Tag Archives: Lawrence M. Krauss

‘The Unbelievers’ and science

The World Premiere of  the film “The Unbelievers” took place on Monday in Toronto.

The YouTube site for the film’s trailer describes it this way:

‘The Unbelievers’ follows renowned scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss across the globe as they speak publicly about the importance of science and reason in the modern world – encouraging others to cast off antiquated religious and politically motivated approaches toward important current issues. The film includes interviews with celebrities and other influential people who support the work of these controversial speakers,trailer of the film”

The premiere, and the three later screenings were sold out. I posted the trailer for the film at The “dynamic duo” of science? Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss spoke at the Premiere. But they were also interviewed by Global’s The Morning Show, on Monday morning.

It’s an excellent interview – they were not heckled in the way many US interviewers do. And they managed to calmly present their story about science, and describe their attitude to religion.

Only 12 minutes long its worth  watching. Click on the image below to go to the Global New’s Video.

Dawkins-Krauss

Credit: Dawkins, Krauss have faith in ‘The Unbelievers’ | Globalnews.ca.

The “dynamic duo” of science?

Well, that’s how someone described them.

But I have generally found the discussions between Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins stimulating. I first commented on these almost 5 years ago (see Lawrence Krauss – Richard Dawkins discussion).

They have had a number of discussions recently, in a range of countries. Someone has now put these together in a single movie. Here’s the movie trailer. Looks interesting

THE UNBELIEVERS (2013) – Official Movie Trailer

Thanks to: Dawkins & Krauss making kick-ass new atheism doc

By the way, the movie includes discussions with others too. here’s a description from the YouTube site:

‘The Unbelievers’ follows renowned scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss across the globe as they speak publicly about the importance of science and reason in the modern world – encouraging others to cast off antiquated religious and politically motivated approaches toward important current issues.

The film includes interviews with celebrities and other influential people who support the work of these controversial speakers, including:

Ricky Gervais
Woody Allen
Cameron Diaz
Stephen Hawking
Sarah Silverman
Bill Pullman
Werner Herzog
Tim Minchin
Eddie Izzard
Ian McEwan
Adam Savage
Ayaan Hirsi-Ali
Penn Jillette
Sam Harris
Dan Dennett
James Randi
Cormac McCarthy
Paul Provenza
James Morrison
Michael Shermer
David Silverman
…and more.

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Education should never validate ignorance

Quite a concise and clear argument from Lawrence Krauss on the silly idea of giving equal time to creationism in a science classes (a big problem in his country – the USA). As he points out – the role of education is to overcome ignorance – not confirm it.

Teaching kids that the earth is 6000 years old, just because (in the USA) half the population believes it, is only validating ignorance. The fact is that half of the US population does not think the earth orbits the sun – they are clearly wrong but should that widespread belief mean that kids must be taught that mistake in their science classes?

Of course not.

That would be validating ignorance and is a form of child abuse.

Lawrence Krauss: Teaching Creationism is Child Abuse

The problem with philosophy

First some light philosophical relief – Monty Python’s Football – before the serious issues

There has been a bit of a donnybrook recently over the science-philosophy conflict. (Dare we talk about a “conflict model” of the science-philosophy relationship?).

There is evidence of some accumulated antagonism on both sides. But this time the spark was some ungentlemanly comments made by Lawrence Krauss. Or perhaps the spark was the “scathing” New York Times review of his recent book (A Universe from Nothing) by David Albert (wearing his philosopher hat) – Albert’s comments were more sophisticated but nevertheless were hardly gentlemanly.

In an interview with Ross Anderson published in The Atlantic (Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?) Krauss referred to “moronic philosophers  that have written about my book” and made some general criticisms of philosophy, and especially the philosophy of science as it is practised. Have a look at the interview for the details.

Then other philosophers joined the battle. Massimo Pigluicci, never one to stay away from such a stoush, retaliated with Lawrence Krauss: another physicist with an anti-philosophy complex hinting that this conflict was a lot wider than individuals, a book and its review. I am not surprised – in general I enjoy Pigluicci’s writing but feel that he throws around criticisms of scientists, and words like “scientism”, far too liberally. He sank to Krauss’s level by describing him as a “brilliant (as a physicist) moron.” But he did deal with some of the mores substantive criticisms made by Krauss. Again, refer to his article for the details.

Justin Vacula made what I thought were more unemotional criticisms of Krauss’s comment in A response to Lawrence Krauss’ comments denigrating philosophy at American Atheists’ 2012 convention. And physicist Sean Carroll recently contributed some useful comments in his post at Cosmic Variance (see A Universe from Nothing?). Actually, I recommend Carroll’s book From Eternity to Here  which deals with similar issues to those in Krauss’s book.

Diversity in philosophy

So what are we to think, especially as both sides appeared to be generalising about the other? Is the “conflict model” of the science-philosophy relationship factual, or just a myth? Have they been fated to be in continual argument since they divided centuries ago?

I think yes and no. In the sense that some schools of philosophy seem inevitably bound to conflict with science, while other schools don’t. In a real sense philosophy as a discipline is far more diverse, or divided, than is science. When one is dealing with the real world, interacting with it, testing and validating one’s ideas and theories against reality, there is less room for long-lasting divisions. On the other hand philosophy can be practised by people from an armchair, never bothering to keep up with current scientific knowledge.

Let me quickly add I am not talking about all philosophers by any means. there are many who interact and cooperate with practising scientists. Who learn from science and develop their philosophy accordingly. There can be a very fruitful and practical relationship between scientists and philosophers.

I have had an interest in the philosophy of science since my student days and early on became aware of the existence of diverse philosophical schools.  This was brought home to me when a professor gave us a lecture on “THE philosophy of science” in a chemistry lecture. What he understood by the words was quite different to what I understood by them. Since then I have thought scientists have an inbuilt suspicion of philosophy. If only because they abhor the idea of imposition of ideological dogma on their research justified as “the philosophy of science.” We have seen it before, haven’t we?

So, being very much aware of this “problem of philosophy”* – 0f the existence of different trends, often with ideological tinges, I was relieved to see that Krauss actually apologised for his blanket criticisms of philosophy in his Scientific American columnThe Consolation of Philosophy.” This was subheaded “An update by the author of “A Universe from Nothing” on his thoughts, as a theoretical physicist, about the value of the discipline of philosophy.”

I like the way he finished the column:

“So, to those philosophers I may have unjustly offended by seemingly blanket statements about the field, I apologize.  I value your intelligent conversation and the insights of anyone who thinks carefully about our universe and who is willing to guide their thinking based on the evidence of reality.   To those who wish to impose their definition of reality abstractly, independent of emerging empirical knowledge and the changing questions that go with it, and call that either philosophy or theology, I would say this:  Please go on talking to each other, and let the rest of us get on with the goal of learning more about nature.”

I agree with him.


* Before some of the philosophically-inclined take umbrage at my title “The problem of philosophy” please note I use it in the spirit of physicist Lee Smolin’s book title “The Trouble With Physics.” That was not dissing physics – far from it. He was discussing some issues within current physics and the  problems they create.

Great science talks in Auckland

There’s some great talks coming up in the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival involving science writers. Unfortunately they are selling out quick – so if you are interested I recommend booking right away.

Here are the details:

A UNIVERSE FROM NOTHING

In the mere span of a human lifetime, our understanding of the universe has changed completely.

Celebrated prize-winning scientist, public intellectual and accomplished speaker Professor Lawrence Krauss is one of the leading figures in this golden age of cosmology.

Currently based at the Arizona State University, he is the author of The Physics of Star Trek (1995), Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science (2010) and, most recently, the New York Times bestseller A Universe from Nothing (2011).

Krauss speaks with Dr. Grant Christie about the big bang, the expanding universe, the rich and mysterious world of cosmology and our place on the sidelines.

Professor Krauss is in New Zealand as a Hood Fellow in association with The University of Auckland.

Event Details

Book this event

  • Date: Friday 11 May 2012
  • Time: 05:30 p.m. – 06:30 p.m.
  • Venue: ASB THEATRE, AOTEA CENTRE
  • Category: SCIENCE AND RELIGION
  • Price: Earlybird $20, Standard $25, Patrons $16, Students $12.50

THE GOD MATTER

PLEASE NOTE: THIS EVENT IS SOLD OUT

American physicist and intellectual Lawrence Krauss, in his new book A Universe from Nothing (2012), argues that quantum physics has clearly established no God is required for the creation of the universe.

In an age where public debate rages on the teaching of science vs religion, an argument that Krauss is at the forefront of in America, is religion a valid view or mere superstition, and does it matter either way?

Krauss comes together with theologian Lloyd Geering to discuss the existence of a deity, the need for God in the 21st century and whether the religious beliefs that have underpinned our societies for so long are dangerous or useful in finding meaning and shaping a future.

Chaired by Tom Bishop.

Professor Krauss is in New Zealand as a Hood Fellow in association with the University of Auckland.

  • Date: Saturday 12 May 2012
  • Time: 04:00 p.m. – 05:00 p.m.
  • Venue: LOWER NZI, AOTEA CENTRE
  • Category: SCIENCE AND RELIGION
  • Price: Earlybird $20, Standard $25, Patrons $16, Students $12.50

THEM + US

Free Event

Danny Vendramini’s book Them + Us: How Neanderthal Predation Created Modern Humans expounds the controversial theory that Eurasian Neanderthals hunted, killed and cannibalised early humans for 50,000 years, with modern human physiology, sexuality, aggression, propensity for inter-group violence and human nature all emerging as a direct consequence.

It’s a theory that seems both preposterous and intriguing, taking, as it does, the core of Darwinian biology and cladding it with challenging ideas about trauma, the genetic transmission of emotions and the origin of instincts.

An illustrated talk chaired by historian Paul Moon

Supported by the Australia Council for the Arts.

Event Details

THE WOMAN WHO CHANGED HER BRAIN

Until recently, theories of neuroscience have posited that the brain can not be changed but the emerging field of neuroplasticity is challenging this view.

In The Woman Who Changed Her Brain (2012), Canadian Barbara Arrowsmith Young reveals how she developed a series of innovative brain exercises to conquer her severe learning disabilities.

She speaks with Michael Corballis about overcoming major brain dysfunction and some of the clinical mysteries and fascinating stories she has encountered in her research.

Event Details

Book this event

  • Date: Sunday 13 May 2012
  • Time: 04:00 p.m. – 05:00 p.m.
  • Venue: LOWER NZI ROOM, AOTEA CENTRE
  • Category: SCIENCE AND RELIGION
  • Price: Earlybird $20, Standard $25, Patrons $16, Students $12.50

Toss out the moderator for a better discussion

Here’s an interesting video – a discussion between Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss at the Australian National University recently.

I have a couple of thoughts about this event:

  1. It really only took place because both speakers were in Australia for the recent Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne. I think this endorse a point made by one journalist that such conventions do have important spin-offs. Of course there are economic ones – and this convention, which attracted over 4000 participants, would have brought tourists and money into Melbourne and Australia generally. That’s why governments actually help fund events like this.
    But this journalist was also talking about the intellectual and cultural benefits the convention brought to the country. The in the country inevitably leads to other events – TV interviews, debates, lectures and discussions like this. This contributes to the intellectual and cultural life of the country.
  2. Just look at how many people there were in the audience. it is gratifying to see top rate scientists creating such interest and drawing such crowds.
  3. The format of the discussion. Richard Dawkins has for some time expressed disappointment in the debate and moderated argument format. He repeats his reasons at the beginning of this video. Consequently he has undertaken a number of unmoderated discussions along the lines of this one. Personally I think they are successful – and much prefer them to debates which can end up as just glorified verbal boxing matches. I welcome readers thoughts on these formats.
    I look forward to such an unmoderated discussion where the participants have stronger difference. I like to think it could be successful. What do you think?

Thanks to:  Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss in conversation at ANU | The RiotACT.

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Nothing is something

Lawrence Krauss’s most recent book A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing was released last week. It’s one I have been looking forward to and I downloaded the eBook version this last weekend.

Some readers may have seen a video of one of Krauss’s lectures on this subject – these are what motivated my interest. For readers who have not seen one these lectures I have embedded one below.

I am keen to get into the book. With chapter titles like “Nothing is Something” and “Nothing is Unstable” it promises to be a good read. (I have placed the list of chapters at the bottom of this post*).

Krauss is not only an excellent lecturer he also writes very well. He has a lively style and is able to communicate complex ideas. Lawrence Krauss is one of the listed speakers art next April’s Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne (see A Celebration of Reason).

I wonder if he will pass through New Zealand as part of a book tour?

‘A Universe From Nothing’ by Lawrence Krauss, AAI 2009 .

Last year Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow were bombarded with a lot of criticism from religious apologists for their book The Grand Design. I think it helped bring the book to the attention of potential readers. So I hope these moral watchdogs are not asleep and will be just as energetic in their criticisms of Krauss’s book.

My first impression is that A Universe from Nothing actually has more detail than The Grand Design.

So here’s looking forward to some interesting debates.


*Contents of A Universe from Nothing

Preface
Chapter 1: A Cosmic Mystery Story: Beginnings
Chapter 2: A Cosmic Mystery Story: Weighing the Universe
Chapter 3: Light from the Beginning of Time
Chapter 4: Much Ado About Nothing
Chapter 5: The Runaway Universe
Chapter 6: The Free Lunch at the End of the Universe
Chapter 7: Our Miserable Future
Chapter 8: A Grand Accident?
Chapter 9: Nothing Is Something
Chapter 10: Nothing Is Unstable
Chapter 11: Brave New Worlds
Epilogue
Afterword by Richard Dawkins

Index

Problems with philosophers and theologians

This looks like an interesting book: The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks. He delivered this year’s Science and Democracy Lecture at Havard University’s School of Design (see Learning to love the irrational mind | Harvard Gazette).

The other day, in , I referred to a problem some philosophers have with understanding human morality. So these quotes from the report of the lecture appealed to me:

“In a wide-ranging talk, Brooks laid out the conclusions he found while searching for an explanation for “this amputation of human nature” in politics and everyday life. What he found, he said, is that scientists who study the mind, rather than theologians or philosophers, are yielding the most interesting answers to questions of what constitutes character, ethics, and virtue.”

And, according to Brooks:

“If we base policy on a shallow view of human nature … we will design policies that are not fit for actual human beings,” he said. “We will have child-rearing techniques which continue to underemphasize the most important things in life. And we will have moral discussions that will remain vague and inarticulate.”

Definitely another book I will have to read.

Circular theological arguments

Local Christian apologists have tried to outdo each other with their partisan reviews of the recent debates between their hero, WL Craig, and Lawrence Krauss and Sam Harris. Interesting that they feel the need to debate scientists to justify their god beliefs.

However, Matt Flannagan, from the blog MandM, provided a nice little example of the sort of circular arguments theologians get into in their attempts to offer a divine foundation for human morality. He wrote:

“Goodness is best understood in terms of an exemplar, that good is identified with the perfect paradigm of a good person and that the goodness of everything else is measured by its resemblance to this paradigm. An analogy to this idea is the official “metre stick” that exists in France today. The metre stick is exactly one metre long, and the length in metres of every other length is determined by comparison with it. In the same way, God is both perfectly good and is the standard of goodness for everything else. . . . To claim God is good is to claim that he is truthful, benevolent, loving, gracious, merciful and just, and that he is opposed to certain actions such as murder, rape, torturing people for fun and so on.”

So humans have designated a standard metre. At one period this was defined by the distance between two lines on the International Prototype Metre kept at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures near Paris, France. In 1960  the metre was redefined in terms of the wavelength of light emitted by the krypton-86 isotope. And then in 1983 in terms of the speed of light. (I wonder if theologians have bothered updating their god as the standard of goodness over the years?)

Just as the International Prototype Metre was defined as the standard for a useful measurement unit by humans  our theologian has defined his god as a standard defined by humans for useful human moral values. This theologian has, along with most people, concluded that honesty, benevolence, mercy and opposition to murder, rape and torture are good human values. So he has invented an artificial “person”, an “International Prototype Good Person,”  to enable calibration!

But notice – this theologian knew these human values were good well before he constructed his prototype. The same  the rest of us know these values are good – because they are based on  human nature. As I said in Foundations of human morality humans are effectively wired for The Golden Rule.

For the life of me, though, I can’t see why this theologian needs to define an “International Prototype Good Person.” Values are qualitative, not quantitative. It’s not as if we have to transfer a measurement from one person to another. Morals are not like height or girth.

If we already know what is good, and use that knowledge to define a fictional good person, so that we can then use that fictional character to find out what is good aren’t we needlessly creating a middle man? And don’t all middlemen exploit the rest of us by clipping tickets, taking a percentage or a tithe?

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Limits of logic

I have commented before on the limitations of deductive logic – see “Other ways of knowing” – some sense at last). And how easily people manipulate logic by faulty reasoning and by assuming shonky premises. Very tempting for someone with a predetermined conclusion they wish to “prove.”

This brings to mind William Lane Craig who relies on such manipulation of logic for his debating prowess. This became an issue in his recent debate with Lawrence Krauss on evidence for existence of gods. Krauss describes how Craig  “systematically distorted” facts in his “continual effort to demonstrate how high school syllogisms apparently demonstrated definitive evidence for God.” (see Lawrence Krauss vs. William Lane Craig @ Pharyngula).

It is this distortion of logic which really puts me off any debate in which Craig participates. And I don’t think debates are useful anyway as a way of conveying information anyway. So I am not tempted to waste time viewing the video.

However, I did find the comments made after the debate by Krauss, and by Craig and one of his avid supporters, interesting.

Typically Craig provides a self-congratulatory analysis after each of his debates, declaring how clever he is and how silly was his opponent. In this case (see  A brief post-mortem) Craig claimed Krauss’s understanding of cosmology was “superficial” and declared himself “frankly flabbergasted by Krauss’s opening salvo attacking logic and the probability calculus.”

One of Craig’s avid supporters attributed to Krauss the claims that “logic doesn’t work,” “2+2=5, and we don’t know anything.” This Fan’s conclusion: “Rather than acknowledge the existence of God, to which logic and sound reasoning continue to lead us, atheists reject logic and sound reasoning. Krauss, to his credit, did manage to demonstrate this with profound success: atheism is irrational!”

I have often noted that religious apologists have a problem with honesty!

However, to get back to the issue of logic and its limitations. Here is how Lawrence Krauss puts it in his comments on the debate:

“Classical human reason, defined in terms of common sense notions following from our own myopic experience of reality is not sufficient to discern the workings of the Universe. If time begins at the big bang, then we will have to re-explore what we mean by causality, just as the fact that electrons can be in two places at the same time doing two different things at the same time as long as we are not measuring them is completely nonsensical, but true, and has required rethinking what we mean by particles. Similar arguments by the way imply that we often need to rethink what we actually mean by ‘nothing’, from empty space, to the absence of space itself.”

Krauss the author

Krauss is a great populariser of science and has written a number of popular science books. His latest one, out last month, is Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science . I am looking forward to reading this – especially after Chris Mooney‘s recent interview of Krauss on a Point of Inquiry podcast (see Lawrence Krauss – Quantum Man Mar 28, 2011). The author’s enthusiasm for his subject is obvious.

And talking of books – this last comment from Lawrence Krauss in his report on the debate looks interesting:

“I have taken great effort to describe our actual understanding of the Universe and its implications for understanding how it might be possible for something to come from nothing, i.e. non-existence, in my new book, which will come out in January of 2012.”

Looking forward to that book.

See also: This video of a talk by Krauss is relevant:

‘A Universe From Nothing’ by Lawrence Krauss, AAI 2009.

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Science and morality – a panel discussion

This is the panel discussion at the Great debate “Can Science tell us Right from Wrong?” (See Telling right from wrong? for more details of this debate and workshop).

The panel includes Steven Pinker, Sam Harris, Patricia Churchland, Lawrence Krauss, Simon Blackburn, Peter Singer and Roger Bingham. They respond to questions from the audience (and the size of the audience for such a subject is heartening).

Their interaction is useful as it helps to overcome any misunderstanding any participant may have had about others points of view. Its a useful supplement to the individual presentation I have posted during this week (see Telling right from wrong – unreligiously, A philosopher comments on science and morality and A physicist comments on science and morality).

This video is 42 min long.


TSN: The Great Debate Panel, posted with vodpod

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