Infanticide VS the Atomic Bomb

Greetings and Salutations skeptics,

While watching a debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens, a particular question was put forward to Hitchens by an audience member. it went along the lines of “If you are so critical of all of the harm caused by religion, then surely you must be more critical of the atomic bomb, created by physicists, the most dangerous weapon in all of history”. In today’s blog post, I will answer the question, and point out a vital difference between the screw-ups of religion and the screw-ups of science.

When Hitler decided to wipe out the Jews, as well as other historical events enacted for purely religious reasons, the decision was made to intentionally perform violence against a particular race, religion, culture or age group. These groups of people made the choice to go out and kill, abuse, rape, torture, pillage or conquer particular people for religious reasons.

When Physicists embarked on creating the atomic bomb, they were simply doing what scientists do, following the evidence to see where the research leads. By looking at Einstein’s most famous formula, it is obvious that a great amount of energy is potent in every atom in the universe, so physicists decided to go out and test it, to see how they could tap into this energy. It could then be argued “Why didn’t the physicists just stop at nuclear power stations, and avoid an atomic bomb?”

Well, its not that simple, seeing as the same mechanisms are used in both apparatus, and they are both using the same underlying physics, but there was reason behind the decision to create an atomic bomb. It is the same reason that almost every dedicated scientist has for creating ruthless killing machines, they are trying to end warfare. By creating the atomic bomb, physicists where aiming to end world warfare, by making it so ruthless, so destructive and so vile that it just could not be done. The same aim was shared by Alfred Nobel, who created dynamite. It didn’t work with dynamite, it just made war more efficient, but it worked with the atomic bomb, eventually. Warfare between the large countries is impossible today, as any one of them could wipe out an entire country with its nuclear arsenal, so they have to be very friendly with each other.

There is the vital difference, religious people are simply going out, to kill or harm a particular group of people, where as physicists are just following the research where the evidence leads, and trying their hardest to end world war. It is only symbolic of the underlying process of religion, as opposed to science.

Science is a process of testing a hypothesis critically and rigorously, and drawing from those tests a theory or subsequent hypothesis, which you test again, and again, to try and best understand the reality we live in. There is no a priori assumption in science. Whereas in religion, there is one big assumption, god. All of religion revolves around the god hypothesis being true, and any evidence for god presented by religion has been cherry-picked to prove the a priori assumption which is god.

Could the laws of the universe be different?

Hello skeptics and other lurkers,

Today’s post again comes courtesy of a tweeter, who asked a question along the lines of this post’s title. This is a question which I have wanted to deal with for a while now, and I think that tonight is as good a time as ever for me to deal with it.

The laws of nature (as you should all know by now) are the laws which define the four fundamental forces we observe (gravity, strong nuclear, weak nuclear, electromagnetism) and the mathematical equations which describe these four forces. Most of the plight of modern particle physics is to find out as much as we can about these forces and equations, and see how it works out for the universe now, in the past and in the future, hoping to discover as much about our universe as possible, with the ultimate goal being to finish with one sum which describes all of these forces, the Theory of Everything (TOE). Last night I talked about string theory and the TOE, and this is one of the important parts in answering tonight’s question.

One of the most important ideas in particle physics is that, under extremely high energies, three of the fundamental forces (electromagnetism, strong nuclear, weak nuclear) can be united by one Grand Unified Theory (GUT) which describes all three forces. This theory has survived mathematical attempts at disproof and appears strong mathematically. This Grand Unified Theory is very important to particle physics. The hope is that, under EVEN higher temperatures and energies, this Grand Unified Theory can be combined with gravity to create the Theory of Everything. Gravity has always been a thorn in the side of physicists, and is actually the least understood and proven of all the fundamental forces, despite its obviousness in everyday life.

The hope and expectations are that gravity and the other three forces can be combined under higher temperatures to form one Theory of Everything. If it is true, as predicted by modern physics, then this has surprising implications for the four fundamental forces.

When the universe was born in the big bang, it was in a state of extreme heat, pressure and energy. Then it went under a process called ‘inflation’, where the universe expanded extremely rapidly (faster than the speed of light) and cooled extremely rapidly. There are two factors which are important in answering our question. 1. At the start, the universe was in a state of very high energy and heat, and 2. The universe expanded faster than the speed of light. Now, if there was ever a time in the history of the universe where the four fundamental forces would be combined, it would be right at the start.

Now, one hypothesis of a multiverse is extrapolated from this. If the universe went under rapid expansion while the four fundamental forces were combined, it could be true that, due to different parts of the universe being cut off from each other because of the speed of light, in different places, the universe could have cooled at different rates, meaning that the four fundamental forces could be different in those universes. Due to this hypothesis, it could be true that from one big bang, multiple universes could have been created. The definition of a universe is all of the things which can be observed, and seeing that these places are cut off from each other due to the speed of light, you have your self a multiverse, with different laws of physics.

This idea, like all multiverse hypotheses, has ramifications for the fine-tuning of the universe. It is one which is also hypothesized by accepted physics models, and is one if the easiest to accept, seeing that we know there must be much more out there than the observable universe.

String Theory – Science or Sermon?

Hello skeptics and others,

I recently came across a question on twitter which went as phrased “String Theory, Science of Philosophy?” and I thought, as I had not done much with string theory, that now would be as good a time as ever to tackle this question which comes up with string theory often. But first, a bit of background on string theory.

String theory is the name given to a set of sums which attempt to explain things about the things we observe in particle physics. It is basically the claim that the 3 spacial dimensions and 1 time dimension we observe in our universe, are the left overs and that there are possibly up to 8 other dimensions which are all just packed in very tight so that we cannot see them. To explain this to you, I will use the same method Stephen Hawking has done.
Imagine a plastic drinking straw. From up close, you can easily see that it is a three-dimensional object, with height, width, and breadth. If you back it up to a distance of a few metres, the drinking straw starts to appear as two-dimensional, with only length and breadth, you can no longer make out the depth of the straw. As you back out further to a distance of about 20 metres, you can only observe one dimension, it only has length, and you can no longer observe the width of the straw.

Now, the other 2 dimensions still exist, but you can only make out one from this resolution, so for all intents and purposes, the straw is 1 dimensional. The same is true with the hypothesized extra 8 dimensions of string theory. They still exist, but we cannot observe them because they have been compressed in so small. It is physicists belief that these extra dimensions, ‘strings’, carry along them the elementary particles which create the four fundamental forces, gravitons, photons etc. in the world of particle physics. String theory is also said to be the most favoured path for the elusive Theory Of Everything (TOE).

String theory often comes under attack for a few reasons, being that it makes no specific predictions about the universe, it is no different from other theories about observed phenomena and there is so far no test of the ‘theory’. These criticisms all have legitimate reasons behind them.

It is true that string theory makes no predictions and it is indifferent about what we are already observing in the universe. String theory has not been of any real use to us yet other than jobs for people to do the maths behind string theory. In that way (except the maths), string theory is just like creationism… it makes no predictions or offer a hypothesis to test.

However, I think that just because string theory has not provided any scientific worth so far, it is in no way something we should give up on. It is a theory which has held up to all that maths has to throw at it, so there are no real internal problems with it, but the real question is “Is this how reality really is?” and that question is a long way off. String Theory is a path worth following, as it could be of value to future scientists. At best it is still only a hypothesis… not a theory, and should be treated as such. But it is worth the time and effort to work with and who knows, it may cough up a test for us, and it is worth waiting around for.

Titius – Bode Law

Hi there skeptics,

Today I am going to be blogging about a mathematical formula which has had some interest in astronomy in the past, but has since fallen into the waste-bin of science. It has commonly titled as a law, in almost every reference to it and on the Wikipedia page, however, it is best described as an unproven hypothesis, as it has no evidence to support it. The law attempts to represent the approximate distances of the planets from the sun, using the following formula. a = 4 + n, where n = 0, 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, 96 etc., with each new value for n being double the last value. This gives rise to the numbers 4, 7, 10, 16, 28, 52, 100… divide this by 10, 0.4, 0.7, 1, 1.6, 2.8, 5.2, 10… To the 18th century astronomer, this is an astounding set of numbers.

The law was first formulated in 1766 by Johann Titius, who used this simple formula to get these similar numbers. This looked amazing at first, because these numbers fit almost perfectly with the distances in AU (astronomical units) of all the known planets, Mercury through to Saturn. However, there was one number in the sequence that shouldn’t be there, 2.8, no planet was known 2.8 AU from the sun. But sure enough, almost exactly 2.8 AU from the sun, the dwarf planet Ceres was discovered. This was very exiting for astronomers of the time. Could there be a deep, underlying formula to the planets.

They decided to look further, so they started with the next number in sequence, 19.6, and looked from there, and again, triumph, Uranus was discovered by William Herschel in 1781, and you guessed it, it was 19.2 AU from the sun, a mere 2% off the prediction. At this point, astronomers became drunk with enthusiasm, this number sequence is really working well. They went the next step, 38.8, but no, nothing was found. Neptune eventually became the next planet in order, but at 30.1 AU from the sun, it was 29% off, and the law was waning. Next, Pluto, predicted by Titius – Bode to be 77.2 AU away, alack, incorrect, only 39.5 AU from the sun, a 95% inaccuracy.

By this time, the law had fallen into disrepute. No more Titius – Bode being taken seriously by astronomers. Proponents of the law say that these ratios are being found as correct in other star systems around other stars, but these are stars with 1 or 2 planets, meaning that a ratio can always be found, or fit close, due to the set up of the number system. The idea of there being such a simple number which underlies all of the orbits is not one of favour in the astronomical community.

Who knows, there could be a number formula which describes the orbits of planets around a star. There must be, because they all follow the same laws of gravity. But the idea that there is a simple number sequence, not a large, abstract equation with hundreds of influencing factors, is a fringe opinion. Planets could naturally snap into particular grooves around their sun, but no number sequence has stood up to the challenge yet, so science tells us that it probably won’t exist.