Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Judge Jones, Call Your Office

This article at Science and Theology News caught our eye for two reasons. First the article, then the reasons:

For Einstein, as for many contemporary physicists, the orderliness of nature was specifically grounded in a series of numbers known as the fundamental physical constants. The Newtonian constant of gravitation, for example, specifies how any massive object will be attracted to any other massive object. Indeed, Einstein built his magnum opus, General Relativity, around the recognition that the speed of light in a vacuum never changes: it is a true universal constant.

What then becomes of ... this sense of cosmic stability if not even the constants are constant?

Public confidence in the "constants" of nature may be at an all time low. Recent research has found evidence that the value of certain fundamental parameters, such as the speed of light or the invisible glue that holds nuclei together, may have been different in the past.

"There is absolutely no reason these constants should be constant," says astronomer Michael Murphy of the University of Cambridge. "These are famous numbers in physics, but we have no real reason for why they are what they are."

The observed differences are small -- roughly a few parts in a million -- but the implications are huge: The laws of physics would have to be rewritten, not to mention we might need to make room for six more spatial dimensions than the three that we are used to.

That mention of extra spatial dimensions is a reference to string theory, a contemporary attempt to understand how all the forces in nature fit together. String theory, so far, is without falsifiable predictions, so it isn't yet true science. But even the possibility that the so-called "universal constants" will be found to be in flux throws a significant curve at the search for stability in a world of change.

What's interesting about this is, first, if the constants of nature are not constant that means, among other things, that radiometric dating may be an unreliable procedure for determining vast ages. Radiometric dating is based upon the decay rate of radioactive atoms into more stable daughter products. This rate has been assumed to be constant over the age of the universe, but if it hasn't been, if rates are slower today than they were in the past, the values that they yield would show the earth and anything else whose age is being measured to be "older" than they really are. Thus the notion of a 4.5 billion year old earth would have to be revised. If it were in need of sufficient revision it could make the earth too young to have permitted a long, slow evolutionary process. This news would precipitate a real crisis in science.

Second, if string theory is not falsifiable and not "true science", then why is there no outrage over the fact that it's often discussed in public school physics classes? Why is it that there are lawsuits over the teaching of intelligent design in biology classes, ostensibly because ID is not "true science", but one never hears complaints about string theory being taught? Apparently, some non-science is more acceptable in public schools than other non-science. Or, more likely, string theory is not perceived to be a threat to the regnant naturalistic metaphysics that so many objectors to ID have embraced so they don't mind giving it a pass that is arbitrarily denied to other hypotheses that have more profound philosophical implications.

Perhaps, someone should inquire of the current Dover school board, the members of which were elected in part as a protest against the previous board's attempt to squeeze ID into the biology curriculum, whether they permit the teaching of string theory in their physics classes (or, say, the oscillating universe theory in their Earth-Space classes). If so, perhaps there might be grounds here for a lucrative lawsuit.

From Dove to Hawk

Spiegel Online has an op-ed written by a former Israeli peace activist who has been on the road to Damascus, so to speak, and has had the scales fall from his eyes. Here are some excerpts:

The first Intifada began a month after I was drafted. At that point, when I had just joined the army, I was filled with a sense of mission to continue the heritage of Israeli civilians who join the army for three years at the age of 18 to protect the country from its enemies.

But when I got deployed to Gaza and Nablus, fighting an unknown enemy, patrolling streets where, again, civilians drank their tea and played backgammon in caf�s, my conviction was shaken. I became confused about who the good guys were and who were the bad. When I finished my mandatory service, I decided never again to be a soldier. When I was called up from the reserves and ordered back to Gaza, I refused and became an outspoken and active opponent of the Israeli occupation. I spent a total of 45 days in military prison for my refusal to serve.

Today, I am convinced that Israel is fighting a justified war. Far from being an "optional war," this conflict was forced upon us. There is a feeling that every positive step taken in recent years has been answered by punishment. Now we are prepared to do whatever it takes to turn Israel into a safe place, even if this means invading Lebanon once again. We also want to sip coffee and play backgammon. We've had enough of rockets from the north and south and suicide bombers from everywhere. We also want to lead a normal life, just like the people in New York, Berlin or Rome who don't have to look up every time a stranger enters their favorite cafe.

I too am turning back the clock. Eighteen years after finishing my military service -- almost two decades after swearing that I would never again wear a uniform -- I called the Israeli consulate in New York and gave them my phone number. If the army needed me, I told them, I would be the first on a plane back to Israel. And Sharon, of course, has still not woken from his coma. But I miss him.

In between these paragraphs there's much that's worth reading.

So Many Books, So Little Time

I thought it might be fun to compose a list of two dozen or so of the best books I've read on topics which lie at an intersection which includes at least two of the three disciplines of philosophy, science, and/or religion. There are a number or works that I omitted because they're either a little too technical or because they made it onto previous lists that I've compiled. There are probably others that I should have included in this list as well, but I thought twenty eight was a good round number:

  1. The Existence of God - Richard Swinburne
  2. The Coherence of Theism - Richard Swinburne
  3. Our Idea of God - Thomas V. Morris
  4. C.S. Lewis' Dangerous Idea - Victor Reppert
  5. Warranted Christian Belief - Alvin Plantinga
  6. God, Freedom, and Evil - Alvin Plantinga
  7. On Miracles - C.S. Lewis
  8. The Abolition of Man - C.S. Lewis
  9. Scaling the Secular City - J.P. Moreland
  10. Reason in the Balance - Philip Johnson
  11. Revenge of Conscience - J. Budzizewski
  12. Written on the Heart - J. Budzizewski
  13. Finding Darwin's God - Kenneth Miller
  14. Darwin's God - Cornelius Hunter
  15. Moral Darwinism - Benjamin Wiker
  16. The Soul of Science - Nancy Pearcy
  17. Total Truth - Nancy Pearcy
  18. Science and Its Limits - Del Ratzsch
  19. Nature, Design and Science - Del Ratzsch
  20. Science and Religion - Alistair McGrath
  21. Twilight of Atheism - Alistair McGrath
  22. Gods of Atheism - Vincent Miceli
  23. The God Who is There - Francis Schaeffer
  24. Escape From Reason - Francis Schaeffer
  25. How Shall We Then Live - Francis Schaeffer
  26. Atheism: The Case Against God - George Smith
  27. The Miracle of Theism - J. I. Mackie
  28. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion - David Hume

If readers can suggest other titles that have been helpful to them and would belong on a list of books that connect science, philosophy and/or religion we'll be happy to post the recommendations on Viewpoint.