Paul P. Mealing

Check out my book, ELVENE. Available as e-book and as paperback (print on demand, POD). 2 Reviews: here. Also this promotional Q&A on-line.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

This is so COOL

This is a brilliant piece of simple, yet profound, scientific understanding, that anyone with a high school education should be able to follow. I can't imbed it so I provide this link.

John D. Barrow, in his book, The Constants of Nature provides a very neat graphic (p. 222 of 2003 Vintage paperback edition) that demonstrates why 3 dimensions of space and 1 of time provide the most 'livable' universe (my term, not his). Barrow has written extensively on the 'Anthropic Principle' in all its manifestations, and I keep promising myself that I'll write a post on it one day.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Why the argument for the existence of God is a non sequitur

This has been a point of discussion on Stephen Law’s blog recently, following Law’s debate with William Lane Craig last year. My contention is that people argue as if God is something objective, when, clearly it isn’t: God is totally subjective.

God is a feeling, not an entity or a being. God is something that people find within themselves, which is neither good nor bad; it’s completely dependent on the individual. Religiosity is a totally subjective phenomenon, but it has cultural references, which determine to a lesser or greater extent what one ‘believes’. Arguing over the objective validity of such subjective perspectives is epistemologically a non sequitur.

Craig’s argument takes two predominant strands. One is that atheists can’t explain the where-with-all from whence the universe arose and theists can. It’s like playing a trump card: what’s your explanation? Nil. Well, here’s mine, God: game over. If Craig wants to argue for an abstract, Platonic, non-personal God that represents the laws of the universe prior to its physical existence, then he may have an argument. But to equate a Platonic set of mathematical laws with the Biblical God is a stretch, to say the least, especially since the Bible has nothing to say on the matter.

The other strand to his argument is the Holy Spirit that apparently is available to us all. As I said earlier, God is a feeling that some people experience, but I think it’s more a projection based on one’s core beliefs. I don’t dismiss this out of hand, partly because it’s so common, and partly because I see it as a personal aspiration. It represents the ideal that an individual aspires to, and that can be good or bad, depending on the individual, as I said above, but it’s also entirely subjective.

Craig loves the so-called ‘cosmological’ argument based on ‘first cause’, but it should be pointed out that there are numerous speculative scientific theories about the origin of the universe (refer John D. Barrow’s The Book of Universes, which I discussed May 2011). Also Paul Davies’ The Goldilocks Enigma gives a synopsis on all the current ‘flavours’ of the universe, from the ridiculous to the more scientifically acceptable. Wherever science meets philosophy or where there are scientific ‘gaps’ in our knowledge, especially concerning cosmology or life, evangelists like Craig try to get a foothold, reinterpreting an ancient text of mythologies to explain what science can’t.

In other posts on his blog, Stephen Law discusses the issue, ‘Why is there something instead of nothing?’ Quite frankly, I don’t think this question can ever be answered. Science has no problem with the universe coming from nothing – Alan Guth, who gave us inflationary theory also claimed that ‘the universe is the ultimate free lunch’ (Davies, God and the New Physics, 1983). The laws of quantum mechanics appear to be the substrate for the entire universe, and it’s feasible that a purely quantum mechanical universe existed prior to ours and possibly without time. In fact, this is the Hartle-Hawking model of the universe (one of many) where the time dimension was once a fourth dimension of space. Highly speculative, but not impossible based on what we currently know.

But when philosophers and scientists suggest that the ‘why something’ question is an epistemological dead end, evangelists like Craig see this is as a capitulation to their theistic point of view. I’ve said in a previous post (on Chaos theory, Mar. 2012) that the universe has purpose but is not teleological, which is not the oxymoron it appears to be when one appreciates that ‘chaos’, which drives the universe’s creations, including life, is deterministic but not predictable. In other words, the universe’s purpose is not predetermined but has evolved.

Some people, many in fact, see the universe’s purposefulness as evidence that there is something behind it all. This probably lies at the heart of the religious-science debate, but, as I expounded in a post on metaphysics (Feb. 2011): between chaos theory, the second law of thermodynamics and quantum mechanics, a teleological universe is difficult to defend. I tend to agree with Stephen Jay Gould that if the universe was re-run it would be completely different.

Addendum: Just one small point that I’ve raised before: without consciousness, there might as well be nothing. It’s only consciousness that allows meaning to even arise.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

This is meant to be Australia

Ranjini was found to be a genuine refugee before ASIO decided last week she is a security risk for Australia. But the government won't tell her why, and now she's facing a life in detention. (The Age, 18 May 2012, front page)

It’s unbelievable that you can be detained indefinitely in this country without being given a reason, so that there is no defence procedure by law and no appeal process. The defendant in this case, Ranjini, can’t even confess because she’s a ‘risk’, not a criminal, apparently. As far as we can tell, she’s being detained in case she plans to execute a terrorist act; the truth is we don’t know because no one is allowed to tell us. What is unimaginably cruel is to give someone hope and then take it away with a phone call and a brief, closed interview. She’s been living in Australia since 2004.

To quote The Age:

Because she does not know what she is accused of doing, or saying, she cannot defend herself. Because there is no mechanism for an independent review of ASIO's finding, she, like the other 46, faces indefinite detention, along with two boys who were beginning to show signs of recovering from the traumas of their past.

Under the guise of ‘security reasons’, an apparent law-abiding housewife (who is also pregnant) can be incarcerated with her 2 school-age boys without even her husband knowing why. Australia is not meant to be a totalitarian government so why do we behave like one. The Minister for the Attorney General’s Department, Nicola Roxon, has so far dodged any questions on the issue. This is a law that is clearly unworkable (if it can’t be appealed or defended) born out of the post-9/11 paranoia that has seized all Western democratic countries and compromised our principles.

As is evident in the Haneef case in 2007, police and investigators tread a thin line in prosecuting possible terrorist suspects and protecting their civil liberties. In Haneef’s case, who was eventually not convicted, and other cases that have been successfully prosecuted, there have been specific accusations, involvement of the DPP and Federal Police, as well as ASIO. In the case of Ranjini, from what has been revealed thus far, there is only a risk assessment from ASIO and no specific accusations. One suspects that, because she’s a refugee, no one would care or kick up a fuss, or that the story would become front-page news in The Age.

This is not a law suited to a 21st Century, Western democratic country; it’s a law suited to a paranoid totalitarian government.

Addendum 1: Here is a TV presentation of the story.

Addendum 2: This whole issue has a history going back 6 months at least and revealed here. We actually treat criminals better than this. The reason that the government gets away with this is because refugees are demonised in our society. Refugees don't vote and lots of people who do vote think that all refugees should be locked up indefinitely or sent back to where they come from. It's a sad indictment on our society.

Addendum 3: A lawyer is about to challenge the law in Australia's High Court. The last time it was challenged, the High Court rejected it 4 to 3, from memory, which only demonstrates that even the highest people in the land will follow political lines rather than the basic human rights of individuals.