Science


In a thread on DeenPort we were asked for comments on Prof Krauss’ book  A Universe from Nothing in which he claims that according to modern physics the universe could have spontaneously come into existence without any act of creation. My simple response was to ask, how did the laws of physics come into existence?

Mansoor Malik brought to our attention the excellent critique of the book here:

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/p hysicist-george-ellis-knocks-physicists-for-knock ing-philosophy-falsification-free-will/

Here I capture some further thoughts about the issue.

The scientist who gives the opinion in the linked article is a Christian, however I believe that most atheist scientists would also strongly agree with the thrust of the article.

When I asked where the laws of physics came from, I wasn’t trying to prove the existence of God, but more to show that Professor Krauss’s opinion that something came out of nothing is not true because there existed something (e.g. physical laws) that provided the necessary infrastructure for the something (our material universe) to come into being. For instance it is a theory in modern physics that particles such as electrons can be spontaneously created “ex nihilo” in a vacuum. However, these particles are not really coming out of nothing (nihilo), as it requires a certain amount of energy for the particle to come into existence. It turns out that a vacuum in space is believed to have an energy density (i.e. it contains energy which can spontaneously convert into matter) and therefore a vacuum in space is not, to my mind, “nothing”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuum_energy). The energy is changed into matter (the electron) as per Einstein’s well known formula E = mc2. Prof Krauss presumably thinks that space (a vacuum) was ‘always there’ and its existence needs no explanation. I consider that a highly naive assumption and strongly disagree. Further, how and why does E = mc2 hold, for example?

Having said the above, there is a stronger argument at the meta level (i.e. stepping back a bit and looking at the problem from the outside). Consider a thought experiment. We simulate a universe similar to our own (in some type of computer for example). Whether that is in fact physically possible is not relevant to the argument. Let us call this simulated universe the Inner universe, and our actual universe the Outer universe. The Inner universe is entirely simulated in all dimensions i.e. all points in Inner space and time are simulated and observable by us so that we can look at any simulated point at any moment in simulated time. According to scientists of Professor Krauss’s ilk, life and even consciousness can evolve in such a universe. Let us therefore say that an entity very similar to Prof Krauss is found to have evolved in the Inner simulated universe. He sees a universe with exactly the same properties as our own. This entity, having a simulated brain very similar to Prof Krauss and observing a universe of the same laws as those of our own universe, makes the statement that his universe came into being entirely ex nihilo and therefore was not the result of an act of creation.

Well, clearly this Prof Krauss in the Inner universe is wrong, as we in the Outer universe created his universe. You see where this argument is going, we too are potentially in an Inner universe, and our Prof Krauss is equally as wrong as the one in our Inner universe. God (ultimately) created our Inner universe. We have absolutely no conception of what lies “outside” our universe and experimentation within our universe tells us nothing about how our universe came into being. We are entirely trapped in this universe and cannot see nor even have the faintest conception of what “exists” other than our universe (except by revelation).

It was noted that in my book A Message For Tuqa, I do not advance a proof for the existence of God.

Yes, in the Science chapter of my book A Message For Tuqa I do not attempt to prove the existence of God, but instead to place and picture science properly in a more accurate world-view, showing the limitations of science and how it is not as absolute as is commonly held. What I also try to explain, albeit very briefly, is how when we take modern science to its limit it claims to elaborate how a consciousness can evolve simply from the fundamental laws of physics, without needing any extra ‘magic’. I hold that this ‘clockwork’ consciousness whose thoughts unfold according to the laws of physics, and therefore has no free will, is unacceptable to me and more importantly, does not match my inner experience.

Given therefore that science does not answer the fundamental questions to which I sought answers, I turned to a recognition of my soul, and the creator of my soul. In the quran and the teachings of the prophet I found a sound compass as to where and how to seek further insight.

Where does faith come from?

Descartes famously said ‘cogito ergo sum’. He meant that the only experience we can be entirely sure of is the experience of being and having a self, because all incoming external sensations might be incorrect. AlGhazali preceded him with a similar insight. In Ghazali’s book almunqidh min aDDalaal (Deliverance From Error) he describes how as a young man he had a crisis of faith, which he kept to himself. He realised how little he could be sure of. He points out how faith, once lost, is like a shattered glass bowl which cannot be repaired but must be re-blown afresh. As he very briefly describes it, God cast a light into his breast and his faith was restored. He went on to respond to the challenge of Greek philosophical thought and wrote the hugely influential book iHyaa’ `uluum iddiin (Revival of the Religious Sciences). Once the naive belief in one’s parent’s religion is lost, we must re-blow a new world-view. There is no longer anyone to tell you what is truth or who can show that his way is clearly and obviously the right path. You must search within yourself, learn what you can of what seems most useful, try to walk the straight path of what you find to be true. You must constantly ask God, as we do in alFaatiHa, “Guide us on the straight path!”.

I enjoyed reading this article about the home office setups of journalists and editors working for Ars Technica. I thought I’d share mine, largely as a kind of personal history:

(With all photos, click to see full detail)

I’m using Ubuntu Linux, I’ve used linux as my primary OS for a very long time, and am using Ubuntu through laziness on my part. The prayer time widget in the top left hand corner of the left screen is one I developed myself (kprayertime). Below it is a moon phase widget, you can see it was just after the middle of the lunar month when I wrote this (in the blessed month of Ramadan). You can also see a weather widget that tells me it’s raining a lot in Bristol – well, I already knew that. Various items belonging to my daughter and wife are scattered on the desk, every few days I have to ‘send’ things back to their owners, usually by throwing them onto the respective bed. The desk lamp was given to me by my friend Zubair. There’s an uber mouse mat with the map of the world, that is now up-side down. An IKEA clock and Aldi watch can be seen, together with some Kumon homework.

Here you can see my wife’s books, and others about science, the philosphy and history of science and other miscellanea. Notable books for me in terms of my personal development are “Godel, Escher and Bach” and “Complexity, Entropy and the Physics of Information”.

Here we have a distilled collection of IT books. Such is the ephemeral nature of IT books that recently I gave/threw away two thousand pounds worth (well, spent) of IT text books due to lack of space in the flat. Below those is the books I studied during my physics degree, and some travel books below them. In the early 1990s I bought the book “The Science of Fractal Images” at Foyles in London. I spent many Saturday afternoons up and down Charing Cross Rd (also eating far too many pizzas at the Pizza Hut there) and bought my first islamic book at The Middle-Eastern Bookshop at the south end of the road. I think it was ‘The Book of Knowledge’, the first book in Imam alGhazali’s Ihyaa’. I also bought various books by Muhammad Asad including his translation of the Qur’aan. I think it’s fair to say that these books still have a great influence on me. Subhaan Allaah when I look back at my life there are definitely times when I was guided like an arrow to the straight path, in terms of knowledge and people.

This bookcase largely contains miscellanea, including various books about language in general, which is an interest of mine. The maps are there because when I travel I like to keep the maps that I used, as a memento. A number of the linguistics books are my wife’s, whose PhD thesis (in arabic-english linguistics) can also be seen.

Here we have various islamic books and below them some arabic language learning resources. I now teach arabic to beginners and intermediate level, while continually trying to improve my own level of arabic too.

We’re getting on to pride of place now, these books and those you can see below are on either side of me when I am doing my prayers, reading the Qur’aan or meditating on life, the universe and everything :-). There are numerous translations of Imam alGhazali, particularly from his Ihyaa’. A notable book is Searching For Solace, a biography of Yusuf Ali. A sad tale but which somehow sums up the state of the muslim world at the moment. Various books by Charles Le Gai Eaton, who I think writes beautifully about islam and explains it so well to the Western mind. Because he has some heterodox views he is not promoted by the muslims, which is a shame.

We’ve reached some truly great books now. Bottom left in blue and white are some grammar and morphology books by Antoine Dahdah. I love those books. We then have various less technical books about iman and other important islamic topics. Above them we have Sharh wa Tahleel of alHikam al`Ataa`iyya by Dr Ramadan Buti (they’re up-side down too – how did they get like that!) which is an explanation of the great book by Ibn `Ataa’illaahi alIskandariyya. My wife chose many of these books when we came back from Syria. There are the five volumes of Sufficient For Seekers of the Path of Truth which is a fine translation of the great book AlGhunya.

Pride of place, of course, goes to the masaahif (copies of the Qur’aan) and tafaaseer (explanations of the Qur’aan). For those who can’t read arabic the red and gold volumes are Tafseer utTabari, an explanation of the Qur’aan largely based on hadith narrated about the meaning of each ayat. The black and gold volumes are Lisaan al`Arab, a wonderful (and huge) dictionary of arabic. There are hundred of thousands of words, often accompanied by arabic poetry (or hadith or ayats) giving an example of the word in use. At the top, physically and metaphorically, are the masaahif, copies of the noble Qur’aan.

Writing the above has made me realise why I cart some of these older books around, even though in a sense they represent a skin that has been shed. They are a part of my history and remind me of the times when I was reading them. They serve as a type of authentication that my islam is not based on an ignorance of the pinnacle of Western knowledge, but as an ascent from it to higher goals.

If you enjoyed this post then please do something similar yourself and let me know!

P.S. my wife is complaining about the mess in the photos, but I wanted it to be ‘as-it-is’ 😉

I’d like to share these beautiful islamic aperiodic patterns with you, created using software researched and developed by two Argentinian brothers (Luis Fernando and Julian Eduardo Molina Abaca) with software / scientific backgrounds.

See more of their research here and here.

You can read more about these patterns and some ongoing scientific research (relating to quasicrystals) at physicsworld.com (requires free registration).

IBM develop ‘most realistic’ computerised voice

The voice is made even more convincing because it has been programmed to include verbal tics such as “ums”, “ers” and sighs….

So while IBM struggle to make the computer seem more human, humans in call centres are instructed to follow scripted conversations as closely as possible.

I’m wondering, will man race more quickly to be robot, or the robot to be the man?

We need to pay more attention to our heart and souls, the hyper-rational mind is favoured too much.

I’ve always had a love of physics and mathematics. In 1983 I won a scholarship to read physics at Trinity College, Oxford, and graduated in 1986 (I tell you this not to brag but to demonstrate my comments are not out of ignorance). It seems like a lifetime ago. Since then I have worked entirely in the field of IT but have kept up my interest in physics and also have read widely in the field of human development, the history of science, and other subjects that you will find in the pop science section of good bookshops.

As an agnostic at the time (in terms of both religion and hard-core atheists)  I took what is well established from these books and left the hand-waving for what it was.  In some subjects there is much to learn,  in others and with some particular authors, there is far too much hand-waving for someone used to the scientific rigours of physics. Evolutionary psychology and language development seem to be subjects that are polluted with far too much hand-waving combined with a paucity of evidence.

Some time later I became a muslim (that’s a story for another day) and now,  still keeping an eye on the pop science section, I engage in debate at work in these subjects. Why, I ask my colleagues at work, do you care about people’s actions? Richard Dawkins, who seems to be the main protagonist in terms of driving my colleagues’ lines of thought, says that ‘there is no such thing as good and evil’, and yet he claims that raising a child in a religion is ‘child-abuse’. Surely, I ask them, these propositions are contradictory? In a world where good and evil do not exist,  is it really meaningful to accuse anyone of any sin at all?

I asked one colleague where he thought his morals derived from. After a couple of weeks he said that they had evolved, which seems to be a common opinion for protagonists of his persuasion.  So, I said, they have developed through a random process in a random world in the strata of self-organising complex systems called animals and human beings. Surely this means that your morals have no underlying authority; there is no, as Dawkins says, real good or evil?

Hence these worldviews are often not self-consistent, a basic flaw in any proposed theory. For many atheists of Dawkins’ ilk seem to be offended by muslims and our beliefs. And yet, if they really believed their own theories, they would not have any feelings that one system of morals was ultimately, in the great scheme of things, ‘superior’ to any other.