Questionable Motives

December 28, 2011

Why would the relatively stable elements of Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen and Hydrogen form themselves into a Professor of Organic Chemistry?

Filed under: Dark matter,McGrath,NOMA,Physics,Religion,Science,Sean Carroll — tildeb @ 12:22 pm

Such powerful questions reveal the majesty of religious belief to provide us with meaningingful ‘answers’. Yes, Alister McGrath is at it again, this time comparing belief in god to belief in dark matter.

As Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, once pointed out, science takes things apart to see how they work. But religion puts them back together again to see what they mean.

If science is about explanation, religion is thus about meaning. Science helps us to appreciate the wonder of individual aspects of the universe; religion to see, however dimly, the “big picture” of which they are part.

Yes, McGrath assures us that religion and science are indeed compatible ways of knowing. That’s how we know we can turn to religion to answer the title question about meaning and purpose for Alister McGrath. As you can see, it’s an empty claim… the kind you can fill with all kinds of Oogity Boogity purposes and meanings. That doesn’t make it a compatible way of knowing but a sure way to fool yourself that you have, in fact, found an answer rather than just made shit up and slapped it in its place.

Some atheist scientists ridicule Christians for believing in a God whose existence cannot be proved. Yet science regularly posits the existence of things whose existence cannot be proved to make sense of our observations.

Thus we infer the existence of dark matter from observations that would otherwise be puzzling. We can’t see it, and we can’t prove it’s there. Yet this doesn’t stop most leading astronomers from accepting its existence.

We can’t see it; we can’t touch it; we can’t smell it; and we can’t hear it. Yet many scientists argue that it’s the only meaningful explanation of observed gravitational effects. Where the naive demand proof, the wise realise that this is limited to logic and mathematics.

McGrath, as a professor of organic chemistry, knows perfectly well that scientists don’t demand proof; they demand well-supported answers that are held to be provisional. This he presents as a Bad Thing:

Christians have always held that their faith makes sense of the enigmas and riddles of our experience. It’s not about running away from reality, or refusing to think about things (to mention two shallow popular stereotypes of faith). For Christians, faith is not a blind leap into the dark, but a joyful discovery of a bigger and clearer picture of things, of which we are part.

The Christian tradition speaks of God as someone who makes sense of the puzzles and enigmas of life, illuminating our paths as we travel. This does not detract from the wonder of the universe; if anything, it adds to its beauty and grandeur..

You see how he misrepresents science – as if it were about proof rather than a method of inquiry – to make room for religious compatibility? We still face the question of how do we know this christian tradition “makes sense” when its claims are held to be “a joyful discovery” when the method of making shit up and slapping it in place of knowledge under the banner of religious belief is kept immune from the naive insistence of the unwise that it falls to the religious to provide well-supported answers that are held to be provisional beyond their personal religious beliefs?

We don’t know. We must take it on faith. That’s why physicist Sean Carrol writes

If you wanted to highlight the intellectual superficiality of how modern theologians talk about God, you could hardly do better than to contrast it with how modern physicists talk about dark matter. For one thing,  science never “proves” anything at all (as I talk about here).

And that’s the kind of honesty that undoes the apologetic religious scientists like the Alister McGraths of this world trying to make compatible the incompatible.  In spite of his assertions to the contrary, McGrath’s faith does not “illuminate” anything we can know anything about… except where it meshes with good evidence gathered from the method of science. And that’s how belief in god is different than any kind of similar belief in dark matter: we continue to seek direct evidence for the provisional hypothesis in dark matter compared to the incompatible assertions about reality made by people like McGrath comfortable in the certainty of their faith… busy pretending it offers us bullshit ‘answers’ that are in reality nothing more and nothing less than empty assertions divorced from knowledge.

(h/t WEIT)

December 20, 2011

Is the Higgs boson really a particle of faith?

Alister McGrath would have you believe it is.

In this article he writes about equating the Higgs bosun particle (a link here for people unfamiliar with what the Standard Theory is and what carrier particles are) – scientists hunting the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider have revealed the first tantalising glimpses of the mysterious particle –  to a similar kind of belief in the causal agent for the order we find in the universe he calls god. I’ve added some bold type for emphasis:

Lederman (Nobel Laureate Leon) invented the name the “God particle” because it was “so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive.” Nobody had seen it back in 1994. And they’re still not sure whether they’ve really seen it today. Yet this isn’t seen as a massive problem. The idea seemed to make so much sense of things that the existence of the “God particle” has come to be taken for granted. It has become, I would say, a “particle of faith”. The observations themselves didn’t prove the existence of the Higgs boson. Rather, the idea of the Higgs boson explained observations so well that those in the know came to believe it really existed. One day, technology might be good enough to allow it to be actually observed. But we don’t need to wait until then before we start believing in it.

McGrath is saying we can start believing that the Higgs boson really does exist as a causal agent because it’s a really good explanation that fits the available evidence even if it’s invisible. And note that he equates an ‘explanation of observations’ with ‘making sense’. In fact, maybe it seems odd to McGrath that there is such an exciting kerfuffle over the same bumps in mass measured by two different research teams at the Collider – a mass between 124 and 126 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) – which shows strong evidence that the same thing is being measured, and that same thing may be a Higgs signal. Why be excited at all if simply believing something is true is adequate and equivalent?

Obviously, belief alone – meaning trust and confidence that something is true – in NOT adequate proof, which is why we call such a belief in scientific terminology an hypothesis… a potential explanation that may or may not be true and in need further empirical inquiry and stronger evidence. McGrath knows this but it it doesn’t suit his purpose here because he has no intention of suggesting god is merely an hypothesis in need of further empirical proof – like the same kind of dedicated search for empirical evidence of the Higgs boson. So we know he is being intentionally dishonest in the sense he wishes to misrepresent trust in the existence of the Higgs boson with the same kind of trust in an invisible, intervening, creative, sky daddy.

So what is his real purpose for this intentional misrepresentation between trust in the existence of the Higgs boson particle and trust in the existence of god?

There’s an obvious and important parallel with the way religious believers think about God. While some demand proof that God exists, most see this as unrealistic.

Is this “parallel” similarly reflected in the search for the Higgs boson? Do most of us think it is unrealistic to demand empirical evidence of the Higgs boson particle? Of course not. In fact, such evidence is exactly what is being sought, and rightly so, to INCREASE the confidence that the particle does in fact exist, for without it the Higgs boson remains only an hypothesis regardless of its explanatory power. That’s why these are not equivalent kinds of faith in action here and McGrath knows this. But it doesn’t even slow him down when he makes his final pitch:

Believers argue that the existence of God gives the best framework for making sense of the world. God is like a lens, which brings things into clearer focus. As the Harvard psychologist William James pointed out years ago, religious faith is about inferring “the existence of an unseen order” in which the “riddles of the natural order” can be explained.

Is McGrath being honest here? Does he hold his faith in god to be an equivalent hypothesis of inference in need of better evidence to INCREASE his confidence that it may be true? (I see no evidence for this.) Or is he, like religious apologists everywhere, merely cherry picking bits and pieces of scientific endeavors to misrepresent his faith – his certainty that his god is an active and causal agent in the universe and exists in reality – to be equivalent to honest scientific inquiry? (I see nothing but strong evidence for this cherry picking.)

When religious apologists stoop to misrepresenting the method of scientific inquiry to be equivalent to how they inform their religious faith, they show their intellectual dishonesty. They have no desire, no willingness, to search for explanations to the riddles of the natural order from the natural order itself but that if we order now, we can have this answer called god. But wait! There’s more! If we call right now, we can also get – absolutely free – an answer that can safely and without compromise be our final answer to whatever questions we have of this natural order! It’s so easy, anyone can do it, but don’t delay; call today! As a bonus, we’ll throw in the old canard that this one-answer-fits-all and call the ‘results’ equivalent to honest scientific inquiry… merely a different and compatible way of knowing.

It’s an absurd and obscene pitch McGrath is making, knowing full well that such snake oil trust he’s peddling in faith-based rather than reality based claims offers us nothing but turtles all the way down and answers nothing with reliable and consistent knowledge. All we have to do to gain access to this one answer for all questions about the natural order is to exchange our intellectual honesty and curiosity and demand for empirical evidence for the kind of empty confidence we can have in the final answer of godidit. That’s why it’s a toll free call. And McGrath would have us think that this is a legitimate and valuable exchange. I think it’s clear that his argument is, metaphorically speaking, no different than a crock of shit.

February 10, 2011

Head, meet wall. What is reality?

Filed under: Physics,Science — tildeb @ 11:04 am

One day while fixing my bicycle tire, I noticed something that has since bothered me for a very long time. My bike was upside down and I had replace the inner tube, which meant I had removed the tire and had then realigned it within the rim. I then inflated. Everything was good. The final step was spinning the tire to see if it rubbed against the brake pads or frame because a few of the spokes had also been replaced over time so the tension throughout the entire wheel was always a bit off resulting in a very slight wobble when the wheel was spun. The tire spun clear so the job was done. But that’s not what bothered me.

As the tire went around and around, I saw that every point on that tire was moving pretty quickly. As my eye moved toward the axle, I noticed the spokes were also moving but not as fast. The end of each the spoke near the tire was moving much faster than the other end of the spoke attached to the axle. In fact, the axle itself was rotating hardly at all compared to the tire which was zipping around even though the two were directly connected. But that’s not what bothered me.

Because the parts were moving, I knew that they could not be at the center of the wheel but some distance from it. That’s why they were rotating. They were rotating around the center point. And even that didn’t bother me.

There had to be a part – a  center point – in the rotating wheel I was spinning that didn’t move at all. If it was moving, then it was rotating, and if it was rotating then it couldn’t be the center but some distance from it. How could a rotating physical object posses a physical part within it that did not move – could NOT move – at all?

This paradox really bothered me. And it still does because I have no understanding how this can be, how a moving physical object when spun can possesses a physical point where no movement can occur. Yet I know such a physical part has to be there.

Such mysteries have always grabbed my attention. That’s why I get drawn into watching videos like this one. Many of the ideas are like flames to my moth-like curiosity as my mind bangs up against them without breaking through to a clear understanding of an answer. Maybe you’ll likewise be drawn to think about some the remarkable ideas that help us to better define and move towards understanding what this state we call reality actually is.

February 10, 2010

When is a paradigm shift not a shift at all?

Filed under: Evolution,Faith,God,Philosophy,Physics,Religion,Science — tildeb @ 4:57 pm

From Jesus and Mo

December 25, 2009

Evidence for dark matter… in Minnesota?

Filed under: Astronomy,Discovery,Physics,Science — tildeb @ 4:09 pm

Laurence Krauss is one of my favourite science writers because his writings are accurate, fascinating, and accessible. Read his entire article here.

In early December, the Cold Dark Matter Search (CDMS) experiment located in the deep Soudan Mine in northern Minnesota leaked a tantalizing hint that they may have discovered something remarkable. The experiment is designed to directly detect new elementary particles that might make up the dark matter known to dominate our own Milky Way galaxy, all galaxies, and indeed all mass in the universe—so news of a possible breakthrough was thrilling.

The actual result? Two pulses were detected over the course of almost a year that might have been due to dark matter, CDMS announced on Dec. 17. However, there is a 25% chance that the pulses were actually caused by background radioactivity in and around the detector.

So when the physics community heard rumors that one of these experiments had detected something, we all waited with eager anticipation. A convincing observation would vindicate almost half a century of carefully developed, if fragile, arguments suggesting a whole new invisible world waiting to be discovered.

For the theorist working at his desk alone at night, it seems almost unfathomable that nature might actually obey the delicate theories you develop on pieces of paper. This is especially true when the theories involve ideas from so many different areas of science and require leaps of imagination.

The reported results are intriguing, but less than convincing. Yet if the two pulses observed last week in Minnesota are followed by more signals as bigger detectors turn on in the coming year or two, it will provide serious vindication of the power of human imagination. Combined with rigorous logical inference and technological wizardry—all the things that make science worth celebrating—scientists’ creativity will have uncovered hidden worlds that a century ago could not have been conceived.

December 19, 2009

Six minute journey: do we have perspective yet?

Filed under: Astronomy,Education,Physics,Science — tildeb @ 3:30 pm

Makes one consider the grandiose arrogance needed to think that the covering of one’s head or dietary choices or sexual preferences is of cosmic importance to the creator god.

October 27, 2009

How can something come from nothing?

astronomyWonderful video that captures some of the excitement and wonder that comes through studying physics.

Here

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