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Archive for March, 2012

A few months ago, I wrote two posts on Lawrence Krauss’ take on the question of why is there something rather than nothing. In the meantime, he has written a book on the subject. I don’t need to review the book, because David Albert has done it for me in the New York Times. Here’s a highlight:

The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.

Even worse is Dawkins’ afterword to Krauss’ book: “Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?,’ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If ‘On the Origin of Species’ was biology’s deadliest blow to super­naturalism, we may come to see ‘A Universe From Nothing’ as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is ­devastating.” Pathetic, desperate nonsense. By his own admission, Krauss isn’t answering the question “why is there something rather than nothing?”; he is using equivocation to substitute an unrelated scientific question “why are there particles rather than the quantum vacuum?” and then announcing victory over the philosophers. What it says is not devastating. It is sophomorically irrelevant.

Via Ted Poston.

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This is part 3 of my review of The Cosmic Landscape by Leonard Susskind.

The subtitle of Leonard Susskind’s book is String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design. For the most part, the book is not about the Intelligent Design or God. It provides an excellent overview of modern physics and the more speculative conjectures of string theory. I have a sneaking suspicion that the subtitle was added as bait.

When Susskind chooses to deal with matters religious, I found his discussion to be inadequate, even condescending. Remember: critiquing is difficult! Just because an idea is wrong doesn’t mean that it can be easily swept aside. Here are a few examples.

The Whole Point of Science

[T]wo stories are possible. The first is creationist: God made man with some purpose that involved man’s ability to appreciate and worship God. Let’s forget that story. The whole point of science is to avoid such stories. [The second is the multiverse]. (pg. 196)

There is a sneaking suspicion amongst theists that the multiverse is an ad hoc hypothesis, invented for the sole purpose of avoiding the obvious conclusion that this universe was designed to support life. The hypothesis that there are a vast number of universes “out there” with different constants and even different laws, universes that we have no chance of ever observing, seems an extraordinarily desperate move for a scientist to make. Susskind doesn’t exactly assuage these doubts.

The whole point of science is to explain the phenomena of physical reality in terms of physical laws. If reality includes a multiverse, then we should try to understand this fact. If it doesn’t, then so be it. If there’s a God who made it all, we don’t want to forget that fact, even if it isn’t a scientific fact.

“Real” Scientists

[S]cientists – real scientists – resist the temptation to explain natural phenomena, including creation itself, by divine intervention. Why? Because as scientists we understand that there is a compelling human need to believe – the need to be comforted – that easily clouds people’s judgment. It’s all too easy to fall into the seductive trap of a comforting fairy tale. (pg. 355)

By this definition, Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, Francis Bacon, Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Blaise Pascal, Leonard Euler, Sir William Herschel, Michael Faraday, James Joule, James Clerk Maxwell, Louis Pasteur, Arthur Eddington, Max Planck, George Ellis, John Polkinghorne, Arthur Schawlow, Alan Sandage, Don Page, Chris Isham, Donald Knuth, Owen Gingerich, Francis Collins,  Bill Newsome, R. J. Berry, and Simon Conway Morris are not “real scientists”. That’s quite a claim. One might expect Susskind to give some evidence for it, or even the slightest indication of how he came to this conclusion.

He says that “real” scientists don’t believe in God because comforting beliefs cloud our judgement. Granted, it is very important to be aware of our own biases. But not everybody finds belief in God comforting. Here is Thomas Nagel: (more…)

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