Time and Causality

My Thanks to …

My thanks goes to Evan Stegner (twitter: EVANgelize_guys) for prompting me to write this post.

Commentary

Evan and I had a long twitter discussion about causality, and my issue with the idea that all things which exist must have a cause being applied to the notion of the Big Bang. Evan took the trouble to cite examples for which causality is a good explanation of the existence of something. Behind these examples there is the underlying assumption of time as we commonly perceive it.

In the meantime, I asked a cosmologist what the current thinking was about the nature of time and the way that this has affected the universe since what is commonly known as the Big Bang. And here is his kicker: “time is fluid”. He went on to say:

  • when we look at the cosmic background radiation (a product of the “Big Bang”) the “time” experienced by the photons since their creation to moments of our observations of them is of zero duration from the photons’ perspective,
  • it is known that our current models of physics are inadequate, and work is currently being done to address those: the notion of the Big Bang may be fundamentally flawed.

What we are left with is a case of false equivalence.

Conclusion

The notion that the Big Bang happened and had a causative agent is currently unsupportable.

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“Truth is Absolute!”

Introduction

I have for a long time been interested in what motivates outspoken theists. Using Twitter has enabled me to interact with some of them, and observe some of their thinking in their responses to my tweets. In terms of their motivation, I am not much wiser, but I may now have some inkling of the positions that they adopt when debating with atheists.

Overview of Evidence

The evidence presented here is far from being rigorous, but it may provide pointers to other researchers who are interested in this question. It strikes me that there are two themes which are the fall-back of die-hard theists when confronted by atheists’ questions: “The Bible is truth” and “Truth is absolute”, and that both of these positions may underpin the responses which they give to atheists.

Discussion

If we look the discussion from the point of view of theists, it is perfectly reasonable in their eyes to use the Bible as a means of dismissing the arguments put forward by atheists. They can, for example, claim that any atheist who questions the validity of the Bible will suffer eternal torment in Hell, because this is what the Bible tells them.

Moving in a context slightly wider than just the Bible, it also legitimises (in the eyes of theists) such positions as “The soul is what enters the body at birth, and leaves it at death” (Saivism, twitter @OmNamaShivayaa) without offering anything further, thus side-stepping any question of testability.

It also explains the assertion that the spiritual world can only be glimpsed (Stu Pedasso, twitter @mr_stinkynuts), and that any questions about how that world can be measured and tested are treated with contempt.

It would seem that such theists regard their own preferred religious text to the exclusion of all else. By way of illustration, the Bible presents the virgin birth as a fact, while any gynecologist who has bothered to think the matter through will tell you that it is a physical impossibility. (I expect that the merry band of theists will attack my argument on the basis of the immediately preceding sentence.) Thus we have a group of people who are desirous of accepting a single source of evidence to the exclusion of all other sources. This would motivate such statements as made by theists in their fall-back position: they do not feel the need to defend such bald assertions.

I must confess that I find such a position to be puzzling in the extreme.

Conclusion

It is at this point that I must leave it to others to put forward their own ideas about what motivates such theists, and to thank them in advance for their efforts.

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A Reply to BeatKnoxxx

My Thanks to …

My thanks goes to BeatKnoxxx (twitter: BeatKnoxxx, web site http://www.hulkshare.com/44mq5t2vuz7k) for prompting me to write this post.

Background

BeatKnoxxx started proceedings with this tweet:

There then followed a number of tweet exchanges which prompted me to explore the impact that some of my childhood teachers had in my present-day dealings with some Christians, and with believers in general.

A Personal History

Some of the teachers in my childhood:

  • took great delight in describing in graphic detail Jesus’ suffering on the Cross, and explaining that his suffering was because of my sins,
  • told me that angels were every bit as real as my classmates,
  • told me that a virgin was made pregnant by God,
  • told me that a man was resurrected from the dead,
  • told me that God saw everything that was going on in my mind,
  • told me that if I had Communion, and did not then commit any further sin, I would go to heaven,
  • told me that I would be redeemed regardless because of Jesus’ suffering,
  • told me that I would go to Hell regardless if I even had so much as a sinful thought,
  • told me that questioning what I had been told was sinful,
  • told me that God is both three and one.

I am a victim of homosexual rape by a male doctor. What that doctor did to me pales into insignificance when compared to what those teachers did to my mind. Moreover, when I told an intimate friend, a practicing Christian, what those teachers did, she ejaculated “My God! Were you brought up in a convent?“, this despite her knowing full well that I am male. In fact, I was in Australia’s secular education system.

It was to be 25 years before before I could start to clean my mind of such filth.

Today

I had hoped that after 50 years the situation would have improved. It has not. As recently as 2010, we have Tim McKenzie teaching children religious nonsense, again in a secular school. (My post about the ethics of such teaching can be found here.) It is easy to see why this is happening. There are organisations such as Scripture Union Queensland and the Australian Christian Lobby giving moral support to such (mis-)teaching, and politicians such as Nicola Roxon, Peter Garrett and Penny Wong driving legislation through parliament to ensure that this sort of thing keeps happening.

Conclusion

As a victim, I cannot stand idly by and allow without protest today’s children to be subject to the same sort of treatment as I received. I regard it as my duty to defend their rights, one tweet at a time.

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Falsifiable Evidence: A Guide for the Uninformed

Definition of Terms

There are a number of words and phrases that are used in sometimes imprecise ways by the writers of popular science. For the avoidance of ambiguity, I use the following definitions throughout this piece.

OBSERVATION:
An observation is something that can be sensed and measured.

There is no requirement in this definition that the sensing be done by a human being. One non-human example is the infra-red sensor. Nor is there any requirement for the
measurement to be quantitative, it can be purely qualitative.

CONJECTURE:
A conjecture is an explanation that is purported to explain a set of observations. The word “theory” is often used mistakenly in this context. The “steady state theory” of
the universe is in fact a conjecture.

EXPERIMENT:
An experiment is limited in this piece to mean a set of actions and measurements designed to either support or refute a conjecture.

EVIDENCE:
Evidence is a set of measurements from an experiment and associated logical arguments used to support or refute a conjecture.

THEORY:
A theory is a conjecture for which the evidence that supports the conjecture greatly outweighs the evidence that refutes the conjecture.

FALSIFIABLE:
A conjecture and a theory are both falsifiable if it is possible gather evidence which leads to refutation.

Examples

The changes in ideas about planetary motion can be used to illustrate the above perhaps somewhat dry defintions. In ancient Egypt, the theory was of Ptolemaic epicycles. Given the capabilities of measuring equipment at the time, this was as good as it could possibly be. This was falsified by Sir Isaac Newton when he produced Newtonian mechanics. His theory was very successful at explaining the motion of the planets. However, the motion of Mercury around our sun was not entirely in agreement with Newtonian mechanics, so it was known that there was an unresolved issue. It was not until Albert Einstein produced his theory of general relativity that the motion of Mercury could be properly explained. In that sense, Newtonian mechanics has been falsified as a theory of how the universe works, even though it is completely adequate for the purposes of everyday living.

Other examples of observations, experiments that and theories that have changed ideas about the universe include the discrete nature of matter (Millikan), the existence of the atomic nucleus (Rutherford), quantum states (Niels Bohr, Paul Dirac and John von Neumann) and the Standard Model (particle accelerators).

Examples of conjectures that have been refuted include Descartes assertion that colours were discrete (refuted by Sir Isaac Newton showing that white light could be split into its component colours), phlogiston (refuted by a number of chemists at the time showing that it had to have negative mass) and the steady state “theory” of the universe proposed by Fred Hoyle (refuted by Hubble’s observation of red shift).

Theists and God

The conjecture of God (or gods) has been around for millenia. To people of the pre-scientific era, and in the absence of any better measurements, this was the best that could be achieved: a god is a convenient mechanism for explaining things which are otherwise inexplicable. Scientific theories have given us much more powerful ideas about about how the universe and our world work, often in very precise mathematical terms.

I have in recent months asked any theist who would care to engage in the question to provide falsifiable evidence for their claim of the existence of God. The great majority have responded in one of two ways, either to ignore the question or to offer only observations without suggesting any experiments or ways of gathering falsifiable evidence. The remaining theists have resorted to giving me personal abuse.

A few of the theists who ignore the question of falsfiable evidence give other responses. Some present me with a false dichotomy, that God either does or does not exist, and that a failure to prove God’s non-existence thereby proves God’s existence. Others make the assumption that the nature of both time and causality as we currently understand also applied at the time of the Big Bang (“Something must have caused the Big Bang, and that something must be God.”).

I make the following request to all theists who wish to engage with me on the question of the existence of God: “Please get an understanding the nature of scientific thinking before making fools of yourselves. Thank you.”.

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A Christian’s Job

Acknowledgments

My thanks go to Vorian (twitter: @Vorian) and Kevin Concepcion (twitter: @Kevin_Reborn11) for prompting this post.

Background

Kevin made this tweet as part of a conversation with both Vorian and myself:

The key sentence in this tweet is “As a Christian my Job is just to speak about the good news of CHRIST.”. It is now time to examine this in the context of schooling.

Science Versus Faith

I have personally experienced teachers who have committed the obscenity of teaching children that angels have the same physical reality as planets. We also have the totally ludicrous assertion that “DNA wasn’t invented then” from a Christian in a secular school.

There is also the matter of the physical impossibility of the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, both of which are presented as historical fact by assorted nincompoops. Moreover, anybody who believes that a burning bush is somehow God manifest on Earth is in urgent need of a psychiatrist.

We then have the perspective of Young Earth Creationists who assert that a single work contains a better description of the world than millions scientific papers. The sense that they regard themselves as being better informed than generations of scientists is inescapable.

There can be little doubt that there are people whose need to believe in some form of Sky Fairy over-rides their capacity to work with the science of how the world works. The Young Earth Creationists are an example of this. However, to deny them their own reality would amount to a violation of their human rights. That they should be free to enjoy themselves is as imperative as the right of couples to have sex. As with sex, this is best done behind closed doors.

One of society’s functions is to help its members. An extreme example of this is other people helping victims of a car accident. At a much lower level, there are people who take delight in helping others to reach their own goals. In light of this, we can now examine the consequences of the sentence that I have highlighted from Kevin: he sees it as his job to speak about the good news of Christ, a statement inextricably associated with a pack of scientific falsehoods. His job then includes going into schools and spreading such falsehoods into the minds of impressionable young people.

Conclusion

I am not impressed.

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An Answer for David Washburn

Introduction

This post is a response to this tweet by David Washburn (Twitter @SearchGodsHeart, web site http://searchinggodsheart.blogspot.com/):

The question deserves a considered answer, which requires more than 140 characters.

Discussion

There appears to be an assumption underlying the question: that human rights somehow flow from the existence of God. Since God does not exist in my world, this then raises the question of what is the origin of human rights, hence David’s asking of me.

Before responding to any of David’s suggestions, it is worthwhile considering how “human rights” manifests itself in global society. At one extreme, we have pro-choice groups which regard a woman’s body as hers to do with what she pleases during her pregnancies. At the opposite end of this particular spectrum, we have pro-life groups who sometimes resort to murder to achieve their aims. In another dimension, we have the debate on gay marriage which is currently polarising the USA.

On the basis of the foregoing, I suggest that whatever it is that defines human rights it is by no means universal. At the risk of appearing to duck David’s direct question, I can only respond by saying that ultimately it is the individual that defines what they consider to be their own human rights. This manifests itself in human rights protesters in both China and in front of abortion clinics, for example.

In terms of what society in general might regard as human rights, I leave to others to debate.

Thank you David for helping me to clarify my thoughts.

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In God We Trust: the Ultimate Abdication of Personal Responsibility

Introduction

I have for some time been asking theists to provide falsifiable evidence for their claims of the existence of God. So far, none has been forthcoming. This then raises the question of what separates theists from atheists. This post looks at some matters that might help to answer that question.

Initial Ruminations

I will take it for granted that children try to make sense of the world around them, and by so doing learn to crawl, then walk, then speak, listen, read, write, and go onto higher things thereby. Everybody has a choice about how far they are prepared to drive that sense of trying to understand the world: do they drive it to its limit, or do they stop short of that limit. I suggest that the answer to that dichotomy can produce completely different understandings of the nature of reality.

Discussion

Young children are credulous, accepting any statement without judgment. It is only as they grow up that they acquire the skills needed to question things. Common examples include the tooth fairy and Father Christmas. One example of driving this questioning skill to its limit is “How can I verify that my consciousness has been created by some entity that I am not aware of, and that the ‘people’ that I find around me are nothing more than a hoax created by that same entity feeding false information into my ‘neurons’?”. This question cannot be answered, as there is no means of testing for the existence of such an entity given the assumptions of the question. It is convenient to assume that such an entity does not exist, and also to assume that people are indeed numerous, even though the latter assumption cannot be derived logically from the former assumption.

Having made the assumption of people being numerous, and that the world that we perceive around us is not a hoax, we can then go on to ask questions that are personally useful, such as “How can I make fire?”, “Is that food good to eat?”, “How does the human immune system work?” and “What is the nature of the sub-atomic world?”. This can be broadened into asking questions about how we ask questions, which includes legitimately challenging the scientific method. One response to challenges to the scientific method is that the scientific method is the only method that has so far been discovered that produces material benefits to people, those benefits including housing, food, warmth and better health. All these benefits arise from examining falsifiable evidence. One recent and somewhat spectacular falsification of evidence can be found here.

It is useful to now consider phlogiston, which is a scientific theory first propounded in 1667. This theory was examined, and the evidence that arose was found to be false. More specifically, phlogiston was required to have negative mass. It is a theory which was held by some to be true, but eventually it was abandoned by the scientific community in the face of overwhelming countervailing evidence.

The theory of God has been around 2,000 years. Anybody wishing to challenge the preceding statement might wish to have a look at their local religious bookshop. The problem with the theory of God is that, unlike the theory of phlogiston, it is untestable. Like Douglas Adams, I could claim that the Universe was sneezed out of the nose of a being called the Great Green Arkleseizure. That theory also is untestable. There is no falsifiable evidence to support either theory. It is at this point that this challenge is often made: “Prove that God does not exist!”, which is a form of intellectual cop-out. (This, and other forms of logical fallacy, can be found at yourlogicalfallacyis.)

Conclusion

As far as I can see, the only reason that people believe in God is ultimately because their parents and teachers said so, a tradition that goes back to the scientific ignorance of ancient Rome. Such people are handing their own responsibility for understanding the nature of the world onto others, an abdication of their own responsibilities to themselves. What causes such abdication I leave to others to conjecture.

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