Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Stephen Law and Richard Dawkins at ThinkWeek 2013, Oxford

 Topics discussed: - Very brief notes

Threats to theism by reproducing naturalistically religious feelings.

Labelling children with religious beliefs. Schools should be teach about religion. Authoritarian Schools. Religious v Political schools. Accord Coalition.

Reasonable belief needs evidence, in most realms but is this an infinite regress? What about 'divinitas' belief, is that not reasonable belief? No! It is not cross checkable and Power of Suggestion. Evidence for your wife loving you.

Mind-body problem & conceptual problems. (43 minutes)

Questions: Scientific Method - Maths truths derived by deduction; science and ethics: science does not have last word; if X is a good value you are illogical if you dont believe Y eg point out inconsistencies if favour abortion but don't believe in Z.

Ben Stein duped Dawkins to talk about aliens creating life forms on Earth, editing discussion (@1 hr)

1hr 6min: Dawkins "religion comes from binding, binds together people of faith. Faith is one of the great evils in the world, to the extent that religion organises faith, its part of that"

Monday, March 25, 2013

'The Existence of Nothing' - Issac Asimov discussion March 2013

 h/t Dean Robertson. Facebook discussions at Dorset Humanists.

Eve Silverstein (ES), professor of theoretical physics, Stanford University, and co-editor of Strings, Branes and Gravity
J. Richard Gott (RG), professor of astrophysical sciences, Princeton University, and author of Sizing Up the Universe: The Cosmos in Perspective
Jim Holt (JH), science journalist and author of Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story
Charles Seife (CS), professor of journalism, New York University, and author of Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
Lawrence M Krauss (LK), professor of physics, Arizona State University and author of A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing

Neil deGrasse Tyson (NdGT) moderator and Hayden Planetarium Director - leads a spirited discussion The event, which was streamed live to the web, took place at the American Museum of Natural History on March 20, 2013.

my notes
ES 7 mins 50s (7:05-9.20). The structure in the universe started with Quantum fields which were in their ground or vacuum state. This, combined with the inflationary expansion of the early universe in quantum mechanics leads to the origin of the structure of the early universe that we see today. Sensitivity to high energy physics questions that bring in problems of quantum gravity which are accessible to experiments and observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation. The most interesting version of nothing.
Chris: What an opening 1 minute statement by ES! Full of technical technical terms like 'quantum fields', 'groundstate', 'vacuum state', 'inflationary expansion', 'quantum mechanics', 'quantum gravity', Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation. This is a kinda tough opening statement which assumes the audience has a lotta knowledge about her subject!
LK  9 mins 16s - 10 55s: Universe does not supernatural deity for explanations.
RG ~11 mins - General Relativity, Quantum vacuum state relevant for creation of universe, time travel, cosmic string, Goedel. Nuts.
JH ~ maths guy.
CS 15m - Romans didn't have concept of zero. Humans have a diminished revulsion of nothing.
JH: ex nihilo creation; Leibniz
RG: 23m space - photons - atoms ---> empty space = quantum vacuum space = close your eyes (its alive with virtual particles and fields;
LK: 26m - Biblical definition of nothing: Infinite empty void - space without particles, radiation, fields but it still has energy - there is  no stuff there but it still weighs something. 29m 2nd type of nothing: No space, no time
RG: greater density than a neutron star, Hawking radiation
JH: 36m: Alex Valenkin?? definition of nothingness: ball of radius zero, closed spacetime, false vaccuum by inflation will evolve into galaxies. Problem: physical laws, consciousness.
EV: in string theory zero radius does not mean nothing, how many dimensions do you have?
RG: 46m; Really Nothing: no quantum state, quantum tunnelling, can the laws of physics create the universe rather than creating the universe out of nothing? Leibniz asked 'why is there something rather than nothing' His answer was God.
LK: 49m: best physical definition of nothing is the absence of something. You have to understand what 'something' is and also what is 'the absence of something'. All these are physical not philosophical questions. When you apply quantum mechanics to gravity, if you make space and time quantum variables, then universes and space and time can pop into existence where there was no space and time. Multiverse
ES: 55m: string theory model, dimensionality, masses grow exponentially but no of dimensions decreases to zero.
RG 1hr.07m: different laws of physics invoke different Multiverses. Some friendly to humans = anthropic principle.
JH: 1hr.15m: Theory of Plenitude, Heidegger
NdGT: when you die your awareness is what you knew of the world before you were born, like what was behind your head.
JH: dreamless sleep
LK: Nothing has 3 physical definitions 1) empty space 2) No space 3) no space, no time, no particles, no laws. Don't assume intentionality - that's for theologians
ES: 1hr 23m Nothing: absence of degrees of freedom in quantum field theories. Ground state of a gapped quantum system is her best theory of nothing.
NdGT: 1hr 25m - Nothing used to be described as ....  summary

Question Time
1hr 26m: xxx
1hr 39: NdGT - are there multiple multiverses? Don't assume it's religious just because it's not what your first set of theories are. God of the Gaps!
1hr 46: Is fascination of views coming down to the Why? question. LK: Why no has no meaning. Why assumes a purpose. Why always means how! Unless you assume some intentionality. Then you are assuming the answer before you ask the question! Why may not be a good question!! There may be no intentionality. There may be no reason why the universe exists. There is a process of how it exists. If time does not exist before the big bang what do you mean by cause? What do you mean by before?
1hr 48m: JH disagrees with LK:  why do the laws of physics pick the form they do? Use the Principle of Sufficient Reason - some why questions are valid!!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

How much time for life is possible?


  1. Life of Universe from Big Bang to end of Black Hole Era is 10^100 years
  2. Life as we know it formed on earth formed ~4 billon years ago and cannot last for more than another 6 billion years (when our sun becomes a red giant) = 10^10
  3. 10^10/10^100 = ~1/100% x 1/1000 x 1000,000,000 x 9 = (10^86)-1

Maths is quite right. What was the mistake I made??


  • Wonders of the Universe, Brian Cox, Pub. Harper Collins, 2011, pg 222
  • Wonders of the Universe, Brian Cox, DVD, 2011

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Are religion and humanism really opposites, as AC Grayling suggests?

source: highlights comments

By Tony McKenna , Thursday, 14th March 2013

Beyond black and white

Are religion and humanism really opposites, as AC Grayling suggests in his new book? Tony McKenna sees some grey areas.

In a recent article for the Guardian, based on his new book The God Argument, AC Grayling defends humanism by contrasting it with religious belief which he sees as archaic. The contrast involves one of light and darkness: humanism (in its modern guise), quite literally a product of enlightenment vs. religion, which shrouds our perceptions in darkness and demands that we “think of the world as our remotest ancestors did, thousands of years ago”.

The juxtaposition is nothing new. The image of sinister priests illuminated by the flames of burning heretics is one seared into contemporary consciousness. Many of us have the instinctive sense that the age of enlightenment was founded by the extravagant tussles between a crepuscular religious medievalism and a new-born science of modernity. There is truth in this. At the same time, however, the distinction between science and religion has never been hard and fast; in fact at various points across history, the relationship was far from hostile.

Consider the early civilisations which sprung up in Mesopotamia, Egypt and parts of what is now Pakistan. Large store-houses were constructed to protect surplus crops (usually grain) vital to the continued sustenance of a society during drought, flooding or other natural disasters. The need to quantify, to measure, to effectively store and apportion the reserve crops, facilitated the development of early science, a primitive form of maths and, a little later, the first attempts to construct a cogent written script (they needed to keep receipts!).

The coterie of specialists tasked with this had been freed from the burden and immediacies of productive labour. They were able to affect the first scientific revolutions in consort with the intimate control they exerted over social mechanisms that helped assure the survival of the broader populous. The specialists, therefore, were shrouded in an aura of mystique and power which inevitably invited reverence and worship. And so these early scientists easily morphed into civilisation’s first priests.

Thus religious formation often involves more than the irrational and isolated fantasies confined to the primitive fears of the imagination – it also mediates key social relationships albeit ones expressed in a fantastical and mystical way. The 19th century German thinker Ludwig Feuerbach reflected on this in a way at once both poetic and philosophical – in religion, he said – “the conscious subject has for his object the infinity of his own nature”.

The notion of religion as a mirror for human development is supported by the historical record more broadly. When early Christianity began to emerge in ancient Rome, the pagan critic Celsus famously described it as a religion of “slaves, women and little children”. He was being derisive but the comment tells us more than its author ever intended. In an empire often fissured by slave rebellion, and one in which women could not hold political office and children had the legal status of property - a religion which emphasised a universal equality before God provided an ideological channel through which the struggles and hopes of oppressed groups might be expressed.

But even substantially later, at the time of the enlightenment, religion still sometimes managed to mediate progressive social forces. The outbreak of Protestantism in the early 16th century had an implicitly radical element. Lutheranism very much emerged as a reaction to a feudal hierarchy in which aristocratic privilege was sanctioned by Catholic ideology; a wealthy baron might well dispatch his mistress in a bloody frenzy, only to pop down to the local church the following day and buy the “indulgence” which would spare him earthly punishment and secure his immortal soul. Lutheranism, with its emphasis on faith rather than works, sought to end to this – Godliness was to be guaranteed by a universality of faith which ignored economic distinction, and favoured neither peasant nor lord.

The universality of faith over and against the particularism of works reflected – albeit in a fantastical and unconscious form – the emergence of a modern market economy which was indifferent to social status more generally, requiring only a buyer and a seller. Much later Max Weber would provide a riff on the same theme when he suggested that Protestantism could be understood as part and parcel of “the spirit of capitalism”.

None of this militates against the horrific historical events which have occurred under the banner of religion – the crusades and the concomitant pogroms of Jews, or the persecution of witches by James I in the name of Protestantism, or the forced conversions to Catholicism which accompanied the genocide of the indigenous peoples in Latin America, or any other of the numerous and terrible examples. But what it shows is that religion is a medium which can express a variety of different and contrary social interests – from Roman Imperialism to Catholic liberation theology; it cannot, therefore, be simply understood as an unfortunate set of irrational beliefs detached from any social content.

But, as Jonathan Rée points out in this review of The God Argument, Grayling remains blind to all this, preferring, it seems, to adopt a fundamentally literal attitude to religion in which “scriptures must be taken at their word, rather than being allowed to flourish as many-layered parables, teeming with quarrels, follies, jokes, reversals and paradoxes”. This, of course, makes invisible the fact that religions are themselves constantly in the process of being formed and (if you will forgive the pun) re-formed – even those sacred texts which seem timeless and whose claim to unswerving fidelity to the original divine writ is said to be (sometimes quite literally) set in stone have in in fact been subject to perpetual and unceasing transformation.

Just consider, for instance, the work of the great Islamic philosopher Averroes, who endeavoured to synthesise religion with Aristotleanism in the 12th century. It was the preservation of the Greek philosophical tradition through the Islamic which would provide a fundamental premise for the European Enlightenment. The very tendency which would eventually lead to Grayling’s beloved humanism was unthinkable without this fusion of religion and philosophy.

Everything and Nothing : An Interview with Lawrence M. Krauss : Sam Harris

Everything and Nothing : An Interview with Lawrence M. Krauss : Sam Harris

CultureLab: Trying to make the cosmos out of nothing - Michael Brooks

CultureLab: Trying to make the cosmos out of nothing - reviews Lawrence Krauss book A Universe from Nothing

Friday, March 15, 2013

Victor J. Stenger: Nuthin’ To Explain | Talking Philosophy

Victor J. Stenger: Nuthin’ To Explain | Talking Philosophy

Stenger says:-
"The “nothing” that Krauss mainly talks about throughout the book is, in fact, precisely definable. It should perhaps be better termed as a “void,” which is what you get when you apply quantum theory to space-time itself. It’s about as nothing as nothing can be. This void can be described mathematically. It has an explicit wave function. This void is the quantum gravity equivalent of the quantum vacuum in quantum field theory."
"Krauss also describes how cosmology now strongly suggests that a “multiverse” exists in which our universe is just one member. So, the real issue is not where our particular universe came from but where the multiverse came from. This question has an easy answer: the multiverse is eternal. So, since it always was, it didn’t have to come from anything."
 "Albert is not satisfied that Krauss has answered the fundamental question: Why there is something rather than nothing, that is, being rather than nonbeing? Again, there is a simple retort: Why should nothing, no matter how defined, be the default state of existence rather than something? And, to bring religion into the picture, one could ask: Why is there God rather than nothing? Once theologians assert that there is a God (as opposed to nothing), they can’t turn around and ask a cosmologist why there is a universe (as opposed to nothing). They claim God is a necessary entity. But then, why can’t a godless multiverse be a necessary entity?"

Now, one might still ask why there is something rather than nothing, where nothing means nonbeing including the absence of God. Here at least we can provide a suggestion based on our knowledge of the quantum void. As Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek put it in a Scientific American article back in 1980, which Krauss quotes, “Nothing is unstable.”[7] 
The issues Albert raises are legitimate, but they can be addressed within existing physics and philosophical knowledge."

David Albert pans Lawrence Krauss’s new book « Why Evolution Is True

David Albert pans Lawrence Krauss’s new book « Why Evolution Is True

and Jerry Coyne seems to pan it, too.

Jerry Coyne - Why Science and Religion shouldn't cohabit

source: highlights comments

Today at the SW SACRE conference I was asked by a Chair of a SACRE (she has Bahá'í Faith and was a former biology teacher) whether I thought Science and Religion are compatible, so this video linked by John Davison is timely (actually I wish I'd seen it LAST night, as I would have answered her: No! rather than 'sometimes'!)

A brilliant talk by Jerry Coyne. I'd recommend you watch (make notes!) on the whole hour long video. My highlights...

13min 50s: question to US public "if science found a fact that contradicted the tenets of your faith, what would you do? 64% of Americans would reject the fact in favour of their faith!"

18min: the more who believe in god, the less who believe in Darwin

21min 40s Frans de Waal moral sentiments can be seen in chimpanzees and other animals eg sympathy, empathy, reciprocity. Dogs follow social rules. thats why we like them so much [4]

I am deeply confused by Free Will (I hope Johno Pearce? can enlighten me in his talk for Dorset Humanists)

22mins: "Free Will is an Illusion: we do NOT have free will - we do NOT have free choices, they are made by our unconscious often well before we think we made those decisions, this is deeply threatening to religious people because free will is a deep part of many religions; you have to freely accept [must have Free Will] Jesus before you are going to heaven, and if you can't do that, religion has no meaning whatsoever'

24min: Stephen weinberg '"The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless' ie no deity gives a point to the universe.

26min: Pollution of science and Naturalism by superstition eg Francis Collins says fine tuning, morality is evidence for god,

29min: why science works. Science provides ways so that you don't fool yourself (Richard Feynmann). With Religion you do fool youself.

40min: The Nicene creed - a metaphor?

46min: if science disproves something in the Bible, the theologican says it's a metaphor.

50min: Adam and Eve story refuted.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tim Minchin's Storm the Animated Movie - YouTube

Tim Minchin's Storm the Animated Movie - YouTube

"Science Refutes God" Debate highlights comments

If you don't have time to listen to the 1 hour 48 minute debate, do listen to the 8 minute (4 x 2 minute) closing arguments from 1 hr 32 min. Spoiler Alert: Below I paraphrase these closing remarks.

The first closing speaker (1 hr 33 min) for why science does not refute god was Ian Hutchinson who has a book, Monopolizing Knowledge, which attempts to refute 'scientism'. Ian Hutchinson says that it is not possible for science to refute god because that is beyond the limits of the competence of science (viz. scientism), a metaphysical extrapolation. Don't confuse science with scientism, he says.

Michael Shermer was a Christian who was in a christian bubble at Uni. He talks about (1 hr 35min 30s) the confirmation bias (taking an irrational belief, then later on, rationalising it) and this shows that we create gods in our heads, which is not the same as there being an actual god, and, anyway, there is no evidence to support existence of any god. It is not possible for there to be a god, at least not a supernatural god. There is no way we could know of a supernatural god because he would be outside space and time. Because god would have to be able to interact with material stuff and therefore if a god was shown by evidence to exist, because he was in some way effecting the material world, he would reach in to stir the particles, then science could measure this cos that is what science does, then he would turn out to be a natural god and thus become part of science, and that would be the end of the god concept.

Dinesh D'Souza (1 hr 37 min 50s) talks about Darwins loss of faith. Sciences explanations coexist with god.

Lawrence Krauss (1 hr 40min) Gods were created (sun, earth moon) to explain physical events. The rise of science means we don't have all these 10,000 gods. We are all atheists of 9999 gods. No need for supernatural shenanigans or capricious beings. Laws of nature allow predications and we can control nature. There is no evidence of purpose. Why questions are ill-posed because they presume purpose. "we want to believe" (Fox Moulder) but 'the easiest people to fool are ourselves' (Richard Feynman). Science refutes that there is a purpose and thats why Science refutes God.

Twitter handle: @IQ2US,
Twitter hashtag #scivgod

Debate result: 1 hr 47 mins.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Religious Child Maltreatment by Janet Heimlich. A talk at Conway Hall on 7th March 2013

source:; on behalf of; Sue M says:-

"Breaking Their Will - Religious Child Maltreatment is being discussed at a meeting in Conway Hall next Thursday, March 7, 2013, 7:00 PM, CONWAY HALL, 25 RED LION LANE SQUARE
London WC1R 4RL. Meeting details.

Award-winning journalist, Janet Heimlich, exposes a dark side of faith that most people do not know exists or have ignored for a long time-religious child maltreatment. After speaking with dozens of victims, perpetrators, and experts .... see her kindle book: Breaking Their Will - Religious Child Maltreatment

This is a subject I have tried to raise over the years because it is always assumed that religion is good for children. Yet there are many issues on which religion exploits children and does them harm.

Current emphasis concentrates on child sex abuse by priests and celebrities, but the harm it does to children is much deeper and more fundamental than that.

There is a list on this website that I compiled many years ago: Children and Religion on workshop3