Saturday, September 16, 2006

Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory, etc

Continuing with clearing my backlog, back to June 2006, with composite posts like this one.

Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory, The Sunday Times, June 11, 2006, John Cornwell ...

[Graphic: Not Even Wrong, by Peter Woit, Cape]

In challenging string theory, Peter Woit is taking on the self-interest of the entire scientific establishment ... Peter Woit, a mathematician at Columbia University, has challenged the entire string-theory discipline by proclaiming that its topic is not a genuine theory at all...he follows the lead of the science writer John Horgan, who suggested in his controversial book, The End of Science (1996), that, having reached their limit, some areas of science are in danger of becoming what he terms "ironic science". ... Woit unpacks this notion further, suggesting that theoretical physics has become like the deconstructionist realms of literary criticism in the 1970s, which disappeared up its own fundament, "incapable of ever converging on the truth". I don't have anything against string theory, but as a Christian, I expect that science will eventually hit a brick wall that God has set, to paraphrase Job 38:11, "This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud science halts." This is consistent with Ecc 3:11, "He has ... set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end," Job 38:2-3; 16-18 (see below) and 1 Cor 13:9,12 "For we know in part." But scientific materialists like E.O. Wilson are so full of their arrogant boasting that, "we do know and we have told. Jehovah's challenges have been met and scientists have pressed on to uncover and to solve even greater puzzles..." that they have not noticed that it is the Bible that was right all along!:

"Indeed, the origin of the universe in the big bang of fifteen billion years ago, as deduced by astronomers and physicists, is far more awesome than the first chapter of Genesis or the Ninevite epic of Gilgamesh. When the scientists project physical processes backward to that moment with the aid of mathematical models they are talking about everything literally everything - and when they move forward in time to pulsars, supernovas, and the collision of black holes they probe distances and mysteries beyond the imaginings of earlier generations. Recall how God lashed Job with concepts meant to overwhelm the human mind: `Who is this whose ignorant words cloud my design in darkness? Brace yourself and stand up like a man; I will ask questions, and you shall answer ... Have you descended to the springs of the sea or walked in the unfathomable deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Have you ever seen the doorkeepers of the place of darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanse of the world? Come, tell me all this, if you know.' [Job 38:2-3; 16-18 NEB] And yes, we do know and we have told. Jehovah's challenges have been met and scientists have pressed on to uncover and to solve even greater puzzles. The physical basis of life is known; we understand approximately how and when it started on earth. New species have been created in the laboratory and evolution has been traced at the molecular level. Genes can be spliced from one kind of organism into another. Molecular biologists have most of the knowledge needed to create elementary forms of life. Our machines, settled on Mars, have transmitted panoramic views and the results of chemical soil analysis. Could the Old Testament writers have conceived of such activity? And still the process of great scientific discovery gathers momentum." (Wilson, E.O., "On Human Nature," [1978], Penguin: London, 2001, reprint, pp.192-193. Emphasis original)

Scientists catch the early bird, ABC, Maggie Fox, 16 June 2006 ...

[Graphic: Gansus yumenensis fossil.]

Also at ABC News, Livescience, National Geographic, New Scientist,, The Australian & The Guardian. Spectacular 100-million-year-old fossils, complete with three- dimensional bones, feathers and foot webbing, suggest living birds evolved from waterfowl, say researchers. Dr Peter Dodson, professor of anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania, and team report in today's issue of the journal Science on five partial skeletons found 2,000 km west of Beijing, China. Called Gansus yumenensis ... It would have been an accomplished flyer and diver and could well be one of the ancestors of modern birds. ... "Every bird living today, from ostriches ... to bald eagles, probably evolved from a Gansus-like ancestor," says team member Dr Matthew Lamanna ... Another very important fossil find in China. It will be interesting to see how these advanced birds ~100 mya are reconciled with the first true bird Archaeopteryx ~145 mya and the Chinese so-called `feathered' dinosaurs ~120 mya.

How to Bake a Galaxy,, June 16, 2006 ...

[Graphic: Tadpole galaxy]

Start with lots and lots of dark matter, then stir in gas. Let the mixture sit for a while, and a galaxy should rise up out of the batter. This simple recipe for baking galaxies cannot be performed at home, but it does reflect what astronomers are learning about galaxy formation. Like baking bread with yeast, a mysterious substance in the universe called dark matter is required for a galaxy to grow. Now, a new study from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope is refining what is known about this essential ingredient of galaxies. It suggests that not only is dark matter necessary, but a minimum quantity of the material must be present before a galaxy can form. Any less would mean no galaxy -- the cosmic equivalent of a failed loaf of bread.... Another fine-tuned parameter of the Universe, without which we would not be here?

So violence is all religion's fault?, The Age, Barney Zwartz, June 17, 2006.

[Graphic: The Black Book of Communism,]

Faith is no more likely to provoke bloodshed than secular ideologies, which come with their own share of absolutism, divisiveness and irrationality. IN THE 1940s, Jehovah's Witnesses in the US were beaten, tarred, castrated and jailed because they believed that followers of Jesus should not salute a flag. Historian Martin Marty cites this 50 years later. To him it is evidence that religion has a particular tendency to be divisive and therefore violent. He writes that it "can be perceived by others as dangerous. Religion can cause all kinds of trouble in the public arena." For Marty, religion refers not to the ritual pledging of allegiance to a flag, but only to the Jehovah's Witnesses' refusal to do so. There is clearly something wrong here. Surely the obvious conclusion is that fanatical nationalism can cause violence. Why does Marty blame religion? Marty is seduced by, and helping to cement, a myth so deeply rooted in Western society that it may be impossible to dig out, and that is the myth that religion has a dangerous tendency to promote violence. ... An insightful article by Barney Zwartz, religion editor for The Age. The problem is not "religion" (whatever that is) but human evil. "Religion" (whatever that is) is just a scapegoat that secularists employ in an attempt to excuse themselves. Zwartz could have cited the "100 million" plus killed by atheistic "secular ideologies" in the `enlightened' 20th century:

"Only five years after the Titanic catastrophe, in November 1917, the world would witness the beginning of the greatest willful mass exterminations of life in human history. The tip of the iceberg looming on the horizon at the time was the Bolshevik Revolution in Czarist Russia. And today the damage it inflicted on mankind has finally been properly assessed. ... In France, an 846-page academic study compiled by six distinguished historians has become a runaway best-seller with 70,000 copies purchased in four weeks and a second printing underway. Not available in the U.S at this time, the book is titled Le Livre Noir du Communism (The Black Book on Communism) and it has been the subject of heated exchange in the French Parliament. In addition, articles about it have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune and Commentary monthly for January 1998. Published on Nov. 8, 1997 - the 80th anniversary of the start of the Russian Revolution - one of its authors, Stephane Courtois of the National Center for Scientific Research, is a self-proclaimed leftist and former Maoist. In his introduction he insists that we can no longer distinguish any conventional difference between Communism and Nazism. As Tony Judt, director of the Remarque Institute at New York University, points out, Courtois notes `those very features of Nazism that we find most repellent have now been proved endemic to Communism from its inception ... mass crimes, systematic crimes, crimes against humanity marked both systems in equal measure.' `The archives and numerous witnesses confirm,' says Courtois, `that terror was from the outset a basic feature of modern Communism,' where concentration camps, forced labor and terror were elevated to a system of government. Mass murders were not the accidental byproduct of misguided policies but the outcome of willful, sometimes genocidal calculation and intent, adds Tony Judt. Alain Besancon, the eminent French historian, made a similar point in his inaugural lecture to the French Academy (text appearing in the December 1997 issue of Commentaire). Speaking of The Black Book on Communism, Besancon asked `how is it that, today, the two systems are treated so unequally in historical memory, to the point where one of them, Soviet Communism, though a still- recent presence on the world scene, has already been all but forgotten?' Where Nazism's crimes affected 25 million, Communist regimes have committed crimes affecting 100 million. Described as the first global balance sheet on Communism, here is how The Black Book of Communism breaks down that figure: China: 72 million, Soviet Union 20 million, Cambodia 2.3 million, North Korea 2 million, Africa 1.7 million, Afghanistan 1.5 million, Vietnam 1 million, Eastern Europe 1 million, Latin America 150,000. All these millions of Communism's victims were fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, children or other special loved-ones. Every death was a tragedy, not a statistic. Yet, unlike the world's proper remembrance of the victims of Nazism, little is said today about the fate of Communism's victims. As Tony Judt comments: `From the point of view of the exiled, humiliated, tortured, maimed or murdered victims, it's all the same. in the sorry story of our century, Communism and Nazism are, and always were, morally indistinguishable. That lesson alone took too long to learn, and it justifies a complete recasting and rewriting of the history of our times." ("Communism's 100 Million Victims," Mindszenty Report, February 1998)

Daniel C. Dennett: Religion's just a survival meme, Science & Theology News, Daniel C. Dennett, June 16, 2006 ...

[Graphic: Daniel C. Dennett]

In his critique of my recent book, Breaking the Spell, Alister McGrath is pounding on an open door. Yes, of course, scientific ideas are memes and atheism is a meme. That's not the point. The point is not to criticize anything by calling it a meme. On the contrary, it is to provide an explanatory basis. So, of course, psychologist and memeticist Susan Blackmore was right to say that atheism is a meme. How many of you readers think there are words? How many of you think that words are in your ontology? Do you believe in words, or are you not so sure that words exist? I think words exist, but if you think about them, they are extremely puzzling. What are they made of? They are not sounds. They're not made of ink. It turns out that the concept of a word is abstract. They are so familiar to us that we don't tend to realize how strange words are as a category. If you believe in words then you believe in memes because words are memes that can be pronounced. Then there are memes that can't be pronounced, like fashions and other behaviors. And then there are large complexes of memes. The existence of memes is not in doubt at all. The importance of a theory of memetics is still to be debated. ... Good to see that Dennett admits that "atheism is a meme"! But to save atheism he then defines "words" as "memes that can be pronounced," which is to make memes so broad as to be meaningless. As molecular biologist turned theologian Alister McGrath observes, memes are "imaginary entities" like the aether that "Michelson and Morley" showed didn't exist:

"If memes exist, atheism is a meme What do memes do? Dennett tells us that they spread beliefs, such as beliefs in God. So are all beliefs spread by memes? Or just the ones that anti-religious critics don't like? Is there a meme for atheism? In Dennett's book, his explanation of `Simple Taxonomy' certainly suggests so. And because there is no compelling scientific evidence for these things, is there a meme for believing in memes? This is certainly a problem for Dawkins - the originator of this notion. As many of you will know, Dawkins makes an unsuccessful attempt to evade the trap of self-referentiality by saying that his own ideas are different. God is caused by memes; atheism is not. Anyone familiar with intellectual history will spot the pattern immediately: My ideas are exempt from the general patterns I identify for other ideas, which allows me to explain them away. My fear is that Dennett has fallen victim to this same weakness. So is it just belief in God that is a meme? Surely atheism is as well. Susan Blackmore, England's most able defender of the meme hypothesis, recently stated that atheism is a meme. If so, all viewpoints are affected in the same way, whether religious or anti-religious. Therefore, which is memetic orthodoxy and which is heresy? How would Blackmore and Dennett be able to settle that point scientifically? If they are not able to do so, then we have a nonscientific debate about imaginary entities, hypothesized by analogy with the gene. And we all know how unreliable arguments based on analogy can be - witness the fruitless search for the luminiferous ether in the late 19th century based on the supposed analogy between light and sound. It was analogically plausible but nonexistent. The analogy was invalid. Dawkins tells us that memes are merely awaiting their Crick and Watson. I think they are merely waiting for their Michelson and Morley." (McGrath, A., "The spell of the meme: Dennett just doesn't get it," Science & Theology News, June 2, 2006).

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
Genesis 1:31. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning-the sixth day.