Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Richard Dawkins

 

Peter Higgs criticises Richard Dawkins over anti-religious ‘fundamentalism’

, science correspondent. The Guardian, Wednesday 26 December 2012 18.58 GMT

As public disagreements go, few can have boasted such heavy-hitting antagonists.

Richard Dawkins, the celebrated biologist, has made a second career demonstrating his epic disdain for religion.

The theoretical physicist Peter Higgs (Higgs boson particle) who this year became a shoo-in for a future Nobel prize after scientists at Cern in Geneva showed that his theory about how fundamental particles get their mass was correct.

(Can’t figure out this allegation or conclusion attributed to Cern: It’s None of its business)

Their argument is over nothing less than the coexistence of religion and science.

(That’s Not a new argument: Science and religion did Not Co-exist: they were anathema and harvested thousands of lives by the religious clerics)

Higgs has chosen to cap his remarkable 2012 with another bang by criticising the “fundamentalist” approach taken by Dawkins in dealing with religious believers.

“What Dawkins does too often is to concentrate his attack on fundamentalists. But there are many believers who are just not fundamentalists,” Higgs said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. “Fundamentalism is another problem. I mean, Dawkins in a way is almost a fundamentalist himself, of another kind.”

He agreed with some of Dawkins’ thoughts on the unfortunate consequences that have resulted from religious belief, but he was unhappy with the evolutionary biologist’s approach to dealing with believers and said he agreed with those who found Dawkins’ approach “embarrassing”.

Dawkins, author of the best-selling book The God Delusion, has been accused many times in the past of adopting fundamentalist positions..

In a 2007 post on his website titled “How dare you call me a fundamentalist“, Dawkins wrote: “No, please, do not mistake passion, which can change its mind, for fundamentalism, which never will. Passion for passion, an evangelical Christian and I may be evenly matched. But we are not equally fundamentalist. The true scientist, however passionately he may ‘believe’, in evolution for example, knows exactly what would change his mind: evidence! The fundamentalist knows that nothing will.”

(Actually, paradigm shifts in sciences or other rooted common belief among “professionals” demand decades of struggles , producing “evidences” before change in mentality occur”. For example, the climate change, the depletion of potable water…)

The criticisms have not led the biologist to soften his stance on religion.

In a recent interview with al-Jazeera, he implied that being raised a Catholic was worse for a child than physical abuse by a priest.

Responding to a direct question from the interviewer Mehdi Hassan, Dawkins related the story of a woman in America who had written to him about abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of a priest, and the mental anguish of being told that one of her friends, a Protestant girl, would burn in hell.

“She told me that, of those two abuses, she got over the physical abuse, it was yucky but she got over it. But the mental abuse of being told about hell, she took years to get over,” said Dawkins.

Telling children such that they really believe that people who sin are going to go to hell and roast forever, that your skin grows again when it peels off, it seems to me intuitively entirely reasonable that is a worse form of child abuse, that will give more nightmares because they really believe it.”

Dawkins did not respond to a request to comment directly on Higgs’s “fundamentalist” charge.

In the El Mundo interview, Higgs argued that although he was not a believer, he thought science and religion were not incompatible. “The growth of our understanding of the world through science weakens some of the motivation which makes people believers. But that’s not the same thing as saying they’re incompatible. It’s just that I think some of the traditional reasons for belief, going back thousands of years, are rather undermined.

“But that doesn’t end the whole thing. Anybody who is a convinced, but not a dogmatic believer, can continue to hold his belief. It means I think you have to be rather more careful about the whole debate between science and religion than some people have been in the past.”

He said a lot of scientists in his field were religious believers. “I don’t happen to be one myself, but maybe that’s just more a matter of my family background than that there’s any fundamental difficulty about reconciling the two.”

The Higgs boson explained. Link to this video

In 1963 Higgs predicted the existence of a force-carrying particle, part of an invisible energy field that filled the vacuum throughout the observable universe.

Without the field, or something like it, we would not be here. The field clings to the smallest fundamental particles and gives them mass. The field, which switched on moments after the big bang, allowed particles to come together and form all the atoms and molecules around today.

In the interview, the physicist spoke about the announcement on 4 July that the Higgs boson had finally been found. He said he had received a call from a colleague at Cern a few days earlier who had told him he would regret it if he did not come along. At the announcement, Higgs began to cry.

“What was so overwhelming really was the response of the audience at Cern. It wasn’t like a scientific seminar, it was like the end of a football match when the home team has won, and that was what was overwhelming to me, to be a part of that … Bursting into tears was a reaction to the emotions around me and the feeling that, well, it’s arrived at last! That was hard to deal with.”

Many scientist believe that the discovery means that Higgs is odds on for a future Nobel prize. He was relieved, however, that the Nobel committee had skipped over the discovery for the physics award this year. “I was relieved, simply because since the beginning of July I’ve been so busy dealing with requests to do this and that, that I was glad not to have that on my schedule as well, so I have described it as a reprieve.”

• The original interview is copyright Pablo Jáuregui/El Mundo

 

Something Rather Than Nothing? Is Change always one generation away?

My opinion is that:

1. There are changes in every generation. Not necessarily significant in most issues.

2. The preponderant World Views could change in a couple generations, but these views are cyclical in nature and many older world views will resurface after 3 generations in different forms and contexts

My opinion is that:

1. The term Nothingness is an abstract notion.

2. Even when taken statistically, nothingness cannot be demonstrated or proven. Any substantial issue will not generate enough enthusiasm for the world community to invest in the latest precise measuring tools and observation of the entire earth or colony.

Physicist Lawrence M. Krauss said in a video:

Change is always one generation away…

If we can plant the seeds of doubt in our children, religion will go away in a generation, or at least largely go away. And that’s what I think we have an obligation to do.”

Krauss was addressing whether religion should be taught to children in school.

Though, as an atheist, he opposes religious education, he said he does support teaching comparative religion classes instead of completely “shying away” from the topic. (There are no differences among religions or sects: Simply a different political context in  historical and society conditions for power grabbing)

“What we need to do is present comparative religion as a bunch of interesting historical anecdotes, and show the silly reasons why they did what they did,” he remarked.

He said educators should force children to confront their own misconceptions.

“But you don’t shy away from religion any more than you shy away from the claim that Earth is the center of the universe. We laugh at that now, and we get kids to realize why that might be wrong… and so we should take other falsifiable facts, which are at the center of our society, which is religious doctrine, and make just as much fun of that.”

Watch video below.

  • A UNIVERSE FROM NOTHING

    Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing

    By Lawrence M. Krauss

    Illustrated. 202 pp. Free Press. $24.99.

Lawrence M. Krauss, a well-known cosmologist and prolific popular-science writer, apparently means to announce to the world, in this new book, that the laws of quantum mechanics have in them the makings of a thoroughly scientific and adamantly secular explanation of why there is something rather than nothing. Period. Case closed. End of story. I kid you not.

Look at the subtitle. Look at how Richard Dawkins sums it up in his afterword: “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.”

There are lots of different sorts of conversations one might want to have about a claim like that: conversations about what it is to explain something, and about what it is to be a law of nature, and about what it is to be a physical thing. But since the space I have is limited, let me put those niceties aside and try to be quick, and crude, and concrete.

Where, for starters, are the laws of quantum mechanics themselves supposed to have come from? Krauss is more or less upfront, as it turns out, about not having a clue about that. He acknowledges (albeit in a parenthesis, and just a few pages before the end of the book) that every­thing he has been talking about simply takes the basic principles of quantum mechanics for granted. “I have no idea if this notion can be usefully dispensed with,” he writes, “or at least I don’t know of any productive work in this regard.”

And what if he did know of some productive work in that regard? What if he were in a position to announce, for instance, that the truth of the quantum-mechanical laws can be traced back to the fact that the world has some other, deeper property X?

Wouldn’t we still be in a position to ask why X rather than Y? And is there a last such question? Is there some point at which the possibility of asking any further such questions somehow definitively comes to an end? How would that work? What would that be like?

Forget where the laws came from. Have a look instead at what they say. It happens that ever since the scientific revolution of the 17th century, what physics has given us in the way of candidates for the fundamental laws of nature have as a general rule simply taken it for granted that there is, at the bottom of everything, some basic, elementary, eternally persisting, concrete, physical stuff.

Newton, for example, took that elementary stuff to consist of material particles. And physicists at the end of the 19th century took that elementary stuff to consist of both material particles and electro­magnetic fields. And so on. And what the fundamental laws of nature are about, and all the fundamental laws of nature are about, and all there is for the fundamental laws of nature to be about, insofar as physics has ever been able to imagine, is how that elementary stuff is arranged.

The fundamental laws of nature generally take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of that stuff are physically possible and which aren’t, or rules connecting the arrangements of that elementary stuff at later times to its arrangement at earlier times, or something like that.

But the laws have no bearing whatsoever on questions of where the elementary stuff came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular elementary stuff it does, as opposed to something else, or to nothing at all.

The fundamental physical laws that Krauss is talking about in “A Universe From Nothing” — the laws of relativistic quantum field theories — are no exception to this. The particular, eternally persisting, elementary physical stuff of the world, according to the standard presentations of relativistic quantum field theories, consists (unsurprisingly) of relativistic quantum fields.

And the fundamental laws of this theory take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of those fields are physically possible and which aren’t, and rules connecting the arrangements of those fields at later times to their arrangements at earlier times, and so on — and they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story.

What on earth, then, can Krauss have been thinking? Well, there is, as it happens, an interesting difference between relativistic quantum field theories and every previous serious candidate for a fundamental physical theory of the world.

Every previous such theory counted material particles among the concrete, fundamental, eternally persisting elementary physical stuff of the world — and relativistic quantum field theories, interestingly and emphatically and unprecedentedly, do not.

According to relativistic quantum field theories, particles are to be understood, rather, as specific arrangements of the fields. Certain ­arrangements of the fields, for instance, correspond to there being 14 particles in the universe, and certain other arrangements correspond to there being 276 particles, and certain other arrangements correspond to there being an infinite number of particles, and certain other arrangements correspond to there being no particles at all.

And those last arrangements are referred to, in the jargon of quantum field theories, for obvious reasons, as “vacuum” states. Krauss seems to be thinking that these vacuum states amount to the relativistic-­quantum-field-theoretical version of there not being any physical stuff at all. And he has an argument that the laws of relativistic quantum field theories entail that vacuum states are unstable. And that, in a nutshell, is the account he proposes of why there should be something rather than nothing.

But that’s just not right. Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff.

The true relativistic-quantum-field-­theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields — what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields!

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.

Krauss has heard this kind of talk before, and it makes him crazy.

A century ago, it seems to him, nobody would have made so much as a peep about referring to a stretch of space without any material particles in it as “nothing.” And now that he and his colleagues think they have a way of showing how everything there is could imaginably have emerged from a stretch of space like that, the nut cases are moving the goal posts.

He complains that “some philosophers and many theologians define and redefine ‘nothing’ as not being any of the versions of nothing that scientists currently describe,” and that “now, I am told by religious critics that I cannot refer to empty space as ‘nothing,’ but rather as a ‘quantum vacuum,’ to distinguish it from the philosopher’s or theologian’s idealized ‘nothing,’ ” and he does a good deal of railing about “the intellectual bankruptcy of much of theology and some of modern philosophy.”

But all there is to say about this, as far as I can see, is that Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right. Who cares what we would or would not have made a peep about a hundred years ago? We were wrong a hundred years ago. We know more now.

And if what we formerly took for nothing turns out, on closer examination, to have the makings of protons and neutrons and tables and chairs and planets and solar systems and galaxies and universes in it, then it wasn’t nothing, and it couldn’t have been nothing, in the first place.

And the history of science — if we understand it correctly — gives us no hint of how it might be possible to imagine otherwise.

And I guess it ought to be mentioned, quite apart from the question of whether anything Krauss says turns out to be true or false, that the whole business of approaching the struggle with religion as if it were a card game, or a horse race, or some kind of battle of wits, just feels all wrong — or it does, at any rate, to me.

When I was growing up, where I was growing up, there was a critique of religion according to which religion was cruel, and a lie, and a mechanism of enslavement, and something full of loathing and contempt for every­thing essentially human.

Maybe that was true and maybe it wasn’t, but it had to do with important things — it had to do, that is, with history, and with suffering, and with the hope of a better world — and it seems like a pity, and more than a pity, and worse than a pity, with all that in the back of one’s head, to think that all that gets offered to us now, by guys like these, in books like this, is the pale, small, silly, nerdy accusation that religion is, I don’t know, dumb.

David Albert is a professor of philosophy at Columbia and the author of “Quantum Mechanics and Experience.”

Note: All Religions are mental constructs to enslave the common people to the elite class and ruling classes that possess power. And the philosopher happily delved in those trove of constructs because they interested the intellectual people and the ruling classes in disseminating the necessary existence of religious beliefs.

 

‘I’m an Atheist’: Stephen Hawking on God and Space Travel

World-famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking says flat-out that he doesn’t believe in God, but he does believe that space travel offers the best hope for our species’ immortality.

Those pronouncements came during the buildup to this week’s Starmus Festival at Tenerife in the Canary Islands, where Hawking and other scientific luminaries have gathered for rounds of talks, tours and elbow-rubbing. 

The Spanish newspaper El Mundo engineered an exclusive interview with Hawking, and headlined its report with his views on the origins of the universe.

In the past, there’s been a tiny bit of ambiguity: In “A Brief History of Time,” Hawking writes that the discovery of a unifying set of scientific principles known as the theory of everything would enable scientists to “know the mind of God.”

But in a follow-up book about the quest for the theory of everything, titled “The Grand Design,” Hawking said the mechanism behind the origin of the universe was becoming so well known that God was no longer necessary.

El Mundo’s Pablo Jauregui asked about those two references to God in one of the questions he prepared for Hawking to answer, and here’s the scientist’s response:

“Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation.

What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”

Hawking addressed the issue more delicately several years ago when he told Reuters that he was “not religious in the normal sense,” and said “God does not intervene to break the laws” that He decreed.

Since then, however, there’s been a lot more theorizing devoted to the origin of the universe. Hawking now believes that an approach known as M-theory will eventually reveal the grand design of the cosmos.

“In my opinion, there is no aspect of reality beyond the reach of the human mind,” Hawking told El Mundo.

Space travel as life insurance

Hawking’s views carry a lot of weight in popular culture — in large part because his studies of black holes, the nature of space-time and other deep subjects have earned him a reputation as one of the smartest people on Earth.

Another part of his appeal comes from his triumph over adversity: For decades, he has been fighting against amylotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS — a neurogenerative disease that’s left him almost completely paralyzed.

He can communicate only through a computer that’s controlled by the twitches of his cheek. Despite that hardship, he continues to travel and give voice-synthesized lectures at the age of 72.

The El Mundo interview says that his doctors no longer allow him to fly — which might pose a problem for his plans to fly into space once Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital rocket plane goes into service.

But whether or not Hawking gets into outer space himself, he sees that final frontier as a life insurance policy.

“It could prevent the disappearance of humanity by colonizing other planets,” El Mundo quoted Hawking as saying.

But what about the aliens?

There’s a catch: If there are other civilizations out there, we’d better be careful not to run across the bad guys, a la “Prometheus.”

Hawking has previously warned against calling too much attention to ourselves, for fear of attracting the wrong sort of extraterrestrials.

Such a visit might well be similar to Christopher Columbus’ visit to the Americas, “which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans,” Hawking said.

But how likely is it that intelligent life exists?

Surely someone who’s skeptical about God’s existence would be skeptical about E.T.’s existence as well, right?

Not really.

During his own Starmus lecture, evolutionary biologist (and outspoken atheist) Richard Dawkins said the astronomical evidence suggests it’s “most likely” that the universe has many forms of life — although those life forms may be on “islands separated by vast distances.”

“The idea that we are alone in the universe seems to me completely implausible and arrogant,” El Mundo quoted Dawkins as saying.

Considering the number of planets and stars that we know exist, it’s extremely unlikely that we are the only form of evolved life.”

First published September 24th 2014, 1:38 am


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