The Big Bang and the Mind of God

Phew, that’s over. Contrary to expectations, we got a very good turnout for last night’s seminar ‘The Big Bang and the Mind of God’ (I got the title from the last line of A Brief History of Time). Many thanks to those of you who came along, a good crowd always makes for a good atmosphere…

I probably let the science part of the talk go on a bit long, but I wanted to give a decent overview of the evidence for the Bang, and the theory behind it, before tackling the theology side of things. I’ve left the slides I used for the talk on the My Files page of this blog in case anybody’s interested (just click on the My Files tab at the top of this page and select the file from the list) or here

The discussion session afterwards was great – absolutely loads of questions, from all parts of the religious spectrum. For the discussion, I was joined by the chair Dr Micheal Howlett, who is both a scientist and a theologian and between our different answers to questions there was probably a good balance. A good representation of what the SopiaEuropa project is all about, I suspect. In any event, the discussion continued until the porters threw us out, a good sign.

A couple of interesting points came up – a colleague had a problem with my take on the Church of England (I referred to it being founded on the principle that Henry VIII wanted to get his leg over!) and he made some fair points concerning the English reformation. However, I still feel good ol’ Henry took opportunistic advantage of the upheavals in the Church in his attempts to sire a legitimite son, a good example of how a whole new Church can arise for no good reason….must look up more on this…

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Another speaker felt that arguments concerning evolution were weakened by constant reference to Darwin! Of course science has moved on, but, as far as I know, despite some gaps, the theory of natural selection, as proposed by Darwin, is in very good health indeed, and is regarded as one of the fundamental mechanisms for evolution, resulting in the complexity we see (certainly not chance!).

We managed to record the discussion session, I’ll try and upload it later…..there will be a lot more on the topic of science and religion at next week’s SopiaEuropa conference at WIT…Cormac

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Update

There is a very good overview of evolution in last week’s edition of New Scientist. It’s a nice succinct account and explains how Darwin’s model has stood firm as the bedrock of today’s theory and evidence.

Re the convergence of science and religion, another point struck me during the talk. I was describing how the major religions not only differ, but are mutually exclusive, and how this position has remained essentially unchanged for millenia. It ocurred to me that this is another major obstacle for convergence; how can science converge with religion, if different religions diverge from one another?

Finally, Micheal H commented that I used the phrase ‘scientists believe’ a few times during the lecture, pointing out the similarity with religious phraseology! However, I think the similarity is only superficial – in fact, scientists use the word belief in the opposite sense to that of the devout. When scientists say “such-and-such looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, therefore we believe it to be a duck…”, we use the word ‘believe’ to soften the statement. The word conveys the idea that this is the current thinking, which could one day change should new evidence emerge…
By contrast, the devout use the word ‘belief’ in the opposite sense…e.g. “it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, but we believe it to be a rhinocerous”, means that the observer will stick to this belief, irrespective of what evidence emerges…and that is the point of faith. A legitimate viewpoint, you might argue…but what happens when this viewpoint collides with known fact, or indeed with contrasting religions?

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “The Big Bang and the Mind of God

  1. jhoulihan

    Hi Cormac – Enjoying the site, well done – sorry to have missed the talk last night, sounds like it was a good one, I tried the link to the slides but it didn’t work for me, any ideas?

  2. Margery Godinho

    I missed the talk too and couldn’t access the slides. As a biologist, I agree that Darwin’s theory of evolution is still very current – anyone interested in more should read some of Richard Dawkin’s books. More recent understanding of DNA has made Darwin’s theories more convincing.

  3. Denis Moran

    A very fine talk followed by a great open session.
    Fascinating to hear a creationist point of view so clearly and firmly stated. Had never considered the idea of a perfect creation running down ever since it first came into being: A nice application of the second law.

  4. Michael Cunningham

    Thank you for Thursday’s seminar, Cormac. I very much enjoyed it.

    One area that I thought was dealt with quite vaguely was the response to the comment that “God is consciousness”. I know such soundbites can seem like spiritually-enlightened musings but I really think that they’re, at best, complete non-sequiturs. Consciousness does not require worship or reverence to be paid to it. This contrasts sharply with the god of the bible, who is perpetually in need of prayerful reassurance. The two are not the same thing and I just think it would be no bad thing to note the distinction between them.

    Thanks again.

  5. muck30

    Missed talk as well Cormac but would love to see slides!!
    Won’t allow me access them alas.

  6. coraifeartaigh

    Apologies everyone, I’ll try and get that link sorted. In principle, WordPress offers the facility to store files in extra pages on the blog itself (wow), but I can’t seem to get the link working without the need for an administrator password..

    Micheal, that’s a very good point, and should have been made on the night.

    Denis, many thanks, but your comment makes it sound like I was the creationist! But I too liked the way that guy spoke, he made his point very simply and clearly

    Cormac

    Update
    How dumb am I? Of course you can’t link to the slides – they’re stored them at the same web address! Just click on the MY Files tab on the main page, and select the mind-of-god file (be warned, it’s big)

  7. Brendan Lyng

    Hi Cormac.

    I too greatly enjoyed the session, particularly the question and answer component. It was very interesting to hear from individuals whose beliefs differed substantially from my own.

    By the way, Saturday’s Guardian had a very interesting Big Bang supplement (available free online). Prof. Paul Davies article was particularly interesting. He says:

    “Underlying all cosmological theory is the tacit assumption that the universe as a whole obeys physical laws that themselves enjoy independent existence. For example, the laws of quantum physics that may permit a big bang to occur spontaneously must in some sense “already exist” if they are to account for the universe’s origin. This prompts the question of where those laws come from.”

    Now that’s a question I’d love to have thought of on the night! Any thoughts? Can the laws of physics really “pre-date” the bang?

  8. cormac

    Thanks Brendan, I too enjoyed the discussion.
    I must download that supplement, Paul Davies is a serious authority in this area and he writes extremely well. There are four of his books in the WIT library, all of which are excellent. The best is probably ‘The Forces of Nature’, highly relevant to the discussion on Thursday.

    Re’Do the laws already exist?’, Davies puts this question quite a lot. The same question is routinely posed in pure mathematics, and in a way it’s clearer – are the laws of mathematics immutable, or did they come into being with the beginning of the universe? This is the million dollar question, and every mathematician has a different take on it (I must re-read ‘The Forces of Nature’, see what Davies says…).

    Steven Hawking’s take on this in ‘A Brief History of Time’ is quite controversial, and wasn’t really picked up – he feels such questions should be the job of philosophy, but professional philosophers haven’t kept up with modern physics sufficiently to tackle such issues

  9. Cormac

    Dear Cormac

    Followed back to your blog from Not Even Wrong.
    I’ll look forward to visiting often

    Yours

    Cormac (eile)

  10. Una

    re the ‘belief’ point made by Michael: While I agree with you that ‘belief’ may mean different things to scientists v. religion (belief based on evidence v. belief based on faith), surely it is still fair to point out that the phrase ‘scientists believe’ implies that there is no diversity among scientific opinion, when (presumably) scientists frequently have different opinions in this area albeit based on the same evidence? Una

  11. as a daughter of chaos i fall between parameters.nature versus consciencious versus exact. given the limit of ones environment.

  12. cormac

    Hi Kalysty, I gather your guy Terence Mckenna thought somewhat along those lines too…I must read up on him this weekend..Cormac

  13. cormac

    Apologies Una, your comment got caught by the spam filter (why?).
    You’re quite right – the expression ‘scientists believe’ is also misleading for the reason you give. I think one of the most interesting areas in science is the idea of what constitutes ‘consensus’ – at what point do the vast majority decide ‘yeah, the evidence is now clear, theory A is wrong, theory B survives (so far)…’

    It’s never unaminous by the way – all we can do is pay attention to what the majority think (and it needs to be a big majority). For example, Einstein did not single-handedly change our view of the universe – instead specialists in the field gradually came to the view that the evidence supported relativity, a conclusion that has got stronger as time goes on and more evidence has come in….(which is not to say it will not be found one day to be incomplete)

  14. how apt he struggle between economic science and social science. neither a discoverer but both a diverter of discovery.

  15. Antimatter is the subconscious mind and consciousness of all living entities in different parallel multiverse universes.
    google crestroy

  16. I believe that God, the spirit and the soul is antimatter. http://www.crestroy.com