Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Physicist George Ellis interviewed by science writer John Horgan in Scientific American

I’m mentioned George Ellis on this blog before, specifically on his doubts about the speculative multiverse cosmology.

Here he is interviewed in Scientific American. (H/T Think Apologetics)

Intro:

Biologist Rupert Sheldrake, whom I interviewed in my last post, wasn’t the only fascinating scientist I hung out with recently at Howthelightgetsin, a festival hosted by the Institute of Arts & Ideas. I also befriended George F. R. Ellis, the physicist-mathematician-cosmologist, an authority on the Big Bang and other cosmic mysteries. Ellis and I hit it off initially because we share some—how shall I put it?—concerns about the direction of physics, but I soon discovered that his interests range far beyond physics. He has published papers and books not only on physics and cosmology (including the 1973 classic The Large-Scale Structure of Space-Time, co-authored with Stephen Hawking) but also on philosophy, complexity theory, neuroscience, education and even low-income housing. (See his website, and his terrific 2011 critique of multiverse theories in Scientific American.) A native of South Africa, Ellis is professor emeritus at the University of Cape Town, where he taught for decades, and has also held positions at Cambridge, the University of Texas, the Fermi Institute and other institutions around the globe.

Awesome:

Horgan: Lawrence Krauss, in A Universe from Nothing, claims that physics has basically solved the mystery of why there is something rather than nothing. Do you agree?

Ellis: Certainly not.  He is presenting untested speculative theories of how things came into existence out of a pre-existing complex of entities, including variational principles, quantum field theory, specific symmetry groups, a bubbling vacuum, all the components of the standard model of particle physics, and so on. He does not explain in what way these entities could have pre-existed the coming into being of the universe, why they should have existed at all, or why they should have had the form they did.  And he gives no experimental or observational process whereby we could test these vivid speculations of the supposed universe-generation mechanism. How indeed can you test what existed before the universe existed? You can’t.

Thus what he is presenting is not tested science. It’s a philosophical speculation, which he apparently believes is so compelling he does not have to give any specification of evidence that would confirm it is true. Well, you can’t get any evidence about what existed before space and time came into being.  Above all he believes that these mathematically based speculations solve thousand year old philosophical conundrums, without seriously engaging those philosophical issues. The belief that all of reality can be fully comprehended in terms of physics and the equations of physics is a fantasy. As pointed out so well by Eddington in his Gifford lectures, they are partial and incomplete representations of physical, biological, psychological, and social reality.

And above all Krauss does not address why the laws of physics exist, why they have the form they have, or in what kind of manifestation they existed before the universe existed  (which he must believe if he believes they brought the universe into existence). Who or what dreamt up symmetry principles, Lagrangians, specific symmetry groups, gauge theories, and so on? He does not begin to answer these questions.

It’s very ironic when he says philosophy is bunk and then himself engages in this kind of attempt at philosophy. It seems that science education should include some basic modules on Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, and the other great philosophers, as well as writings of more recent philosophers such as Tim Maudlin and David Albert.

He likes fine-tuning, but not multiverse and string theory:

Horgan: Are you a fan of multiverse theories? String theory? The anthropic principle?

No (may be true but unproveable, much too much untestable speculation about existence of infinities of entities, ill defined and untestable probability measures), no (too much speculative introduction of very complex unseeable entities, treats gravity just like any other force), yes (however one responds to it, it’s a real question that deserves consideration).  Fine tuning of fundamental physics parameters is required in order that we can exist. Examining this issue has led to many very interesting studies.

Horgan: Physicist Sean Carroll has argued that falsifiability is overrated as a criterion for judging whether theories should be taken seriously. Do you agree?

Ellis: This is a major step backwards to before the evidence-based scientific revolution initiated by Galileo and Newton.  The basic idea is that our speculative theories, extrapolating into the unknown and into untestable areas from well-tested areas of physics, are so good they have to be true. History proves that is the path to delusion: just because you have a good theory does not prove it is true. The other defence is that there is no other game in town. But there may not be any such game.

Scientists should strongly resist such an attack on the very foundations of its own success. Luckily it is a very small subset of scientists who are making this proposal.

Free will is real:

Horgan: In some of your writings, you warn against excessive determinism in physics, and science. Could you summarize your concerns?

Many scientists are strong reductionists who believe that physics alone determines outcomes in the real world, This is demonstrably untrue – for example the computer on which I am writing this could not possibly have come into being through the agency of physics alone.

The issue is that these scientists are focusing on some strands in the web of causation that actually exist, and ignoring others that are demonstrably there – such as ideas in our minds, or algorithms embodied in computer programs. These demonstrably act in a top-down way to cause physical effects in the real world. All these processes and actual outcomes are contextually dependent, and this allows the effectiveness of processes such as adaptive selection that are the key to the emergence of genuine complexity.

As I stated above, mathematical equations only represent part of reality, and should not be confused with reality.  A specific related issue: there is a group of people out there writing papers based on the idea that physics is a computational process.  But a physical law is not an algorithm. So who chooses the computational strategy and the algorithms that realise a specific physical law? (Finite elements perhaps?) What language is it written in? (Does Nature use Java or C++? What machine code is used?) Where is the CPU? What is used for memory, and in what way are read and write commands executed? Additionally if it’s a computation, how does Nature avoid the halting problem? It’s all a very bad analogy that does not work.

Horgan: Einstein, in the following quote, seemed to doubt free will: “If the moon, in the act of completing its eternal way around the Earth, were gifted with self-consciousness, it would feel thoroughly convinced that it was traveling its way of its own accord…. So would a Being, endowed with higher insight and more perfect intelligence, watching man and his doings, smile about man’s illusion that he was acting according to his own free will.” Do you believe in free will?

Ellis: Yes. Einstein is perpetuating the belief that all causation is bottom up. This simply is not the case, as I can demonstrate with many examples from sociology, neuroscience, physiology, epigenetics, engineering, and physics.  Furthermore if Einstein did not have free will in some meaningful sense, then he could not have been responsible for the theory of relativity – it would have been a product of lower level processes but not of an intelligent mind choosing between possible options.

I find it very hard to believe this to be the case – indeed it does not seem to make any sense. Physicists should pay attention to Aristotle’s four forms of causation – if they have the free will to decide what they are doing. If they don’t, then why waste time talking to them? They are then not responsible for what they say.

Sometimes, you have to just point out that a speculation is a speculation, and that we do not prefer speculations over experimental results. The data we have is consistent with an origin of the universe out of nothing, and the best explanation of this effect is a supernatural cause. Period.

Filed under: News, , , ,

Finding God’s will for our lives

I’m stealing from Amy Hall, who blogged at Stand to Reason.

Excerpt:

Chandler Vannoy wrote about “What We Get Wrong about ‘Finding God’s Will,’” and it’s always a good time to be reminded of this:

The phrase we have all heard…is we need to find God’s will for our life. And for the past 21 years, I thought I had to keep praying for God to open my eyes to the will he had laid out for me. That if I just kept searching long enough and hard enough, I would know exactly what I was supposed to do in the future.

But Kevin DeYoung blew up this idea for me while I was reading his book Just Do Something….

In the beginning of the book, DeYoung says, “We should stop thinking of God’s will like a corn maze, or a tight-rope, or a bull’s eye, or a choose-your-own-adventure novel.” This rocked my world. I always thought that if I made a wrong decision or took a wrong turn, I would be removed from God’s plan.

But what he is saying here is that we are free from the burden of trying to discover God’s will ahead of time. It is not a maze for us to perfectly navigate in order to reach our end goal, but instead, God desires for us to trust Him with all of the twists and turns.

Yes, God is sovereign over my life. Yes, He has specific plans for my future, but He does not expect me to find out the details of His plan before I get there. So this whole idea of finding God’s will for my life has been me searching for something God does not want to reveal.

The answer for making good decisions is to learn wisdom from the words God has already given us, and to rest in the knowledge that God has guaranteed that all things work together for the good of making us more like Christ (Romans 8:28-29). Even if a wise decision leads to unforeseen difficulties, that doesn’t mean it was the “wrong” one. In fact, difficulties are the most powerful tool God regularly uses to shape us.

I think this is good advice for everyone.

Here’s a wonderful post on decision making and the will of God posted on Neil’s blog. Neil links to another post where someone is trying to figure out what God wants him to do.

Excerpt:

Really short version: Aside from direct and clear personal revelation from God, you don’t have access to his sovereign will when making decisions.  Therefore you must look at other factors.  If it isn’t moral, don’t do it.  If it is moral but not wise, don’t do it.  If it is moral and wise, then use your personal preferences.

Using this model you can end up with a wise and biblical decision, but you have avoided the traps of the “God told me to ____” routine.  People who run around saying that God told them this and that convey a super-spirituality that can leave less mature believers wondering if they really have a relationship with God (i.e., “God doesn’t tell me every little thing to do, so maybe I don’t really know him.”).

He has a helpful picture posted as well:

This is actually a very important topic for me, because I like making plans and making good decisions. I like being the quarterback or squad leader of my own life. I like to pick objectives and then make plans to achieve them. (Nothing too exotic, just simple stuff like saving money or reading more books)

Actually, I really oppose the idea that God has a magical fairy tale will for each person that will make them happy and fulfilled. For me, life isn’t like that. I don’t expect God to lead me along like a child at a scavenger hunt. I expect to survey the battlefield where I am and then do something to make a difference. There are lots of things you can do that will please God. Should you focus on your career and sponsor apologetics conferences? Or should you use your spare time preparing Sunday school lessons? There are lots of good things you could do to please God. Your job is to pick the one that will be the most effective. It doesn’t matter if it makes you happy, it only matters if it’s effective and if you are good at it.

Who is Rifleman Dodd?

A while back, I was busily working my way through the U.S. Marine Corps Official Reading List, and I came across a book by C.S. Forester called Rifleman Dodd, or alternatively titled Death to the French. It’s a work of historical fiction that takes place during the Napoleonic wars. The story is about a British marksman named Dodd, who is cut off from his own lines during a withdrawal maneuver. He is subsequently left to fend for himself behind enemy lines. An ordinary man might be full of despair and forget about his mission entirely. But Dodd is no ordinary man. Not only does he find a way to survive by finding food to eat, water to drink and places to sleep, but he also tries to remember his orders and to think about what he can do to advance the cause of his General, the Duke of Wellington.

Here’s an excerpt from a gritty book review:

It’s about a green-coated British infantry rifleman in the Napoleonic Wars, an age when rifles were a novelty and most of the army was red-coated and carried muskets. Private Matthew Dodd gets separated from his regiment during a retreat and finds himself stranded behind enemy (French) lines in Portugal. With the occasional aid of some natives, but mostly on his own, he harasses the French with his rifle and tries to prevent them from building a bridge across the Tagus River. It’s a remarkable tale of survival and solitary achievement, of a rank-and-file soldier who lives by his wits and slowly learns to make plans without orders, and shows leadership qualities and a knowledge of warfare.

I think we’re in the same situation as Dodd.

There is no point in us looking for breadcrumb trails to happiness at this point. That’s not the point of Christianity. The point of Christianity is friendship with God, imitation of Christ, honoring moral obligations, self-sacrificial love for your neighbor (and even your enemies!), and dedication to the truth – whether anyone else likes you or not. It’s not supposed to make you happy, and it’s not necessarily going to be a normal life like everyone else has. Things may not work out the way you’d like them to.

We seem to be making such a big deal about compassion and forgiveness in the Christian life these days – such a big emphasis on our feelings. Almost like we have forgotten that we have obligations to our friend – and his objectives. A relationship doesn’t mean that one person completely disregards the character and goals of the other person and then is automatically granted forgiveness whenever they want it. That’s not a friendship – that’s using someone else for your own ends. Maybe it’s time to remember what this is all about.

Filed under: News, , , , , ,

Ohio State University core class teaches that atheists are smarter than Christians

From Campus Reform. (H/T Nancy Pearcey tweet)

Excerpt:

Ohio State University (OSU) class has apparently determined another fundamental difference between Christians and atheists: their IQ points.

An online quiz from the school’s Psychology 1100 class, provided to Campus Reform via tip, asked students to pick which scenario they found most likely given that “Theo has an IQ of 100 and Aine has an IQ of 125.”

The correct answer? “Aine is an atheist, while Theo is a Christian.”

According to a student in the class who wished to remain anonymous, the question was a part of an online homework quiz. Students were required to complete a certain amount of quizzes throughout the course but were encouraged to finish all of them in order to prep for the final exam.

“I understand that colleges have a liberal spin on things so it didn’t surprise me to see the question, which is a sad thing,” the student told Campus Reform in a phone interview. “But how can you really measure which religion has a higher IQ?”

Psychology 1100 is a general education requirement class which can primarily be taught by an undergraduate teacher’s assistant.

[...]Dr. Mike Adams, an outspoken conservative Christian professor at the University of North Carolina, said “every group is protected from offensive speech on campus except for conservative Christians.”

The university is a challenging problem for Christians who want to make a difference. On the one hand, it’s definitely a center of influence where many young people come to learn how the world works. On the other hand, if you are a conservative Christian, you will be attacked there. It would be nice if Christians could somehow influence the university, helping young people to find or keep their relationship with God in Christ. But I don’t think it’s a priority for most Christians. Ratio Christi does a good job, and I like to sponsor their events. We lose a lot of young people who are raised in Christian homes at the university.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , ,

Muslim mother threatens to murder daughter who was raped by Mullah

From the leftist New York Times, of all places. This story happened in Afghanistan. (H/T Nancy)

Excerpt:

It was bad enough that the alleged rape took place in the sanctity of a mosque, and that the accused man was a mullah who invoked the familiar defense that it had been consensual sex.

But the victim was only 10 years old. And there was more: The authorities said her family members openly planned to carry out an “honor killing” in the case — against the young girl.

[...]This past week, the awful matter became even worse. On Tuesday, local policemen removed the girl from the shelter that had given her refuge and returned her to her family, despite complaints from women’s activists that she was likely to be killed.

[...]The accused mullah, Mohammad Amin, was arrested and confessed to having sex with the girl after Quran recitation classes at the mosque on May 1, but claimed that he thought the girl was older and that she responded to his advances.

The girl’s own testimony, and medical evidence, supported a rape so violent that it caused a fistula, or a break in the wall between the vagina and rectum, according to the police and the official bill of indictment. She bled so profusely after the attack that she was at one point in danger of losing her life because of a delay in getting medical care.

After the two women’s officials began speaking out about the case, they started receiving threatening calls from mullahs — some of them Taliban, others on the government side — and from arbakai, or pro-government militiamen. One of their claims was that the girl was actually 17, and thus of marriageable age, not 10.

Photographs of the girl… clearly show a pre-pubescent child, and the doctor said the girl weighed only 40 pounds. Few Afghans have birth records, and many do not know their precise ages. But the girl’s mother said she was 10, and a forensic examination in the hospital agreed, saying she had not yet started menstruating or developing secondary sexual characteristics.

[...]In the hospital room, the doctor found the girl’s mother holding her child’s hand, and both were weeping. “My daughter, may dust and soil protect you now,” Dr. Sarwari quoted the mother as saying. “We will make you a bed of dust and soil. We will send you to the cemetery where you will be safe.”

[...]The doctor took the girl away to the shelter. Afterward, Dr. Sarwari and several women’s affairs officials were threatened by the girl’s family, and by other mullahs. “They call me and curse me, and threaten to kill me and my family, and say they know where I live,” Dr. Sarwari said. “They say, once your American husbands leave Afghanistan, we will do what we want to you.” (Her husband is an Afghan doctor and war veteran.)

I think there is a lesson in this for all the “anti-war” people who think that we should not be acting to restrain radical Islam in the Middle East. What would a libertarian or a leftist say to this woman? The answer is they have nothing to say. There are strategic reasons for us to have troops deployed in the Middle East – to restrain Iran for one. But when we pull out, we are saying that we don’t care about these atrocities. The only way to do something is to be present on the scene and armed.

Filed under: News, , , , ,

What does the new Guzzo study tell us about the instability of cohabitation?

I blogged about a new study on cohabitation earlier in the month, but I only had the abstract. Now more details are out, from Family-Studies.org.

First, some context:

In a new paper, Bowling Green State University sociologist Karen Guzzo analyzes how the odds of cohabitation leading to either getting married or breaking up have changed over the years. Before getting to her findings, let’s review some of the cohabitation trends she highlights in her report (based on prior studies).

  1. The majority of people in their 30s have lived with someone outside of marriage.
  2. Cohabitation, rather than marriage, is now the more common form of first union.
  3. Fewer marriages than in the past start out with the couple having intentions to marry.
  4. People are more likely than ever to cohabit with multiple partners in succession—what I have called “CohabiDating.”
  5. More children than ever before are born to cohabiting couples, and this explains most of the rise in the number of children being born out of wedlock.

Guzzo notes, as have others, that cohabiting has become a normative experience in the romantic and sexual lives of young adults. As young adults put off marriage until later in life, cohabitation has inhabited much of the space that used to be made up of married couples. I think this dramatic change in how relationships form matters for at least two reasons. First, many cohabiting couples have children, but they are less likely than married couples to have planned to have children and they are much less likely to remain together after having children… Second, most people want lasting love in life, and most people still intend to accomplish that in marriage.

Here is the main finding of the new paper:

To simplify and summarize, what Guzzo found is that the increasing diversity in the types of cohabitation and cohabiters does not explain much about why things are so different from the past when it comes to increased odds that cohabiting couples will break up or not marry. Rather, on average, all types of cohabiting couples have become more likely than in the past to break up or not transition into marriage.

Here’s a quote from her paper (pg. 834):

Relative to cohabitations formed between 1990 and 1994, cohabitations formed from 1995–1999, 2000–2004, and 2005 and later were 13%, 49%, and 87%, respectively, more likely to dissolve than remain intact. The lower risk of marriage over remaining intact occurred only for the last two cohabitation cohorts (2000–2004 and 2005 and later), which were about 18% and 31% less likely to marry than remain intact, respectively.

Moving in together is becoming less and less likely to lead to having a future together. That’s not to say that all cohabiters are in the same boat regarding their destination. Those who are engaged (or have clear plans to marry) before moving in together are far more likely to eventually marry—but as Guzzo shows, even they are becoming less likely to do so. Related to this, my colleagues and I have shown, in numerous studies, that couples with clear plans to marry before cohabiting, along with those who marry without cohabiting, tend to have happier marriages and lower odds of divorce than those who move in together before having a clearly settled commitment to the future in marriage. (We believe this is largely because, while cohabiting unions obviously break up often, they are harder to break off than dating relationships because it becomes harder to move out and move on. So some people get stuck in a relationship they would otherwise have not remained in.)

[...]Cohabitation is fundamentally ambiguous. In fact, that is part—but just part—of why I believe it has become so popular. Sure, there are many cohabiting couples for whom living together was understood as a step-up in commitment, but, on average, research shows it is not associated with an increase in dedication to one’s partner.

So those are the findings from the latest study. You can find more studies on cohabitation linked here in my previous post on this topic.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wintery Tweets

Click to see recent visitors

  Visitors Online Now

Page views since 1/30/09

  • 4,220,558 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,967 other followers

Archives

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,967 other followers

%d bloggers like this: