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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Stephen Hawking and God

Stephen Hawking may be the most well-known living scientist in the world. Confined to a wheelchair, and unable to speak, Hawking still communicates effectively. He has had an interesting life, it seems. Among other things, he has experienced free fall training with US astronauts, and had a bit role in a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, playing himself. He also wrote a best-selling book. Hawking shares a birthday with Galileo, and, until his retirement, he held the professorial chair that was once held by Isaac Newton.

Here are two quotations from Hawking, on the subject of the existence of God:
In an interview with Reuters last year, Hawking said he was "not religious in the normal sense."
"I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science," he said. "The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws." "Pope sees physicist Hawking at evolution gathering," Reuters, October 31, 2008.

Diane Sawyer asked Hawking what question he would ask the universe, if given the opportunity. He responded "I want to know why the universe exists, why there is something rather than nothing."
He also said, "There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win, because it works."
Sawyer said, in commenting on the interview, that Hawking once said that "God not only plays dice with the world, but sometimes throws the dice where they can't be seen."
ABC World News with Diane Sawyer: "Conversation with Stephen Hawking," June 7, 2010. (My original source for this has been removed by YouTube. Here is a source for the first quotation in the above paragraph.)

Hawking's thinking can be described as bold. This is obvious in his book, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes . (Bantam Books, 1988, pp. 173-4)

Brief History is a discussion of the implications of quantum gravity. See the Wikipedia article on the subject, which indicates that there are several competing theories of quantum gravity. It also says (version of July 28, 2010) that all these theories ". . . face the common problem that, as yet, there is no way to put quantum gravity predictions to experimental tests. . ." Hawking's view belongs to the Sum Over Histories group of theories, according to the book, and also according to a history (as of 2000, published in 2001, but the on-line verson has a 2008 date) of theories in quantum gravity, by Rovelli. (See here.) So, although Hawking may be right, he may also be wrong, and currently there isn't any way to prove that he is right. He is understandably enthusiastic about his own approach, but does not dogmatically state that he is right.

The book is only 175 pages long, with only one equation, and minimal scholarly apparatus. It sold very well. Hawking's point is to let it be known that his theory of quantum gravity may indicate that the universe, rather than having had a definite beginning, is eternal. (I'm don't know if the other theories also do this) Hawking makes clear that he thinks such a truth would profoundly change our view of God's activity, in fact meaning that there is no God. Kitty Ferguson, author of The Fire in the Equations: Science, Religion & the Search for God. says, I believe correctly, that Hawking writes as if the possibility that his theory ". . . erases our need for a God is far more reason for celebrating than the fact that the theory makes a new part of this mysterious universe accessible to human beings." (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995. See here for my most recent post on the book. p. 76. Ferguson's title is a quotation from Brief History, and she indicates that Hawking read at least part of her manuscript before her book was published. See below.)

There have been past occasions where scientific understanding has led to a re-thinking of our role in the universe. Two of the most important are the astronomical findings that show that the earth is a small planet, orbiting a rather mediocre star, in an ordinary galaxy, and that living things on earth seem to have arisen from one, or at most a few, common ancestors, over a very long period of time. These both caused, and, to some degree are still causing, theological upheavals. But I don't think that they necessarily destroy, or even diminish, belief in an omnipotent divine Creator, and I'm not alone in such belief. In fact, these scientific revolutions make many believers more confident of God's power.

Suppose Hawking is correct about quantum gravity and the universe -- bearing in mind that we don't know that. What are the possibilities?
First, it is possible that there is no God, and there doesn't need to be one, because the universe is eternal, and did not have a beginning.
Second, God, much as Christians believe in Him, is part of the universe, co-existent, and, perhaps, playing an important creative part in its development.
Third, God created the universe at some point in time, and created it with an appearance of age, so that there is evidence that supports Hawking's ideas, but that evidence is misleading.

All of these would, of course, have profound implications for theology, and Hawking says just that, on his pages 173 and 174.

But, as indicated above, Hawking at least entertains the idea that God started things:
Science seems to have uncovered a set of laws that, within the limits set by the uncertainty principle, tell us how the universe will develop with time, if we know its state at any one time. These laws may have originally been decreed by God, but it appears that he has since left the universe to evolve according to them and does not now intervene in them. But how did he choose the initial state or configuration of the universe? What were the "boundary conditions" at the beginning of time?
One possible answer is to say that God chose the initial configuration of the universe for reasons that we cannot hope to understand. This would certainly have been within the power of an omnipotent being, but if he had started it off in such an incomprehensible way, why did he choose to let it evolve according to laws that we could understand? The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired. (page 122. The color used indicates a block quotation.)

On page 125, Hawking tells us that "The laws of science, as we know them at prestent, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron." The values of these He goes on to say that the values of these various physical constants "seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life," and indicates that values that were much different would have made life, as we know it, impossible, and, in fact, the stars, as we know them, impossible, also. He also says that, so far, there is no theory which would have predicted these particular values for these constants. This may be taken as evidence for a Creator, or as evidence for the Strong Anthropic Principle.

On pages 126-7, he writes about the initial conditions of the universe, which, he says, must have been in a narrow range of temperatures, so as to allow the cosmic background radiation to be so uniform. There must have also been a constricted rate of expansion, because if it were much different, the universe would have collapsed. "It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us." (p. 127)

On pages 136-7, Hawking says this: "I'd like to emphasize that this idea that time and space should be finite without boundary is just a proposal: it cannot be deduced from some other principle. Like any other scientific theory, it may initially be put forward for aesthetic or metaphysical reasons, but the real test is whether it makes predictions that agree with observation." (emphasis in original) He goes on to say that it will be difficult to even make predictions, let alone test them.

On page 160, the author sets forth three possibilities:
1) There really is a unified theory, which will tie all the forces of nature, the elementary particles into an explanation that ties them together, and also explains the constants referred to previously in the book.
2) No such theory exists, but we may be able to explain the phenomena indicated with better and better theories, as time passes.
3) There is no such theory, and there is an underlying randomness and unpredictability to the universe.
He goes on to say that some would argue for the 3rd possibility, because it allows God freedom to act. But, says Hawking, God is said to exist outside of time, so there is no reason that He couldn't intervene by making laws in a certain way initially, and, also act sub-atomically, operating through the events which the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle doesn't let us predict, or even measure. Hawking says that current experience seems to indicate that the second possibility is the one we are experiencing.

Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence? Or does it need a creator, and, if so, does he have any other effect on the universe? And who created him? (page 174)

Thanks for reading.

*  *  *  *

As indicated above, I added a source to replace one that is no longer available. I did this on April 13, 2012.

*  *  *  *

As of July 22, 2012, I am disabling comments on this post, because I have gotten dozens of spam comments on it. Feel free to comment on a different post, and refer to something in this one, not to politics, etc., if you are a real person. Thanks.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Defining Intelligent Design: The BioLogos forum attempts it

The BioLogos Forum, an important resource for Christians interested in science, or the reverse (although the emphasis is on biology) has attempted to define Intelligent Design (ID). It isn't easy.

You may comment on their attempt.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sunspots 271

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:



Science:Karl Giberson says that science is not like politics.

Wired reports that Colorado marmots have been hibernating for a shorter period, because it's been warmer. There are probably going to be other effects.

Politics:
(or race) A new book deals with the problem of "acting white," according to a review. ("Acting white" is an accusation leveled at blacks who show signs of high achievement in school, and is made by other blacks. It has caused quite a few potential leaders to fail to achieve academic excellence.)

An NPR interview with Van Jones, former Obama White House employee, who resigned over accusations that he had signed a petition claiming that President Bush had allowed the 9/11 attacks for political purposes. (Jones denies having signed the petition.) The really interesting part was that Jones commended Glen Beck for staying out of the Shirley Sherrod mess. There should be more examples of praise for people who don't agree with us, when they do the right thing.

Sports:
(or politics) Sports Illustrated reports on a court decision -- cheerleading is not a sport.



Image source (public domain)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Timeline of the Kings of the Southern Kingdom, aka Judah

Timeline, Kings of Southern Kingdom

The chart above is free for anyone to use, provided that they don't use it for financial gain of any kind.

The chart, itself, is a link to my Flickr page, where you can find a larger, hence higher resolution, image, if you wish to see or share it.

Thanks for looking.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Some nuggets from the "Begats"

Some time ago, as part of my regular Bible reading, I read from the "begats" from 1 Chronicles. These are not usually considered to be very inspiring, although some people think that the Prayer of Jabez, which is found in this part of the Bible, is inspiring.

Here is some of what I found.

The Israelites were occasionally commanded to preserve racial purity, but clearly there were exceptions. There were at least two Egyptians who were part of the Israelite congregation, both of them married to members of the tribe of Judah.
1Chronicles 2:34 Now Sheshan had no sons, but daughters. And Sheshan had a servant, an Egyptian, whose name was Jarha. 35 And Sheshan gave his daughter to Jarha his servant to wife; and she bare him Attai. (All scripture quotations in this post are from the King James Version.)

1Chronicles 4:17 And the sons of Ezra were, Jether, and Mered, and Epher, and Jalon: and she bare Miriam, and Shammai, and Ishbah the father of Eshtemoa. 18 And his wife Jehudijah bare Jered the father of Gedor, and Heber the father of Socho, and Jekuthiel the father of Zanoah. And these are the sons of Bithiah the daughter of Pharaoh, which Mered took.
It is interesting that one of the two Egyptians was a servant, and the other was apparently from the Egyptian royalty.

1Chronicles 6:1 The sons of Levi; Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. 2 And the sons of Kohath; Amram, Izhar, and Hebron, and Uzziel. 3 And the children of Amram; Aaron, and Moses, and Miriam. The sons also of Aaron; Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.
Some have tried to use genealogies in the Bible to establish dates, such as Ussher's chronology. These verses cast doubt on the validity of doing that. According to Exodus 12:40, the Jews were in Egypt 430 years. The only person in that list who could have spent his entire life in Egypt was Amram. By this time, people were not living much longer than they were today, so there aren't enough people to fill a 430 year time span. Almost certainly, some people were left out. Francis Schaeffer, for one, did not believe that the genealogies were meant to be used to develop a chronology, or could be used to develop an accurate one. (Genesis in space and time: the flow of biblical history. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1972, pp. 122-125. See also here.) He cites a number of other verses which indicate the unsuitability of the genealogies for developing a chronology.

In chapter 7, I discovered that a woman is given credit for building some towns:
1Ch 7:22 And Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him. 23 And when he went in to his wife, she conceived, and bare a son, and he called his name Beriah, because it went evil with his house. 24 (And his daughter was Sherah, who built Bethhoron the nether, and the upper, and Uzzensherah.)
That was remarkable. Since two of these villages are mentioned in Joshua 10:10-11, which was before the division of the land among the tribes, it seems possible that Sherah rebuilt the two Bethhorons, after they were destroyed by Joshua and his army. The Bible doesn't say if she did the planning and the physical labor involved, if she financed the building, if she supervised the building, or some combination of these. Two of these villages are still in existence.

Do I have all the answers? Certainly not. Neither do you. But the Bible seems always capable of introducing us to new nuggets of truth. Thanks for reading. Read the Bible.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

DNA barcoding

Yes, you read the title correctly.

DNA barcoding doesn't exactly use the bar code reader that you see in your local grocery store, but the principles are similar. It is possible to find out the source of biological material with this technique. For example, a couple of high school students found that quite a bit of the food for sale in New York City was mis-labeled, not the species it was supposed to be.

There is (of course) a Wikipedia article on DNA barcoding. It tells us that, for animals, DNA barcoding identification depends on a gene found in mitochondria. It also indicates that there has been controversy over the technique.

The Barcode of Life web site has more information, including links to research articles done with the technique. I discovered that, given a laboratory with proper equipment, it is possible to match a sample with a known species for a few dollars in a couple of hours.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Postponement due to ignorance

I have been posting on Kitty Ferguson's book, The Fire in the Equations: Science, Religion & the Search for God. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995)

I have decided that, in order to do Ferguson's book justice, I need to re-read Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, which I haven't read for at least 15 years, probably more. As I have yet to obtain a copy (I've requested one) it will be a while before that series continues.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sunspots 270

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:




Science:Wired reports on scientists at MIT, who are doing research on "fibers that can be fashioned into clothes capable of capturing speech, textiles that can measure blood flow in the capillaries or nets that can double as sound sensors."

NPR reports that there are insects -- LOTS of them -- flying or floating up in the air above us.

Politics:
You probably didn't know that the Iroquois lacrosse team wanted to participate in the world cup of lacrosse, but didn't, according to NPR, because they refused to use passports other than those from the Iroquois nation, and the UK refused to recognize these passports. The Iroquois invented the sport, a long time ago, and the team has participated in previous tournaments. The Iroquois are from New York, Quebec and Montreal.

Christianity:
(or science)
Todd Wood, a Young-Earth Creationist with impeccable scientific credentials, defines and defends evolution.




Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Can Science Explain Everything? Anything?" by Steven Weinberg

Steven Weinberg is a Nobel laureate in physics, and the author of ten books, at least some of which are aimed at an intelligent lay audience. (It is possible that all of them are, but the only one I have read is his The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe. Here's the link to the Amazon page on the book, and here is a link to a service I am not familiar with, namely Questia, through which, apparently, you can read the entire book on-line.) My impression is that Weinberg has been a highly qualified scientist, and also one who has thought deeply about the relationship between science and society. As nearly as I can figure out, he is a liberal Jew. I don't know whether he is a religious Jew or not.

On May 31, 2001, an article that Weinberg had written for the New York Review of Books was published. I saved that article at about that time. As far as I can determine, it is no longer available freely on-line. The article has the title given in quotes in the title of this blog post. The article is available, at cost, or with a proper membership, here.

I wish to muse about the article.

Early in the article, Weinberg asserts that "There is no purpose revealed in the laws of nature." Soon after, he indicates that science declines to discuss the question of purpose in nature, although theology claims to look for such.

Much of the article is given to a discussion of the meanings of the words "explanation," "fundamental," "deduced," "principle," and "description." This is an important discussion, and Weinberg brings considerable insight, and, I believe, even some clarity to this discussion. He concludes that science can, indeed, explain some things. Then he moves to the question of whether science can explain everything.

Weinberg claims that there are some types of phenomena that science, or scientists, cannot explain. These include the following:

The results of accidents, wherein we cannot know all the initial conditions that led up to the accident. (Weinberg indicates, that, in these cases, if we did know all the initial conditions, we could explain the phenomenon.) He gives some examples, one of which is a comparison between the assassination of President Lincoln and the attempted assassination of President Truman. Weinberg says that we will never be able to explain completely why one assassination attempt resulted in a murder, but the other didn't.

He says that we cannot explain moral principles: "The moral postulates that tell us whether we should or should not do [some particular action] so cannot be deduced from our scientific knowledge."

He further says that we will never be sure how good our current explanations are.

Finally, Weinberg says that we cannot explain the most basic scientific principles, and does not believe that we will ever be able to do so.

He does not say so, but I would add to his list that we cannot explain why there is something, rather than nothing. This relates to the first statement from the article that I quoted, and it seems that Weinberg believes that that is another question that science is not going to be able to explain, although he doesn't say so explicitly.

Weinberg has by no means given up on science. He thinks that we should work toward finding a Theory of Everything. He does not seem to believe that, even if such a theory is found, it will explain everything. That is, we will only know that, whatever the equations of such a theory might be, we won't know why they are as they are.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Free security software

Gizmo's Freeware has posted an extensive annotated list of free security software of various types.

The web site suggests that this is probably the most comprehensive list of this type currently available.

Look it over, and help yourself. (I have not checked out each and every item, lest there be any doubt. I do use some of these utilities.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Evidence of God's reality

Perhaps I should post my reasons for believing in God.

I am well aware that a large part of my reason for believing in God is my upbringing, and my past history, including my associations. But other people have had very similar upbringing, and, at least for part of their lives, a similar past history, and do not believe as I do.

To me, the convincing evidence of God's existence is multiple, and includes the Bible, my conscience, the work of the Holy Spirit in my own life, and the evidence of nature (See Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:20 for the latter.). But the most important evidence is that Christianity works radically, so much that it can be noticed. It works in people, whose behavior changes, in ways almost everyone, even non-believers, would agree was for the better, after a conversion experience. Does it work that way in everyone? No. But in many, enough that it's hard to doubt that something real is going on.

When I see someone's transformed life, or see that my own life has been transformed in such a way as to be kinder and less selfish -- more Christ-like -- that is evidence for me. I understand fully that such matters are subjective, and cannot be rigorously tested by others, at least not in the way that scientists test hypotheses by experimentation. But all of us make various important choices, such as who to marry, what political party to belong to, what kind of auto to buy, or what athletic team to support, based, largely or entirely, on subjective evidence, or, sometimes, apparently, no evidence at all.

I think God respects us enough that He allows us to make up our own minds about His existence, and if His existence could be proved like a Euclidean theorem, we would almost be forced to believe in it.

The Bible says that our belief is important. John 3:16 tells us that we need to believe. Ephesians 2:8 tells us that salvation (our part of it) comes by faith.

You may also want to look at my post "What Christians Believe."

Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Elizabeth Moon, naturalist

Elizabeth Moon is an honored writer of fantastic literature. She won the Nebula Award for her The Speed of Dark. She is the author of good books in more than one genre of fantastic literature. (See here for one of my posts on a fantasy series by Moon.)

Moon is a blogger. In fact, she has two blogs. One of those mostly details the hard work necessary to write for a living. The other, however, is about the Texas land that she and her family have tried to bring back to its natural condition. I recommend a essay by Moon, illustrated by some of her photos, about small predators on this land, or, rather, in and around a body of water on this land.

Thanks for reading. Read Elizabeth Moon.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Science & the Search for God, part 3

I have been posting on Kitty Ferguson's book, The Fire in the Equations: Science, Religion & the Search for God. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995) In my next to last post (see link in previous sentence) I attempted, following Ferguson, to discuss the idea that science has limits. My last post on the book was a compilation of comments on that next to last post.

In the post that was all mine, I quoted one of the great scientists of the previous century, who said, basically, that science cannot tell us why science works. That scientist, Richard Feynman, was not, so far as I know, a believer in a personal God of any sort. (I have read a couple of biographies of Feynman, and they don't mention or suggest such belief.) I would paraphrase Ferguson thus: "There are things that science cannot explain, or that are outside the legitimate realm of science." Does this prove that God exists? No. Does it mean that God must be invoked to explain why science works, or why science frequently seems to succeed when it follows a quest for elegance? I don't think so.

I continue with chapter three of Ferguson.

On her page 74, Ferguson says that, if there is a God, that, in itself, means that there are, most likely, limits to what science can discover.

She goes on to say that God might be better served by trying to prove He does not exist, and failing to do so, than by attempting scientific proof that he does. She draws a parallel with the Big Bang theory, which, originally, was not believed by most scientists. However, that previous disbelief, and the fact that the main evidence for the Big Bang was discovered by scientists who were not looking for such evidence, are now powerful arguments for an initial Big Bang.

Then, writes Ferguson:
A Brief History of Time [by Stephen Hawking] and The Blind Watchmaker [by Richard Dawkins] are two of the finest books ever written for the popular science audience, and both authors seem obsessed with God. Whether or not it is true, both give the impression that the fact that the scientific theory they are writing about erases our need for a God is far more reason for celebrating than the fact that the theory makes a new part of this mysterious universe accessible to human beings. This can't be called a religiously neutral point of view. Science, for Hawking and Dawkins, is not essentially Godless. (p. 76).

In her acknowledgments section, Ferguson thanks both Hawking and Dawkins (and others) for reading and commenting on parts of The Fire in the Equations. She doesn't indicate what parts they read, or what they said about her manuscript.

If Ferguson had written later, she might, or might not, have considered The God Delusion by Dawkins. That book, published after hers, is about what you might expect from its title.

I have read both of the books cited by Ferguson. It's been a while. However, my impression is that her assessment is correct. Both of these important writers do seem to celebrate erasing the need for a God. The later book by Dawkins certainly does.

On page 79, the author puts out an interesting idea. Many people, including, I suppose, most scientists who have thought about the question "why do we have the ability to do science?" believe that our thinking ability is present because it has been selected for. That is, our ancestors must have been able to think, and in ways that helped them to survive and produce viable offspring, more than their peers who weren't able to think as well. Not only that, but even the type of thinking that we do must have been selected for, at least in part, for the same reason. Ferguson suggests that, should there be any intelligent life forms on other planets, they might also be able to think, but might have been selected, because of differences in their environment, in a way different from humans. That, she supposes, might make their science, should they have any, rather different than ours.

I understand that some readers might disagree seriously with the idea that the ability to think, or the way we think, may be the way they are in us humans, at least partly, because of natural selection. But most scientists, especially non-Christian ones, believe it, if they have thought about the question.

On page 84, Ferguson says the following:
. . . hasn't science proved to us in more positive ways than 'Sorry, can't study it' that the supernatural world is only a trick of the brain, only psychological experiences, at most unusual but altogether natural occurrences? Hasn't it shown that what we call God is only the laws of physics, or wishful thinking? Hasn't it shown that meaning is only interpretation -- meaning in the eye of the beholder? And isn't there already good evidence that human mind and personality are only the product of complex physical mechanisms?
No. Science has not yet been able to offer us a complete physical explanation in any of these four areas; we do not know that it has the capacity ever to do so; we do not know whether there are, even in principle, unknowable physical explanations. (84)
Ferguson goes on to say that if such an explanation was forthcoming, for any of these matters, we would still not be sure that it was the only possible explanation. She does not claim, as I see it, that the lack of explanation in these areas proves the existence of God.

This, for now at least, concludes my published musings on Chapter 3 of The Fire in the Equations. Thanks for reading. I expect to continue the series.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sunspots 269

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:



Science:Wired reports (with photos) on some new species of deep ocean organisms. They are beautiful.

He Lives lists some (so far undiscovered) scientific findings that would cause him to lose his Christian faith.


Christianity:Karl Giberson asks some questions about the Appearance of Age in Genesis.



Image source (public domain)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Yes, study the oil spill, and protect Texas

According to the Miami Herald, a group of scientists are proposing that, before the Gulf Oil Spill well is capped, we learn as much about it as we can. How much oil and natural gas are really escaping, where are they going, and what are their effects.

This seems reasonable to me, but it's probably expecting too quick a reaction from BP and federal bureaucracies to expect it to happen.

The Houston Chronicle has an opinion piece which says, again, I believe, correctly, that, with the current and impending destruction of estuaries in the path of the escaped oil, similar locations along the Texas coast are suddenly much more important, and steps should be taken to protect them more carefully than they are now. BP should pay for some of this, too.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Saul - bad choices

The story of Saul, in the Bible, is about as sad a tale as has ever been told. Why do I say this?

God chose Saul to be king. See here and here.

Saul was a humble person. He told Samuel that he wasn't worthy of the office. At the convocation where Saul knew that he was going to be named as king, instead of getting a new robe and hiring a band, Saul hid himself away from the people. When he was named king publicly by Samuel, and acclaimed by the people, there is no record that he started out to build himself a palace, or hire bodyguards. Instead, he apparently went home to the family farm and went back to work.

Saul had some sort of conversion-like experience, and prophesied.

But Saul made some terrible choices.

The first one recorded is when he took upon himself to offer a sacrifice to God, rather than waiting for Samuel to do it.

Another bad choice was when he was told to lead the Israelites against the Amalekites, and to destroy their entire population, and their animals. Saul didn't kill the Amalekite king, nor did he and his soldiers kill all of the animals. He told Samuel that the animals were kept so that they could be offered as sacrifices.
1Sa 15:22 And Samuel said, Hath Jehovah as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Jehovah? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. Because thou hast rejected the word of Jehovah, he hath also rejected thee from being king.(ASV)


In the end, Saul was defeated in battle, and tried to commit suicide. (The Bible is not clear as to whether he succeeded, or whether someone else finished him off.)
A sad story. No wonder that there are a lot more boys named David than Saul.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

God and quantum indeterminacy

In a previous post, I briefly discussed, in relation to a book by Kitty Ferguson, what modern physics says about the unpredictability of sub-atomic particles. This fundamental uncertainty may be a way for God to act without being detected:

Let's say that God wants to alter my consciousness in a certain way (so as to communicate a message to me) or to alter the course of a disease. If we assume determinism, then either God couldn't do it, or God would have to, at least temporarily, suspend natural causal determinism in order to do it. This alternative depends on whether we think of determinism as true independently of God or as an order established by God, and hence subject to cancellation at God's pleasure. But on quantum theory there is no such problem. The relevant physical laws only provide for a large probability or one outcome rather than another in a given situation. And the highly improbable can sometimes happen without violating probability laws. Hence God can, consistent with quantum theory, do something to bring about a physically improbable outcome in one or more instances without any violation of physical law. And even if these interventions are all on the sub-atomic level, they can, if properly chosen (and presumably God would be in a position to do so), snowball so as to make a difference to macroscopic states of affairs. Hence, divine activity that makes specific differences at particular times and places is quite consistent with a quantum theory of physical causality. Perhaps God designed the universe to operate in accordance with probabilistic laws so as to give room for God to enter the process as an agent. William P. Alston, "Divine Action, Human Freedom, and the Laws of Nature," pp. 185-206 in Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, 2nd edition, ed. by Robert John Russell, Nancey Murphy and C. J. Isham. (Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory, 1996) Quote is from pp. 188-9.

Note that I said "may." As a matter of fact, Alston, the author, says that he does not believe that it is necessary to invoke quantum indeterminacy to explain God's action. He believes that God's occasional action is compatible with physics at not only the micro level, but at the macro level. I, too, suppose that God is quite capable of acting on quarks and neutrinos, but also on mountains and planets. Believing that God operates only on things we don't understand is a dangerous type of theology known as "God of the gaps." If God is God, He is God not only of things we can't explain or predict, but of things that we can. As a friend of mine once said, "God is not just the God of eternity. He is also the God of 2 + 2." The danger of such a belief is that, as we think we understand more and more, we push God more and more into irrelevancy, in our own minds. Just because we think we understand, say, the orbits of the planets, does not mean that God had nothing to do with them, anymore than understanding how, say, a kitchen range works doesn't mean that someone (or a lot of someones) didn't originally invent them.

I expect to continue the series with more direct musings on Ferguson's book in the near future. Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Science & the Search for God: A Reaction

I have been posting on Kitty Ferguson's book, The Fire in the Equations: Science, Religion & the Search for God. The previous post is here.

There has been an exchange of views between a reader and me, as a result of that post. I thought that it was serious, and perhaps interesting enough, that I ought to reproduce the exchange as a separate post, and have done so, with the permission of the commenter. Inserted material, not in the original comments, is in square brackets - [thus].

Pete DeSanto said

After reading this chapter, I am having serious misgivings about the direction that Ferguson seems headed. She dwells a lot on what science CAN'T do, almost as if she is making the bed of ignorance in which god will rest.

There is a lot of discussion about preconceptions and how that affects the "emergence of scientific knowledge" that seems to ignore the fact that what emerges is always due to the questioning of our preconceptions! How else to explain the move away from natural theology? We have removed the need for god to explain the how to needing god to explain the why, despite centuries of religious claims to truth. Religious preconceptions were overcome with evidence (under penalty of physical and spiritual death), why should we not expect that secular biases will also not be overcome should that be required by evidence?

I would also like to see more contrast of science with Ferguson's religion. E.g. how does religion deal with questioning of preconceptions? How does society and culture influence and change religious belief? Most importantly, what checks are used to determine if a school of religious thought is valid?

I fear Ferguson is digging herself a hole which will collapse in upon itself.

[There was another comment, not germane, by another person, at this point.]

Martin LaBar said

Perhaps so, Pete DeSanto.

My own view is that her comments about what science can't do are a welcome voice. I wouldn't characterize her as proposing a strong argument for God's existence. I would characterize her as showing, in a number of ways, that science can't disprove God's existence. I'm re-reading as I post, and will try to deal with this in due time, perhaps not satisfactorily. I have decided that it makes more sense to write about the book in the order it was written.

As always, thank you for your comments.

Martin LaBar said

Thanks again for your comment, Pete DeSanto. After reading it again, and my response, I apologize for not responding more thoroughly.

First, there are two kinds of preconceptions related to science. One of them is a preconception about what sort of result you will find. There was, at one time, a preconception that protein was the genetic material. And you are quite right. Perhaps the greatest strength of science is that that sort of preconception gets discarded, as discoveries are made.

The second kind of preconception is about the very nature of things, or the scientific enterprise. The quotation from Feynman, [see previous post, in the first link above] as I read and understand it, shows an example of that. Scientists have a preconception that nature will let us discover things. There are other preconceptions of this type, the most fundamental one being that our senses are giving us reasonably accurate information about the world around us.

Certainly, religion has its own preconceptions, and they can be dangerous in a number of ways. But religion gets questioned a lot. There are atheists in a position to do so, and competing religions that question each other. Ferguson's book, to me, in a sentence, says that science is great, but it doesn't tell us everything. It is not principally a book about religion.

Thanks again.

Pete DeSanto said

Feynman was certainly entitled to his opinions, but I think the jury is out on such things. You can always ask a deeper "why?" that doesn't have an immediate answer and assert that it is a matter of metaphysics and not science. In any case, the scientific approachability of nature is not an a priori assumption, but one discovered only after centuries of trial and error at determining answers to questions about nature. It so happens to be shown valid throughout the history of science.

Not to be insolent here, but show me a scientist who begins an experiment with the notion that nature will let us discover things. I would suggest that most experiments (and most human endeavors) are prefaced by the question, "Will this work?" and little else. The fact that we can use results from one experiment to predict expectations of other experiments in a wonderful thing, but certainly not one that was presumed with certainty absent evidence that it might indeed be the case. There was no shining moment when one person claimed such a thing and a whole realm of knowledge was suddenly opened to us. It took considerable effort by many people to come to the point of realization that nature is approachable analytically instead of by revelation.

Comments about what science can't do abound. Answering those comments with "therefore god" is special pleading. Science can't disprove the tooth fairy or santa claus either, yet no one considers that a valid argument for their existence. So I agree that she does not make even a weak argument for the existence of god.

I think it's a bit disingenuous of Ferguson to make arguments about science's inability to disprove any god and then use that to make claims about a specific god. I.e. she uses examples of the Christian god throughout, but not any other.

As for the questioning of religious preconceptions, let's be clear that in the short time during which such questioning was not punishable by death or excommunication the result is ever more divergence in religion. Witness the thousands of Christian denominations based on various interpretations stemming from one group breaking off from another denomination. The situation is quite the reverse in science, where the number of diverse hypotheses gets whittled down to converge upon only those that are best supported by the evidence.

Martin LaBar said [Not as a comment, but as part of this post.]

Thanks again, Pete DeSanto, both for the comments, and for agreeing to allow me to post them as part of a full blog post.

First, let me say something about your comments about religion. I reiterate that my impression is that the book is not primarily about religion, but about science. To summarize it: Ferguson argues that science has its limits. That being said,  perhaps the book would have been stronger if it had dealt with, say, Hinduism. But the three major monotheistic religions of the West, splintered as they may be, are the most influential ones, by far, for the audience who was likely to read the book.

Second, about Christianity. Yes, it is true that Christianity is divided into thousands of denominations. I am not an expert in Christian denominational history, and have no plans to become such an expert, so I don't want to say more about this beyond this paragraph. I will say that I agree that this splintering of Christianity can, indeed, be taken as evidence that we Christians have some serious difficulties in interpreting God's revelation. I think that it is also true that pride and human traditions have led to some of the fracturing of the church. I can see that it would be possible to take this as evidence that God's revelation is non-existent, or at least not relevant. My own experience with God, and what I believe that God has done for me, in spite of my own failure to understand all of what He is saying, and in spite of the flawed humans who introduced me to Christ and accompany me on my Christian journey now, is far more important than these human failures. God is able to work through a church, or a person, with human limitations, even human sins. That's not an excuse for sin.

You mention punishment by Christians for disagreement. That was, and even is, reprehensible. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 7:21-23, when he said that he never knew some who said "Lord, Lord." (He may have also been referring to some church splitters.) Such things happened, and, a little bit, are still happening, and I'm deeply sorry that they did and are. They were and are wrong -- sinful. I can't do anything about them. I don't want to say more about this, either.

Third, about the main issue -- the limits of science.

You say "You can always ask a deeper 'why?' that doesn't have an immediate answer and assert that it is a matter of metaphysics and not science." That is true. You always can, and to say so is not to trivialize the situation. I contend, and I believe there are a lot of good philosophers, and even scientists, by no means all of them believers, who agree, and would go further, saying that the answers to some "why?" questions are not scientifically answerable, in principle. As I understand him, Feynman did exactly that in the quotation referred to above. Probably the most fundamental such question is "Why is there anything?" That is not a trivial question. Science cannot answer it. I don't think we have any better answer than that God willed it to be so. Perhaps you are right about the approachability of nature not being an assumption, but I don't believe that there is a scientific answer to why nature is approachable.

Let me be as clear as I can about one thing that I am not saying. Should every scientist have a doctorate in the philosophy of science, in order to work at, say, NIH or NASA? No. I have a Doctor of Philosophy degree, but have never had a course in philosophy, either as a graduate or undergraduate student. I expect that that shows sometimes. Most of what most scientists do, and this is the way it should be, is what Thomas Kuhn called "normal science." The Wikipedia article that that link refers to says, following Kuhn, that such work is "not actually challenging or attempting to test the underlying assumptions of that theory." (This and other quotations from the Wikipedia are from the version of July 8, 2010.) That is not a put-down of normal science. It's important. But it's not everything.

It is also not reasonable to expect that most scientists will even care about such matters, or should. But what I am saying is that science, as an enterprise, ought to be careful not to claim, or to give the impression, that all questions can be solved through science. The general public should not believe that, either.

I will go further. There are not only limits to science, but limits within science. In the first post on Ferguson's book, I pointed out that current science says that, at the sub-atomic level, there are things that we cannot know, and that this ignorance is not going to disappear with more expensive instrumentation or more exact measurement. Quantum mechanics could be wrong, I know, but these ideas have been around for the better part of a century now, and show no sign of being overturned. It is also true that mathematics, which is closely tied to science, has a gap in what it is possible to know. To quote from the Wikipedia article that that link refers to, speaking of mathematical systems, "one particular arithmetic truth the system cannot prove is the consistency of the system itself." This idea, too, has been around for the better part of a century, and shows no sign of disappearing.

I should also point out, I guess, that I believe that there are two kinds of "gaps" in scientific knowledge. One such is fundamental gaps, gaps such as the above. Another type is gaps of ignorance. We don't, for example, know what all of the genes in the human genome are, let alone what all of them do. But there is no good reason not to try to find out, doing normal science as we go. For another example, we may not be able to explain exactly how a particular characteristic might have arisen from some pre-existing organism. But that's no reason to suppose that such an explanation will never be found.

Now for another thing that I am not saying. I am not saying, and I don't think Ferguson is, either, that the above limits to science, or others not covered here, are a proof that there is a God. My belief in God does not rest on the limitations of science. The current Intelligent Design movement seems to be acting as if it does, which is both a scientific and a religious mistake. If there is a God, then He is responsible for both what we can understand, and what we can't. If a scientific explanation can be found, that doesn't mean that God wasn't involved, any more than knowledge of how internal combustion engines work proves that humans didn't invent them. My belief in God rests on faith. (Hebrews 11:3) That science has its limits is consistent with that faith.

(You have pointed out, referring to a chapter I haven't posted on yet, that Ferguson may, indeed, be proposing a God-of-the-gaps theology. I expect to deal with that issue again when I post on that chapter. It's an important issue.)

You say, "It took considerable effort by many people to come to the point of realization that nature is approachable analytically instead of by revelation." That is true. Nature is approachable analytically, and, for science, that method is much more likely to yield useful results than trying to approach nature by revelation. In fact, the analytical approach does a pretty good job of opening God's revelation through nature to us. (Psalm 19:1-4, Romans 1:20.) But the analytical method does have its limits. In my first post on Ferguson's book, I paraphrased her list of five assumptions needed for the analytical method to work. The very first assumption, namely that nature has patterns and predictability, is not always true, as I indicated in the paragraph above about sub-atomic unpredictability. Ferguson also discusses chaos theory. Her book is the most that I have read about that subject, so I can't say much about it, but there is a Wikipedia article on Chaos Theory, which says that some systems (such as the weather, and many more) are unpredictable, at least with our present knowledge and instrumentation. The other four assumptions are also not universally applicable. The challenges to their applicability come from scientific thinking, not some sort of religious attack.

Thanks again for your comments, Pete DeSanto. Thanks to any other readers, should there be any such!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Sunspots 268

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:


Science:Wired has posted six close-up photos of insect eyes. Worth a look.

Wired also posted an article reporting on the discovery that changes in a single gene, which produces a pheromone - a sex attractant chemical - in moths, can lead to reproductive isolation, which is believed to be the first step in a single species becoming divided into more than one.

Christianity:
Henry Neufeld on what to do when someone believes something that's wrong.



Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Science & the Search for God, part 2

I am attempting a series on Kitty Ferguson's book, The Fire in the Equations: Science, Religion & the Search for God. Here is the first post, in which Ferguson points out five assumptions which scientists have operated under for the last couple of centuries, at least, and which have been considered necessary to do science. She also points out that recent scientific thinking has indicated areas where each one of these assumptions may not hold.

In her third chapter, Ferguson considers us -- the observers. Some thinkers believe that modern physics tells us that the observer determines what reality is. Ferguson doesn't go nearly that far, but she does think that what is perceived is not merely an objective reality. She writes:

Can our point of view affect what we find? You don't have to believe things are as uncertain on all levels as they are on the quantum level to see that it can. Nor do you have to believe that a point of view changes objective reality. The choice of an experiment that is more likely to coax out one set of evidence than another; the choice based on a theory as to which evidence will be more significant and ought to be coaxed out; the choice of which theory we ought to take seriously . . . such choices don't change objective reality, but they do help determine what we perceive as reality and what will emerge as scientific knowledge. (p. 41, ellipsis in original)

She discusses the discovery of the W and Z bosons, and concludes, I believe correctly, that they could not have been discovered without the prior proposal of a theory that predicted them. In other words, the observers were, in large measure, determining what reality looked like.

Ferguson continues with a discussion of beauty in science, and the choice of theories. Ferguson does not quote Richard Feynman, but I will:
What is it about nature that lets this happen, that it is possible to guess from one part what the rest is going to do? That is an unscientific question: I do not know how to answer it, and therefore I am going to give an unscientific answer. I think it is because nature has a simplicity and therefore a great beauty. Richard Feynman, "Seeking New Laws," pp. 143-167, in Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law, New York: Modern Library, 1994. Quote is from p. 167.

I point out two things about that quotation. First, Feynman, one of the great scientists of the twentieth century, says that science can't explain why nature is susceptible to our examination. Second, scientists, especially in physics, are attracted by theories that have simplicity and beauty.

Ferguson briefly mentions some other ideas that bring the idea that scientific findings are especially objective, and unassailable, into question. One of them is that mathematics, on which the physical sciences depend, is a construct that has to be assumed -- it can't be shown, by mathematics, to be complete. Another idea is the importance of important scientists -- they can influence what is studied, or what is believed, even when they are wrong. Science is also influenced by the culture that surrounds it:
We're all to a certain extent prisoners of the mind-set of our culture and time in ways so inherently part of us that none of us can discern exactly how we and our science are influenced. It's easier to see biases in other cultures and historical eras than our own, but we can't look thoughtfully at human history and come away believing that our own culture is for some reason the exception -- free of biases that affect our perception of the world. (p. 73)

The author's third chapter is too complex to be summarized in a single quotation, but this one comes close:
The old, pre-Darwin 'natural theology' was a search for evidence of God in the works of his creation. Because science has found other explanations for the origin of so much that used to be considered explainable only as the work of God, there seems little basis for faith left in natural theology. We can no longer declare that nature points irresistibly beyond itself. However, the philosophical questions raised by science do irresistibly point beyond science. (p. 86) Here's the Wikipedia article on Natural Theology.

Thanks for reading. I hope to continue posting about this book soon.

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A subsequent post deals with comments on this one.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Happy Birthday, older daughter

My wife and I have been blessed with two daughters. One of them has a birthday today. We thank God that she is good daughter, a good wife, a good sister, a good mother, a good church member, and a competent professional. God's best to you, child. May you be happy long after your parents are gone, and in the hereafter.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

God commanded that animals be given a rest

It was recently pointed out, in a book I was reading, that the Third of the Ten Commandments includes a commandment that the animals used by the Israelites be given rest, as well as the people.

Exodus 20:9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (KJV, emphasis added.)


If any evidence is needed that God is concerned with animals (and perhaps illegal aliens) it is here, in the Ten Commandments, no less.

I have written previously about this Commandment, but not about this aspect of it. I consider the Third Commandment to be the one that, in and after the New Testament, was interpreted least like the Old Testament Jews did, and discuss that in that post.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Relational Leadership book

I recently read Relational Leadership: What I Learned From a Fisherman About Leading a Church, by Kerry Willis. (Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 2009) Willis is the "Beautiful Feet" blogger -- you'll find his blog, which is always a lot shorter than this post is going to be, in the list of "Some of the Feeds I Subscribe To" in the right column of this page. Willis is Pastor of Harrisonburg, VA, First Church of the Nazarene. I met him at the South Carolina Family Camp of The Wesleyan Church, where he was one of the speakers.

The book is brief -- 125 pages. It is divided into 13 chapters, each one entitled "Realistic Expectation . . ." These expectations are things that a relational leader should exhibit, such as "Embrace a Balanced Work Ethic," by which Willis means that work isn't everything, although it is important.

I am not going to be leading a church, except as a good layperson, so perhaps I'm not the best person to review this book. I'm not going to cover all 13 of the Expectations in this review, and I haven't set out to make sure that I am putting them all into practice in my life. But I can see that a pastor, or aspiring pastor, or other church leader, would be well advised to do exactly that. They are sound Expectations.

To me, the best feature of the book is not its organization, but the various ways Willis uses to illustrate and discuss his 13 points. On page 93, for example, he attacks the common statement "Well, I'm no saint." Why? As Willis, himself, says, such statements are usually meant as a humble confession. But he goes on:
To say, "Well, I'm no saint," is to make Christianity mainly about our human performance instead of about the holy presence of our Lord in our lives. (93)

It is interesting to consider what Oswald Chambers said about this very matter:
Why aren't you a saint? It is either that you do not want to be a saint, or that you do not believe that God can make you into one. My Utmost for His Highest, An Updated Edition in Today's Language, Entry for June 12th, Grand Rapids: Discover House, 1992. (Willis, by the way, is a big fan of Chambers.)

 Willis writes often, and lovingly, of his family, and it is inspiring to read about how his mother was converted, and how she became a prayer warrior, to the point of locking the house door on her sons so that she could pray in peace, or how his father told him that there were no rules for driving his son's first car -- he just expected him to use good judgment, based on the training that the parents had given.


A good read. A challenging one. An inspiring one. I recommend this book to you.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Science & the Search for God, part 1

In a previous post, I indicated that The Fire in the Equations: Science, Religion & the Search for God,* (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994) by Kitty Ferguson, is the best book on science and religion that I have ever read. Why is that so? Well, I like books for the same sort of reasons as other people. I like to be entertained. (That's not the strength of Fire, although it's written well.) I like to learn something. That is a strength of Fire. I like to read things that reinforce my own prejudices. (Well, don't you?) My relevant prejudices are set forth here.

I wish to summarize and discuss the book, in several parts.

Ferguson's aim is to examine how science is done, and, especially, to show that science cannot disprove Christianity, and that science and Christianity are compatible.

I normally don't discuss the acknowledgements -- that's the way that the book spells it -- section of a book, but, in her acknowledgements, Ferguson indicates that a number of people read all or part of the manuscript, and answered her questions. These individuals include a few world-class scientists, namely Richard Dawkins, Alan Guth, Stephen Hawking, and Steven Weinberg. Dawkins was formerly a professor at Oxford. He is a recognized scientist, but better known for his popular writing on scientific subjects -- see here -- and, in particular, his outspoken atheism. Guth is a professor at MIT, and the champion of the multi-universe idea. Hawking was a professor at Cambridge, occupying the professorial chair once held by Isaac Newton. He is best known for his thinking on the origin of the universe, and does not believe that any God was involved in that. Weinberg is a Nobel laureate in Physics, and an agnostic, or perhaps an atheist.

There were other people, more sympathetic to Ferguson's aims. The most prominent of those is John Polkinghorne, who was a physics professor at Cambridge, until he resigned to study for the Anglican priesthood. Polkinghorne has written over 25 books on the relationship between science and Christianity. They are relatively short, and readable. His main argument is that science and Christianity are compatible -- both are valid.

Apparently, all of these people, and more, read and commented on some or all of Ferguson's book. Their willingness to do so, and her willingness to want them to, speak well of Ferguson, and them. Another reason this book appealed to me is that I don't see how it would be possible to legitimately argue that she has put forth claims that are not supported by mainstream science, or that she has ignored evidence that might indicate that there was no Divine Creator. She hasn't made any claims that cannot be supported.

The first chapter is about how we experience things, such as a particular chair that Ferguson got from an ancestor. That may not seem important, but it is a fundamental question. How do we know, for example, that our senses are not deceiving us?

Ferguson says that scientists, knowingly or not, made the following assumptions about the universe, in, say, the seventeenth century:
1) It is rational. That is, it has patterns and predictability.
2) It is accessible. It is possible to learn about it.
3) It is contingent. It could have come to exist with different properties, but either chance, or purpose, caused it to be as we know it.
4) It has objective reality. Truths about the universe may be discovered, independent of the seekers' knowledge or biases.
5) It is a unity. The laws of physics are the same throughout the universe. (paraphrased from pages 8-9.)
Furthermore, those same assumptions were shared by theologians.

She correctly points out that all five of these assumptions have been challenged by modern science. Perhaps the most obvious evidence for that is quantum physics, which claims that, at the sub-atomic level, we cannot measure or predict both the position and the momentum of a particle accurately. And, furthermore, this is true in principle. (See here, for the Wikipedia article on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.) Unless there is a profound change in our understanding of how physics works, more expensive, better designed instruments cannot remedy this unpredictability. Another thing that modern physics says: "According to quantum mechanics, the vacuum state is not truly empty but instead contains fleeting electromagnetic waves and particles that pop into and out of existence." (from the Wikipedia article on Vacuum state, accessed June 29, 2010.) These fleeting entities are also unpredictable in principle.

So, at least at the sub-atomic level, the universe is not rational. But, I hasten to add, and Ferguson agrees, we still act as if the universe was rational, and as if it possessed the other four properties, and we should, so long as we are aware of the exceptions. There may, of course, be exceptions that we don't know about.

Ferguson concludes her second chapter** by saying:
It may be an act of faith alone, a flying in the face of some contrary evidence, but few of us would succumb to complete pessimism or abandon the scientific quest. Few of us would say that the human race and individuals among the human race can't know anything meaningful about the universe. Some of us do go on doing science, and others search for God, and still others do both, or keep their options open, or merely cope on a day-to-day basis -- continuing to assume that the universe is rational, contingent, open to our scrutiny, has underlying unity, and that there is such a thing as objective truth. (p. 34)

*I chose to use an abbreviated form of the subtitle for the title of this blog post, as it is more likely to mean something to others than the book's main title.

**The first chapter is introductory, and only four pages long.

Thanks for reading. I hope to continue this series soon. It's worth it for me, if no one else ever reads it.

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See here for the next post in this series.