I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It's a matter of Faith

Yesterday, a friend of mine who defines himself as a creation-believing-Christian suggested that I attend a lecture titled Creation: The Missing Link.  I couldn't resist replying with a tirade against Creationism.  Here it is.

The results in Molecular Biology have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that evolution is sufficient to explain the variety of species that exist (or have gone extinct).  Last December, I read a very detailed and documented book that demonstrates just that: The Making of the Fittest - DNA and the ultimate forensic record of evolution, by Sean B. Carroll ().

Faith and Science are two different things.  Creationism and Intelligent Design can explain everything.  I know.  But the best proofs they can count on are tautological.

Peer-reviewed published Science is not infallible, but when the body of evidence grows over decades and no measure, experiment, or discovery invalidates a theory, the probability that the theory is false vanishes.  Relativity, for example, is a theory and, as such, it could be refined in future, exactly as Relativity itself refined Newtonian Mechanics.  But, after so many confirmations, it cannot ever be invalidated, exactly as Newtons theories have not been.

The Global Positioning System only works because the clocks on the satellites are adjusted to take into account Relativity.  The Cosmological Constant introduced and then repudiated by Einstein to avoid divergence of his formulae has been re-introduced to be able to avoid contradiction with the fact that the universe is expanding at an accelerated rate.  Dark Energy and the Cosmological Constant are ad-hoc solutions to explain (without actually explaining anything) the expansion of the universe.  This is a clear indication the Relativity as we know it is part of a more general theory that will explain the universe without fudging the formulae.  But that doesn't invalidate Relativity at all.

All theories go through successive refinements and generalisations.

Another "fudge" in Science that I know of is the "renormalisation" used in Quantum Field Theory to get rid of infinities (a bit like saying that 0/0 = 1!).  Again, it means that the theory will probably be refined in future (unless it becomes a particular case of a more general theory that doesn't need renormalisation).  Meanwhile, Quantum Theory has explained to us semiconductors, superconductivity, superfluidity, and a host of other useful stuff.

Evolution is yet another theory and, like Newtonian Mechanics, Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics, will probably be refined in future.  But meanwhile, it explains the diversity of Nature without need for any external intervention.  And the aim of any explanation must be to be parsimonious: don't do anything more than necessary to achieve a certain result.  The fewer the ad-hoc factors invoked to explain something, the better (Occam's Razor).

This does not (and I don't see why it should) prevent you from believing that the laws of Physics are what they are because Somebody invented them and then set the universal constants exactly to the value they currently have.  But, as I said, it is then a matter of Faith, not of Science.

Sometimes (but very very very seldom!  ;-)  I wish I believed in God.  I know it can be of great help.  But I don't believe, and don't think I ever will (although, obviously, the future cannot be really predicted...)

My wife is reading the book "Religion for Atheists", written by the Philosopher Alain De Botton.  You can see an interview with him on the 7.30 Report's website.  She loves it, and I will also read it.  Although he is a staunched Atheist, he claims that we should respect Religion and try to learn from it, rather than dismiss it.  He says that Religion does certain thing very well and that we miss some of them in our modern secular world.  I just watched the interview on the web and it is absolutely worth watching.  I strongly encourage you to do so.  Alain is not just brilliant and articulate.  He is also caring.  I can tell you this: if everybody thought like him, religious or atheist, I doubt that there would be any religious persecution in this world.

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