Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Being a post which is mostly just me agreeing with Jenny

Quoth Jenny:

Some of the quotes by scientists recently saying that they won't believe in a created universe - even if all the evidence says this must be so - simply because that would be faith not science, seems to me to be unscientific - or at least unstatistical.
Now if they had said, all evidence so far shows no natural cause for the universe and either left it at that or said that they were waiting on advances in science to examine the cause further - then I'd think they were thinking a little more scientifically (though a null hypothesis of "the universe was not created naturally" with an alternate of " the universe was created naturally" seems more thorough).

I'm also always a little skeptical of those who need to use science to underwrite their faith that God exists and created the universe. I'm not saying you can't, but if you read a bit of history of science, you can see that scientists have gotten things wrong over and over again.
In science, dropping what you believe in favour of something else when new data shows you have something wrong is good practice.
However, if you use science to prove your faith and then your pet scientific theory falls over...where does it leave you?
As a scientist, I take all science with a grain of salt...sometimes a ruddy great rock of salt...I know our understanding changes, sometimes very fast, so I'm not that concerned when people say, "God doesn't exist and I can prove it with science".

Thats the thing about faith, I don't have to know how, I just have to have faith that God created the universe. (please note; not talking about blind faith in its entirity, just in an area I really don't think is that central to my beliefs).

Science is for examining the reproducible elements of the universe. It has been so good at explaining the observable features of the universe by considering only those elements that it is easy to assume that only those elements exist. Maybe that’s true. But the existence of irreproducible, miraculous elements can't be disproved by science: ‘it’s not a miracle’ is an assumption you have to make before you can study a phenomenon by scientific methods.
Saying that everything can be explained by science is not a scientific statement: it is a statement of faith. I think that everything within what we call ‘the universe’ will end up being explicable by science, but that is just a leap of faith on my part.

With every step we have taken over the last few centuries, we have found the universe bigger than we thought, and our position in it more unremarkable. I think that it is highly unlikely that something as improbable as life just happened to start here, and I think it equally unlikely that what we call ‘the universe’ should be all that there is. Everything in a well-designed film can be explained without going outside the film for an explanation, but in the end everything in the film is dependent on something outside the film for its existence. I think that on another level of explanation, our ‘universe’ can be explained as an artifact, created by an omnibenevolent entity with complete knowledge of ‘the universe’ that is much more like a person than it is like any inanimate thing. This is another leap of faith on my part.

I must plead guilty of using science to support my faith that God exists. The most obvious explanation for the universe being here is that it just is: it is all there is, and it has always been here, always changing, but never going anywhere, just cycling. This is the most logical position to take in the absence of other evidence. It was the position of the great ancient philosophers, of the ancient religions of the East, of Lyell, who did more than anyone else to create the modern science of geology, and of almost all atheists up until the middle of last century. Unfortunately, it has been almost impossible to claim that ‘the universe’ is all that there is since we found out that it running down: that it started in a less disordered state and is tending inexorably towards a more and more disordered state. Before the Second Law of Thermodynamics, it was a real leap of faith to believe that God created the universe: since then it has been easier. We tend to forget how difficult science has already made things for atheists, because we have all grown up with the idea of the universe suddenly springing into existence something like fifteen billion years ago as a scientific theory. Not so very long ago the idea that the universe had a beginning was (rightly, on the basis of the available evidence) condemned as unscientific.


Marco said...

I don't know about that last paragraph. I truly think that science is stepping outside of its boundaries even to ponder the question of whether the universe had a beginning or not. To me it cannot possibly pass the repeatability required. I am very interested in, say, the origins of the red spot of Jupiter - but not of the origins of galaxies. It is wrong to think we can get our heads around the sum of what we can see and what we can never see just with thought experiments and working backwards from what we can see of what the universe is doing now.

Dr. Clam said...

Have you no poetry in your soul, man? Once upon 'what are the stars made of?' was used as an example of a question that science would never be able to answer.

Is there anything you think is particularly bad about the standard model of cosmology, or are you just voicing an engineer's deep mistrust of the historical sciences?

Dave said...

Am I equally philistinic to suggest that, for me, it's merely a question of whether the universe can have had a beginning independent of outside intervention.

After that, Occam's Razor applies - if it could have spontaneously existed, it did. No need for God.

Yes, I recognise the inherent leap of prejudice-assisted faith in the above assertion. But I also think that the concept of a spontaneous universe if marvellous enough on its own without resort to "intelligent design".

Marco said...

Re:"Is there anything you think is particularly bad about the standard model of cosmology, or are you just voicing an engineer's deep mistrust of the historical sciences?"

It doesn't help that scientists keep having to explain away apparently contradictory cosmological experiments and measurements; but yes, basically it is just a deep mistrust of the historical sciences - I get annoyed very quickly reading various other historical science articles also.

Dr. Clam said...

I'm not entirely sure what you mean, young Dave... I will try to state my last paragraph in a more rigorous (and probably completely superfluous) way:

(1)Something exists.
(2) The most logical explanation for something existing is that something always has existed.
(3) The universe, as we understand it, does not seem always to have existed.
(4) Therefore something else has always existed, of which the universe as we understand it is only a subset.

Note lack of any assumptions as to what the something which has always existed is. My argument is just that prior to empirical evidence for (3), it was much more difficult for a rational person to believe in any form of (4). I think the empirical evidence is pretty good (what are a few orders of magnitude in between physicists, after all?) and Hawking's arguments for the universe being 'finite but unbounded in space *and* time' don't seem very convinving to me.

Dave said...

Ah, okay, fair enough. I suspected I was missing the point.

Jenny said...

Wow, I feel I should comment since you this thread was based on a previous comment of mine, but I've been thesis writing which dulls my senses at the same time as it improves my vocabulary, and nothing springs to mind. Sort of like my thesis writing.