Tag Archives: cosmology

A Universe From Nothing

The origin of the universe is one of the biggest questions there is. Some people resort to easy answers – which don’t answer anything. But its good to know that others do take the question seriously and actively research it.

Here is a great lecture from Lawrence Krauss – “A Universe from Nothing”.

He is always an informative and entertaining lecturer. He injects quite a bit of humour into this talk he gave at the Athiest Alliance International Convention held in California earlier this month.

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

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The Galileo Lectures

I usually enjoy the NZ Royal Society Lectures. This year we have had the Galileo Lectures to mark the International Year of Astronomy.

Here are the description of the six lectures, together with links to download the podcasts. Taken from: Radio New Zealand National : Lectures & Forums : The Galileo Lectures.

The Galileo Lecture series is produced by Radio New Zealand National in partnership with the Royal Society of New Zealand. It celebrates the 2009 International Year of Astronomy, marking 400 years since Galileo used a telescope to view the solar system and transformed our understanding of Earth’s place in the Universe.

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Godless cosmology

big_bang_337975Many people try to keep science and religion separate. Even believers will compartmentalise their religious beliefs separately from their scientific knowledge. In fact, some theologians see attempts to justify religious beliefs with scientific evidence as a slippery slope. Father George Coyne, for example, warned that scientific knowledge is relative. Conclusions alter as more evidence produces better knowledge of reality. Therefore a theology which justifies itself in scientific terms lays itself open to being proven wrong (see “Scientism” in the eyes of the beholder). Specifically this warning has been made when religious leaders have tried to justify their beliefs using “big bang” cosmology (see Bad science, bad theology).

Mind you – religious apologists who get started on this slippery slope have a solution. Just ignore, or deny, new scientific knowledge. Victor Stenger describes an example of this in his contribution, Godless Cosmology, to the new book 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists.

He refers to the claim made by some apologists like Dinesh D’Souza and William Lane Craig that “big bang” cosmology shows that the universe, including space and time, started as a singularity. That this must have had an external cause – and you can guess what (or who) they claim for the cause.

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Humanity’s most important image

This is a lovely video. Brings home just how big our universe is. And that’s without consider possible other parts of an even larger universe.

Really gets you thinking.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcBV-cXVWFw

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Scientific laptop fashion?

I must upgrade my computer soon. Meanwhile I keep my eyes open to see what is available and what might be suitable for me. I have even considered a laptop – so am naturally interested in what people are using.

I recently watched the videos of the Origins Symposium. It was great and well worth the time. However, I was a little distracted by the laptops presenters used. As many of the presentations were by panels of five or so people sitting in front of the audience their laptops were often lined up in a row.

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Patricia Churchland favours Macs but steven Pinker doesn't!

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Do whatever it takes…

It’s easy to present a very stilted, formulaic, outline of the scientific method. And both supporters and opponents of science do this.

However, in reality things are usually a lot more complicated and confused. Science is done by real, imperfect, people in a real, imperfect, world.

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So, I really like this description of the scientific process given by Neil deGrasse Tyson during a recent panel discussion at the Origins Symposium held by the Arizona State University. (see Science and Society Panel Discussion with Hugh Downs, Claudia Dreifus, Ann Druyan, Lucy Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson in conversation with Roger Bingham).

Here is what Tyson said about the scientific approach:

“Do whatever it takes to not fool yourself when trying to understand the world around you.”

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Cosmological cranes – not skyhooks

In his book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea Daniel Dennett draws out the philosophical significance of evolution by natural selection. Darwin himself hesitated to apply his ideas to humanity, let alone to wider philosophical issues.

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Dennett describes how natural selection explains phenomena such as development and evolution, using “cranes”, rather than “skyhooks”. How development can arise internally rather than relying on an external “designer” or “manipulator.” He also describes natural selection as the “universal acid.” All this implies the concepts of natural selection can be applied more widely than just biology.

One application Dennett mentions is in cosmology and he briefly describes Lee Smolin’s idea of cosmological natural selection in his book. 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. It is also the year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth (February 12) and the 150th anniversary of publication of his The Origin of Species. So it is fitting to link the two commemorations and cosmological natural selection does this.

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Bad science, bad theology

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Einstein & Lemaître

Back in 1951  Georges Lemaître warned Pope Pius XII about the opportunist use of science to support religious beliefs. Lemaître, a Catholic priest and astronomer, was responsible for the initial formulation of a “big bang” theory for the origin of the universe. He was reacting to the Pope’s claim that the new theory was a scientific validation of the Catholic faith.  In his statement Lemaître said:

“As far as I can see, such a theory remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being… For the believer, it removes any attempt at familiarity with God… It is consonant with Isaiah speaking of the hidden God, hidden even in the beginning of the universe.”

Implicit in his statement was the idea that such opportunist use of science misrepresents science. It is also bad theology. This view was also articulated by Father George Coyne another Catholic priest and former Vatican astronomer (see “Scientism” in the eyes of the beholder).

Coyne points out that scientific knowledge is relative. Conclusions will alter as more evidence produces better knowledge of reality. Therefore a theology which justifies itself in scientific terms lays itself open to being proven wrong.

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Carl Sagan’s search for God

Carl SaganThis podcast from Science and the City – from the New York Academy of Sciences –  is a gem.

Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan, and Sagan’s former colleague Steve Soter  discuss the astrobiologist’s perspective on science, the spiritual experience, and the search for God.

It’s quite long but worth every minute

listen (57.1 MB)  | running time 01:23:02

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A rational universe?

Christian apologists are not known for their logic – or rather they are known for their faulty logic. And for their misrepresentation and opportunist use of science. They actually study philosophy and logic and hone these skills so as to argue for the one thing they try to “prove” – the existence of their god.

Their “arguments” are often so mechanical and rehearsed they give them names – eg. “the argument from cosmology”, “the argument from morality”, etc.

An argument local apologists seem to use a lot is the argument from rationality. This is often used childishly to claim that atheists, materialists, etc. (apologists often resort to name calling) have no basis for science because a god is required to confer order on the universe and rationality on our brains.20080501ae2

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