‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007


Thursday, 23 December 2010

Tony Jordan and the Nativity

Tony Jordan has been interviewed in the Telegraph about his belief in the truth of the Nativity, and the BBC drama he has written. Tony Jordan interview - The Nativity has changed me and thats the gospel truth

The 4 part drama is presently on the BBC i Player and worthy watching.
Season's Greetings to All

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Giles Fraser finds the Christmas message embarassing

He writes that he finds "The idea of God as a little baby...one of the most disruptive theological suggestions ever made." Giles Fraser - why the Christmas message makes me cringe

I wonder why this may be? There seems to be, I would suggest, a rather superior, perhaps rather arrogant attitude amongst some clerics and theologians that reflects a high church, heirarchical mentality where ordinary people must approach God through a priesthood. There are perhaps three things that cause distress for such thinkers.

1. That ordinary people can have evidence of a personal relationship with God when for the elite God seems so distant and far away.

2. That for all their elevated status and study, God actually shows himself to the weak, the uneducated, the poor, the downtrodden - basically the humble over the proud.

3. That God may give a certainty of faith to the uneducated, whereas the educated are full of doubt.

All of these offences appear in the Christmas story. That God chose Mary to give birth to Jesus as Son of Almighty God; that a teenage girl could hear the voice of God and believe simply, and that God would implant his presence in her. God chose to announce the birth to shepherds, and in the same way he called a fisherman to replace the temple priests as leader of Judah.

All across the world God's Holy Spirit is moving bringing people into knowledge of who Jesus is, but the educated clerics in all their learning simply cannot hear the voice of God. Isaiah 9:6-7 says this;

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever."

Monday, 18 October 2010

Carbon out - Nuclear in - how times change !

Has any one else spotted the irony. Eight new nuclear power stations are announced without a whisper of complaint from the Greens. They are busy blocking an oil depot. The irony is that when I was a lad there was a major campaign against nuclear, and no one cared too much about oil. How times change.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11564152
Also it is a shame to delay the Severn Barrage for another generation, but such is life.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Centre for Intelligent Design

A new organisation has emerged in the UK - Centre for Intelligent Design . Its objectives are stated to be as follows:

•promote the professional investigation and public debate of Intelligent Design
•challenge, on the scientific evidence, the neo-Darwinian claim that the development of life is purely the result of undirected forces
•encourage consideration of the wider implications of Intelligent Design.

Michael Behe tour of the UK

Michael Behe will be touring the UK this Autumn 10th-27th November. Check out the website at http://www.darwinordesign.org.uk/
Darwin or Design? - evening meeting 22nd Nov at Westminster Chapel - supported by Premier Radio

And a day Conference in Oxford Brookes University 27th Nov.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Hawking's book fails to disprove God

Back on 11 August I wrote on this blog about Stephen Hawking’s forthcoming book and how it was going to challenge God as an explanation for the universe. The national secular media have now caught up. On Saturday (2 September), the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph both carried exactly the same headline: ‘Stephen Hawking: God was not needed to create the Universe’, and the rest were similar, e.g. ‘Stephen Hawking says universe not created by God’ (the Guardian).

The reason for all the publicity? The launch of the physicist’s book was only a week away. In the somewhat ironically titled ‘The Grand Design’ (doesn’t a grand design suggest a Designer, Stephen?), Hawking says: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist… It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.”

In his most famous previous tome, ‘A Brief History of Time’ (1988), the professor had left open the possibility of a divine plan behind the universe by saying: "If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.”

But now that he claims to have discovered that ‘complete theory’ of how everything works, he’s changed his tune. Perhaps he’s been listening to Richard Dawkins too much. However, only a day after the fanfare in the major papers, commentators in many of the same newspapers reacted with some scepticism of Hawking’s claim to have made God irrelevant.

The Daily Telegraph’s Graham Farmelo hit the nail on the head. Pointing out that Hawking’s ‘M-theory’ basically says that “our universe followed inevitably from the laws of nature”, Farmelo retorted: “But, we might ask, where did they come from?” And even if Hawking’s M-theory stands up to experimental testing in the future, “the reasons for the mathematical order at the heart of the universe's order would remain an unsolvable mystery.”

The Arcbhishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, told the press: “Belief in God is not about plugging a gap in explaining how one thing relates to another within the Universe. It is the belief that there is an intelligent, living agent on whose activity everything ultimately depends for its existence." "Physics on its own will not settle the question of why there is something rather than nothing."

But the best reply came from Oxford mathematics professor, John Lennox. Writing in the Daily Mail, Lennox simply stated: “As a scientist I'm certain Stephen Hawking is wrong. You can't explain the universe without God.” While explaining that Hawking’s belief that the universe created itself is hardly new, Lennox believes it is a “simplistic approach” that has no logical foundation in science.

The mathematician points out that there is no fundamental conflict between the laws of physics and God, because “laws themselves do not create anything, they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions. What Hawking appears to have done is to confuse law with agency. His call on us to choose between God and physics is a bit like someone demanding that we choose between aeronautical engineer Sir Frank Whittle and the laws of physics to explain the jet engine. “That is a confusion of category. The laws of physics can explain how the jet engine works, but someone had to build the thing, put in the fuel and start it up.”

Lennox describes only what any sensible believer in God, and any decent philosopher, has known for years, yet somehow the blind determination of atheistic scientists to find a scientific explanation that rules out God continues, regardless. I think it demonstrates their refusal to admit that logic is not on their side.

Hawking is no different. The existence of the law of gravity does not make the universe inevitable, because the law of gravity did not exist until the universe itself appeared. As Lennox says: “How did gravity exist in the first place? Who put it there? And what was the creative force behind its birth?”

For Lennox, the amazing design of the universe is something that boosts his faith rather than challenging it: “For me, as a Christian believer, the beauty of the scientific laws only reinforces my faith in an intelligent, divine creative force at work. The more I understand science, the more I believe in God because of my wonder at the breadth, sophistication and integrity of his creation. “The very reason science flourished so vigorously in the 16th and 17th centuries was precisely because of the belief that the laws of nature… reflected the influence of a divine law-giver." “One of the fundamental themes of Christianity is that the universe was built according to a rational, intelligent design. Far from being at odds with science, the Christian faith actually makes perfect scientific sense.”

Pointing to biology as well as physics as evidence for God, Lennox continues: “When we see a few letters of the alphabet spelling our name in the sand, our immediate response is to recognise the work of an intelligent agent. How much more likely, then, is an intelligent creator behind the human DNA, the colossal biological database that contains no fewer than 3.5 billion 'letters'?”

Finally, Lennox is convinced of Christianity not just by science but by the evidence of history, personal experience and human morality: “Support for the existence of God moves far beyond the realm of science. Within the Christian faith, there is also the powerful evidence that God revealed himself to mankind through Jesus Christ two millennia ago. This is well-documented not just in the scriptures and other testimony but also in a wealth of archaeological findings.

“Moreover, the religious experiences of millions of believers cannot lightly be dismissed. I myself and my own family can testify to the uplifting influence faith has had on our lives, something which defies the idea we are nothing more than a random collection of molecules.

“Just as strong is the obvious reality that we are moral beings, capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong… The existence of a common pool of moral values points to the existence of transcendent force beyond mere scientific laws.” The fact is that, in tackling the God question, Hawking has inevitably moved from hard, experimental science to conjecture and philosophical supposition.

As science author Antony Latham says: “M-theory… is very much a conjectural theory and other physicists are not happy with it… Even Hawking says: ‘People are trying to decipher the nature of M-theory but that may not be possible.’ None of it is based on observation and it is thus unproven.”

Latham adds: “Hawking does not seem to tackle the very important question of the 'First Cause'. The only recourse he and others might have is an infinite regress of causes into the infinite past. However it is easily proven (by mathematicians such as Hilbert) that there is no such thing as an infinite series of anything.” A mathematician of Hawking’s undoubted quality should have remembered that.

At the end of the day (or the universe), science can never be used to finally prove or disprove God, as even Dawkins has admitted. Science is the study of the natural, not the supernatural. It has the wrong tools for the job.
Andrew Halloway

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Stephen Hawking needs God: pray for him

Stephen Hawking seems to have backtracked on his previous suggestion in 'A Brief History of Time' that the order of the universe needs to be explained in terms of a divine mind. However, he seems now to believe that creation arose out of nothing and provides its own order. BBC - Stephen Hawking: God did not create Universe

He is reported to have said that "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing....Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist...It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."

What is wrong with this? Well it doesn't explain the temporal order of the universe, or why there is a law of gravity in the first place. The statement 'Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something...' is also circular and not explanatory because he is trying to explain the origin of the universe from something within the universe. It doesn't explain where the law of gravity came from and it is really no different than an appeal to magic in that it seeks to give creation creative power over itself. This is a classic pagan claim.

Hawking also needs to explain his own mind and intellect if we are to consider it trustworthy. If we reduce our minds to atoms then our thoughts become meaningless. Perhaps Hawking is shaking a metaphorical fist at God by trying to prove he doesn't exist, but Hawking has spiritual needs as well. We need to pray for him. Also see this blog entry by Andrew Halloway

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Review of Richard Dawkins on The God Delusion

On Wednesday 25th August (More4, 9-11pm) I watched the second of Richard Dawkins' new series ('Age of Reason') The God Delusion.

If you missed it, don't worry: there really was nothing new. It transpired that the two-hour programme was not new, but put together from his two-part The Root of Evil? series (Channel 4, January 2006 – for an article by Dawkins on its theme see Dawkins, 2006). He did not take the opportunity to alter anything. All his crass statements were left intact: faith is 'belief without reason', a 'brain virus', 'process of non-thinking', 'strange distorted mindset', 'elephant in the room' 'profound contradiction of science', 'discourages independent thought, is divisive and dangerous', 'slippery slope that leads to young men with knapsacks on the Tube', 'a delusion', 'a crutch', 'betrayal of the Enlightenment', 'suspension of critical faculties'. And so it goes on and on.

Intelligent Design (ID) is defined and dismissed as "God helped evolution along". He still believes that a gradual grassy slope is to be found on the other side of the sheer cliffs of every Mount Improbable. For him, rejection of evolution = rejection of science.

In the programme Roman Catholicism is represented by pilgrims and church leaders at Lourdes, Judaism and Islam are represented by scenes of worhippers and by individuals who are interviewed, and Evangelical Christianity is represented by Ted Haggard of the New Life Church, Colorado Springs, USA. There was certainly footage here to make many Christians cringe, but, if you look for it, you can find such examples to use against any tradition, secular as well as religious. That kind of implicit ad hominem attack should have no place in serious scholarship – or programming. What a state we have come to when all the main Channels broadcast such insults to intelligence – and to common sense.

A freethinkers group in the US was interviewed. They feel on the defensive, saying that their jobs are under threat from Christian fascism. It is they who are the beleaguered minority. Many Christian academics will be very surprised (see Bergman, 2008)

As in the source series, there was no engagement with serious critics. For those programmes, professor Alister McGrath was interviewed by Dawkins about his book Dawkins' God and about faith in general. However the interview was not included in the final cut. After this was pointed out by McGrath, Dawkins, to his credit, did make the unedited footage available (Dawkins & McGrath, 2006)

In an article well worth reading in its entirety, Madeleine Bunting (2006) summed up the source series well: “By all means, let's have a serious debate about religious belief, one of the most complex and fascinating phenomena on the planet, but the suspicion is that it's not what this chorus wants. Behind unsubstantiated assertions, sweeping generalisations and random anecdotal evidence, there's the unmistakable whiff of panic; they fear religion is on the march again. …a piece of intellectually lazy polemic which is not worthy of a great scientist.”

As Bunting noted, “Sadly, there is no evolution of thought in Dawkins's position; he has been saying much the same thing about religion for a long time.” I really do not understand how he can be repeating the same tired old arguments in exactly the same terms over so many years. It is so contrary to my own experience and surely to that of any serious scholar? Your experience grows all the time, criticisms cause you to reframe arguments, revise them, or even give them up, because you are forced to conclude that you got the particular matter wrong. Your world view changes and develops, altering the way you present material. When it comes to science and religion, I see no such process with Dawkins. In particular, he just seems to completely ignore scholarly criticism.

Once you have decided that there is no God, and that all real knowledge is obtained through reason and science, then Dawkins’ conclusions are inevitable. This highlights that the debate is not simply a debate over logic or evidence, but rather much more over worldviews and presuppositions. It is therefore important to turn the tables, to hold Dawkins' feet to the fire, to put his materialism under the critical spotlight. (In this regard I would highly recommend Wilson, 2007 – actually a response to Sam Harris, but it applies to all the new atheists). If you reflect on the question, "If we are just complicated, deterministic, chemical machines in a godless universe, then what do we teach the children in school?", it puts the issue of faith schools in a very different light.

The naive worldview commitments of the ruling materialists in science should be exposed to critical scrutiny, as should the scientific absurdities of the arguments for materialistic evolution – especially the real ‘elephant in the room’, the origin of the specified information and the nano-machines that utilise it, which are so crucial to all biological functioning.

The ID movement has it precisely right when it follows that two-pronged strategy. Constructive debate is impossible unless all participants are willing to put their worldview commitments on the table and allow them, as well as their scientific arguments, to be exposed to rigorous critique.
References
Jerry Bergman, Slaughter of the Dissidents, Leafcutter Press, 2008
Madeleine Bunting, No wonder atheists are angry: they seem ready to believe anything, Guardian, Saturday 07 January 2006
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1681002,00.html
accessed 29 August 2010)
Richard Dawkins, Is religion the root of all evil?, Belfast Telegraph, 06 January 2006
(http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://news.exchristian.net/2006/01/is-religion-root-of-all-evil.html
accessed 29 August 2010)
Richard Dawkins and Alister McGrath, 2006, Root of All Evil? Uncut Interviews:
http://richarddawkins.net/videos/1212-richard-dawkins-and-alister-mcgrath
accessed 29 August 2010 (takes you to the google video listed below)
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6474278760369344626#
accessed 29 August 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxc0NpTZE18 , accessed 29 August 2010
Douglas Wilson, Letter from a Christian Citizen, American Vision, 2007
By Dr Arthur Jones

Review of Richard Dawkins on Faith School Menace?

On Wednesday 18th August (More4, 9-10pm) I watched the first of Richard Dawkins' new series ('Age of Reason' - what a cheek!). The programme was titled 'Faith School Menace?' For an earlier article on the same theme see Dawkins, 2001.

The programme contained nothing new – we have heard it all in previous Dawkins' programmes. It has the look and feel of a party political election broadcast. It entirely lacked balance or objectivity, whether historical or contemporary. Isn't it amazing (well, not really!) that he has seemingly endless TV programmes to promote his atheist faith. If Christians were allowed even one such programme today, all hell would break loose. It will be a test of liberal commentators to see how they review it.

We were treated to the arch-apostle of science making numerous statements for which he cited no scientific evidence. What ‘evidence’ he gave was anecdotal, selective and biased. “The programme was more interested in scaremongering than in what actually happens.” (Ainsworth, 2010) For example, Dawkins started by telling us how terrible it was that 1 in 3 British schools is now a faith school. Really? Clearly, like any good scientist, he needs to start by defining his terms – which he never does. What he should have said was 'schools with a church link' which is not at all the same thing as schools that really allow Christian faith (in particular a Christian worldview) to control what they do in education. Relatively, very few Church schools do the latter. Indeed Leslie Francis' research has shown that the majority of Church schools have no influence on a child's faith or even have a negative influence – i.e. compared to non-church schools (Francis, 1995; Kay and Francis, 1996). But throughout the programme Dawkins showed no interest in scientific evidence for his assertions.

Of course, for Dawkins, anything to do with (Christian) faith in schools is indoctrination and faith should be excluded from all schools (except Dawkins' faith of course). Evolution (undefined, but most will understand it as universal common descent) is a FACT. It is a FACT that we evolved from apes. In fact we ARE apes. He told a (state-funded) Muslim school that they can't win by questioning evolution, but must interpret the Koran to fit with evolution, just as Christians have done with their Bible. (He found that all of the Muslim year 10 pupils rejected evolution.)

He asserted that Faith schools prevent social cohesion (again contrary to the research evidence as regards most of them). We were shown Dawkins speaking to children in a (non church) primary school, telling them not to believe anything on the basis of tradition, authority or revelation, but only on the basis of reason and evidence. He is clearly inexperienced in engaging young children and they were visibly disinterested. But imagine the media reaction if a Christian was filmed doing that kind of assembly!

There's is lots more I could report, but hopefully that gives the flavour. If you have watched previous Dawkins' programmes then you have seen it all before. Only one person, an Irish educationist, was included putting the pressure on Dawkins and asking him to admit his illiberal position. However at least one commentator, Keith Watson in the Metro, regarded the Irishman’s persistence as evidence of a closed mind! Knowing what happened in his previous programmes (serious critique either not sought, or left on the cutting room floor – see blog on the second programme in this series) I wonder who else was filmed, but not included?

On the widespread practice of pretending to find God – which many parents do every year in order to secure their child a place in faith schools, which are often educationally outstanding – Dawkins (in an interview with The Times, available, at a price, at: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/faith/article2690948.ece - see Sefton, 2010), has shown “an unsurprisingly evolutionarily adaptive attitude” (Sefton, ibid):

"I don't want to cast any blame on them," he said. "It's hypocrisy that is imposed on them by a ridiculous and unjust system."

Dawkins even said that if he were in the same situation, he might do the same. "Since I have absolutely no belief at all, I wouldn't be betraying anything." Commenters (at Sefton, 2010) rightly noted that this was a charter for unethical behaviour that could be used to justify just about anything (emphasis added). Dawkins is constantly going on about 'reason' and 'evidence', but when it comes to religion and faith, he ignores the evidence and abandons reason.
References
Janina Ainsworth, Faith School Menace? Church Mouse Blog, posted 20 August 2010 (http://churchmousepublishing.blogspot.com/2010/08/exclusive-faith-school-menace-by-revd.html#comments , accessed 27/8/2010)
Richard Dawkins, No Faith in the Absurd, Times Education Supplement (London) 23/02/2001, page 17, http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=343917 , accessed 29 August 2010)
Leslie Francis, Church schools and pupil attitudes towards Christianity: a response to Mairi Levitt, British Journal of Religious Education, 17 (3), 1995, pp 133-139.
William Kay & Leslie Francis, Drift from the Churches: Attitude toward Christianity during Childhood and Adolescence, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1996, 266 pp.
Eliot Sefton, Dawkins: faith schools should teach all religion, The First Post [The Week], 18 August 2010
(http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/67378,people,news,richard-dawkins-force-faith-schools-to-teach-all-religion-education-atheism , accessed 28 August 2010
Keith Watson, Inside the Box: What Keith Watson Saw Last Night, Metro, 19/08/2010, page 36 (http://e-edition.metro.co.uk/2010/08/19/ , page 40, accessed 19 August 2010)

For other commentary on the programme or on Dawkins’ views on education, see:
Christian Institute, Dawkins calls for more interference in faith schools, christian.org.uk, posted 27 August 2010 (http://www.christian.org.uk/news/dawkins-calls-for-more-interference-in-faith-schools/?e270810 , accessed 27/08/2010
Huw Clayton (Doctor Huw), Dawkins, Myths and Dangers, Doctor Huw blog, posted 21 August 2010 (http://doctorhuw.wordpress.com/2010/08/21/dawkins-myths-and-dangers/ , accessed 27/8/2010)
Brian Hutt, Church educationalist rejects Dawkins’ ‘scaremongering’ over faith schools, Christian Today, posted 20 August 2010
(http://www.christiantoday.com/article/church.educationalist.rejects.dawkins.scaremongering.over.faith.schools/26547.htm, accessed 27 August 2010)
Phillip Johnson, Darwinism is Materialist Mythology, Not Science, Direction Magazine (Elim, UK), October 2004
Ben Leach, Richard Dawkins: 'faith schools should not be allowed to opt out of religious education', Daily Telegraph, posted 18 August 2010
(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/7951358/Richard-Dawkins-faith-schools-should-not-be-allowed-to-opt-out-of-religious-education.html , accessed 27 August 2010)
Paul Melanson, Richard Dawkins and the Battle for Humankind’s Future, Dallas Blog, posted 19 August 2010 (http://www.dallasblog.com/201008191006959/guest-viewpoint/richard-dawkins-and-the-battle-for-humankind-s-future.html , accessed 27/08/2010)
David Robertson, David Robertson responds to Richard Dawkins – Faith Schools Menace?, You Tube, posted 26 August 2010 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIZdYgvah0Y )
By Dr Arthur Jones

Monday, 23 August 2010

Dawkins - the New Spanish Inquisitor ?

Apparently Richard Dawkins has been presenting his new series 'Age of Reason' on the fringe More4 Channel (Wednesday 18th August, 9-10pm), and has again been filming in the classroom to challenge school children about their beliefs. His zeal and desire to root out Darwin heretics in schools reminds me of that of a Spanish inquisitor. Although, he says that he wishes faith schools to teach about all religion in the classroom there would seem to be little room for respect for other's beliefs in Dawkins a-theology.

Dawkins in fact wishes to bring faith schools to an end even though he acknowledges that their teaching standards are often better than secular schools. So good in fact that he would be willing to lie to get his children into one. He comments that he does not blame those atheists who pretend to be religious in order to get their children into the best faith schools, and comments that as he has 'absolutely no belief at all, I wouldn't be betraying anything' by lying and pretending to be religious The First Post on Dawkins

But what he does not seem to understand is that the quality of the education in faith schools is to do with their ethos. Dawkins own words reveal that he is willing to destroy the very thing, the values, that make faith schools so good and to offer a set of values instead that allow children and adults to tell lies. I can't believe that Dawkins is so naive that he cannot see the sad irony here. If he can tell lies to get children into a good school, then why not also 'tell lies for Darwin.' His admission of a willingness to lie also does not lend itself to trust, nor does it give good reasons to listen to him about education or Darwin.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Stephen Hawking Takes on God

Next month will see the publication of the latest books by two heavyweights in science: Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose. One claims to be an “extraordinary new view of the universe” and the other claims to give “new answers to the questions of life”.

Stephen Hawking needs no introduction. The disabled theoretical physicist who held the position of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge for 30 years is known worldwide for his bestselling book ‘A Brief History of Time’. Outside of scientific circles, Professor Sir Roger Penrose may not be quite as well known, but he is another top theoretical physicist and the bestselling author of ‘The Road to Reality’. He is currently Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 1988 Wolf Prize for physics which he shared with Stephen Hawking for their joint contribution to our understanding of the universe.

In a curious coincidence, on 23 September The Bodley Head Ltd will publish ‘Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe’ by Sir Roger, and on 9 September Bantam Press publish Stephen Hawking’s ‘The Grand Design: New Answers to the Questions of Life’.

Because of his fame in the wider world, Stephen Hawking’s book will probably receive the greater publicity, especially as it is his first major book in nearly a decade. But both books attempt to do the same thing in different ways: solve the mysteries of the universe.

In Hawking’s case, the title of the book has clear religious overtones. And from the publisher’s blurb, it is clear that Hawking is intent on offering science as an alternative to religious belief about the origins of the universe. Not content with answering the purely physical question of “When and how did the universe begin?”, Hawking goes further and enters metaphysical territory: “Why are we here? What is the nature of reality? Is the apparent ‘grand design’ of our universe evidence for a benevolent creator who set things in motion? Or does science offer another explanation?” Hawking is our “guide to discoveries that are altering our understanding and threatening some of our most cherished belief systems”. ‘The Grand Design’ “will inform – and provoke – like no other.”

Hawking seems intent on using science to supersede religion. But as he wanders into the minefield of religious and philosophical questions, it is increasingly clear that science comes up short. His book “explains the latest thoughts about model-dependent realism (the idea that there is no one version of reality), and about the multiverse concept of reality in which there are many universes. There are new ideas about the top-down theory of cosmology (the idea that there is no one history of the universe, but that every possible history exists).”

If science accepts that there are many versions of reality and a multiplicity of histories of the universe, science actually loses its ability to tell us anything useful about the world. Science has been successful because, in the main, it is able to tell us the truth about the world we live in. It tells us how things work, what they’re made of, and why things happen as they do, and to a certain extent how things got to be how they are today. But if there is no definite reality and no definite history, then science can no longer be a guide to truth. At this point it departs into speculation, and so has no more claim to truth than religion or philosophy.

Unfortunately, possibly because of his own difficult life experiences, it would seem that Hawking wants to challenge belief in a divine Creator by bending science to the task. In that respect, he follows another great name in science. Charles Darwin also lost belief in a God who personally interacts with people due to the suffering he experienced in life, and set out to devise a theory that would explain that suffering – a dog-eat-dog world of ‘survival of the fittest’. In Darwin’s view, God didn’t intervene in the world to prevent suffering so he can’t have been involved in the world at all – except as perhaps the one who lit the blue touchpaper to set the world in motion at the beginning.

Hawking, it seems, wants to take even that involvement away from God. Perhaps he has been influenced by Richard Dawkins, who has praised Darwin for explaining life without God, and is longing for someone to explain the universe without God.

Prof Penrose comes to the cosmic table from a slightly different direction to Hawking, but also seeks to explain the universe. His new book attempts to answer what came before the Big Bang. Hitherto that’s been acknowledged by most scientists as one arena that’s best left to God, since science has been unable to look behind that curtain. But Penrose aims to “show how the expected ultimate fate of our accelerating, expanding universe can actually be reinterpreted as the 'Big Bang' of a new one”. In other words, his theory is that time – and the universe – recycles itself.

It’s a very green-friendly sounding proposal, appropriate for the environmentally-aware times we live in. But I guess we would have to wait billions of years to find out if his theory is proved correct – until our universe itself ends – to find out if it has, in the process, created a new one all by itself!

It seems from the anticipated content of the book that Penrose is proposing something that approximates more to the Hindu view of the universe. The Hindu cosmology proposes that the big bang is not the beginning of everything but just the start of the present cycle, preceded by an infinite number of universes and to be followed by another infinite number of universes. Perhaps Penrose was reading his Rig Veda (Hindu scripture) before he came up with his idea.

Hawking’s rather loose view on reality might also accord more with Buddhism than atheism: Buddhists posit neither an ultimate beginning nor a final end to the universe, but see the universe as something in flux, passing in and out of existence, parallel to an infinite number of other universes doing the same thing.

Perhaps we should look not at highly speculative theories for a better understanding of the universe but at the hard facts that are more scientifically testable. What we do know is that the universe is incredibly precise and ‘fine-tuned’ for life on earth to exist. If the forces in the universe had been set up just a tiny bit wrong, there would be no “life as we know it, Jim” (apologies to non-Star Trek fans). The list of physical constants that are finely balanced in this way is as long as your arm. As Hawking says in his earlier book ‘A Brief History of Time’: “The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.”

Leading theoretical physics professor Paul Davies – another best-selling science writer – is more open about this. He states: “The really amazing thing is not that life on Earth is balanced on a knife-edge, but that the entire universe is balanced on a knife-edge, and would be total chaos if any of the natural 'constants' were off even slightly. You see, even if you dismiss man as a chance happening, the fact remains that the universe seems unreasonably suited to the existence of life – almost contrived – you might say a ‘put-up job.’”

Michael Turner, astrophysicist at the University of Chicago and Fermilab, describes the fine-tuning of the universe like this: “The precision is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bullseye one millimetre in diameter on the other side.”

This incredible accuracy speaks of an Intelligent Designer behind the universe. Penrose holds no religious beliefs and is a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association, yet he himself has to admit that both human consciousness and the fine-tuning of the universe are mysterious. In The Emperor's New Mind (1989), he argued that known laws of physics are inadequate to explain the phenomenon of consciousness, and in the film version of ‘A Brief History of Time’, he said: "There is a certain sense in which I would say the universe has a purpose. It's not there just somehow by chance. Some people take the view that the universe is simply there and it runs along… and we happen by accident to find ourselves in this thing. I don't think that's a very fruitful or helpful way of looking at the universe, I think that there is something much deeper about it, about its existence, which we have very little inkling of at the moment.”

Physicist Tony Rothman says: "When confronted with the order and beauty of the universe and the strange coincidences of nature, it's very tempting to take the leap of faith from science into religion. I am sure many physicists want to. I only wish they would admit it."

I’ll leave the last word to mathematical physics professor Frank Tipler: “When I began my career as a cosmologist some 20 years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics.”
Andrew Halloway

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Discrimination of Christians in the Classroom ?

There is an interesting piece on Education and Christian belief in the Times Higher Education Supplement.
Stop Turning the Other Cheek - Times Higher Education Supplement

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The British Humanist Association and their Fundamentalism

The British Humanist Association has been hard at work writing to the Government seeking to deny religious groups a voice in education, while pretending to be a voice of reason. This is hypocritical

The BHA has lobbied the Education Secretary Michael Gove and reports suggest that the policy developed will seek to exclude 'extremist groups' from taking over schools, and furthermore there would be no creationism taught in science classes.

Andrew Copson of the BHA is concerned about the 'dangers of the influences of fundamentalist groups in our school system.' Presumably he doesn't mean to imply that the BHA owns the school system by use of the word ‘our’, but the faux pas is evident nonetheless. He is perhaps too blinkered to know that true pluralism must respect those who have different religious beliefs to his own and allow them to have an equal voice in education.

The BHA wants us to believe that secular humanism is religiously neutral, but it is not. It is instead biased in favour of atheism. So the claim of the BHA that it seeks to develop 'totally inclusive schools for children of all faiths and none' is entirely bogus. The BHA wants atheistic humanism to have a dominant position in schools and by its actions wishes to treat those who have religious and scientific convictions about creation as second-class citizens.

It would be a tragedy if the new coalition Government were to listen to the BHA and allow restrictions to freedom and human rights in schools and so deny children their freedom of conscience, and to prevent the opportunity for children to learn skills in the critical analysis of complex arguments and data; skills that are the hallmarks of true education. We would ask that children and students be allowed to learn skills in critical thinking within the science class and be allowed to question the problems with evolution while respecting their faith. Anything less is not science, but humanistic, religious dogma of a fundamentalist nature.

Andrew Halloway has written a more extensive piece here

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Ekklesia and Relative Truth ?

An article by Ekklesia's Symon Hill blames fundamentalism for getting its view of truth wrong (Truth is a political issue). He [or they] appear to be equally dismissive of creationists and intelligent design supporters and the 'new atheists' because they have too strong a view of truth. At least atheists and creationists are agreed that truth is an objective concept, and must be held as such to make sense of the world. Ekklesia's Symon Hill though seems to be arguing that truth must be placed within the context of politics and culture. Karl Popper in The Open Society and its Enemies instead saw that loss of an objective approach to truth can lead to tyranny because objective values are lost as well when truth is made subjective. Perhaps Ekklesia might wish to clarify their position on whether they believe truth to be an objective concept.

Symon also believes that creationists are generally well financed and right wing, but the truth is more complex than this - (irony intended). Most creationist groups are not well financed and are concerned about how we value human beings and creation in light of the claims of Darwinism. Darwinism seems to give us less reasons to value those things that Christianity shows to be valuable and this is of major concern to us. The Evolution Protest Movement started out with concern over questions of morality in the 1930s at the time Hitler was gaining power; even then the voice of creationists were being silenced while the Nazis were planning the holocaust under the influence of an evolutionary mindset.

There is a place for respectful dialogue between faiths, but not for a pluralism that respects no one's belief by making truth a subjective concept.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Atheists Lobby for Evolution in Primary Schools

Before the general election, the British Humanist Association (BHA) was lobbying the Government to include evolution in primary school teaching. It hasn’t given up. Last month the BHA wrote to Michael Gove, the new Secretary of State for Education, pushing the same agenda under the guise of improving standards of science in primary schools.

Now, it should be obvious that an organisation that exists to promote atheism would have an ulterior motive for campaigning to promote science in schools. It is this: evolution has become the rock on which atheism is built, and all secularists and humanists fear that loss of faith in evolution would lead to loss of faith in atheism. I just hope Michael Gove can see that.

The BHA are really not concerned about science – but they are desperate to ensure that children are steeped in evolutionary thinking before they have developed the more critical faculties of a secondary school child. That way, they are less likely to reject it when they grow older.

Why are they desperate? Because survey after survey has shown that, despite decades of indoctrination of evolution through both education and the media, the British public are still resistant to its overblown claims.

Sadly for the standard of science in this country, the BHA’s letter to Michael Gove managed to gather the support not only of atheist scientists like their own Richard Dawkins (predictably), but Rev Professor Michael Reiss, An Anglican priest and science education expert. He has obviously been roped in to give the impression that it’s not just atheists who want evolution in primary schools, but mainstream churches as well.

Professor Reiss would do well to remember that it was only a couple of years ago that he was sacked from his job at the Royal Society after a concerted effort by leading atheists to silence his more common sense approach to teaching science. He was open to the discussion of creationism in science classrooms – if the aim was to explain why evolution was superior science. But even that was too much for Dawkins et al. Even a whiff of God in science classes was too much for them to stomach. Dawkins even suggested that Reiss should never have been given the post in the first place – simply because he was a clergyman. I think Reiss, whose scientific credentials are impeccable, would have had a case for religious discrimination.

But back to the letter. Liberal Christian news agency Ekklesia reported that “good teaching of evolutionary theory and biology is something that people of all beliefs and backgrounds can and should get behind – despite the well-funded attempts of some from fundamentalist religious backgrounds to inhibit evidence-based teaching or get their own ideology on the school agenda.”

There is so much wrong with this statement I hardly know where to start! First, people of all beliefs should get behind good teaching of evolution – because good teaching includes explaining the evidence for and against a theory. But this is the furthest thing from the mind of the BHA and pro-evolution Ekklesia. Their idea of good teaching would be if evolution was promoted as fact, and all criticism of it was excluded – tantamount to brainwashing.

Second, the creationist “ideology” they refer to is about as far from being “well-funded” as it is possible to get. There is only a handful of small creationist organisations in the UK, each struggling to exist on donations from supporters that add up to a few thousand pounds per year. In contrast, evolution has the full weight of government funding in schools, colleges and universities, plus millions spent by broadcasters on TV programmes, like David Attenborough’s documentaries, every year.

Third, scientists who believe in alternatives to evolution like creationism and Intelligent Design Theory do not “inhibit evidence-based teaching” at all. On the contrary, it is they who are constantly campaigning for educators to open up the evidence, to make students and the public aware that there is evidence against evolution as well as for it. They support evidence-based teaching. It is evolutionists who want to restrict teaching to just the evidence in favour of evolution.

And as for trying to get “their own ideology on the school agenda” – that’s exactly what the BHA is doing by writing to Michael Gove!

Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, says: "The teaching of science equips young people with the skills they need to understand the world around them in a critical way, and opens up the natural environment for inquiry.” If only that’s what the BHA wanted. Instead, they want no criticism of evolution and to restrict enquiry about the natural world so that alternatives cannot be considered.

Mr Gove has previously made it clear that he does not regard creationism as having any place in science teaching, a point also made under the previous Labour administration. But when I wrote to Mr Gove before the election, I made it clear that I was not campaigning for creationism to be included in science teaching, but for evolution to be taught in a truly scientific way – where all the evidence, and arguments for and against, are considered.

In an interview Michael Gove gave to the BBC, he referred to evolution as “scientific fact” and said: “The problem that we have in state education at the moment, and the problem which our reforms will directly address, is the fact that parents aren't getting what they want.”

I told him: “One of the things I, as a parent, want for my children is that they are taught how to think for themselves, how to critique theories and concepts, and how to decide logically what is a convincing argument and what is not.

“Sadly, this ideal seems to conflict with your desire for only ‘scientific fact’ to be taught in schools, because for science to pursue the facts, it must be free to question the currently accepted understandings and theories. The philosophy of science shows that there are no absolute ‘scientific facts’. Science only progresses by questioning, by cultivating an enquiring mind. If no one questioned the idea that the earth was flat, we would not have discovered that the earth is round.

“In the interview, you said ‘you cannot have a school which teaches creationism’. I am not asking that you should, but I am asking that children should be allowed to question every reigning scientific paradigm, and that includes evolution. If you believe… that evolution is another one of those ‘scientific facts’, then you have swallowed the line that Richard Dawkins and his ‘new atheist’ friends want you to swallow. I don’t know what your personal views on religion are, but Dawkins has an obvious vested interest in claiming that evolution is a fact, because it is vital to his philosophy. As he says himself, evolution made it possible for him to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist. In short, he is completely biased on evolution.

“The true scientific position on the study of biological origins is to assert that evolution is a theory. As such, it deserves to be questioned. In fact, if it isn’t, it will never improve and never come closer to the truth. If protected from criticism, as Dawkins would have it, evolution will in fact move further and further from the truth.

“Coming back to education – children should be taught that most scientists believe in evolution, but there is a sizeable minority who do not. This is a fact. They should then be given the evidence for and against evolution, and be taught how to evaluate the evidence for themselves. Only then will they be educated to think for themselves, instead of being effectively ‘brainwashed’ – which is what happens in biology today, because only the evidence in favour of evolution is allowed in the classroom.

“Dawkins and his ilk claim that no real scientists doubt evolution. Nothing could be further from the truth. Over 700 PhD-level scientists and professors have signed a document expressing their doubts. The Scientific Dissent From Darwinism is a short public statement by scientists expressing their scepticism of neo-Darwinism.
“The full statement reads: ‘We are sceptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.’ Prominent scientists who have signed the statement include evolutionary biologist and textbook author Dr. Stanley Salthe; quantum chemist Henry Schaefer at the University of Georgia; U.S. National Academy of Sciences member Philip Skell; American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow Lyle Jensen; Russian Academy of Natural Sciences embryologist Lev Beloussov.

“This is not a bunch of ‘fundamentalists’. Many of these are leading scientists in their fields. Dr. Russell Carlson, Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at University of Georgia, comments: ‘To limit teaching to only one idea is a disservice to students because it is unnecessarily restrictive, dishonest, and intellectually myopic.’ Dr. Vladimir L. Voeikov, Professor of Bioorganic, Moscow State University and member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences is even stronger: ‘The ideology and philosophy of neo-Darwinism which is sold by its adepts as a scientific theoretical foundation of biology seriously hampers the development of science and hides from students the field’s real problems.’

“I therefore appeal to you to make biological education an open-minded pursuit of the truth, like the rest of science, rather than the mind-closing myopia that Darwinian fanatics subscribe to.

“Again, I am not asking for the teaching of creationism, but for teachers and students alike to be able to assess the evidence both for and against evolution. But incidentally, I’d also be very interested to know why you think that teaching creationism is teaching ‘in a way which undermines our democratic values’, as you said in the interview, and could be ‘closed down’. How would banning creationism improve democracy? I can see no relation whatsoever. Surely democracy is about freedom of opinion, and science is about freedom of enquiry. Censorship in education and science sounds closer to totalitarianism than democracy.”

The response from Michael Gove’s office indicated he did not understand the point I was making – or was unwilling to follow its logic: “We very much agree that we want children to learn to think and reason, be presented with different arguments and be able to use critical reasoning to make their own judgements. However, we do not believe that in state schools, Religion should be taught as Science. That is the delineation we want to make.”

But the BHA and Ekklesia need to explain why they are promoting evolution as proven fact when it is not empirical science – it is not repeatable in the present, contradicts the laws of thermodynamics and is difficult to falsify. I suspect the reason is that they both have a vested interest in shoring up the creaking edifice of evolution – one to justify their atheism, and one to gain intellectual credibility and political influence.

Andrew Halloway An earlier draft of this article is posted here

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Polkinghorne and causal gaps

A recent Oxford conference has celebrated the long service to science and religion by John Polkinghorne. This Guardian 'Comment is Free' blog post by Mark Vernon is of interest because it discusses Polkinghorne's belief about causal gaps with top down intentional causality.
Chaos Theory Polkinghorne and God
Vernon comments that "it's not an epistemological gap that's being appealed to in John Polkinghorne's work, but rather an ontological causal openness. Hence the possibility, at least, of making the link with divine action."

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Football and Cheating - Poetic Justice?

OK this is not a science post, unless you consider the technology of the new ball - a ball the German team had longer to practice with than all the other teams. But is there such a thing as poetic justice after Uruguay and Germany are now out of the World Cup?

The Uruguay player deliberate handball incident stopped Ghana from scoring a last minute goal that would have put Ghana through, and the German goalkeeper admitting that he deliberately pretended the ball had not crossed the line even though he knew it had, in order to fool the referee. Both players later boasted about it.

Now both teams are out. But are these types of incidents good for football?


Friday, 25 June 2010

Can unborn babies feel pain - and does it make a difference ?

I was going to blog about this news item but Calvin Smith beat me to it, so I'll pass on the link to his blog here which gives a good overview of the issues.

Basically a government backed report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and commissioned by the Department of Health, concludes that the feotus at 24 weeks cannot feel pain. One does wonder whether this is really unbiased scientific evidence, or findings gathered to support a left wing social and political agenda.
Telegraph - Foetus 'cannot feel pain before 24 weeks'

And there is the more important matter of whether the unborn child has rights of his or her own. Many Christians believe that the feotus has intrinsic value whether or not it can feel pain, and should therefore be treated as a moral patient of equal dignity to infants, children and adults. It is the duty of adults to protect that life.

Downing Street reports that the Prime Minister will "continue to be guided by the science on the matter". The problem is that values cannot be reduced to science in this way. (Although later news stories suggest the Prime Minister is willing to reduce the time limit for abortions to 20 or 22 weeks).

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Peter Singer attacks religion for being regressive

Peter Singer, the environmentalist who wants to raise some animal rights above some human beings, has criticised religion for being regressive in a Guardian Comment is Free blog article.

Religion's regressive hold on animal rights issues

Although he acknowledges that some religious beliefs are progressive he is generally dismissive. He writes for instance that "some Christian theologians offer a kinder, more compassionate interpretation of the idea of our God-given dominion over the animals. They regard the grant of dominion as a kind of stewardship, with God wanting us to take care of his creatures and treat them well."

But he believes that religion has a generally regressive influence on ethical issues "whether they are concerned with the status of women, with sexuality, with end-of-life decisions in medicine, with the environment, or with animals. Although religions do change, they change slowly, and tend to preserve attitudes that have become obsolete and often are positively harmful."

Singer is really a product of the Enlightenment, where religion must be viewed through a negative tinted lens, and progress must be seen in purely secular humanistic terms. Singer's ethics though are subjective to human sentiment where a cute furry animal is to have more rights than an unborn child that is out of sight. The list he gives is the usual shallow liberal issues where there is a lack of depth of thought regarding who has rights and values. There is a lack of concern for responsibility towards others; except for animals. However, one wonders why Singer thinks he has the right to have a greater voice than others given a common rationality amongst human beings. Clearly for ethics to have real objective substance beyond human sentiment there is a need for a higher authority who seeks to bring equality.

I would also point out that there are many Christians who are concerned about environmental issues and animal suffering as well. Experimentation on animals is something that is great concern to many Christians who do see that they have value and should be protected from unnecessary harm.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Backward Retina or Good Design ?

There is another excellent article by Jonathan Sarfati on the CMI website. This time concerning the importance of Mueller cells for good vision.
Backwardly wired retina “an optimal structure”: New eye discovery further demolishes Dawkins

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

A useful article on Venter's work

Jonathan Sarfati has a useful article on the exagerated claims and work of Venter.
http://creation.com/synthetic-life-by-venter

Friday, 21 May 2010

Has a Scientist Created Artificial Life ?

The Times - May 21, 2010 - Scientists create artificial life in laboratory

The press is full of stories that a scientist has created artificial life. But what has really happened? In fact all that has happened is that a group of scientists have put together a specific genetic code and then put it into an existing cell. In other words, there is not much difference to what is already going on with genetic engineering.

Ben Davis, from the University of Oxford, said that we are '...quite a long way away from artificial life. You could take this synthetic genome and write in new genes with known functions, but that is not so different from molecular biology at the moment.'

The ethical problems remain the same as with existing genetic engineering.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Judge's assault on 'irrational' religious freedom

With all the election hype this news story about religious freedom may have been missed. The basis for English Law seems to have changed from one based on God's authority, to one based on subjective human sentiments. Legal rights are given to those who can gather the most sympathy. It is a utilitarian corruption of the concept of rights and duties and is a pathway to legal tyranny. So a Christian can lose his job with all the stress and real hardship to family, in order to save another person's feelings being hurt.

Telegrqaph - Gary McFarlane: judge's assault on 'irrational' religious freedom claims in sex therapist case

The problem is also one of relativism in ethics. Popper in The Open Society and its Enemies was concerned about dialectical reasoning because concepts can change through the dialogue. If ethics are relative, then there is nothing to stop tyranny from arising. And this is the problem with secularists, they do not really want pluralism in terms of respecting people's rights in a free society, but want to undermine Christian faith and tear up the Judeo-Christian foundations of our society. Far from leading to respect and understanding in a free society, the secularists are leading us to a closed society based on relative ethics where those in power decide who has rights and who does not. That is a dangerous road to take.

As Christians we should also uphold the rights of those who are not Christian allowing freedom of belief, but recognising that Judeo-Christian values provide the best basis for a loving and just society. I don't think anyone seriously is arguing for a strong theocratic Christian state in Britain where other's rights are denied - but that is the spectre that the judge raised.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Telegraph is reporting the death of Anthony Flew

The Daily Telegraph is reporting the death at the age of 87 of Anthony Flew who was a life long atheist, but converted to a vague theism near the end of his life. You can read the obituary here
Daily Telegraph 13/04/2010 - Professor Antony Flew, the rationalist philosopher who died on April 8 aged 87, spent much of his life denying the existence of God until, in 2004, he dramatically changed his mind.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Is Dawkins going to arrest the Pope?

No its not April 1st.

The Sunday Telegraph reports this; Richard Dawkins planning to have Pope Benedict arrested over 'crimes against humanity'

I'm not going to get into the rights and wrong of recent events surrounding the Roman Catholic Church, but it seems to me that a bit of persecution from bullying, militant atheists is exactly what the Vatican needs to help restore its image and authority.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Christian Values and Intelligent Life at the BBC

There were two significant programmes on BBC television on Easter Sunday night (4th April) that highlighted one of the major challenges we face as Christians in education

Nicky Campbell investigates whether Christians are being discriminated against Nicky Campbell, Are Christians being persecuted? BBC1, Sunday 04 April, 10.50 - 11.50 pm

In a BBC 2 Documentary Prof. Brian Cox explored how the search for aliens has followed the search for water. Last in the series (5/5) Prof Brian Cox, Wonders of the Solar System 5 Aliens, BBC2, Sunday 04 April, 9-10 pm.

In a two minute segment (05-22 to 07-24 minutes into the BBC1 programme on iplayer) Nicky Campbell looked at what is happening in schools. He mentioned a recent report that looked into the teaching of RE in schools (can anyone identify this report?) The report found that most Christian student teachers thought that sharing their beliefs in the classroom could be unprofessional. But it was a different story for agnostics and atheists – they believed that sharing their lack of beliefs or questions could be a positive contribution. Nicky then went and talked to education students at Canterbury Christ Church University (a Christian foundation!) and found this to be exactly true.

This highlights the most important thing that my colleague Mark Roques and I (www.realitybites.org.uk) always want to get across. There is no neutral position – everyone is thinking, speaking and acting out of a worldview position, even if (as in our world of a fundamentally uneducated populace, i.e. worldview ignorant) that worldview is eclectic, self-contradictory and unrecognised. The trouble with agnosticism, atheism and secularism is that they are essentially negative positions, whereas their proponents will actually all have positive beliefs that (aware or unaware) they are living out. They may deny (agnostically) that they have any worldview, but actually they cannot avoid living as if a particular worldview is true. Our worldview is what we live, not what we profess (these are often very different – another reflection of the lack of worldview education – of the ignorance of the relationship between beliefs and life) So the key question is: what is their worldview (their faith, their divinity belief à la Roy Clouser’s The Myth of Religious Neutrality)? Then let’s have that worldview on the table and open to the same searching critique that Christians are expected to face.

Secularists treat their position as a default starting point that doesn’t need to be scrutinised. We have seen this in almost all of the recent Darwin Year programmes. A Richard Dawkins or Colin Blakemore is given free reign to (negatively) critique religious beliefs, but their own materialism is not exposed to similar critique. Implicitly, the different varieties of secularism are positions of science and reason that don’t need to be critiqued.

Brian Cox’s BBC2 programme illustrated this. There was nothing new in his programme, but it was interesting to see key assumptions laid out unapologetically, but without any rational (never mind empirical) justification being offered.

In the first place he assumed that physicalism is true – that in the end there is only physics, that the universal laws of physics create everything.

He also assumed that life is just chemistry (we are 96% just four elements: C,H,O, and N, he noted). All we need for life to be possible is chemicals, an energy source (such as the sun) and a medium (water). However he did concede that, even on this view, the creation of life on Earth was probably due to “the rarest combination of chance and the laws of physics”.

Thirdly he assumed that because life can exist in the most extreme (‘alien’) environments on Earth, therefore life may exist in extreme environments elsewhere in the Solar system (such as in a possible ocean beneath the icy crust of Jupiter’s moon Europa). This is a proposition that requires a lot more justification: that organisms now live in such environments does not demonstrate that they could arise in such environments (granting, for the sake of the argument, that life can ‘emerge’ from purely chemical systems).

At no point (like Dawkins, Blakemore et al.) did he consider the materialism-busting problems of free will (agency), consciousness, intelligence (etc.). If we are just chemical machines, wholly governed by some combination of chance and the universal laws of physics, then from where do we get human free will (to follow the evidence, to follow an argument …), reason, science, morality ….? What, then, do we teach the children in school? At present it is actually still Christian assumptions that govern much of the teaching in citizenship, PSHE etc. We can’t allow that dishonesty and deception to continue can we? Are we ready for a truly Godless world?
Arthur Jones

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Telegraph blogger finds Lovelock worrying and confusing

'Only global fascist tyranny can save us now' says nice old man

Although Lovelock says some good things about science and climate change all is not so well under the surface. According to Delingpole he writes in The Vanishing Face of Gaia;

"We need a more authoritative world. We’ve become a sort of cheeky, egalitarian world where everyone can have their say. It’s all very well, but there are certain circumstances – a war is a typical example – where you can’t do that. You’ve got to have a few people with authority who you trust who are running it. And they should be very accountable too, of course.

But it can’t happen in a modern democracy. This is one of the problems. What’s the alternative to democracy? There isn’t one. But even the best democracies agree that hen a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while."


Perhaps under the hood of every nice liberal tree hugger is really just a lust for power and control, all in the name of the pagan idea of 'mother earth.'

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

James Lovelock on Science and Climate Scepticism

James Lovelock believes that there is a place for scepticism in science, especially when it becomes overbearing and monolithic - although he doesn't have confidence that human beings will stop climate change from happening.
James Lovelock: 'humans too stupid to stop climate change', says maverick scientist

As reported in the Telegraph "that the recent events surrounding the topic had left his thoughts about climate change “sceptics” thawing. ...“What I like about sceptics is that in good science you need critics that make you think: 'Crumbs, have I made a mistake here?' If you don't have that continuously, you really are up the creek,” he said....“The good sceptics have done a good service, but some of the mad ones I think have not done anyone any favours. ..."You need sceptics, especially when the science gets very big and monolithic." "

and in the Guardian - James Lovelock: 'Fudging data is a sin against science' he comments that "I don't know enough about carbon trading, but I suspect that it is basically a scam. The whole thing is not very sensible.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Science and uncertainty

Scientists need the guts to say: I don’t know - From climate change to swine flu, we must rebuild trust by being honest about risk

David Spiegelhalter writes; "Acknowledgement of uncertainty may even increase public confidence in pronouncements. Recent events, whether the justification for the Iraq War or “Climategate”, have reinforced the fact that trust is the crucial factor — although this may be even more difficult to achieve than certainty. "

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Jonathan Chaplin on the Equality BIll

Chaplin of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics argues robustly that there is a need for Christian Churches and organisations to retain their freedom to hire people on the basis of their beliefs. This he believes is a matter of conscience and it is not for a secular state to prohibit such freedoms. He wonders why political ideology is not subject to the same campaign.

Chaplin also wonders why the liberal para-church 'think-tank' Ekklesia is campaigning for Christians to be denied their freedom in this way. He writes "But [Jonathan Bartley of Ekklesia] is not entitled to call upon coercive law to force churches to conform to his views of sexual ethics – getting the state to succeed where he has failed. It's incredible that such a position should be advanced in pursuit of the principle of equal regard."

These amendments should stay: The equality bill must not be used to undermine the right of religious organisations to govern themselves

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Is Michael Ruse flogging a Dead Moral Horse?

Ruse asks us to believe that morality is subjective, a product of our genes. We only believe it is objective because our genes determine that is better for us. Let’s be frank, atheism kills morality, and any attempt to get it up and running in a godless system is futile. He writes in this article; God is dead. Long live morality: Morality is something fashioned by natural selection. That doesn’t diminish its usefulness, or its comfort

‘God is dead, so why should I be good? The answer is that there are no grounds whatsoever for being good….Morality then is not something handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai. It is something forged in the struggle for existence and reproduction, something fashioned by natural selection….Morality is just a matter of emotions…So morality has to come across as something that is more than emotion. It has to appear to be objective, even though really it is subjective.’

There a number of angles to respond to Ruse. Firstly, what is moral? It isn’t enough to say that evolution can make us moral, we have to ask what is good morality. Why should we consider murder to be wrong at a foundational level. As Ruse notes lion’s are often multiple murders so Darwinism doesn’t help us decide. Is morality just about social cooperation? In Hobbes state of nature every man is against every man, or with Darwinian filial affections, every tribe is against every tribe in a state of nature. But that doesn’t stop tribes fighting, whether they be football supporters, Africans or Caucasians. In a state of nature how do we determine what is moral? Darwinism could lead to family or tribal cooperation in exterminating a rival tribe, but not to good morality. Morality has to transcend human emotions to be at all real.

Secondly, what of truth? A commitment to tell the truth is good morality. But if our genes have evolved to lie to us, then how can we know anything moral with confidence, or trust that what our genes are telling us really is the good? This is an argument for relativism and confusion in ethics. Modernism opens the door to post-modernism. Ruse would do well to read Phillip Johnson’s article Nihilism and the End of Law

"Arthur Leff had a deeper understanding of what the death of God ultimately means for man. He saw modern intellectual history as a long, losing war against the nihilism implicit in modernism’s rejection of the unevaluated evaluator who is the only conceivable source for ultimate premises. Leff rejected the nihilism implicit in modernism, but he also rejected the supernaturalism that he had identified as the only escape from nihilism.”


Posted also at Uncommon Descent

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Greens under attack

Environmentalists have come under some unpleasant attacks in the press following some research that shows that they are meaner than others and more likely to break important social rules.

Liars, cheats, thieves: the terrible truth about the mean greens: The right-on brigade has been unmasked. About time too, says Iain Hollingshead

He writes "Do Green Products Make Us Better People?, a paper in the latest edition of the journal Psychological Science, argues that those who wear what the authors call the "halo of green consumerism" are less likely to be kind to others, and more likely to cheat and steal. Faced with various moral choices – whether to stick to the rules in games, for example, or to pay themselves an appropriate wage – the green participants behaved much worse in the experiments than their conventional counterparts. The short answer to the paper's question, then, is: No. Greens are mean"

and

"We've always suspected they were bullies. In the Seventies British film Nuts in May, Mike Leigh hilariously skewered the sort of couple whose supposed love of the environment ... is really just a device to stop everyone else having fun."

Perhaps this is a bit over the top. But one thing I have noticed is that green campaigners often seem to have little interest in upholding rights and benefits for people and society, but instead over emphasise the need to protect some animal or plant that could live just as well somewhere else. Sometimes it seems that stopping a social benefit is more imortant than protecting nature. There can then be an anti-social lack of balance in their work.

I do wonder whether the need to be alternative and dictatorial towards others in this way is perhaps due to a repressed desire for recognition and acceptance in the community.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Dawkins gets it so wrong Down Under

The Uncommon Descent blog is reporting Dawkins' activity in Australia. Dawkins down Under

Dawkins is up to his usual trick of attacking Christian belief with little substance and fore-thought. He makes out that a world full of atheists would be sweetness and light, while religion is responsible for all the bad things that happen. He carefully overlooks the fact that atheistic regimes top the league table for numbers killed. This is because a world without transcendent values must make up its own, and who is to decide? The Humanist society, or a new Hitler or Stalin, or is it everyman for himself in a Darwinian utopia? Dawkins adopts broadly Christian ethics, although he doesn't admit it, but that need not be the case for atheists. If Dawkins and friends manage to get rid of Christian belief, then what moral conscience is going to stop the new pagans from banning atheism? Atheism attacks rational faith and merely opens the door for all sorts of irrational beliefs where people pray to trees and idols made by a craftsman.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Are Government and Ekklesia using the law to bully faith communities?

As if allegations against bullying in No.10 aren't bad enough, it might be seen that faith communities are now being bullied by an over bearing government machine, with vocal support from Ekklesia.

Of course bullying of all forms is wrong, faith communities understand that. But Jonathan Bartley of Ekklesia launches an attack on faith schools, in an attempt to strengthen the law, that itself looks like bullying. Why they should attack their Christian brethren in this way is beyond me, they appear to me to have a liberalising social agenda that seeks to deconstruct and undermine Christian institutions and appear to have little belief in God's transforming love and grace for individuals and society. But Ed Balls makes the most telling statement where the only prescription about morality is to be from government dictat - the word of government is becoming god to us.

Balls writes "All schools will be required to cover in their teaching of personal, social and health education the full range of content prescribed in the statutory programme of study for secondary schools and in the relevant parts of the new primary curriculum."

While respect for those we disagree with is important, Labour is really advocating the secularisation of schools, which will ultimately lead to post-modern relativism in ethics because it is really treating religious beliefs in a pluralistic manner. Sadly, such relativism will only lead to tyranny in the long run because it destroys any objective basis for value (that was also Popper's argument against relativism in his book The Open Society and its Enemies). I would suggest that faith communities have a better understanding of morality than the secularising Labaour administration that is constantly undermining people's freedom to believe.

Of course there are claims and counter claims about what the new law will mean with the Daily Mail reporting a victory for faith schools in an amendment Victory for faith schools as Labour's new sex education laws are 'watered down'. However, I think that there will only be increased confusion.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Tory education policy -Buddhists In, Creationism Out

I see the Conservative Party education spokesman Mike Gove wants to allow Buddhists to set up schools, but is adament creationism will not be allowed into schools.

Goldie Hawn talks to Tories about setting up schools

He is reported to have said that an independent body would manage schools "to make sure that extremist organisations, or people who have a dark agenda, are prevented from doing so. The other thing that we will make sure is that schools are inspected rigorously...To my mind you cannot have a school which teaches creationism and one thing that we will make absolutely clear is that you cannot have schools which are set up, which teach people things which are clearly at variance with what we know to be scientific fact."

Otherwse; "anyone who teaches in a way which undermines our democratic values can be brought to light, challenged and if necessary, closed down".

The BBC reports that the "Hawn Foundation teaches the Buddhist technique of Mindfulness training, which emphasises social and emotional progress over academic testing and the use of simple breathing exercises to boost learning power."

So a belief in a loving designer will not be allowed to be discussed in school science lessons, but a Buddhist group that doesn't like tests will be allowed in. It was belief in design that actually led to the growth of science in the first place, and there is a conflict between a rational belief in order and design on the one hand that informs science, and a belief in romantic naturalism on the other that will ultimately undermine science. Furthermore, the idea that creationism should be excluded for democratic reasons is offensive and counterproductive to education.

One wonders what has happened to the Conservative Party. The only choice at the next election will be which liberal party we want, the real liberals, the tory liberals or the socialist liberals.

A shame Ann Widdecombe is leaving parliamant.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Climate change graph shows modest increase over 30 years, but record January 2010

A NASA researcher, Roy Spencer, has shown that January 2010 was actually a record warm month, despite the freezing conditions in many parts of the Europe, UK and America. Although the Winter Olympics were short of snow due to mild weather. This graph is taken from Satellite measurements of the lower troposhpere and is not subject to problems with surface data, such as the urban heat island effect that may be leading to higher measurements.
Read the report here - January-2010-UAH-Global-Temperature-update-0-72-deg-c/

I have also lined to the graphic below.


This graph though shows about a 0.2 deg C increase in global temperatures over 30 years in the lower troposphere. This is a more modest rate of increase than some alarmists would wish people to believe.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Peer Review vs Open Access Review

Fred Pearce in the Guardian asks whether Climategate will lead to changes in the way science is reviewed, from peer review to open access review.

'Climategate' was PR disaster that could bring healthy reform of peer review - Peer-review was meant to be a safeguard against the publication of bad science but the balance is shifting towards open access

Monday, 8 February 2010

Is God being erased from public life?

Ruth Gledhill has interviewed the Bishop of Durham, Dr. Tom Wright, in The Times

Labour has erased God from political life, warns Bishop of Durham

He is reported as saying; “We have lived as a Western society by a particular set of stories which are substantially Enlightenment stories, about science solving all our ills. The Enlightenment kicked God upstairs like the elderly relative in the attic...If you get rid of God you inflate yourself to be divine instead.”

Friday, 5 February 2010

Climate scepticism on the rise - BBC

The BBCs new poll suggests climate change scepticism is on the rise. They blame the bad weather, suppression of evidence from the University of East Anglia, and flawed peer reviewed data claims that appeared in the IPCC reports.
Climate scepticism 'on the rise', BBC poll shows

Comment: It would a shame if the politicisation of climate change damages the real scientific research that is going on. There is increasing evidence that the climate is not warming as fast as once thought, and that other factors may come into play [1], but the levels of measured CO2 in the atmosphere are increasing. And it is very likely that this will have an impact upon the climate, even if a more modest one than some alarmists believe.

[1] Stratospheric water vapour may have a bigger impact than once thought on climate
.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Climate Change developments

The UK Government's chief scientist has called for honest dialogue on climate change. Quoted from the Timesonline Science chief John Beddington calls for honesty on climate change 27/01/10

"" "The impact of global warming has been exaggerated by some scientists and there is an urgent need for more honest disclosure of the uncertainty of predictions about the rate of climate change, according to the Government’s chief scientific adviser.

John Beddington was speaking to The Times in the wake of an admission by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that it grossly overstated the rate at which Himalayan glaciers were receding.

Professor Beddington said that climate scientists should be less hostile to sceptics who questioned man-made global warming. He condemned scientists who refused to publish the data underpinning their reports.

He said that public confidence in climate science would be improved if there were more openness about its uncertainties, even if that meant admitting that sceptics had been right on some hotly-disputed issues.

He said: “I don’t think it’s healthy to dismiss proper scepticism. Science grows and improves in the light of criticism. There is a fundamental uncertainty about climate change prediction that can’t be changed.”

He said that the false claim in the IPCC’s 2007 report that the glaciers would disappear by 2035 had exposed a wider problem with the way that some evidence was presented.

“Certain unqualified statements have been unfortunate. We have a problem in communicating uncertainty. There’s definitely an issue there. If there wasn’t, there wouldn’t be the level of scepticism. All of these predictions have to be caveated by saying, ‘There’s a level of uncertainty about that’.” ""

Dawkins back from playing Father Christmas

Dawkins is back from his Christmas break - a shame he didn't listen to the message of Christmas about peace and goodwill to all men but launches into another ill informed attack on religion.

Hear the rumble of Christian hypocrisy: The evangelist who says the Haiti earthquake is retribution for sin is at least true to his religion

Of course for Dawkins a world without religion would be a better one. But when ever atheism has been tried out it leads to great tyranny - a shame he doesn't mention Hitler, Stalin, Lennin, Pol Pot in his article.

But Dawkins is a man of doubt and depressing hopelessness for all mankind. Atheism destroys the basis on which to make value judgements about right and wrong and leads to the tyranny of relativism in ethics. Out of the frying pan into the fire perhaps Richard?

The Christian vision is instead a hopeful one that seeks to make the world a better place, where we protect against natural disasters, where we end poverty, disease, suffering etc.

Yes perhaps Pat Robertson's statement was ill conceived, but there is a spiritual war taking place upon the earth that few of us really understand. Suffering is a problem for theologians, but Dawkins approach makes our very existence meaningless, in which case how can he address it at all? Suffering becomes a useful stick to beat God and Christians with, but ultimately how can Dawkins say that suffering is even a bad thing? Unless of course he thinks he is the sole judge of good and bad and wishes to be seen as God himself.
Andrew S

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Darwinism, Social Engineering and Lark Rise to Candleford

Dr Stephen Hayes has an interesting article over at CSM on the BBC programme Lark Rise to Candleford, which he believes included a blatant piece of Darwin propaganda in a light entertainment drama. Social Engineering anyone?
https://www.csm.org.uk/news.php?viewmessage=153

The programme is available on i Player if anyone wants to watch it through.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00gbbl0/episodes/player

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Trench Warfare?

Nick Spencer of the Theos 'Think Tank' considers that the last decade has been one of aggressive posturing and thinks those, like him, who occupy the middle ground have had a rough time. He asks Can we climb out of the trenches?

Yes – it would be lovely to have open dialogue in the middle ground, but I would gently suggest that Nick should have a look at his own writing first. He suggests for instance that his fellow believers who reject evolution are guilty of launching verbal explosives. Perhaps some are aggressive in their tone, but there are many of us who simply want an honest dialogue over the evidence. He writes.

“For the most part the explosives have been verbal [in comparison to real explosives]. On the one hand we have encountered placards telling us the Islam will dominate the world and freedom can go to hell, and Christian faith that is able to move mountains of evolutionary evidence. On the other, we have heard of how faith is a virus to be eradicated, and how the Muslim community should be subject to discrimination until it "gets its house in order".”

I would suggest that this is an offensive comparison to those many Christians who are not militant, but seek truth, value and integrity in science. Perhaps he does not understand that scientific finding are always provisional, especially in questions of origins, which are not directly testable. He seems blinded by the rhetoric of those philosopher leaders in science who want to keep the real philosophy of science hidden from the masses. So the productive units in society (you and me) are taught that science is more certain than it is and are thus kept in the dark about matters of philosophy.

Yes – let us end this endless wrangling over origins, but there seems resistance to open dialogue in this area from some leading theistic evolutionists despite many of us from the 'wicked creationist’ side appealing many times for such respectful dialogue. One can only live in hope.
Andrew S

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Dignity and Bioethics

Thanks to Barry Arrington over at Uncommon Descent for alerting me to this; Undignified Bioethics - uncommon descent

The abstract - Undignified Bioethics in the forthcoming issue of Bioethics says this;

"The concept of dignity is pervasive in bioethics. However, some bioethicists have argued that it is useless on three grounds: that it is indeterminate; that it is reactionary; and that it is redundant. In response, a number of defences of dignity have recently emerged. All of these defences claim that when dignity is suitably clarified, it can be of great use in helping us tackle bioethical controversies. This paper rejects such defences of dignity. It outlines the four most plausible conceptions of dignity: dignity as virtuous behaviour; dignity as inherent moral worth; Kantian dignity; and dignity as species integrity. It argues that while each conception is coherent, each is also fundamentally flawed. As such, the paper argues for a bioethics without dignity: an 'undignified bioethics.'

Alasdair Cochrane seems to be arguing that value comes from 'moral status' not from a God given inherent value for all humanity. This is similar to the ethics of Peter Stringer who argues that some animals have greater worth than some human beings. But there is though something worrying about this sort of argument in that it leads to a loss of value in society, as exemplified for instance by the horrors of Nazi Germany where Jews and others were denied their moral worth by a godless system. Perhaps it is logical for materialistic humanists, but even T.H.Huxley saw that there had to be a committment to ethical values despite the lack of scientific support for ethics. Clearly science isn't a good foundational basis on which to build ethics, and those who deny any higher authority are lost in a web of confusion. Humanity though is the loser.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Science and Public Trust

There is a very significant paper by Mike Hulme and Jerome Ravetz on the BBC website about trust in science

Read it here - BBC 'Show Your Working'

(N.B. This is posted because of what it says about the process of science - not because of what it says about climate change).

A few snippets from the article

A revolution in science

"So we have a three-fold revolution in the demands that are placed on scientific knowledge claims as they apply to investigations such as climate change:

•To be warranted, knowledge must emerge from a respectful process in which science's own internal social norms and practices are adhered to
•To be validated, knowledge must also be subject to the scrutiny of an extended community of citizens who have legitimate stakes in the significance of what is being claimed
•And to be empowered for use in public deliberation and policy-making, knowledge must be fully exposed to the proliferating new communication media by which such extended peer scrutiny takes place.

The opportunity that lies at the centre of these more open practices of science is to secure the gold standard of trust."

"A more open and a better understood science process will mean more trusted science, and will increase the chances of both "good science" and "good policy". "Show your working" is the imperative given to scientists when preparing for publication to peers. There, it refers to techniques. Now, with the public as partner in the creation and implementation of scientific knowledge in the policy domain, the injunction has a new and enhanced meaning."

And a happy new year