Archive for the ‘Science’ category

The Trickiness of Consciousness

November 9, 2018


Justin Brierley has been doing a series of interviews entitled “the Big Conversation” on his Unbelievable? podcast on the British Premiere Christian Radio. In the latest, and I believe the last, episode, he interviews Daniel Dennett, the Tufts professor and so-called “new atheist” and Keith Ward, the British philosopher, theologian, priest and scholar. Their topic is consciousness. The idea of the “ghost in the machine” comes up about half way through the discussion, and Dennett responds in the segment below:


Among other things, Dennett says that the “ghost in the machine” is nothing more than information. He says, “Information is embodied in the brain”, and “the user of the brain is the brain.” There is no “ghost”.

Of course, to call what Keith Ward describes as the most important aspect of you and me a “ghost” is to minimize it and to reduce it to something of insignificance. Dennett, though would say that the information is the significant thing. There is nothing going on other than the embodiment, transfer and process of information.

So what about consciousness?

Dennett says, “Consciousness is the user illusion of the brain itself…. The brain has been designed to have user interfaces inside it…. Consciousness is a user illusion that is designed by evolution and by learning and by cultural evolution to make our brains capable of getting out bodies through this complicated world.” [Emphasis added]

These remarks are the backdrop for my thoughts today.

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Recognizing Leon Lederman and the God Particle

October 4, 2018


Leon Lederman has passed away today at the age of 96.[1] “What’s the big deal”, you might ask. Well Leon Lederman is a big deal around these parts – Batavia, IL where I graduated from high school and where my office has been since 1994. That’s because Batavia is home to the Fermi National Accelerator Lab where Leon Lederman worked and earned a Nobel prize.

Leon Lederman was the director of Fermilab, as it is more commonly known, from 1978 to 1989, and was the principal driver behind the development of the Tevatron, the world’s highest-energy particle collider from 1983 to 2010. He also won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1988 for proving the existence of a new type of neutrino, muon neutrino.

Leon Lederman is a local, national and international legend. He taught for years at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, IL, which is a model for high school education for students from all over the state who are gifted in math and science. The law firm I started my career with and the predecessor to the present firm I am in drafted the legislation for IMSA, and we represented IMSA for many years even after I joined the firm.

On this day, it is more than fitting that I recognize the incredible person Leon Lederman was and the significant contribution he made to the study of physics and science. Among other things, Lean Lederman is the person who called the Higgs Boson the “God Particle” in a 1993 book he wrote by the same name.[2]

On this day, therefore, I honor Lean Lederman by some consideration of that name he gave the Higgs Boson, which stuck somewhat to his own dismay.

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The Fibonacci Sequence: Common Descent or Common Design?

August 1, 2018


 

Ever heard of the Fibonacci sequence? It is a sequence of numbers where each one is the sum of the previous two numbers. The sequence runs 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, and so on. What’s fascinating about the Fibonacci sequence is that when you make squares the size of the numbers, […]

via A Spectacular Sequence — God does not believe in atheists

I spent the weekend at a booth at a fair talking to people about science and faith. While some believe the two topics are incompatible with each other, I beg to differ. The compatibility of science (and math) and faith is the theme of the article I have reblogged here. (Please take some time to read it at the link above.)

The article got my thinking about some conversations I had or overheard at the fair. We usually post a question and invite people to vote on it. The question on Sunday was this: Do humans and apes share a common ancestor? The question draws people who want to weigh in, and sometimes it sparks conversation.

In more than one conversation triggered by a “yes” vote on our question, people cited for support the commonalities between apes and humans for evidence of common origin. Indeed the commonalities can be seen at almost every level, from body design to DNA.

It’s a reasonable argument, but common ancestry isn’t the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the evidence. The evidence could be explained by common design.

As an example, the the article linked above observes:

The “Fibonacci spiral” is found everywhere. It is to be seen in plant leaves, pine cones, seashells, pineapples, ferns, daisies, artichokes, sunflowers and even galaxies. It’s in the arrangement of seeds on flowers. It’s in starfish. It’s in the cochlea of your inner ear, which is not simply a spiral shape, it’s the actual Fibonacci spiral, with the exact number sequence.

The Fibonacci spiral is present in our bodies, as it is present in things as diverse as plants, shells and galaxies. So it seems fair to ask: is the Fibonacci spiral evidence of common descent? Or is it common design?

A Cosmic Wrench in Our Power Grid

June 26, 2018


The podcast, Unbelievable, with host, Justin Brierley, is becoming a favorite food for thought. I just listened to Steven Pinker vs Nick Spencer: Have science, reason & humanism replaced faith? Pinker is an atheist professor of Psychology from Harvard, and Spencer is billed as a member of “the Christian think tank, Theos”. The subject was “Pinker’s recent book ‘Enlightenment Now’, addressing his claim that science, reason and humanism are the drivers of progress in the world, not religion”.

As with most of the episodes I have listened to, this one was a very civil and respectful “debate”, really more of a dialogue, on the respective points of view. This civility and respect sets Unbelievable apart from more reactive “discussions” of controversial topics.

In this particular discussion, the focus was on Pinker’s optimistic view of humanism bolstered by science and technology echoing the familiar theme that we are progressing as a species as we free ourselves from religion with the aid of science and technology carrying us forward. Pinker minimizes the influence of religion on the enlightenment and the sudden advancement of science that accompanied it, while Spencer argued that the influence of religion is what fundamentally motivated and shaped those movements.

Spencer agreed with much that Pinker says about the progress of modern man, though he disagrees that science has shaped the moral advances we have experienced. He says that the value of the individual and sanctity of human rights is at heart a religious concept. He even points out that Pinker has to resort to the religious term, sacred, to describe these concepts as some evidence of the religious influence.

I have long toyed with the notion that we are not as advanced, morally, as we think ourselves. The 20th Century was the bloodiest of all centuries. Characteristic of the 20th Century was the genocidal bloodshed and cruelty of the atheist regimes under Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot and others. Some would add Hitler to the hit list of atheist genocidal despots, but that point is often argued, with religionists foisting Hitler on the atheists, and the atheists pushing him back on the religionists.

Hitler is somewhat of an enigma, generating an almost religious following marked by a personality that modeled a religion-like fervor. Pinker and Spencer debated whether Hitler was influenced by Darwinism, with Pinker countering that Hitler despised Darwin.

Though the truth of Hitler’s motivations my remain a mystery, and despite the unprecedented genocides perpetuated in the 20th Century, Spencer agreed with Pinker that we have progressed morally into the 21st Century. We generally exhibit a higher morality, however you slice it, (at least in the western world) in modern times than ever before, and this higher morality tracks scientific and technological progress.

As the two men carried on the conversation about the relative influences of religion and scientific and technological advancement on that progress, some thoughts occurred to me that I hadn’t considered before. I would agree with Spencer that religion (principally Judeo-Christian principles in the west) has largely carried us to this place where, ironically, we are finding no more need of God.

This perspective, also, flows from those same Judeo-Christian roots that holds out human pride as the principal problem (sin) of humankind. Having achieved a degree of independence and comfort through the advancement of technology, we believe “can do this” on our own (to paraphrase the testosterone influenced enthusiasm of my former teenage boys).

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Discussion on Science and the Bible

June 16, 2018

Michael Gillan Interview with Jeff Zweerink

Since I was in college and first read the Bible in a world religion class, I have found the Bible to be uniquely layered in its meaning and personally intimate at the same time. It was like no other book I read, and still is.

I read the Bible for the first time in a World Religion class, so I read it in light of and comparison to the other major world religion texts. In that comparative study, I found the Bible to be exceptional in its depth of meaning, intricacy and nuance.

My religion professor took the position (I later found out) that all roads lead to the top of the same mountain. He didn’t favor one text over another, least of all the Bible. He presented all the texts to be read on their own merit, letting them “speak for themselves”.

This is the way I approached them. I was a seeker, not knowing where truth was to be found, but assuming that all world religions contained nuggets of the ore. I viewed philosophy and great literature the same way, seeing them as deposits of truth to be explored and mined for their value.

I have to say that I found myself becoming a bit of a skeptic about science. I now understand that the skepticism would have been more appropriately leveled at scientists, who often acted (and apparently believed) as if science has a corner on truth and that all truth should be viewed through a scientific lens.

I have since learned that this “scientism” is a caricature – an exaltation of science beyond the scope and limitations of science and what we can and should expect of science. Science is the study of the natural world – matter, energy and motion. Science cannot tell us why we appreciate beauty, for instance, or even what beauty is.

But, I have also learned that science is beautiful in itself. Science unveils some of the most beautiful and wondrous facets of the universe we live in.  That we can even “do” science is beautiful and wondrous in itself!

Following is an interesting interchange between physicists about science and the Bible. I hope you enjoy it as much as a I did.

Does the Bible Speak to the Age of the Universe?

April 12, 2018

Photo by Chris A. Fraley

The age of the Earth is a hot button topic for Christians today. Science suggests that the Earth is old, but a large segment of western Christianity has put down big stakes on the claim that the Earth is young. We have to be careful here that this tension doesn’t overshadow the Gospel, the central message and foundation of belief in Jesus Christ, but the issue is significant nevertheless.

The issue of the age of the Earth has almost become a litmus test in some Christian circles for belief in God. But is it a good litmus test? Does the Bible speak to the age of the universe?

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Inspiration or Artifice? Faith and Reason

December 7, 2017

From a presentation by Francis Collins at the Veritas Forum at the California Institute of Technology

Take a close look at the two images. What do they represent? We might say that one image represents science and the other represents religion (or faith). But which is which?

The images are similar, but one of them is manmade, and the other is something we find in nature. Do you know which is which? Is the manmade image the scientific one or the spiritual one?

I will answer these questions; at least I will answer them as they were described in a presentation given by Francis Collins, the manager of the Human Genome Project, at a Veritas Forum at Caltech University in 2009. In the process, we will explore the chief question examined by this eminent scientist: whether science and faith are compatible.

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