Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: MODERN PHYSICS AND ANCIENT FAITH

MODERN PHYSICS AND ANCIENT FAITH
Dr. Stephen M. Barr
    
       This gem of a book does an incredible job at making comprehensible the story  of how Einstein came to change his view on his insertion of the cosmological constant into what is now called the "Einstein Tensor" equation (to describe the curvature and flexing of space and time).  The arbitrary insertion of this constant allowed for the constant to universe to be stable and in a "steady state".  Einstein later recognized that if he had not inserted this constant then his equations would have predicted the expansion of the Universe and the "Big Bang".  Einstein called this the greatest blunder of his life.   Fr. Lemaitre and Alexander Friedman independently discovered the solutions to Einsteins equations that described and expanding universe.  Dr. Barr's short summary (pg 39-45) is a fabulous condensed version of a key science event that changed how we view the Universe.  In fact the readable history of modern physics (for the non-scientist) depicted  in this book is one of the biggest reasons a person may want to read this book.
       The author's personal knowledge and well referenced assertions make "Part II", in my opinion, the best part of the book.  Dr. Barr details and supports how the "steady state model" of the universe actually worked to hold back scientists and science (especially astrophysicists) from recognizing the reasons for the observed expansion of the universe.  Despite the theoretical support of Einsteins equations, the observations of red shift by Edwin Hubble and the assertions of Alexander Friedman and Fr. Georges Lemaitre the majority of scientists clung to the steady state model past 1959 (based on surveys cited by Dr. Barr).  Dr. Barr asserts that the prejudice of scientists, who adhered to materialism, was the primary reason for delayed dismissal of "steady state" as a viable theory.
       Dr. Barr points to quotes and statements by renowned scientists that accepting the "Big Bang" was seen as tantamount to accepting that God could exist.  This philosophical prejudice was a clear obstacle to acceptance of scientific truth.  So it is interesting that in the case of Galileo scientific progress can be thwarted for a time due to philosophical bias that insisted that the new ideas were a threat to God.  In this case the materialist philosophical bias insisted there must be no God thwarted the acceptance of a far reaching scientific conclusion like the hot Big Bang.  How often do we hear that bias against religion slowed scientific progress?  I would guess not often if you read the same common popular publications I do.  I think this assertion and awareness of the author that prejudice and bias against religion slowing a scientific revolution is rare because it requires a deep knowledge of science content, confidence, integrity and courage.
      Aware of the bias the author then sets out into newer territory.  Part III of the book deals with anthropic coincidences and they are many (including many he does not list).  He lays out the coincidences at the atomic and sub atomic level because he is familiar with them and can explain those coincidences and the implications of any variations.   This section is full of details with mini-lessons on a variety of topics a particle physicist thinks everyone should know.  He examines the strength of the strong nuclear force, the Three-Alpha Process,  the stability of the proton, the strength of the electromagnetic force, Higgs Field strength, Cosmological Constant,  Flatness of space, number of dimensions of space, Quantum Nature, Why is there electromagnetism? Why matter at all?  Each atomic and sub atomic process is needed in precise quantities. Is it possible that prejudice isolates the materialist scientist from where these coincidences point?  Just as that same prejudice held acceptance of the hot big bang?
      Another set of coincidences is the size of features in the universe relative to one another.  It appears that the universe is almost precisely the right size AND age to have fostered life on some planet somewhere in the universe.  This is supported with information that relates the life cycles of stars, the sizes of planets and the minimum size the universe would need to be in order to nurture life by chance.  It happens that the universe and the smallest atom are precisely sized relative to each other to make life possible.  Is this another hard to accept coincidence?
      In the final section quantum indeterminacy is seen as the pathway to human freedom.  Dr. Barr briefly explores speculations about with structures that could allow for quantum indeterminacy to influence output signals in neural networks.  The rise of quantum indeterminacy has provided a vehicle that allows for human freedom because indeterminacy provides for probabilities but not outcomes predetermined from within the system.  The book now comes full circle back to materialism but by now, after reading what the author has reasoned, one sees readily that the materialist is not a scientist at all.  The materialist might use skepticism and circular logic but neither of these approaches are scientific.  In fact it materialism is not, in the end, not compatible with science because it fails to focus on the truth which is what science and our ancient faith do focus on.


=======================

Interesting Quotes of General Interest:
 Part I   The Conflict between Religion and Materialism
     "The fact of the matter is there is a bitter intellectual battle going on, and it is about real issues.  However the conflict is not about religion and science, it is between religion and materialism. Materialism is a philosophical opinion that is closely connected with science.  It grew up alongside of science, and many people have a hard time distinguishing it from science.  But it is not science.  It is merely a philosophical opinion.  And not all scientists share it by any means."
                                                                                                                                   pg 1
      "It is true that some believers, finding it difficult to give a satisfactory account of why they believe, have fallen back on the idea that belief is simply something one chooses to do, that it is its own justification, that it is a blind "leap".  This is the view called "fidesim." However it is not the view of the traditional faiths.
      If we take what is perhaps the most dogmatic faith of all, Catholicism, we find that it utterly rejects "fideism", condemning it as a serious religious error.  The First Vatican Council, in 1870, made the following declaration:
      In order that our submission of faith be nevertheless in harmony with reason, God willed the exterior proofs of his revelation....should be joined to the interior helps of the Holy Spirit...the assent of faith is by no means a blind impulse of the mind"
                                                                                                                                   pg 12  
      "The scientist knows that there is some insight, some act of understanding, which he currently lacks, that would satisfy the rational mind on the particular point he is investigating.  The religious believers faith is an extension of this attitude: he knows that there is some insight, some act of understanding, that would constitute complete intellectual satiety, because it would be a state of complete understanding of reality.  However, he realizes being sane, that such a perfect understanding is not achievable by a finite mind such as his own....God is the "unrestricted act of understanding"
                                                                                                                                 pg 14
     "The reason that there are mysteries is that God is infinite and our intellects are finite."
                                                                                                                                   pg 15
     "If the human mind is indeed a machine, and no more than that, it is clear that there can be no free will as that is normally understood.  That is why most materialists simply deny that free will exists....
      Quantum theory was the greatest and most profound revolution in the history of physics.  The whole structure of theoretical physics was radically transformed.  And in that revolution physical determinism was swept away....
       Quantum Theory certainly did not prove there is free will.  It simply showed that the most powerful argument against free will was obsolete.  In the words of the great mathematician and physicist Herman Weyl, 'the old classical determinism...need not oppress us any longer.' "
                                                                                                                                   pg 27
       "Many have been misled by the strangeness of modern physical ideas, such as quantum theory, into thinking that the lesson again was simply that all traditional notions should be jettisoned.  However a closer look at the scientific revolutions of the twentieth century reveals a very different picture.  We find the the human mind is perhaps, after all, is not just a machine.  We find that the universe did perhaps, after all, have a beginning.  We find there is reason to believe after all, that the world is the product of design, and that life is perhaps part of that design."
                                                                                                                                   pg 29

 Part II   In the Beginning
       "There can be no question that the aversion that some scientists felt for the Big Bang Theory stemmed largely from the philosophical prejudices, and in particular to the fact that the reality of a beginning seemed to sit much better with religious views than with there own materialism."
                                                                                                                                   pg 43
     "It now appears that the the biblical chronology was quite right in this respect.  Light indeed existed from the beginning, while stars took many millions of years to appear."
                                                                                                                                   pg 45
     "The facts that science has taught us give strong reason to doubt that the universe is eternal....the fact of the hot Big Bang is no longer disputed."
                                                                                                                                   pg 46
Part III  Is the Universe Designed?
     "It is becoming more generally realized that is was not an accident that the Scientific Revolution occurred in Europe rather than in other great centers of civilization."
     "This idea of God as cosmic lawgiver was from very early times central to Jewish and Christian thinking.."
                                                                                                                                   pg 67
     "It is the beauty, and order, and law that we see in the world which points to its creator."
                                                                                                                                   pg 68
      "Rather the laws of nature are simply patterns which we discover empirically in the world around us, but which could have been otherwise."
                                                                                                                                   pg 77
      "Order has to be built in for order to come out.....The universe looks far more orderly to us now than it did to the ancients who appealed to that order as proof of God's existence."
                                                                                                                                   pg 79
     "But we can be sure that whatever new and deeper theory comes along, it will reveal to us more profound principles of order and greater more inclusive pattern s.  What science has shown us is that most of the beauty and order in nature is hidden from our eyes."
                                                                                                                                   pg 87
      "Unfortunately, when it comes to the questions surrounding how evolution happened, many scientists seem to be quite uncritical, not to say dogmatic, in their attitude."
                                                                                                                                  pg 111
      "...our universe's openess to biological evolution appears to be a consequence of the fact that its laws are indeed very special.  A slightly different set of laws would....have led to a completely lifeless, sterile universe.
       If this is so, then Darwinian evolution, far from disproving the necessity of a cosmic designer, may actually point to it.  We now have a problem of not just explaining a butterfly's wing, but a universe that can produce a butterfly's wing."
                                                                                                                                   pg 112
Part IV  Man's Place in the Cosmos
     "Many including former agnostics and atheists, have seen in these anthropic coincidences a powerful argument for the existence of God...It is no longer a question of whether one can find any evidence in nature that we were built in.  Such evidence abounds.  It is now a question of whether that evidence should be taken at face value, whether it really means what it seems to mean."
                                                                                                                                   pg 117
The anthropic coincidences include:
         1) Strength of the Strong Nuclear Force: If too weak (-10%) it would be unable to hold heavy hydrogen together and larger elements could not be built.  If too strong (+4%) then two particle nuclei could be produced negating larger atoms.
         2) The Three-Alpha Process: Favored through resonance the formation of carbon using the alpha particles in collision.
         3) Stability of the proton allows for sustaining chemical and atomic structures long enough for higher organizations of atoms and molecules to impact the reactions needed to sustain life.
         4) Strength of the electromagnetic force: If too strong then atoms would bond together and never reconfigure.  If too week then atoms would fail to combine to make the elegant molecules needed for life.
         5) Higgs Field strength if to weak would cut off formation of larger atoms and if too strong then deuterium would be come unstable (it is needed for the formation of larger atoms)
         6) Cosmological Constant:  IF too small then all particles would be unstable.  IF negative then the universe would have lasted for an incredibly short time.
         7) Flatness of space would also shorten the universe lifetime if slightly different than known to be.
         8) Number of dimensions of space:  Less than three then access and transport to support the myriad of activities supporting life would be impossible.  More than three then the distances over which fields spread would cause rapid decline in energy transport.
          9) Quantum Nature
         10) Why electromagnetism?
         11) Why matter?

       "The basic point of the anthropic coincidences, for the theist, is that they highlight the fact that the universe might have been a different sort of place, and that it had to be a very special sort of place if it were to be able to give rise to life."
                                                                                                                                   pg 154
    "If you look at the whole forest, or just a single leaf, you will miss the most interesting things that are going on, which happen in between. "In between" is where human life is lived out."


Part V  What is Man
     "Completely against the expectations of the scientific world, determinism was overthrown in the 1920's by quantum theory....the laws of physics would only allow one to calculate the probablities of various future outcomes.
      To say that this was unanticipated would be a tremendous understatement.  It was a shock, and a very unwelcome one to many physicists."
                                                                                                                                   pg 176
     "Not surprisingly, a number of physicists, biologists, and philosophers have made the suggestion that quantum indeterminacy has something to do with human freedom."
                                                                                                                                   pg 178
     "The key point is that quantum indeterminacy, allows for free will, it does not produce it.
                                                                                                                                   pg 179
     "If free will, as it is traditionally understood, is real, then scientific materialism is certainly wrong."
                                                                                                                                   pg 184
      "Time and time again, revolutionary scientific discoveries have overthrown our common sense assumptions:   It was obvious that the Earth was at rest and the sun moved. It was obvious that a thing can not be both a wave and a particle.  It was obvious that once can say in an absolute sense that two events happen simultaneously." These all seemed obvious and all of them turned out to be wrong."
                                                                                                                                    pg 186
      "There was a time when religious skeptics proudly called themselves free thinkers.  It is ironic that modern materialist skeptic disbelieves even in the reality of his own freedom, both moral and intellectual."
                                                                                                                                    pg 189
      "The intellect has not only the power of abstract understanding but also the power of judging the truth and falsehood of propositions."
                                                                                                                                    pg 197
      "Science begins with phenomenon and tries to understand them.  But it appears that many materialists, in thinking about the mind, do quite the reverse.  They start with a theory and dismiss certain facts."
                                                                                                                                    pg 225
      "the idea that man can be nothing other than a machine is really nothing other than pure deduction from atheism.  There is not a shred of evidence that a material system can reproduce the human abilities to understand abstractly and will freely."
                                                                                                                                   pg 226
     
     "The idea that quantum theories of the Big Bang are competing against God as a creator is based on some crude misunderstandings.  The real question that monotheism is attempting to deal with is a much more basic question than whether the Big Bang can be described by a mathematically consistent set of laws."

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