Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Correlation is not always Causation

Somewhere on the North Norfolk Coast near Hunstanton, England

A friend of mine made the title statement as a comment regarding a set of personal coincidences in my life. I spotted this unusual alignment a few days' later in what seems to be natural rock. Is apparent physical law necessarily valid in a multiverse? Or only in ours? Nothing much directly to do with discussions about God, admittedly.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Essence of Christianity in Regard to Creation

I have been writing another blog concentrating on the Bible. It is

I accidentally posted on this blog an article about James, the brother of Jesus, from that blog. This one is primarily about science. I have removed it. However, I want to state Christian belief regarding the Big Picture of why we are here. Whether (Catholic Priest) Lemaitre's Big Bang is essentially correct or not, the mind and power behind creation are Christ's. Whatever ideas and convictions on behaviour man has, the heart behind mankind and creation is that of Jesus Christ. It all stands somewhat at odds with the naturalist/reductionsist/evolutionsist framework of mainstream science, but maybe less than is currently claimed by some popular atheist thinkers and writers.  Mainstream Christianity has Christ as both God and man, and as both creator and redeemer. 'Project Humanity' is therefore seen as the highest realization of the purposes of Almighty God. In the Genesis 1 account God describes the creation as 'very good' only after man is made. It was merely 'good' before that.

Morally, Christ was perfect. In the sense of priesthood, he was, as God, offered for our sins by God. In His pre-incarnate state, He was the prime agent of all creation, seen and unseen.

One of the most succinct statements about Jesus Christ is found near the beginning of Paul's letter to the Colossian Christians from the New Testament section of the Bible.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 
(Colossians 1:13-20 ESV)

Note the phrase 'In him all things hold together'. This is Physics' sought after Grand Unified Theory according to the Bible. We are not given equations!

Elsewhere Paul summarizes the death and resurrection of the Christ (in Greek), or Messiah (in Hebrew).

Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, .....he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, .....Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (Paul). (taken from 1 Corinthians 15v4-8)

In theology there is a concept known as the 'hypostatic union'. 'Hypostasis' is a Greek word and it carries the meaning of an actual, concrete, physical existence. The hypostatic union is the living, concrete, foundational reality of God and man combined in the actual physical person of Jesus Christ. We cannot be saved unless we realize that the Christ who died for us has such a nature.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. 
(1Jn 4:2)

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 
(1Jn 4:15)

Jesus Christ therefore was most certainly known in the usual ways of brotherhood and parenthood to his family, first as a boy and then as a man. His brother James only later came to see him as also being God.

But because Jesus was in one sense so utterly normal as a human being, James did not see the realities of his deity. But we do know that his humanity was quite normal and unexceptional. Jesus had all the characteristics and bodily functions of a regular mortal human being.

Scientific Objections

A major common objection regarding origins is the view of time. Mainstream cosmology implies billions of years have passed since 'the beginning'. The Bible has a few thousand years. But Genesis 1 uses the Hebrew word 'yom' for day. 'Yom' can, as with English, refer to a period of time other than 24 hours. Example 'The day of the steam locomotive is over'. Anyway, our day is based on solar system dynamics, and the solar system was not in place until day 4. And the Bible itself uses 'yom' in the 'day-epoch' sense as early as Genesis 2v4.

Another is the fossil record as interpreted by Darwinism. Here, previous cataclysmic judgments by God are a possibility, as evidenced by the fact that Genesis 1v2 may be rendered accurately in Hebrew as 'the earth became void and without form'. It is increasingly seen that the fossil record does not reflect a progressive, gradual evolution. It is true that radiometric dating seems to present an obstacle to a young total creation.

I do not know the detailed answers, but I believe in Christ as Creator and Redeemer; the only Way to the only true God.

I am not against science, I like it. I am against the misguided, and often ultimately illogical, attempts to remove Christ from our picture of creation.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Are we too locked in to certain lines of enquiry? Fashion hits Science?

Science and reason protagonists rightly see the scientific method as a good tool to deal with prejudice and to minimize subjectivity when looking for underlying mechanisms in the world around us.

But can we claim an absolute ability to extricate ourselves from our own biases? We need to, if we are to personally rely completely on rationality.

Here I will explore these thought a little, and suggest we look at one reason why we cannot remove our biases completely. Essentially the reason is fashion. Or what Germans call 'zeitgeist'. Fashion can make us focus and exclude other possibilities.

I like Roger Penrose's wonderful 'The Road to Reality'. He dances seemingly effortlessly around the broad and varied terrain of higher mathematics. The adventure of higher maths is set out as an open invitation for the reader. Interestingly for me, Penrose also muses thoughtfully on the interactions of mathematics with physics and with the human experience of consciousness.

Well into the book, Penrose notes that, in his opinion, some areas of currently orthodox astrophysics are rooted in questionable assumptions. He addresses, for example, inflationary theory (p753). This is the now widely held assumption that the early universe underwent a period of rapid inflation. He looks at this theory with some gentle questioning skepticism.

Later in the same book, Penrose discusses likely further progress in astrophysics and cosmology. He makes the point that certain theories become fashionable and channel research effort, whether theoretical or experimental.

It is obvious that ideas in astrophysics are complex and multi-faceted. They are often based on multiple assumptions. Truly representative experimental validations are normally not feasible. It is not unreasonable to question existing conclusions when these were made under demanding constraints. Even if the conclusions have become widespread orthodoxy.

Further than this, Penrose notes that once an idea has taken hold, it tends to self-re-enforce. An idea or 'meme' is defined and established. A blinkeredness can then very easily take over. An exclusive orthodoxy develops. Other approaches and theories are denigrated. Penrose looks at how this tendency outworked in recent history with string theory. A survey was made of then-contemporary papers concerning the perplexing area of quantum gravity. At the time the survey was taken, for this subject, there was a very strong bias toward research papers based on string theory, compared to papers based on other approaches. It is then easy to see how the popularity of the theory strengthens, at the expense of research into others. Is this warranted and what are the results for effective investigation of the original subject, here quantum gravity? Human factors are probably at play here! (this means that,for the reductionist, the conscious attributes cosmology and evolution gave us in actual fact start to subvert our ability to enquire accurately!).

How much of the fashionability of, say, string theory, is warranted? Does its present popularity represent the accuracy of the theory? That is an open question in general. Theories can become popular because they are already fairly popular. There may be a culture and an inertia in academic circles, and a fear of being found dissenting, but wrong. There may be a further fear of triggering the real fear of unorthodoxy in others, especially if the others have power over you, maybe regarding funding decisions or powers of appointment to academic positions. It is true that this tendency to fit in might correct itself after a period of time, as the chosen theory succeeds or fails. However as the issue being researched gets more complex, the required correction might get less realizable. There may also be the fear that the entire big picture of, in this example, astrophysics/cosmology as it stands ,might come tumbling down. Can we allow that to happen? If not, why not? What if we think it is best to hide our doubts, maybe even from ourselves? Similar concerns might apply to the geology/anthropology/evolutionary biology picture. Or indeed religious/political/philosophical beliefs.  In all cases, at least some of the details may be highly questionable. When there are so many variables to fit together, do we really have the big picture correct? Our worldviews need to be subject to this sort of scrutiny if we are claiming to be champions of reason..

Such problems mean the scientific method is most reliably applied to arenas where all facts can be carefully defined and/or controlled, and multiple experiments performed. This is the arena routine engineering uses. It is about proof of the pudding. Would you really want to be the test pilot of an aircraft built using principles with a similar level of abstraction and lack of rigour to those associated with cosmology or evolutionary biology? Or do you just want to believe it all for reasons you are hiding from yourself?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Modelling Outside our Frame of Reference and Creation

This is less about science and more about the philosophy of explanations.

Quantum Theory and to a lesser extent General Relativity involve throwing away everyday assumptions and intuition based on everyday experience.

Quantum Theory works beautifully mathematically but is seemingly impossible to conceptualize.

General Relativity is easy enough to conceptualize but involves counter-intuitive departures from everyday expectation.

Regarding Quantum theory, Niels Bohr, a pioneer in the field, stated (I quote from Jim Baggott's 'The Quantum Story'- excellent if narrative more than attempting mathematical rigour):

These (quantum mechanical electron orbital) models have been deduced, or if you prefer, guessed, from experiments, not from theoretical calculations. I hope that they describe the structure of atoms as well, but only as well, as is possible in the descriptive language of classical physics. We must be clear that, when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images and establishing mental connections.'

There remains a great deal of truth in this statement. Quantum Theory plays by certain mathematical rules, and does so with beautiful precision. For the discoverers of the rules, there must have been quite a bit of exhilaration involved along the way. This is clear in the writings of say Heisenberg. However, attempts to understand the behaviour of the Quantum scale world have failed to pull it into an everyday intuitively-correct framework of logic. That is to say, our mental picture of what is really happening in the Quantum world fails to crystallize out, to the exasperation of many. 

The dynamics of reality are clearly bigger than our conceptual abilities.

Why do atheists try to patronize God then? Surely it is the most ridiculously patronizing and doomed exercise imaginable. Even if a person says they don't believe in him, hypothesize him. It is still daft to try to work him out.

When it comes to origins (carefully avoiding the emotive and suggestive word 'creation'), somehow the descriptions of how the Big Bang happened seem to me to be exercises in delusion. Maybe that is because I don't understand a lot of the maths and concepts well enough. Or maybe I am registering the analytic mind stretching itself further than it can sanely and reliably go. 

I believe in creation. By God. In six time periods or ages. I don't know how he did it in the rigorous, analytical sense.

Read Genesis 1 and 2. He uses poetry to describe how he did it; for the same reasons Bohr alludes to in the quote above. A connective picture illustrating certain points deemed by the author to be important using a framework familiar to the recipients. An exercise in necessary condescension from a Greater Mind to a lesser.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Beginnings, the flow of time, and cosmology

I am not a great mathematician. I am not a great physicist. I have learned a bit of both. However, I have a bit of fun reading cosmological theories.

Some people are wonderful at abstract conceptualization. I admire the founding figures of 20th century physics, the Schrodingers, Diracs and Einsteins. I do not have too much trouble at least starting to get my head round Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity, and I understand the magnificence of their correlations with directly observed simple phenomena such as atomic spectra and time dilation.

However, Big Bang cosmology seems to require philosophical abstractions of such a degree that we have completely lost touch with everyday reality.

We conceptualize out from a zone of familiarity. Our zone of familiarity from birth entails 3 spatial dimensions and a consciousness that registers time as a dimensional one way arrow experienced as an infinitesimal 'position', our ever present instant. We draw back our every abstraction and equate it to this familiar framework.

Space Time expanded from a singularity, we are told. Where exactly was the singularity? What did space expand into? Expand is a term which assumes the existence of space. Time 'started'. Start is something that happens at a point in time. How can time start? What was there before time? What does before mean if there is no time?  

If my statements are meaningless, then so are these terms when used by cosmologists.

Bottom Line: The created cannot conceptualize the Eternal and Infinite.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Variables and Consciousness

'Variables' means something to most people. They are a concept, of course. I am going to use the terms 'variable, 'parameter' and 'concept' loosely and somewhat interchangeably here, because I cannot think of better words to explain myself. Variables are things we attach a, variable, value to. The value could be numerical, or it could be a description of how strongly an abstract variable like 'determination' is displayed by a person. We would say that a person displays 'limited' determination or 'strong' determination in achieving goals, for example. There are variables in maths, physics, chemistry. There are variables in economics. There are also less tangible, more subjective variables, belonging to spheres such as sociology, art, psychology, or morality. Examples? Virtue, evil, success, beauty.

Hitler's idea of evil was different from most non-Nazis. A Greenpeace member's idea of a virtuous or successful life might differ from that of an investment banker. 'Evil' and 'success' are subjective concepts and variables, in men's minds at least. But that is an aside. My point is that there are variables which have meaning for the human mind and are abstract rather than concise and concrete, like those of say physics.

Life is rich with variables,or parameters. Those variables associated with the physical, material framework of our existence, belong to the 'hard' sciences and mathematics. We are inclined to see these as having a reality even if there was no human or similar life. Things like spatial position, relative time, angular momentum, charge, quantum spin state, electrical resistance. All these would have existence, most would say, even if we were not present to observe and evaluate them.

However, as I said, there are also those variables associated with consciousness. Things like plausibility, accountability, attractiveness, approval. These are all variables by which humans measure other people or situations. It can be argued very strongly that these concepts are products of consciousness and have no meaning apart from the presence of conscious entities like man. They are relational variables (in the psychological sense of the phrase). We 'measure' them, or put a value on them, in order to evaluate people and circumstances. But they require consciousness, and a relational and emotional life, in order to have any meaning whatsoever. Yet we use these concepts, and attach values to them, quite routinely. 'Mary has a very plausible reason for not being able to attend next week' etc. The abstract concept here is of course 'plausibility'.

Some variables associated with consciousness relate to how positive life around us seems. Beauty, interest, pleasure are all things we seek. They have no concrete means of measurement, no consensus agreement on their values. Yet they are very important to us. 'I find Alan interesting'. 'Paris is the most beautiful city I have ever been to' etc etc.

Where do these variables come from? Did they evolve within us as simple chemical responses of the mind? This would be the position of most evolutionists and scientific reductionists.

If so, those variables have no meaning if you take conscious entities like us out of the picture. If there were no people or higher animals to experience these concepts, these concepts would vanish. They were not there until we were there.

If that is the case, you cannot invoke them to explain how we got here! Here I am looking at the line of evolutionary processes which supposedly produced conscious beings. I know evolution can take place in 'molecular machines', organisms with no consciousness (as far as we know). Think about this. It makes no sense for us to need 'fear of death' or 'will to survive' to explain how we gained 'life and consciousness'.

The need for survival springs from 'the will to live'. The will itself, and the sense of self or individuality, are abstract concepts or variables associated with conscious life. We have just called on an aspect of consciousness to describe how consciousness evolved.

This is clearly nonsense, yet evolution by natural selection hinges on it, when attempting to explain advanced life, using these types of argument  all the time. We retrospectively attribute conscious attributes to inanimate matter or extremely primitive organisations of matter to describe how it attained consciousness. The question, of course, is 'Which came first?':

Attribute of Consciousness OR Consciousness.

If you think the attributes of consciousness were already there in the background, before us, then Who possessed them and defined them 'in the beginning'??!!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Theory of Everything? Physics itself seems to have hit a limit

I love science. but I do not worship science. I have a BSc in Applied Physics with Electronics dating from the early 80's. I was taught physics in a pragmatic way; things that were solidly understood in context with a view to making engineers and scientists who could fabricate the next generation of electronic devices. I pursued a career in this arena for many years. I have been involved in the design of electronic circuits in areas such as telecommunications, aerospace and industrial test. I have some grasp on science, especially where it relates to engineering.

We humans like to control our environment and that means understanding it and modelling it. Beyond trying to understand other people, which can be problematic, it seems easier to predict the behaviour of the matter around us. (Yes, I know other people are also made of matter; that is another discussion!) Matter seems to be fairly predictable and we formalise this predictability into maths-based behavioural laws. This activity has progressed astonishingly well in recent centuries. The behaviour of liquids, solids and gases, electromagnetism, mechanics and electric circuit  elements, for example, has proceeded superbly. These areas continue to be refined and expanded. We can use aerodynamics and other disciplines to design multi-million dollar aircraft and they fly and behave much as expected.

However well-established physics still tends to look at reality in contextual nibbles. We identify a scenario and then choose a law. We want to understand how a radio wave travels from the Mars Rover. We choose Maxwell's equations. Maxwell's equations are nearly a couple of hundred years old, but they work just fine. Or we want to calculate the temperature rise of a solar boiler. We use thermodynamics. We may need other physics disciplines as well to refine our result, (such as GR for the Mars Rover) but the point is, we choose the best law for the context.

If we stretch our law too far, errors accumulate and we make mistakes. Our calculations no longer work well. We find the mistake by experimental data which doesn't agree with the law. Experimental verification with real world data is an essential part of science. Even Einstein's famous thought experiments needed verification. Einstein himself acknowledged this. However as the scientific enterprise attempts to progress further, it seems to be drifting more and more into unverifiable abstractions. Both Physics and Evolutionary Biology seem to be doing this. A thought experiment will do, never mind solid data and mathematical predictors. It is interesting that as scenarios get more and more complex, involving deep time and/or space, science as a whole is loosing it's firm handle on reality. Many would agree with me. Many are reluctant to say and do not want to be controversial or defeatist. Another human tendency; we like to uphold the credibility of our current enterprise. The Catholic Church used to be very guilty of this, but the issue is less the Catholic Church, more human nature at large. Again, another discussion there. But if we are not careful, science will fall to the very sort of deceptions it sought to remedy. Copernicus sought to remedy blind orthodoxy with evidence and mathematical models. These days a lot of big picture 'science' also makes do with little of either. Engineering as a discipline tends to address these problems fairly fast and close the program; real world results are needed soonish. But contemporary big picture science...?

Despite spectacular progress in recent centuries, and detailed progress in many areas in recent decades, I believe big picture science is stalling and increasingly bankrupt. Of course I could be proven wrong tomorrow, or next year, but I doubt it very much.

What do I mean?

Physics is stalled in a place where Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity cannot be reconciled into a general underlying theory. In some areas of cosmology there are QM and GR effects at play, so we have no model. Cosmology has many areas of huge uncertainty of understanding. As the scenarios increase in complexity, it also gets harder to obtain solidly relevant and accurate data. Both modelling and verification get more and more problematic until we just have to admit we do not really know and we don't have much lead. Suggestions to go beyond the reasonably-effective standard model of particle physics are stalled. More and more abstract concepts, with and without attendant maths, and always without empirical data, are springing up. Supersymmetry, string theory, m-branes, multiple-universes. It is amazing what you can convey with computer graphics and selective interviews and clever narrative, but hard facts in the traditional scientific sense tell another story.

I think our human ability to conceptualise accurately, both in theoretical maths and metaphysics, is hitting a limit defined, more than anything, by us and our capabilities as organisms. Our own human constraints of being; of perception and intelligence. To the humanist this would represent the death of progress. I am not a humanist.

In evolutionary biology things are even more deluded. Challenges like the non-progress of non-trivial genotype-phenotype prediction, or the ridiculous presumption than genotype change will necessarily produce viable and/or useful change in the organism often enough to keep the evolutionary show on the road. I could go on and on- evolutionary biology is extreme presumption, not science. Just-so retrospection, not predictive theory. Again, there are pockets of proven validity, such as virus population change, but they are hardly case proof calibre for the entire discipline. Mathematical models of adequate rigour and sophistication just do not exist and very probably never will.

Yes, in some areas such as the permeation of microelectronics into the day-to-day, progress in science has been spectacular. Other established areas of engineering have also been pretty successful. But in the big picture theories, science is stalled and largely bankrupt, built on presumption and dodgy orthodoxy.

As a Christian, I am happy to acknowledge that in this age, we as humans just may not get too much further. The creator who framed our existence also constrained our intellects and perceptive capacity, for the time being at least. We will climb asymptotically to a ceiling of understanding which we will not penetrate. By all means continue trying, with a reasonable part of our resources, but be honestly realistic about the progress.