence with the Bible, especially the old, but also the new testament. The two big monotheistic faiths, Islam and Christianity, are notorious in this respect – both used, and occasionally still use, their respective “holy scriptures” to justify violence in the names of their respective Gods. 
        And just like you apply the No true scotsman fallacy for violence that was justified with appeals to the Bible, liberal Muslims use the same fallacy to label islamists “theologically ignorant” because the message of the Koran is “a message of peace” (and just like you could quotemine the Koran to find verses endorsing violence, Muslims could quotemine the Bible to do the same). 
        The big difference between Islam / Christianity and Judaism in this respect, is that Christians and Muslims not only believe in one, and only one, God (meaning that all other Religions have to be false), they also have the mission to convert people to their faith – and often enough, this “mission” was understood to mean “kill everyone who doesn´t bow down to your God, rape their wives and steal their Gold”.

    • JohnM

       Andy, if you want to discuss it, I think it would be wise to actually know something about the subject beforehand. How am I to take you serious, when you keep posting ignorant gibberish, like the post above?

      • Andy_Schueler

        John, you have so far demonstrated shocking ignorance on all topics we talked about, whether it was about science, history or the Bible. You make the most outlandish claims, get angry and insulting when people call you out on your BS, and then you just repeat the same BS in another thread and pretend that it had not already been refuted many times before. 

    • My question is why does JohnM spent so much time on this site in the first place? If it is to brush up on debating, well he doesn’t even possess an elementary skill set as to be able to formulate a cogent argument that can stand. If he is here to simply regurgitate creationist/ID BS or apologist blather, he must know he is wasting his time and everybody else. If he is here to voice his unfalsfiability, then he must certainly know his illogic cannot pass the philosophical muster.

      If he doesn’t know he is out gunned, out matched, out witted than not only is he impotent as a debater and thinker but he is also delusional. I mean, does he think in his heart is a match for any here? For Johnny? For Andy? If so, than that is the biggest gaffe of all time.