Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Neutrino News and Neutrality

Neutrino News And Neutrality Neutrinos travel at the speed of light (or greater?) in the material universe, passing through humans as easily as through the planet, yet they have little, if any, effect. However in the non-material world of ideas they are causing ripples around the world that threaten to become a Tsunami.

[A] recent study clocked a neutrino, a subatomic particle with no charge, at 0.0025 percent faster than the speed of light, which has brought a lot of buzz in the science community.
The neutrinos were first grouped together at CERN and then flew out of the accelerator,  towards the Alps where the GranSasso Observatory is located with a neutrino detector. Luckily, a few were intercepted and detected. When the two labs calculated the time, it appeared the particles made it to the observatory faster than the speed of light.
If this turns out to be correct, the effect will be astronomical. Physics textbooks will have to be rewritten, as well as the definition of "cause and effect." This is because when a particle moves faster than light, the effect is like time travel.
Astrophysicist Adam Frank from the University of Rochester said, "Think of it as being shot before the trigger is pulled."
Courtesy "The Simmons Voice"

I had to grin at Joe Bennett's take on the neutrino news. (Go here for his full article) His conversation with his mate "Pope Benny" is humorous. And typical of Bennett's humor it has a serious side to it. A serious subject is best sold with a generous helping of Satire sauce. Once again on his bandwagon he raises the spectre of faith versus science:

"That," I said, [to Pope Benny]"is the difference between your mob and the boffins. They're engaged in a disinterested search for the truth, and that entails a willingness to admit error."
I will not take issue with other dubious claims he makes but this one thing I will not let go. I cannot speak for Roman Catholics, but since I know Bennett lumps all the religious together I speak on behalf of protestant Christianity. Firstly he defines scientists as engaged in:
a disinterested search for the truth,
Obviously where truth is concerned, ethics are involved. While it is true that the scientific method has developed in a way that is designed to ensure unbiased reporting of facts, there are some presuppositions that are so basic to the human way of thinking that they are smuggled in to the scientific enterprise at such a fundamental  level that they go unquestioned, unseen.

There really is no such thing as "a disinterested search for the truth" The neutrality of science may be one thing, the neutrality of scientists is quite another. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "disinterested" as:
Not influenced by considerations of personal advantage.
It is impossible that a human being be disinterested in the question of whether God exists. Much of humanity may lay claim to being uninterested but not disinterested. This is a question so fundamental that it should come as the first question of all, if not first in time then at least first in priority. The personal advantage of discounting the existence of God may be seen as the difference between living ones life entirely for ones own ends and a life lived in consideration of an obligation to whom one owes everything. Scientists are human before they are scientists, and as the philosophy of science has repeatedly shown we bring our presuppositions, our baggage with us. 

The sort of thing I mean is perhaps better understood with a couple of examples of the danger of self interest colouring our perceptions of reality. They say, that a doctor who treats himself, has a fool for a patient is one such example. Another one might be that: A person cannot find God for the same reason that a thief cannot find a policeman.

While it is quite true, that one cannot argue reasonably with unreasonable people, as this clever poster slogan is intended to illustrate, sometimes what others may consider mental gymnastics, are the necessary prerequisite for the truth. 

Take for example the idea of "brute facts". Brute fact is defined as "a true statement about something which cannot be further reduced" and hence has not had any interpretation placed upon it.
From Wikipedia:
The term might also be used to refer generally to facts that lack explanations, or which explain themselves. 
That a fact may be a "brute" fact shows a pre-commitment to a naturalistic worldview. A brute fact is supposed to be that which cannot be reduced any further. To term something as a "brute" fact is in itself an interpretation. It is to interpret that fact as some bit of knowledge that just exists out there in the void without interpretation and without any reason for its accessibility to the intellect of mankind.  But in the act of terming it a "brute" fact it is already a denial of the possibility that the fact in question may actually be already interpreted by an omniscience beyond humanity. In short there is a prior commitment and bias against a theistic worldview. 

The very idea of "brute fact" presupposes that an irreducible truth about a simple entity is just hanging about in flux waiting for human intelligence to interpret it, to categorize it and to classify it into relationship with other facts. Scientists have (in the main) hastily assumed, or presupposed that facts, brute facts or otherwise, are not already interpreted by an all-knowing cause.
"A statement about the world is said to be theory-laden if it presupposes or rests upon a theory—in other words if it is not a pure observation. Many philosophers of science (including, for example, T. S. Kuhn , The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962)
argue that all observations are in some sense theory-laden."
It would appear then, that even this idea of "brute fact" is theory laden, the result of an interpretation, perhaps not one spelled out, or a conscious event, but nonetheless something assumed in the recesses of the mind.

From Wikipedia
It might be argued that some facts lack causal explanations. Suppose the universe began about 14 billion years ago. Then, plausibly, the very first facts about the universe lack a causal explanation.
But what is plausible about going contrary to the well established principle in science, in which for everything which began to exist, there is a cause? It is clear then, that when established principles are contravened, there should at least be an attempt at justifying why it should be abandoned in this case. And if no justification is forthcoming, it might reasonably be suspected that a prior commitment to a certain worldview is responsible.

To use an analogy, imagine the idea of "brute facts" as individual parts of a jigsaw puzzle, which scientists in collaboration put together to form a cohesive, coherent picture of the world, of reality. (To read a wonderful piece of Christian apologetics inspired by Jigsaw puzzles follow this link) First they postulate (either explicitly or implicitly) an environment of chaos and randomness, as the background to all brute facts and from which these brute facts are plucked. (Brute facts could no longer be called "brute" facts if the universe was intelligently designed). "Chance" is the necessary corollary of a postulation which speaks of "brute" uninterpreted facts. To the secular humanist, those who espouse naturalism- chaos and randomness is properly basic and order is peripheral and accidental. This is the overarching assumption reflected in the idea of "brute fact".To the theist, order and system is basic and chaos and entropy peripheral. Having assumed the chaotic background to reality- naturalism then starts to deal with "brute" facts as if it were possible to intelligently order them through human systematization alone. This is in direct contradiction to Einstein who admitted:
"I have deep faith that the principles of the universe will be both beautiful and simple" 
           "The eternal mystery of the universe is its comprehensibility"

He was more sure of the ordered intelligibility of the universe than he was of his own formulas. So much so that this no doubt spurred him on to attempt to discover and formulate the systematized structure of the universe, just, as the history of science has shown, other theistic scientists had before him. Consider this- all scientific endeavor is an expression of faith in the comprehensibility found in the universe. It is not merely enough to have faith in human inquisitiveness which we accept as givens, there is also a reciprocal need for the universe to be accessible to human endeavor. Einstein was wise enough to see that- even if he did not elucidate on a reason for it, being largely content to leave it as mystery

One can easily see the jigsaw analogy in the Logo for Wikipedia as shown above. Wikipedia is the collaboration of intelligent experts who work to bring the facts together. The problem for them, with this picture, is that the "facts" conspire against all those who are determined to see them as "brute" facts. You will note in the picture that the pieces- the "brute" facts- all fit neatly together to form the whole. 

Question: Is it only the work of mankind that they fit together, or do they so uniformly fit together because they are part of a cohesive whole? 

In the real world a jigsaw puzzle can only fit together as shown when an ordering intelligence has predetermined how they fit! Any child knows the jigsaw puzzle is the work of an intelligent being. For further information listen to Dr. Stephen C. Meyer,. he earned his Ph.D. in history and philosophy of science in 1991 at the University of Cambridge.

If the facts were plucked out of a truly random universe it would be analogous to humanity attempting to fit together an infinite number of jigsaw pieces coming from an infinite number of jigsaw puzzles. And at the same time we humans, ought (as part of the chaos) not to be able to so order the pieces anyhow. As G.K. Chesterton has hinted, there is a definite conspiracy in the facts!

It is interesting that the writers of this Wikipedia article have taken (as a supposition) the beginning of the universe as a "brute" fact or that which, by it's own definition, "lack causal explanations." Now this is where intellectual honesty or the lack of it, comes into play. It is an ethical question when we propose that the beginning of the universe does, or does not have causal explanation. Let me explain, do we say, for instance, that "mathematics" is a brute fact, that is, a fact which is either self-explanatory or lacks causal explanation? The obvious answer is: No we don't, we immediately, almost without question , assume that maths is a human institution, we attribute it to a human cause, but as others (who have made maths their life's work) will testify, maths is not a human invention and yet most definitely a process that only a mind can employ. (See my article Mathematics and God) What soon becomes apparent is that certain things are postulated as lacking a cause when others are quite arbitrarily given causes or just assumed. The laws of non-contradiction fall into this set, also information science (See Who Is Making a Leap of Faith?). Science itself, to which we all owe so much, is an endeavour that is full of faith in the reliability built into nature, this is not a function of logic and reason but confidence in the uniformity of nature. (See The Problem of Induction) All facts even "brute" facts are interpreted through the lens of ones worldview whether Christian or non-Christian, there is no such thing as neutrality. 

To propose that the beginning of the universe "lack[s] causal explanation" is already to interpret 
1. That only science (the empirical method) can account for knowledge about cosmology.
2. Implying that because scientifically gained knowledge cannot (in this case) find the cause- that it does not actually have (or need) a cause. It is a common claim from anti-theists that religion stultifies the scientific cause by proposing the "God of the gaps" where what is not known is simply written off as :"God did it".  In this instance because what was prior to the "Big Bang" cannot be known by science, anti-theistic scientists are in fact detracting from increasing understanding by short circuiting the quest for knowledge apart from science; saying in effect: "what cannot by known by science, doesn't count as knowledge."

The Christian looks at every fact, and interprets every fact, according to Christian presuppositions. The non-Christian looks at every fact, and interprets every fact, according to non-Christian presuppositions. There is no neutrality. There are no situations where we simply see the facts as they are - what [are called] "brute facts", bare, uninterpreted facts. We always interpret the facts, through our "glasses", either the Christian or the non-Christian variety. And those two sets of interpretations are diametrically opposed to one another. Rev. Archbald (Masterton)

Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / / revised August 96 / Copyright 1996

Albert Einsteins famous formula having been an adequate explanation for the structure of the universe for more than a hundred years may be up for revision after the neutrino news, but his philisophical view as far as I can see is still unassailable. He perhaps already anticipated the superceding of this formula  with the words: 

'New frameworks are like climbing a mountain - the larger view encompasses rather than rejects the more restricted view.'
 Einstein forged the way forward from the previous 300 years of the Newtonian view of light, the idea of "photons" has arisen to reconcile its properties as both wave and particle, we now await further development in the understanding of the relationship between time, space and energy.

There is just no traction to the idea that science has either dis proven or even discredited the theistic worldview. Perhaps, if anything, what is becoming ever so more apparent is that many of those who take the study of the universe from the macrocosm to the microcosm seriously are finding less and less reason to tenaciously cling to the "neutrality" of secular naturalism.

If the measurements prove true:
it would be fair to say of a neutrino what a wag once quipped about a lady named Bright: that it went away, in a relative way, and came back on the previous night.
From: The Economist 
Bennett may well insist that Einstein needs to be brought "up to speed" on the Neutrino issue, that wouldn't phase him at all.  On the other hand I believe Bennett ought to wake up and get up to speed on Einstein. 
'Einstein believed that "To the Sphere of religion belongs the faith that the regulations valid for the world of science are rational , that it is comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind" ' .Norman Geisler"Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics.

Albert Einstein had a 
"life long quest... to find a unified field theory to unite all the basic forces of nature..."  
 See here for the big T.O.E. (theory of everything)

What no doubt fired his imagination was his unassailable faith in both the inherent order in nature and the mysteriously happy co-incidence that reality is comprehensible to human reason. Einstein has left a lasting legacy, and would be the first to admit that every scientist stands on the shoulders of those scientists before him, and as his biographer Walter Isaacson wrote:
"A century after his great triumphs, we are still living in his universe"
Verification of these measurements will not negate his work. Bennett's strident insistence that only scientists are engaged in a "disinterested search for the truth" smacks of a deep seated prejudice that will preclude him from liberating truth. In effect he has said, "I've made up my mind- don't confuse me with the facts".

See John Lennox and The Religion vs Science Myth


John Lennox is Professor of Mathematics in the University of Oxford, Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science, and Pastoral Advisor at Green Templeton College, Oxford. He is also an adjunct Lecturer at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University and at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and is a Senior Fellow of the Trinity Forum. In addition, he teaches for the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme at the Executive Education Centre, Said Business School, Oxford University.

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