|CPDS Home Contact||The Limits to 'Science, Reason and Critical Thinking'|
The first version of the following ideas was presented in the context of Ethical Renewal being a key requirement for the development of a more effective international order (in Competing Civilizations , 2001+). It followed a suggestion in the latter that:
Some years ago it was suggested that it is now bad taste for philosophers to even raise the question of God's existence (Freeman P., 'No God in the Detail', Bulletin, 12/12/00). Moreover science is claimed to explain things so well that there is only room for a 'god of the gaps' (ie the areas where science has not yet quite got everything sorted out). This, it can be noted, is the opposite of a view reportedly expressed in a different context by Christianity's founder about the limits to human knowledge (Matthew 11:25).
The ‘gaps’ in what can be known through science are massive because conventional science does not explain the 'indeterminism' that is needed to account for the origin / maintenance of order (even the origin of the order implicit in the laws of physics), and as outlined below this suggests that there really is 'something out there' which is the ultimate source of 'indeterminism' and order.
The assumption that ‘God has been removed [presumably by human science] as an explanation of the various mysteries and unexplained phenomena’ science now confronts is arguably a by-product to some extent of a failure to recognise a key limitation in conventional science, namely its search for complete determinism in the material universe (ie the view that the future state of a system depends only on its initial state and the laws of nature / physics that apply internally to whatever system is being studied).
Thomas Huxley (who invented the idea of 'agnosticism') suggested that: “The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.” Because of the limits to what can be verified by science, it is impossible to scientifically rationalize moving further from faith than Huxley's agnosticism.
Despite this it is clear that some have religious objections to considering the possibility of God's existence under any circumstances.
Why Material Reality Does Not Seem Self-sufficient
Scientists and philosophers may need to recognize that material reality is not self-sufficient as it seems likely that 'indeterminism' (ie something that counteracts determinism) from outside any given system is needed to explain the source of any order and / or change within it. The deterministic time-reversible laws of physics that conventional science aspires to identify can never in themselves be a sufficient explanation of order and / or change.
Everything that exists (apart, perhaps, from the most fundamental particles) involves a system of relationships amongst its elements. An atom involves a system of relationships amongst protons, neutrons and electrons - and the protons / neutrons in turn involve a system of relationships amongst quarks. Molecules involve systems of relationships amongst atoms. Water and rocks involve systems of relationships amongst molecules. Planets involves systems or relationships amongst water, rocks etc. Living cells involve very complex systems of relationships amongst simpler elements. Bacteria involve systems of relationships amongst cells. Human beings involve systems of relationships amongst their organs - and those organs in turn involve systems of relationships amongst their elements right down to cells, molecules and atoms. Human society involves systems of relationships amongst people and social-subsystems.
The behaviour / properties of any system is determined not only by the fundamental laws of physics (eg gravitation and electromagnetism) that apply to the simplest components of its elements (eg atoms and their constituent elements) but also by the nature of the relationships that exist amongst its elements. The nature of those relationships can't be predicted from the laws of physics or the properties / nature of its sub-systems.
Non-living / inorganic systems have quite stable relationships (ie will continue to exist for a long time even when the system is subjected only to the laws of physics). However living / organic systems are unstable in themselves - and thus provide more insight into the process of creation. At the most basic level living systems depend on an ongoing inflow, not only of the materials their elements are made of and 'free' / accessible energy, but also of 'something' that has the character of information (ie like the genetic instructions in DNA) that reinforces (or encourages changes in) the system's otherwise unstable order. That 'something' can't be just (say) energy - as energy arguably stimulates activity but not complex relationships.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics highlights the fact that any closed system (ie one affected only by the deterministic laws of physics) decays into its most probable state (ie so-called 'entropy’ increases; and ‘order’ disappears). The unstable order of living / organic systems disappears (almost) immediately, while more stable inorganic order breaks down over more slowly (eg consider the emerge of dust in a closed room). Though the decay of order in a closed system is a highly simplified situation compared with the huge complexity of the universe as a whole, it is in fact proof that, on their own, the deterministic laws of physics can not drive the creation of either unstable organic or stable inorganic order.
An inflow of 'indeterminism' (order / information) from outside any system is needed to create order in the first place and prevent subsequent entropic decay. The dependence of living / organic systems on a constant inflow of neg-entropy (whose effect is clearer if it is called 'indeterminism') is well recognised. However the Second Law of Thermodynamics (ie the decay into disorder of closed systems that are only subject to the deterministic laws of physics) also applies to non-living / inorganic systems.
The inability of the mechanistic 'Newtonian' science of the 19th century (which involved, for example, gravitation and electromagnetism) to account for the emergence / maintenance of order has long been recognised by scientists. Identifying that limitation in ‘Newtonian science’ and thus the need to explain emergence of order some other way (because of the incompatibility of 19th century physics' determinism with the Second Law of Thermodynamics) earned a Nobel Prize for Prigogine in the 1980s. And Prigogine later argued that 20th century advances in science (eg general and special relativity and quantum mechanics) all suffer the same limitation.
Conventional science’s search for ‘determinism’ within the material universe limits it as a way of understanding change (eg creation, evolution). Evolution, for example, is conventionally assumed to be the result of random changes within a (say biological) system that make it more or less adapted to its environment and thus more or less likely to survive / reproduce. However deterministic science has no room for randomness. To the extent that non-deterministic changes originate internally in a system, this has to be the result of the delayed breakdown of order that was created by the earlier inflow of neg-entropy / order – or of the cessation of an ongoing inflow which had created / maintained order.
Any system that simply operated in the way that the conventional scientific laws of nature / physics on their own require would have been on a path to entropic decay a few seconds after the creation of the universe. It is only the periodic / constant inflow of neg-entropy / indeterminism from the system’s / universe’s environment (whose origin conventional science does not seek to explain) that prevents that decay.
What scientists primarily strive to do (namely develop internally deterministic laws on the basis of observations which project the future state of a system on the basis of its initial state), can never explain how things develop or are created, because such laws never takes account of the indeterminism / neg-entropy from outside the system which is critical to the emergence and sustainability of any order. Thus, while an internally-deterministic view of science can often be useful in explaining how the universe currently works, it seems to be out of its depth in explaining how it came to be that way or in fully accounting for how it evolves.
The gap in what science can explain is particularly significant for living systems.
Towards Another Revolution in the Philosophy of Science
The above implies the need for another revolution in the philosophy of science.
There are many limitations on what can be known through science that have been well recognised in the philosophy of science (see The Limits to 'science, reason and critical thinking', 2010). For example induction (ie determining universal laws on the basis of limited observations) is logically invalid. And because of this it was recognised in about 1960 that scientific theories can never be proven true, merely not yet be proven false (thus giving rise to the notion of falsificationism’).
Now, at the very least, there is a need to recognise that conclusions reached about the future state of any system on the basis of conventional deterministic science will almost always be at least slightly wrong because of influences from outside that system that deterministic science does not take into account. Moreover such external influences are critical to the emergence, maintenance and change of the order within any system - because a closed system (ie one subject only to the deterministic laws of physics) will always collapse into disorder. And those 'external influences' will probably have the character of information (ie a complex structure) rather than simply being something like energy which merely increases the level of activity in a system. Moreover, when a serious effort is devoted to identifying and studying external sources of indeterminism, it may emerge that external indeterminism has reflected a creative intent (ie has exhibited a sense of direction) at some level. It might even emerge that the laws of physics themselves are the product of an intentional process - in which case the cosmological 'fine tuning' problem would be solved without any need to hypothesize 'parallel universes'.
The pursuit of another revolution in the philosophy of science (related to the limits of determinism) is probably overdue. It may be that it would be useful to look at social systems (where it is possible to observe how change occur in economic systems and thus in causal relationships over short time scales) to get some understanding of what may happen in physical systems (and thus perhaps to the laws of physics) over cosmological time scales.
|Addendum A: The Benefits and Limits of Chaos Theories||
The Benefits and Limitations of Chaos Theories: In 2013 an economist suggested that a revolution in science had occurred because meteorologists recognised that weather forecasting involved unstable systems which critically depended on initial conditions.
However, while such models better reflect the behaviour of complex systems, they remain deterministic and so do not explain how information can be gained or lost.
Another point of interest is the above observation that the predictions of unstable meteorological models need to be adjusted when they seem to predict what are seen to be unrealistic outcomes. It needs to be considered whether this is an artefact of such computer models (which necessarily don't reflect all of the variable and influences involved), or whether unstable weather systems themselves also need such adjustments, and if so how this occurs. There seems to be no reason to assume that minor influences on weather systems would be the source of their conformity to 'realistic' outcomes.
Addendum B: Does Quantum Mechanics Explain Creation?
Does Quantum Mechanics explain Creation? [preliminary notes]
Some physicists seem to believe that quantum fluctuations can explain the creation of the cosmos. However there seem to be problems with this view - quite apart from the question of where quantum systems themselves came from.
Scientists seem to regard the explanatory power of quantum mechanics as improved (rather than impeded) by demonstrating that it is deterministic.
Moreover it appears to be believed that quantum systems can contain vast amounts of information, but would not be able to reproduce themselves or evolve without external intervention. Moreover the expectation that quantum computers would be capable of manipulating vast amounts of information implies that quantum particles retain, rather than creating, information.
An hypothesis was advanced in 2014 that the interaction of parallel universes would explain all of the observed features of quantum mechanics without any need for uncertainty / probability.
This implies that influences from outside any given 'universe' could account for the features associated with quantum mechanics - without actually requiring that those influences be other 'universes' (see below)
|Divine Intervention: A Speculation||
Divine Intervention: A Speculation - email sent 19/7/13
Re: Is being a scientist compatible with believing in God? Online Opinion, 19/7/13
Your article pointed to a core problem in the relationship between science and religion as expressed by Professor Lisa Randall.
An alternative way of looking at this question perhaps involves recognising that science has limits in explaining the reality that we observe – in the sense that the time-reversible deterministic laws of physics do not account for the fact that things change (and change in unpredictable ways). This possibility is developed further in Problems in an Internally Deterministic Scientific Worldview. The latter suggests the need for a Revolution in the Philosophy of Science which would draw more upon observations in systems studied by the social sciences (where systemic changes driven by external information / neg-entropy inflows frequently lead to new causal relationships) rather than simply on what is observed in the physical sciences (where such changes seem to occur too infrequently to be readily observed). ‘Miracles’ (ie outcomes that are inconsistent with the way nature behaved in the past) are an almost everyday occurrence – though presumably not in systems studied by the physical sciences (see What is a Miracle?).
There seems to be a fundamental difference in thinking about such matters between Western societies with a classical Greek heritage, and societies in East Asia with an ancient Chinese heritage – in that the latter do not subscribe to the notion of abstract ideas that are the basis of rational thinking (and of science’s approach to understanding the natural world) – see Competing Thought Cultures and East Asia in Competing Civilizations. And as the latter elaborates disbelief in fixed causal relationships (ie in the relevance of abstracts) is associated with (neo-Confucian) methods for problem solving which involve social elites introducing new information in order to stimulate systemic changes (eg in social and economic arrangements) and the result can be genuine economic ‘miracles’ which arise in ways that are invisible to those seeking reductionist causes. Western economics has been unable to achieve or explain economic ‘miracles’ because it tries to be a ‘real science’ like physics. In other words, economists seek to understand the causal relationships within economic systems in order to predict the effect of new inputs – whereas more could arguably be achieved by changing those causal relationships (see Probable Breakthrough in Understanding Economic Development). However such ‘miracles’ would be incompatible with economics’ aspiration to be a ‘real science’.
If one looks at biological and ecological systems from this viewpoint, one can arguably see the same thing happening (ie information / neg-entropic inputs change past causal relationships in ways that would not happen if those systems involved fixed deterministic relationships like those conventionally assumed in physics). Living systems (like social systems) exist in a stable disequilibrium which is maintained by a constant inflow of information / neg-entropy from their environment. Changes in those flows from outside the system can potentially create or disrupt those stable disequilibrium arrangements – but changes in those flows are not visible to or detectable / predictable by those who simply study the affected system in itself.
The difficulty that scientists have in perceiving the possibility of divine intervention is perhaps that physics deals with systems where causal relationships are not often or ever observed to change. Thus what is needed to achieve this in an essentially invisible / undetectable manner (ie introducing new information that creates / changes causal relationships) is not understood.
|Something 'out there' gives rise to the strangeness that quantum mechanics identifies ... but it might not be the collision of parallel worlds||
Something 'out there' gives rise to the strangeness that quantum mechanics identifies ... but it might not be the collision of parallel worlds - email sent 26/10/14
Re: When parallel worlds collide … quantum mechanics is born, The Conversation, 24 October, 2014 (see outline above)
I was very interested in your article because of its implication that influences from outside a universe (ie the effect of interacting parallel universes) could account for all of the ‘strange’ features of quantum mechanics – and permit each particular universe to function on the basis of something like deterministic Newtonian mechanics.
In relation to this I would like to submit for your consideration that:
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
Response from Howard Wiseman - 27/10/14 - reproduced with permission
Thanks for your interest. I have to say I'm not convinced that other universes are necessary to explain evolution for example. `External influence' need only be from outside the organism, I think e.g. random events in nature.
Sorry I don't have time to engage more with your ideas --- very busy with responses to our new theory.
Reply to Howard Wiseman - 27/10/14
Thanks for your comment. I would greatly appreciate your permission to add it to my web-site.
The problem I see with your response is that ‘random’ events in nature are not explained by deterministic laws of physics. Prigogine won a Nobel prize for pointing to the limitations of deterministic Newtonian physics (ie he argued, amongst other things, that neg-entropy needed to be imported from an organised systems’ environment to counteract the breakdown of order implicit in the second law of thermodynamics – and that Newtonian physics did not explain how this could happen). Prigogine subsequently argued that the same constraint seemed to apply to 20th century developments in physics (an argument that I suspect is valid for reasons suggested in The Limits of Mechanistic Physics).
Your new theory presumably ascribes the ‘random’ events in nature that explain evolution to either: (a) the quantum effects that are a product of interacting universes; or (b) the breakdown of previously created order that is revealed by increasing entropy. However (as your article clearly stated) your theory also shifts a universe that is not interacting with ‘something out there’ back towards Newtonian mechanics and eliminates probability. It thus presumably eliminates both sources of truly ‘random events’ in nature (ie events that are not explained by mechanistic laws of physics).
Where does true randomness in nature come from under your theory? It can’t come from systems that exhibit deterministic chaotic behaviour. It can’t come from new relationships between previously separated elements in a non-interacting universe – because any outcomes would simply be the result of deterministic physics (ie there could be no gain or loss of order / information / neg-entropy).
|Limitations in Scientific Facts and the New Cosmology||
Limitations in Scientific Facts and the New Cosmology - email sent 8/1/15
Dr Paul Monk
Re: Why did the almighty create mosquitos?, The Australian, 6/1/14
Your article suggested that there are limitations in ‘intelligent design’ theories (such as those recently espoused by Eric Metaxas) of the creation of the universe and of intelligent life. However your alternative hypothesis (involving conventional notions of evolution and ‘new cosmological’ speculations about a multiverse to overcome the ‘fine-tuning’ problem) also seems to contain serious limitations.
My Interpretation of your article: Eric Metaxas recently suggested that there is increasing evidence that the probability of the universe existing at all (much less intelligent life) is so small that this must be the work of an intelligent designer. Metaxas wants to believe in ‘God’ as the creator of the universe and intelligent life but his argument is flawed and is counter to evidence. His argument is based on increases in the number of factors needed to make life, and that there has been no progress in the search for intelligent life elsewhere. However there are indications of increasing numbers of habitable planets and the search for life elsewhere is really just starting. And even if Metaxas is right about the odds being huge against a fine tuned universe, we could still not infer God’s existence. A more plausible hypothesis involves Steven Weinberg’s hypothesis about a ‘multiverse’ – in which universes come and go in infinite variations – and we just happen to be in one that worked out this way. Metaxas makes no mention of the multiverse hypothesis – because he wants to embrace old theological answers. Problems with the notion of God as creator include: (a) why create a universe that is generally inhospitable to life; (b) why make life struggle through billions of years of evolution – rather than just places intelligent life in an ideally formed biosphere. And why create mosquitos? These things make sense in an evolutionary frame of reference, but are inexplicable with an intelligent designer. Also Metaxas not only infers that God exists, but that it is his God (to whom he can pray and who meddles in creation in arbitrary ways), and that God sent his son to save from their sins a species of intelligent primates that had evolved for billions of years on a planet in the middle of nowhere. This has no relationship with scientific fact or the new cosmology.
There seems to be a fundamental problem with conventional notions of evolution in that something more than the laws of nature that science seeks to discover is required to explain the fact that order exists and changes (see Problems in an Internally Deterministic Scientific Worldview). Though this issue still requires further consideration, it seems very likely that neg-entropy (ie information / improbability / free energy) from outside any given system (including the universe as a whole) is needed to explain the emergence and evolution of order (eg of galaxies / ecologies / societies). In any closed system, order breaks down (ie entropy increases). Conventions notions of evolution envisages that ‘randomness’ within a living system initiates its response to a changing environment, yet something more than the determinism of the laws of physics is needed to explain where that ‘randomness’ can come from. Prigogine won a Nobel Prize for showing that the deterministic laws of Newtonian science could not explain randomness / improbability. The same constraint (ie determinism) seems to apply (for example) to systems subject to chaos, and to quantum systems (which involve uncertainty but not indeterminism). The most reasonable hypothesis seems to be that: (a) there is ‘something out there’ that drives the emergence and maintenance of order / improbability; and (b) when order within a living (eg ecological, biological or social) system ceases to be sustained by externally-sourced ‘order’ / neg-entropy / improbability, it breaks down and apparently ‘random’ behaviours can be seen to arise ‘within’ the system. This implies that influences from outside any system (and thus ultimately from a ‘something out there’) must play a role in evolutionary change. It does not imply that ‘something out there’ would have to be responsible for everything that happens. However ‘something out there’ has to be involved at some point in introducing non-deterministic / improbable order into the universe because the way we observe it to behave / change can’t be explained by the deterministic laws of physics.
Assuming that we live in a multiverse is not a convincingly more plausible hypothesis than that there is ‘something out there’ that created order / improbability and potentially influences evolution. The multiverse hypothesis certainly conforms with Atheists’ religious preferences - but in terms of evidence (or even working out how to get evidence) it is a way-out-there speculation. It was recently argued that the interaction between nearby universes could overcome the strangeness of the behaviours exhibited by quantum systems (eg see Wiseman H., When parallel worlds collide … quantum mechanics is born, The Conversation, 24/10/14). However there are simpler explanations than parallel universes of the ‘something out there’ which interacts with the universe everywhere and always, as an explanation of the strangeness of quantum mechanics (see Something 'out there' gives rise to the strangeness that quantum mechanics identifies ... but it might not be the collision of parallel worlds).
Your suggestion that the ‘almighty’ has done things that seem strange to human minds is undoubtedly valid. The fact that the ‘almighty’ can be expected to look at things differently was the subject of Job 38:4. I suspect that knowledge and a point of view that is vastly beyond human minds would be needed to answer your questions. There is no possibility of potentially falsifying the ‘something out there’ hypothesis through speculations about, or even the discovery of, life elsewhere in the universe. Likewise conventional science (which seeks to identify deterministic causal relationships through observation and experiment) has no hope of discovering the source of indeterminism / improbability. Moreover, ‘something out there’ has had a massive influence on human history for which no purely-human explanation has apparently been discoverable (see The Futility of Blind Men's Search Outside in the Dark for a Black Cat That Isn't There).
|What Should Anyone Actually Try to Prove About God?||
What Should Anyone Actually Try to Prove About God? - email sent 29/6/15
Mr David Crews and Professor Louise Floyd
I noted with interest the reviews of Roy Williams’ book, ‘God Actually’, that you wrote for the Queensland Bar Association Journal in 2009 as representative Atheist and Christian believers respectively.
As I have an interest in this question, I should like (belatedly) to offer comments on those reviews which I have outlined below.
Outline of ‘The Atheist’s Review – David Crews’: The book deals with the ancient question of whether God exists. Williams’ book was coherent and ordered, but myopic because of its Christian orientation. Though many sources were quoted, it failed to be convincing. Williams appealed to logic / intelligence – which implies that only the intelligent can conceptualize God and rationalise a belief structure. This implies that an idiot is doomed to purgatory. It is an individualist / elitist analysis. To rebut renowned atheists Williams tries unsuccessfully to show that belief in God can be based on logical deduction from known facts. He does not address the passive atheist / agnostic view that one does not know or need to care about God’s existence. Williams only addresses questions such as ‘Why there is something, rather than nothing’. He first concludes that the universe gives evidence of having been designed. This assumes that humans know everything – rather than accepting that there are unknowns. Williams analysis is based narrowly on Christianity. None-the-less it covers a lot of ground – and parts were interesting though others were unconvincing (especially those related to suffering – which does not support the existence of God). Williams succeeds in causing readers to think deeply, but not in convincing readers of the existence of the Christian God.
Outline of ‘The Believer’s Review – Louise Floyd’: Roy Williams began by telling readers his own story – ie of his move from a secular world-view to belief. He argues that the elements of evidence for God should be examined as a whole, not separately. He considers diverse aspects and, while acknowledging difficulties, is an advocate for God’s existence. The complexity of the world and faith are part of the reasons for this. Williams refers to a great deal of literature related to Christianity. His work fills a gap in that literature – rather than being extremist. Also he is sincere. Ultimately Christianity is a faith – a belief. It is not about absolute proof. Williams acknowledges this and states his purpose as being to counter the claims (of Dawkins etc) who view Christianity with distain. He shows that Christianity is reasonable.
There seems to be a fundamental difference in perception about what Roy Williams tried to do – or should have tried to do. David Crews argued that Williams tried to, but did not, prove God’s existence, whereas Louise Floyd argued that that he should not be expected to do so – because belief is a matter of faith – and that all that was possible or attempted was to show that belief was not unreasonable.
While I have not read God Actually, I should like to draw attention to my own speculations about why it is reasonable to believe that there is ‘something out there’ (ie ‘something’ beyond a material universe that is just driven by deterministic laws of nature) and that that ‘something’ could not be humanly known unless it chose to reveal itself (see Problems in an Internally Deterministic Scientific Worldview, 2001+). The fundamental problem is that the deterministic internal laws that scientists seek to predict the future state of any system can’t fully explain what actually happens. Non-deterministic influences from outside are also needed to explain the reality we observe – and there is no obvious source of such indeterminism.
Science is thus confronting serious obstacles in its attempts to understand reality. Scientists now hypothesise the existence of parallel universes to deal with the ‘fine tuning problem’ (ie to explain the highly-unlikely-but-essential properties of our universe). They also appear to need to hypothesise the interaction of parallel universes to explain the existence of indeterminism – for which the pervasive influence of a creator God would be a far simpler explanation, and thus the one that Occam’s Razor suggests that we should prefer (see Something 'out there' gives rise to the strangeness that quantum mechanics identifies ... but it might not be the collision of parallel worlds, 2014).
This is not absolute proof of the existence of the Christian notion of God. However it is clearly inappropriate to expect ‘proof’ of God’s existence through any of the non-spiritual methods available to humanity (eg reason or science). As Christians have maintained from the beginning, belief or disbelief in God is intrinsically a matter of faith. Thus Atheism (ie an absolute denial of God’s existence) is a religion based on Atheists’ faith just as much as any other (see Celebrating a New Evangelical 'Religion': Atheism, 2010+) and Atheists need to be more sceptical about their assumptions (see Escaping the Strictures of Atheism, 2015).
There are also purely human reasons to suspect that anyone who is passive about whether God exists is not thinking about their own best interests.
Firstly Christianity experienced explosive growth from nothing about 2000 years ago because Jesus offered his followers credible hope of eternal life. His early followers: (a) believed that they had seen something so extraordinary that God had to be involved – and thus that Jesus’ promise of eternal life to those who seek it had to be taken seriously; (b) took on the world in Jesus’ name though many paid for this with their lives; and (c) found that following Jesus’ teachings about life being guided by love rather than by legalism worked so well that their numbers exploded (ie grew at about 40% per decade) - until eventually the powers of their day complicated matters by seeking a ‘piece of the action’.
Secondly there are huge practical benefits because of the effect that the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed (ie of a relationship between God and individuals) has had on the way modern societies work (see Philosophy and Religion: The Case for a Bigger Picture View, 2010 and It's Time to Expel Religious Naivety from Universities, 2014). The direct individual accountability to God that Christianity involves provided a foundation for individual freedom from social coercion / moral legalism and this in turn enabled methods of abstract problem solving to be used with reasonable reliability. Thus, while sophisticated understanding is not required to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 18:3), if the majority of a society are in it the obstacles to the use of abstract understanding that otherwise exist because of human moral legalism can be greatly reduced. However, if significant numbers of people then reject God’s Kingship in their lives, then the foundations of their liberty (and its practical advantages in terms of abstract / rational problem solving) must be lost (see Erosion of the Moral Foundations of Liberal Institutions, 2003+; The Re-emergence of 'gods', 2015; and Islamist Extremists are not Alone in Favouring Pre-modern Social Systems, 2015).
Those who are passive about God are likely to be condemning both themselves and their communities to a dismal future.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
|Philosophical and Religious Implications of the Limits to Science||
Philosophical and Religious Implications of the Limits to Science - email sent 18/7/16
Professor Brian Cox,
You were quoted as emphasising human uncertainties about science. I should like to suggest that this could perhaps be the foundation of another revolution in the philosophy of science – which would involve formally recognising the limits of what can be known through science. It could also add to the list of religions that that you reportedly reserve the right to criticise.
There are widely recognised limits on what can be known through human reason (ie the use of abstract concepts as models of reality) – see The Limits to Science, Reason and Critical Thinking. Constraints on rationality are recognised (for example) in:
The use of abstract concepts in reason (which parallels the notion of ‘laws’ in science) is derived from classical Greek thought. This has been influential in Western societies (see Cultural Foundations of Western Progress: The Realm of the Rational Responsible Individual). It has, however, only worked reasonably reliably because individual freedom, which is uniquely derived from the West’s Judeo-Christian heritage, has enabled the creation of social / economic / political institutions in which problems could be sufficiently simplified (eg by a rule of law, democracy, market-economies) to overcome the failures of rationality that inevitably arise in complex social, economic and political systems.
Reliance on abstract concepts as a basis for rational and analytical problem solving and the individual freedom needed for compatible institutions are by no means universal (see Competing Civilizations). In particular East Asian societies with an ancient Chinese (rather than a classical Greek) heritage have a quite different approach to ‘knowledge’ (see East Asia: The Realm of the Autocratic and Intuitive Ethnic Hierarchy). Limited attention is paid to abstract concepts. And there is no reliance on abstract ‘law’ in society (eg as a creating a ‘legal’ context for decisions by independent individuals / enterprises, or as a way of understanding social and economic systems).
Western economists often want to make their discipline a ‘real science like physics’ by understanding the ‘laws’ that govern the behaviour of economic systems so as to be able to calculate what inputs will maximize outputs. However post-WWII East Asian economic ‘miracles’ have been based on the assumption that there are no fixed relationships that can be expressed as economic ‘laws’ and that information should be used to change economic systems - and thus also change the ‘laws’ that govern economies’ behaviour (Understanding East Asia's Neo-Confucian Systems of Socio-political-economy). I was able to experiment with similar methods in a market economy context in Australia – and found that they could work (ie increase rather than merely calculate economic production) providing politics was kept out of the process. Some suggestions about the need to re-invent economics to emphasise changing, rather than understanding, causal relationships are outlined in Fixing Economics.
Similar limits on attempts to discover scientific ‘laws’ are likely to apply to biological / ecological systems because (as for social / economic systems) flows of neg-entropy / information into such systems determine whether causal relationship (the basis of behavioural ‘laws’) are either maintained or changed. For biological / ecological systems such changes are likely to occur over longer time frames than applies to social / economic systems and be much less susceptible to human manipulation. I also have a suspicion (though it is harder to be sure) that similar limits apply to physical systems – for reasons outlined in Problems in an Internally Deterministic Scientific Worldview. Deterministic laws (which apparently even quantum mechanics seeks to discover) can’t account for the loss of information associated with entropic decay or the gain in information associated with the emergence of new order (eg as a result of evolution). Closed systems (ie those subject only to the deterministic laws of physics) always experience the breakdown, rather than the emergence, of order. As for social, economic, biological and ecological systems it seems likely that some external source of ‘indeterminism’ (free energy / information) is needed to account for the emergence of order in physical systems.
If valid, there is then likely to be a need for a new ‘revolution’ in the philosophy of science – one which would make physics a ‘real science’ (ie a ‘science’ like a reformed economics might become) in which it is recognised that causal relationships can be created / changed by somehow manipulating inputs to any give system (including presumably the universe as a whole) of neg-entropy / information / indeterminism (see Should Physics Seek to Become a 'Real' Science Like Economics?).
I noted that you reportedly expressed concern about politics now becoming more extreme and dogmatic. A speculation about possible causes of that all too real problem (ie increased complexity, post-modernism and politicisation of public services) are suggested in an Australian context in The Church of Political Correctness Threatens National Progress.
I would be interested in your response to the above speculations
And finally I would like to wish you good luck in your apparent ‘mission’ of demonstrating to the world the need to avoid starting from pre-conceived assumptions. In relation to this it might be worthwhile (as your comments in Rod Liddle’s article implied) including Atheism amongst the list of religions about whose claims you publicly point out that it is necessary to be sceptical (see Escaping the Strictures of Atheism).
|The Gap Between Experiment and Prediction||
The Gap Between Experiment and Prediction - email sent 12/10/16
Professor Geraint Lewis
Another Revolution in the Philosophy of Science may be of interest re your observations about the gap between experiment and prediction in physical sciences (Peering into the future: does science require predictions?, The Conversation, 12/10/16 - see outline here).
It points to the fact that: (a) influences from outside any given system always affect what happens (and yet are not considered in any theory or the design of experiments); (b) those influences can have the effect not only of introducing ‘noise’ but also of changing causal relationships; and (c) it may be a good idea to regard (say) economics as a better starting point for developing a philosophy of science – because it deals with systems where the effect of such external influences are much more obvious over short time scales.
This is also significant in terms of current economic and political instabilities (see Alternatives to Monetary Policy) because economics has always tried to be a ‘real science’ like physics and thus to develop complex mathematical models to predict the future – where the real challenge is arguably to constructively change causal relationships in economic systems (rather than to predict what will happen if they remain unchanged) – see Fixing Economics