Science Roundup: Dawkins, Doubt, and Probability


Several interesting articles were published over the last few days that deal with science and origins. Since exploring that topic, based on the release of Enns new book, was a popular series here I thought I would share these.

On February 23rd 2012 Professor Richard Dawkins debated the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams on the ‘nature of human beings and the question of their ultimate origin’. The moderator was Sir Anthony Kenny.

The debate is available on You Tube, though I have not watched it as of yet.

The report from the Guardian was that the bout did not live up to the hype.

In normal boxing matches, the duty of the referee is to keep the fighters from gouging and biting; but when you get a theologian and a scientist in the ring together, the referee’s job is get them to try to hit each other and not flail at the air. …

With such a formidable referee there was some chance that the contestants might land some blows on each other, and the Sheldonian theatre in Oxford was packed for this intellectual bloodsport. They would be disappointed, despite all Kenny’s best efforts.

Dawkins explained his view:

The laws of physics have conspired to make the collisions of atoms produce plants, kangaroos, insects, and us.

yet also admitted in the same debate:

the world’s “most famous atheist” now says he is not 100 percent sure that God doesn’t exist — but just barely.  … the evolutionary biologist swiftly added that he was “6.9 out of seven” certain of his long-standing atheist beliefs.

xkcd: The Difference

Dawkins comments came out around the same time as the NYT book review on Lawrence Krauss’ new book – “A Universe From Nothing”, which claims the opposite:

Scientists may be at least theoretically able to trace every last galaxy back to a bump in the Big Bang, to complete the entire quantum roll call of particles and forces. But the question of why there was a Big Bang or any quantum particles at all was presumed to lie safely out of scientific bounds, in the realms of philosophy or religion.

Now even that assumption is no longer safe … science can explain how something — namely our star-spangled cosmos — could be born from, if not nothing, something very close to it.

According to Krauss that something isn’t God but “randomness”.

Maybe in the true eternal multiverse there are truly no laws …

Maybe indeed randomness is all there is …

Maybe. But that does not sound certain to me, and something close to nothing is still not nothing.

Lastly, the neutrino that broke the light speed barrier and therefore the theory of special relativity may have been the result of a faulty conductor according to Guardian.

So it looks like neutrinos respect the speed limit after all. At least, the OPERA experimentalists announced a couple of days ago that they have found one problem (with a connector in their experiment) which could have led to a faulty timing measurement. When they run again with this fixed, they may well get a result compatible with the speed of light.

Something Discover pointed out right away:

So don’t let your imagination run away with this just yet. This result will, in my opinion, probably turn out to be incorrect for some reasons dealing with measurement. Faster than light travel is still a dream, even though I wouldn’t say it’s impossible… just very, very, very, very unlikely.

Here the author raises the issue regarding the possibility of particles that are faster than light, reminding us that, however unlikely, even the theory of special relativity’s claim, that the maximum speed achievable is the speed of light, is not  “certain”.  The Guardian does offer an interesting question? Should the results about the neutrino have been published and would we be questioning the results as much if it did not contradict a widely held theory.

Experimentalists get ignored if they are right, and hugely cited if they are wrong.

Theorists get ignored if they are wrong, but a Nobel Prize if they are right.

When the “most famous atheist” is willing to admit that science cannot disprove the existence of God, even if he thinks it is highly, highly improbable and scientists may have observed particles that are traveling faster than light it reminds us that the scientific conclusions on origins and cosmology,which are based on inductive reasoning of current observations and experiments can not be “proven” with error-free certitude. They can only be considered in degrees of probability. Something to keep in mind when wrestling with the claims of both science and theological interpretations.

What do you think?

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