I attended the session organised by The Skeptic Magazine at Conway Hall last night involving Richard Dawkins and Larry Krauss introducing a showing of their film “The Unbelievers”. Having already seen the film, I was able to hear Michael Sandel at an earlier event, and arrive at the Dawkins / Krauss event during the break between the showing and the Q&A.
One thing I did hear, that might colour my already negative reaction to the film itself, as Larry pointed out, they’d had a fair amount of critical response even from their natural supporters in the God vs Science debate, but the agenda and editing of the film itself was entirely down to the group of individuals that documented their earlier speaking tour and produced the film. The film didn’t necessarily reflect in any balanced way the overall Dawkins / Krauss agenda. Fair enough.
The Q&A was pretty lively and long, most of the audience were “the converted”, the stage was preaching to the choir, yet as noted above there was quite a lot of critical questioning about the disingenuous “ridiculing” by selection of opponents in the film, no sign of the scientists looking for common ground with the religious – not even with the liberal rabbi in the audience – and suggestions that the scientists were not always being honest in their political campaigning, certainly not being as honest as they’d claim science to be. (There were of course a good number of questions about religious and scientific education in schools and from very early ages, and from younger members “inspired” to pursue science by our public scientists. Fair enough, more power to their elbows.)
I of course had a prepared question that fitted the very question of scientific honesty vs the positive agenda of science as politics driving us away from the science of reality – my biggest problem with the current topical discourse.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to ask it, but did manage to slip a written copy into Larry’s hand as he was whisked off to the book signing session …. and it goes like this:
Larry is often quoted, and indeed said during the Q&A, that physics is easy because it’s all sorted bar the details and it deals with physical reality anyway, whereas biology is altogether messier. Actually I beg to differ, the fundamentals of physical science – at the levels of fundamental particles and at the levels of cosmology are hugely speculative – and consequently exciting both theoretically and experimentally, whereas biology and evolution seem not in the least contentious bar ongoing details and extensions to knowledge. Both suffer from experimental problems in controlling boundary conditions and accounting for prior assumptions and therefore in interpreting results – but all good science takes care over these issues.
In the theistic creationism vs scientific cosmology debate, there is no argument which is right, the argument should really be about the science of cosmology itself – where its physical and philosophical limits lie, and what authoritative solutions are going to look like. (Public science is nowhere without authority BTW.) But, the politics of fighting against theism and creationism, is distorting the quality of the actual science. So.
The film shows Larry in one lecture talking about his “Something From Nothing”, a good read – a good book. It’s fundamental comsogeny, and definitely opposed to any kind of theistic creationism (who isn’t?).
Before that book, back in May 2006 when interviewed in The Edge Larry said, in paraphrase:
• … when you look at CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background) map, you also see that the structure that is observed, is in fact, in a weird way, correlated with the ecliptic – plane of the earth around the sun.
• That’s crazy. There’s no way there should be that correlation … telling us that our science is wrong and we’re (somehow) the center of the universe, or … something else … (but something’s wrong).
Since the book was published and recently, very topically, there are some very interesting scientific developments that call into question many aspects of the standard accepted model of cosmology, as different groups of researchers probe the CMB or perform their own first-principles research. Singularities and black holes, post-big-bang inflation theories, singularities and other things popping into existence from the energy field, including whole universes, even an infinite multiplicity of possible universes to explain this one in which human life has evolved, the quantities and distributions of mass, energy and gravitational forces being observed indirectly through the shadows of the big-bang in the CMB patterning …. I could go on. Just two recent examples:
• What about BICEP2 having to admit it did not find evidence to support inflation – despite massive fanfare. (and many others right now as we speak). Was its error a genuine oversight (of cosmic dust) or was it a political error being too directed towards proving the inflation predictions?
• What about Laura Mersini-Houghton’s team and the work to show that black holes and singularities really do not need to exist to support all these unnecessary conjectures.
My question for Larry:
So what exactly was/is “crazy” about those CMB indications, what is your latest view since your 2006 statements.
Is it possible that what is really wrong is something more fundamental about the starting point for a big bang not being a singularity, or the cosmological and gravitational constant assumptions needed to explain expansion and inflation of the mass and energy distributions in the cosmos, and the evolutionary timescales for humanity to exist – an accidental but conveniently deniable anthropic agenda.
The standard model of particle physics, completed by the Higgs Boson for the internally consistent Electro-Weak components, says nothing yet about strong and gravitational forces – yet we have a cosmological model of gravity presumed everywhere in scale from a singularity to a whole universe, the whole cosmos.
Physics is massively incomplete and speculative at these fundamental extremes. My fear for science is that by being dishonest about this in our arguments against creationist alternatives, even ridiculing moderate religious believers rather than engaging them on common ground, we simply expose our physics as being fundamentally flawed and our argument as being directed and politically motivated rather than based on the quality and integrity of the science. Science suffers.
[Numerous links and references available to support all the above - will be added in due course - but the question stands to be answered.]