Friday, March 30, 2012

Science and Religion - the great debate with Bernard Haisch

This week we examine the work of Bernard Haisch, an astrophysicist and author of The God Theory and more than 130 scientific publications. This excerpt comes from his book The Purpose-Guided Universe: Believing in Einstein, Darwin, and God. In this engrossing work, Dr. Bernard Haisch contends that there is a purpose and an underlying intelligence behind the Universe, one that is consistent with modern science, especially the Big Bang and evolution.This portion comes specifically from Chapter 1 Science and Religion.




Can science and organized religion be reconciled? I would say that the answer is no. Religions are generally rigid insti­tutions each with its own specific set of rules regarding what is right and wrong. Organized religions come with an organi­zational power and profit structure. Then there is a particular and sometimes idio­syncratic cast of otherworldly characters ranging from only one—God alone—to thousands of lesser gods, angels, demons, saints and other entities, almost always including that one really bad villain to tempt and plague the congregation: the devil. It can be a confusing lot.

Clearly there are serious contradictions among the vari­ous religions concerning God and our own nature and destiny. How can you resolve the fact that one religion tells you one thing and a different one says the opposite? Logic, alas, fails.

Now there are a few religions that are virtually dogma-and devil-free, and benign enough that a bona fide, skepti­cal rocket scientist could attend services, get a bit of Sunday morning inspiration, and even drop a modest check into the collection basket without feeling a twinge of guilt. I would put a church such as, say, Unity, in that category. In fact, the very name indicates why a church like that poses little, if any, conflict with science: It is based on the notion of unit­ing the best of various beliefs with an open mind rather than claiming sole authority over the truth. Most religions are far more finicky about the requirement to believe specific things…which inevitably wind up contradicting equally stri­dent claims of other religions.

And there are, unfortunately, religions at the far ex­treme that are grossly at odds even with sane civilized be­havior, and cast doubt on the future of the human race. A religion that claims that there is a God who will reward you in heaven for incinerating other human beings down here is not merely deranged and insane, it is a threat to civilization. Reconciliation in such a case is out of the question.

But the reconciliation of science and spirituality is a differ­ent matter. That is not only possible, it is essential.

In this book, and in my previous one, The God Theory, I propose a concept of God that from my perspective as an astrophysicist in no way contradicts scientific knowledge, and in particular those three pillars: origin of the Universe in a Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago; a 4.6-billion-year-old Earth; and Darwinian evolution of life-forms. And there is also no contradiction between what I will call The God Theory and the laws of physics, including of course the special and general relativity theories propounded by Einstein.

Moreover, the concept of God I propose does not crash on the rocks of such problems as: How to justify the seem­ingly undeserved hardships or even horrors that sometimes fall on really good people for no discernable reason?

But is there a need to invoke the concept of God at all?
An Infinite Number of Universes vs. One Great Intelligence
It has been discovered in physics and astrophysics dur­ing the past two decades or so that certain properties of the Universe and laws of nature, when looked at together, are remarkably conducive to life arising. This is now well established as something in need of an explanation, and a number of books have been written by prominent scientists such as cosmologist Sir Martin Rees, and Stanford physicist and pioneer of string theory Leonard Susskind, that seek to explain this.

Their argument is that if our Universe has especially life-friendly properties, that has to be a matter of statis­tics. It has to be chalked up to the odds of chance. In oth­er words, there must be a huge number of other universes whose properties are different from ours, and from each other, and therefore our Universe is not special in any way. It’s just that we could never have arisen in any of those less friendly universes, so of course we find ourselves in this one, and thus it looks like a miraculous thing...but it’s not at all. Think of it this way: How likely is it that if you roll six dice at once, they will all turn up sixes? Not very probable. But if you get to toss the six dice a million times, it’s bound to happen.

As to how many other universes there must be for this kind of statistical solution to the Goldilocks mystery of the “just right” universe, the estimate ranges from 10 to the 500th power (again, one followed by 500 zeroes) to a lit­erally infinite number. The “lower” estimate results from certain parameters in string theory, and therefore is liable to change (probably to a still higher value). It is, in any case, an unfathomably large number.

That statistical argument is rational, and one can cer­tainly accept it as an explanation of the apparently special properties of our Universe. But is it any more rational than the possibility that our Universe really is special because it is the product of a great intelligence? In my view, both are equally rational. Take your pick. If you truly cannot stom­ach the idea of a great intelligence, the statistical solution is available to prevent heartburn. But it is neither fair, nor scientifically defensible, to reject the other.

One often hears the objection: well then, where did this intelligence come from? The only possible answer is that it came from nowhere…it pre-exists…it had no beginning… it had no source. If it did, we should skip it and concern ourselves with the ultimate source. Why waste time and philosophical head-scratching over something intermedi­ate? That line of thinking just leads to an infinite regress, a bottomless pit. You do have to start somewhere.

Of course the view that vast numbers of universes arose out of nothing is on no firmer ground. I would argue that that too requires that something pre-exist, namely quantum laws or laws of some sort. If quantum fluctuations are seen as the origin of things, then quantum laws must pre-exist. Where did those come from? It’s the same problem.
Belief Systems
In his book The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, the Dalai Lama discusses ancient Buddhist concepts about the origin and nature of the Universe. Not surprisingly these consist of rather quaint cosmologies and rudimentary laws of “physics” that are now quite incompatible with what we have discovered in as­trophysics. The Dalai Lama makes it very clear that when scientific investigations result in tested and proven modern concepts, those must supersede the old Buddhist notions. Buddhism ascribes authority to experience first, reason sec­ond, and scripture last. Direct observation comes out on top. Science trumps tradition and dogma. Would that other religions and religious leaders took such an enlightened po­sition. It would be a saner world.

But it cuts both ways. When scientific investigations point to a finely tuned Universe, scientists should be as open as the Dalai Lama to possible interpretations that challenge the prevailing scientific worldview. It is certainly fair, and even called for by the scientific method, to hypoth­esize about the possibility of infinite numbers of other uni­verses so as to explain why ours is seemingly special, but is not really. That could be the answer and might someday result in Nobel prizes (and perhaps the equivalent to our 10-dimensional colleagues in the other string-theory uni­verses who have sleuthed out the existence of us in some analogous fashion). But it is intellectually dishonest to dis­count out of hand the possibility that our Universe appears special because, well, it happens to be special.

The flat-out rejection of that possibility comes from an assumption that reductionism and materialism can be the only sources of true knowledge. Materialism means that the only thing that is real is matter, and that includes energy, because, as Einstein showed, matter can be created from energy and energy from matter…and together they are all there is. Reductionism means that the properties of any­thing can be explained by looking at the workings of the pieces, an extreme example being that my thoughts can ul­timately be explained by analyzing the motions of atoms in my brain.

The Dalai Lama had this to say about reductionist materialism:
Underlying this view is the assumption that, in the final analysis, matter, as it can be described by physics and as it is governed by the laws of physics, is all there is. Accordingly, this view would uphold that psychology can be reduced to biology, biology to chemistry, and chemistry to physics. My concern here is not so much to argue against this reductionist position (although I myself do not share it) but to draw attention to a vitally important point: that these ideas do not constitute sci­entific knowledge; rather they represent a philosophi­cal, in fact a metaphysical, position. The view that all aspects of reality can be reduced to matter and its vari­ous particles is, to my mind, as much a metaphysical position as the view that an organizing intelligence cre­ated and controls reality.
The Problem
Even though it has been many years since Carl Sagan, in collaboration with his talented wife, Ann Druyan, produced the magnificent Cosmos series broadcast on PBS, this is still the pinnacle of a scientifically grandiose vision of the Universe. It is truly an inspiration, but an inspiration of a limited sort. Yes, we are part of something immense and uplifting when viewed from a cosmic perspective. But from a human perspective it is problematic. If we are just chemi­cal machines with an illusion of consciousness destined for oblivion after an average lifespan of perhaps 80 years, where is the inspiration? Are we not dwarfed in both space and time by the enormity of the Universe and its billions of future years? Where is there a purpose for us?

Radical scientific materialism can offer a stupendous vista of the inanimate, but leaves us humans with a narrow­ness of vision whose end result, when confronted honestly, can hardly be other than nihilism. At least nihilism in the limited sense that existence is ultimately bereft of purpose as far as our own life is concerned.

To again quote the Dalai Lama:
In this view many dimensions of the full reality of what it is to be human—art, ethics, spirituality, goodness, beauty, and above all consciousness—either are re­duced to the chemical reactions of firing neurons or are seen as a matter of purely imaginary constructs. The danger then is that human beings may be reduced to nothing more than biological machines, the prod­ucts of pure chance in the random combinations of genes, with no purpose other than the biological im­perative of reproduction.
In his later writings Sagan himself intimated that there might possibly be more to reality than is permitted by the dogma of scientific materialism, and interestingly he refers specifically to the past life research of Ian Stevenson. In his The Demon Haunted World Sagan writes:
At the time of writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect ran­dom number generators in computers; (2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images “projected” at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any way other than reincarnation. I pick these claims not be­cause I think they’re likely to be valid (I don’t), but as examples of contentions that might be true.
String Theory
For about two decades the study of fundamental phys­ics, the investigation of the four forces (electromagnetism, gravity, and the strong and weak nuclear forces and the at­tempt to unify them) together with the identification of ele­mentary particles and their properties, has been dominated by string theory and its newer extension called M-theory. The idea is that all the elementary particles such as elec­trons, neutrinos, and quarks are assumed to be different vibration states of an incredibly tiny one-dimensional thing called a string. String theory is a highly mathematical subject. In fact, it may be fair to say that it is more properly seen as an ex­tremely esoteric branch of mathematics. Its relationship to the real world of physics is the suggestion, based on rela­tionships buried in the mathematics, that gravity might be unified with the other three forces, and that all the appar­ently different particles that have been discovered in the past century or so are just one kind of string vibrating dif­ferently. That is the hope, a hope strong enough to have created a community of string theorists numbering about 1,500 physicists busy as bees writing papers that even other physicists cannot honestly claim to understand in any detail.

A pair of recent books, Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law, by Columbia University mathematician Peter Woit, and The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of Science, and What Comes Next, by Lee Smolin, a prominent theoretical physicist and string-theory expert at the Perimeter Institute in Canada, argue that physics has lost its way in the mathematical jungle of string theory.

There are at least two major problems. A string would be as small compared to an atom as an atom is to the Solar System. As a consequence, no direct detection of a string has ever been made. Indeed there is no plausible experi­ment known today that could conceivably detect a string. The “atom smashers” that have detected subatomic parti­cles for decades are useless for detecting a string. The entire power output of all the power plants on Earth would fall billions of time short of having enough strength to create a single string in a particle collider. Let us say that the hope for experimental verification is rather dim.

The second problem is astonishing. The mathematics of string theory requires the existence of several additional di­mensions beyond the three dimensions of space and one of time that we are used to living in. The number of additional dimensions ranges from six or seven to as many as 22. In classical string theory these dimensions are “compactified,” meaning they are rolled up into tiny loops of dimensional space. In M-theory some dimensions are compactified and some are not; that is, some may be like our own dimensions in extent, but with possibly radically different properties. Think of the difference between space and time; both are dimensions, but their properties are quite distinct. A minute and a meter are rather different.

The point is not to criticize string or M-theory per se. The issue is one of belief. As the dust jacket of Peter Woit’s book says:
What happens when scientific theory departs the realm of testable hypothesis and comes to resemble some­thing like aesthetic speculation, or even theology?... string theory is just such an idea.
So we have the situation that certain facts cry out for an explanation. An explanation is found, but it requires assum­ing the existence of one or more things for which there is no evidence whatsoever in the world of experience. And unfor­tunately there turns out to be no scientific test possible for the proposed explanation. This is where taking things on faith and seeing where that leads is the only recourse, which is what the vast community of string theorists is doing. But the danger is that the underlying hypothetical foundations of the theory might become articles of faith.

I suggest that the existence of strings and additional di­mensions of space as a unifying explanation of the basis of physics on the one hand, and the existence of an intelligence as a unifying explanation of the apparent fine-tuning of our Universe on the other, are not that different philosophically and metaphysically. In fact, there is even a certain degree of tentative mutual support.

In the extension of string theory called M-theory, it is taken for granted that other universes with completely different properties and laws are liable to exist. These uni­verses with their own sets of laws might be separated from ours by tiny distances in another dimension. And if such adjacent universes exist, there is no reason to deny the pos­sibility that the equivalent of life-forms would exist therein, whatever that may mean when “their laws of physics” may be beyond our imagination.

Mystical traditions speak of other non-physical realms with other kinds of beings. M-theory requires the existence of universes with different laws that could in principle host different kinds of beings. There is a curious confluence here, one that is almost humorous given the tendency of mate­rialists to sneer at the supernatural. Perhaps some clever string theorist will yet resolve the vexing perennial question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin…in vari­ous M-theory universes.
Having Faith
In his book The God Delusion Richard Dawkins con­trasts dogmatic faith in a holy book versus reasoning in­formed by scientific evidence. He writes:
Fundamentalists know that they are right because they have read the truth in a holy book and they know, in advance, that nothing will budge them from their be­lief…. The book is true, and if the evidence seems to contradict it, it is the evidence that must be thrown out, not the book. By contrast, what I, as a scientist, be­lieve (for example, evolution) I believe not because of reading a holy book, but because I have studied the evidence.
His point is entirely correct. By contrast with a holy book, a science book can, and does, change as new experi­ments, observations, or other evidence come to light. Evi­dence that can be objectively verified trumps revelation, a position that even the Dalai Lama espouses. Indeed, even a fundamentalist might say that scientific evidence trumps revelation…provided it is some other religion’s revelation (and therein lies the revelation problem).

Unfortunately things are not as objective and free of preconceptions as Dawkins would have us believe. Our Uni­verse has numerous characteristics that together make for a highly unlikely fine-tuning of properties. This is considered by scientists to be serious and significant enough to warrant an “explanation.” Apart from the “it is just a lucky accident explanation” we are left with only two possibilities. Either the properties of our Universe are special because they are indeed the product of an intelligence…or they are just the outcome of statistics. But the latter view requires the ex­istence of a vast, perhaps infinite number of other unseen universes with properties different from our own.

There is simply no scientific way to resolve which expla­nation is correct: mere statistics or an intelligence with a purpose. Both require the acceptance of something major beyond current science. Recall that many of the other uni­verses in the multiverse statistical argument would have to be radically different from our own to be consistent with the statistics of random properties. That being the case, there might even be intelligent universes in the mix. This would certainly blur the choice between the two explanations. In both cases we would wind up having to accept the existence of realms beyond the conventional physical, that is beyond space and time as we know it. What is the difference be­tween an extradimensional alien being (string theory) and a supernatural or angelic being (religion) other than termi­nology? Encountering either one would be a shock.

To reject the explanation of an intelligence behind the origin of our Universe simply because one believes that there cannot conceivably be such an intelligence is really no different from faith in the equivalent of a holy book. In this case the faith is in reductionist materialism. Positing the existence of perhaps infinite other universes as a possible explanation is legitimate. But to argue that that must be true because the alternative of an intelligence just cannot be true is simply to worship at the altar of reductionist materialism. That is how the practice of science can morph into the faith of scientism.
A Better Notion of God
There are conceptions of God that are laughable; there are conceptions that are horrible. Both are at the root of the problem scientists tend to have with the very idea of a God. But it is also possible to have a reasonable conception of God (which I propose is the case for The God Theory).

Various surveys have shown that the majority of scien­tists are atheist, meaning not just doubting whether a God might exist, but actively believing with certainty that there is no God. This is far higher than that of the population at large. A major factor in this disbelief is the kind of entity that comes to mind when one thinks God. A God whose existence or actions directly contradict laws of physics and the known structure of the Universe should be ruled out. Of course there is no way to disprove with 100-percent certainty that some kind of God littered a 6,000-year-old Earth with phony fossils to fool the arrogant archaeologists, but this strikes me as incredibly silly, and if it really were the case we would be in big trouble with this kind of crooked God in charge of things.

A God who exists and maintains a heaven somewhere in the Universe is also a non-starter. If God is a being made of matter, where did the matter come from?

On physical arguments we need a God who is not made of matter, not confined to a Universe, not bound by space and time, because if constrained by these things rather than being the source of these things… he/she/it would not be a real God.

But there are also moral and ethical requirements on the kind of God that scientists—and I myself—can take seriously.

I reject a God who hates, who is vindictive and jealous, who revels in bloodshed or arbitrarily reveals the truth and grants salvation to some select group at the expense of all others. To­day, the consequences of the worst possible misconception of God are tragically evident in the fanatics who have perverted the word martyr to glorify the murderer, if this were the best we could come up with as a conception of God, I too would be a rabid atheist.
Consciousness Creating Reality
One of the things I argue in this book is that quantum mechanics, especially in light of a recent breakthrough ex­periment measuring the so-called Leggett inequality that supersedes the famous Bell inequality (see Chapter 8), nec­essarily includes consciousness. It does so to the extent that we can now legitimately claim that consciousness creates the observed reality at the quantum level. This of course has the profoundest of implications for our own macro-reality of ev­eryday life because everything is built upon a quantum basis.

If consciousness is the basis of reality, then it is plausible that a transcendent consciousness is the underlying cause of the Universe. This cannot be proven but it is no less logical a conclusion than the one from mainstream science, which asserts that the Universe, with its surprising life-conducive properties, is merely the result of statistics.

And if that is the case I propose that the motivation of this great intelligence is the seeking of experience in a physical realm. This brings mankind—and all other life­forms here and throughout the Universe—into the picture. I propose to explore our nature as manifestations of this intelligence.

Far from surrendering the rationality and critical think­ing that underpins science, it is essential to apply those tools to consideration of the circumstantial evidence for the ex­istence of a transcendent intelligence behind the origin of the Universe. To those who bombastically assert that there is nothing on the side of spirituality worth consideration, let me cite Werner Heisenberg, a man who certainly knew science in depth:
I have never found it possible to dismiss the content of religious thinking as simply part of an outmoded phase in the consciousness of mankind, a part we shall have to give up from now on. Thus in the course of my life I have been repeatedly compelled to ponder on the re­lationship of these two regions of thought, for I have never been able to doubt the reality of that to which they point. (Scientific and Religious Truth, 1973)

Find out more about Bernard Haisch and his works by visiting his website.

2 comments:

  1. Can science be reconciled with religion? I can only agree, absolutely not. But if you change the question to: can science be reconciled with God, the answer changes! For what religion thought impossible has now happened. History has its first literal, testable and fully demonstrable proof for faith.

    The first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ is published on the web. Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new teaching is predicated upon a precise, predefined and predictable experience and called 'the first Resurrection' in the sense that the Resurrection of Jesus was intended to demonstrate Gods' willingness to real Himself and intervene directly into the natural world for those obedient to His will, paving the way for access, by faith, to the power of divine transcendence. Ultimate proof!

    Thus 'faith' is the path, the search and discovery of this direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power to confirm divine will, Law, command and covenant, while "correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries." So like it or no, a new religious teaching, testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation and definitive proof now exists. Nothing short of an intellectual, moral and religious revolution is getting under way. To test or not to test, that is the question? More info at http://www.energon.org.uk,
    http://soulgineering.com/2011/05/22/the-final-freedoms/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Science and religion is somewhat the greatest debate of all times. Being a subscriber of an Australian broadband service provider, I have been exposed to different facts but none of them actually answers the greatest question of all, who created mankind.

    ReplyDelete

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