November 3, 2010

Two Physicists Examine the Basis for Belief

"The Physics of Atheism", A review of Victor Stenger's book The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning:  Why the Universe is Not Designed for Us by Andrew Zak Williams, eSkeptic, June 15, 2011

“There is nothing in the realm of human knowledge that requires anything supernatural, anything beyond matter, to describe our observations. I am almost one hundred percent certain that the God of Abraham worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims doesn’t exist. This God supposedly plays such an important role in the universe that there should be evidence that he exists.  ...   I won’t live to see it but someday religion will disappear from the face of the Earth. It has to. It is too evil and too absurd." - Victor Stenger


NOTE:  Source of above artwork unknown.  Copied from eSkeptic November 3, 2010.  Art theme see: The Blind Men And The Elephant, a poem by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

"Realism and Religion - A Physicist Examines the Basis for Belief", an article in eSkeptic, November 3, 2010, by Milton Rothman

"(W)hen events are governed by idealistic (as opposed to realistic) theories, they invariably turn out to be mental constructs involving unreal entities and forces such as psychic energy, spiritual energy, an incorporeal “mind,” “vibrations,” antigravity, the ether, supernatural beings, and the like. Whoever claims the reality of imaginary and nonexistent things is operating in an idealistic framework. His idea or belief takes precedence over the existence (or non-existence) of physical evidence.

"In view of these observations it appears to me that those innately skeptical toward claims of the paranormal operate from a realistic philosophy, while those who tend to believe in the paranormal use a reference frame that is idealistic in nature. This dichotomy generally characterizes the distinction between normal and paranormal, skeptic and believer."

"All realistic theories are falsifiable (by definition) and thus are legitimate empirical theories, testable by experiment. A theory that cannot be, in principle, falsified cannot be a realistic theory. The majority of idealistic theories are not falsifiable, and so are not empirical theories. In particular, theories based on religion (such as creationism) are unfalsifiable. As an example, suppose you object to creationism on the grounds that the fossil record (dated by radioactivity) shows that animals lived on earth millions of years ago. The creationist replies by saying God changed the decay rates of the radioactive isotopes about 8,000 years ago so that it merely appears as though the fossil is millions of years old. In actuality, the creationists say, God put the fossils there less than 10,000 years ago, for reasons known only to the creator. Whatever evidence you bring up to falsify the theory, the creationists claim God planted it there for His own mysterious purposes. These shifting and changeable ad-hoc assumptions make it possible to prove anything you want and so make creationism an unfalsifiable theory.

"The entities science deals with are observable with appropriate instruments. Or else, as in the case of quarks, they are not directly observable, but they produce measurable effects (and we know why they are hiding). These entities interact with each other according to laws which operate consistently on all forms of matter. The purpose of science is to determine what these laws are and how they operate. In the realm of physics this purpose has culminated in the Standard Model of particle physics.

"Religion also deals with entities and laws. The entities of religious literature are gods of various kinds, heaven, hell, prayer, supernatural forces, and sacred objects. In modern physics there is no mention of gods, heaven, or hell or, indeed, anything that is in the least bit supernatural. Thus, the realistic weltanschauung has no point of intersection with the religious viewpoint. More than that: there is no objective evidence that demonstrates the reality of gods, heaven, hell, or supernatural forces. On the contrary, there is copious evidence leading to the conclusion that these entities are invented by humans for a variety of psychological reasons. They are simple ways to understand the nature of the universe.

"Religion also has dimensions beyond simple matters of gods, heaven, and hell. Religious beliefs deal with ethics and morality; they govern a culture’s behavior. They also provide comfort for those who need it. Prayer and religious music have important effects that can be understood psychologically. For this reason a realistic philosophy that attempts to replace the idealistic philosophies of the religions must tread with care. It must not leave a vacuum, but must create an ethical system that is not based on supernatural entities, together with a way to comfort the masses without the religious opiate.

"In conclusion, the ironic fact is that religion has no ability to explain anything. While scientific discovery has increased exponentially during the past century, religious discovery has remained a flat zero. There have been important historical discoveries, but no improvements in explaining where the gods reside, how they interact with man, where the gods lived before the universe was formed, and how they learned how to create the universe."

Milton Rothman was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He attended Oregon State University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in engineering, and graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, receiving his doctorate in physics during 1952.  After receiving his doctorate, Rothman spent the next seven years investigating nuclear energy at the Bartol Research Foundation in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.  From 1959 until 1969, he worked at the Princeton Plasma Laboratory on Project Matterhorn, which studied methods of heating ionized gas to very great temperatures. During 1963, while working in the laboratory, he wrote The Laws of Physics (1964).  During 1969, Rothman joined the faculty at Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey). He retired from teaching during 1979.  Rothman also wrote A Physicist's Guide to Skepticism: Applying Laws of Physics to Faster-Than-Light Travel, Psychic Phenomena, Telepathy, Time Travel, UFOs, and Other Pseudoscientific Claims (1988) and The Science Gap: Dispelling The Myths And Understanding The Reality Of Science (1992).  He died in 2001.  (Bio source:  Wikipedia)

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