Sunday, 20 March 2011

non-contextual models in Quantum Mechanics

What is meant by the statement that...

" is not possible to explain quantum phenomena through/by non-contextual models with hidden variables."

Are they refering to randomness when speaking of "hidden variables"?? However it seems that this challenges realism, which in turn challenges materialism no. Surely this has huge implications for Darwinism. However, can you explain what is meant by the piece I quote, or at least point me to where I can find such information?

Hidden variables are a deterministic formulation of Quantum Mechanics. But it has been shown that for such a formulation to work the hidden variables have to be “non-local” in the sense that their values at one point in space/time depend on the values in other points in space/time that are not in the same light cone.

The work reported in this 2009 paper takes this result further, and shows that such hypothetical hidden variables would also have to be contextual, ie depend on what other measurements were being made. This further strengthens the mainstream view that randomness is actually inherent in Quantum Mechanics.

John and I think that this randomness provides a physical basis for freewill and hence for love which is the ultimate value in the universe.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Lead us not into temptation?

In the Lord's Prayer we ask God not to lead us into temptation. I find it very difficult to believe that he would do so if we did not ask him not to, and would like to suppose that something has been lost in the translation of that part of the lord' prayer.

Could it be that the wording should be, "lead us out of temptation" - the words "out of" being synonymous with "not into", but carrying a more satisfactory meaning?

Yes it's rather puzzling isn't it.

The puzzle deepens in Greek because it is clearly "do not bring/lead us into temptation/test" not "lead us (not into temptation/test)". Indeed the "but deliver us from evil/the evil/the evil one" that Matthew has but not Luke may be necessary because the Greek translation of whatever the underlying Aramaic was gave the misleading impression of God actively leading us into temptation.

In practice I think it is a recognition that we don't just need to be delivered/rescued from evil/the evil one but, being frail, kept away from temptation as far as possible.

But let's see what John has to add...

Can the Bible illuminate some unexplained mysteries at the quantum level?

As regards some of these unexplained mysteries at the quantum level in the physical world, why is information from the bible not considered as a possible source of insight or knowledge in these matters, in the scientific dialogue?

God communicates with us in the Bible in many ways, and certainly the conviction that a loving ultimate creator God was behind the universe was a major inspiration for the great Christians from Newton to Maxwell and beyond who discovered much of science. The Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge still has inscribed the words of Psalm 111: Magna opera Domini exquisita in omnes voluntates ejus, meaning 'The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein'.

However it is clear from reading the Bible that God is concerned there to communicate the fundamental relationships between God and His creation including esp. humanity, not to communicate scientific details. So whereas the Bible can and does inspire scientists to deep insights, any insights however motivated then have to be subject to scientific scrutiny in the usual ways.

Time available for evolution?

I am a retired physicist and was fortunate to find a copy of “Faith of a Physicist” while searching the shelves of a bookstore some years ago. It was my introduction to Dr. Polkinghorne’s work – I have since read several more – and I find his use of a “bottom up” approach attractive; it helps me in the struggle to rationalize my Christian faith. I have a rather simplistic question of a practical nature. In common with most scientists I believe the evidence for evolution is overwhelming.

My problem is with the time available for the development of the world, as we see it today, from the initial single celled organism that was created. An important link in human evolution appears to be “Lucy”, alive about 3 million years ago. She is thought to have been a close relative of homo sapiens, exhibiting bi-pedalism, and yet it took 3 million years for the relatively small changes necessary for her evolution into what we know today as humans. If we take those 3 million years and divide it into the full life of the earth of 4.5 billion years we arrive at the number 1500. So there has only been time, even in the full life of the earth, for 1500 evolutionary “Lucy” steps to have taken place to get us from a single celled organism to the complexity we see now. The number of steps is surely too few to achieve this; even if evolution were 10 or 100 times more rapid, the steps available would still be insufficient. How are we to resolve this dilemma? Does this mean that God has had a more active role in evolutionary development than we think?

This is an interesting point.

The timescales in evolutionary development are complex and ill-understood: my friend and collaborator Martin Nowak is a pioneer of the field of Evolutionary Dynamics, but it’s a rapidly evolving field. However the natural unit of evolutionary time is generations rather than years: there may be roughly only 15,000 human generations since “Lucy” but millions of ant-generations and billions of bacteria-generations.

Nevertheless it appears that it took about 1.8bn of the 3.5bn years since the origin of life on earth for even multi-cellular organisms to form, and another c1.2bn years for vertebrates. Much remains to be understood!

Dialogue between Christian and Buddhist scientists?

In recent years I have become more and more interested in Buddhism and the Indic religions. I am starting to follow the dialogue between scientists with Buddhists, mostly the Dalai Lama and his entourage. From what I have read in this field, I have to express frankly a disappointment regarding the scene between scientists and Christian theologians (ordained or not).

My clearest criticism here concerns the basic lack of efforts on the part of the Christian theologians to criticize the western world which western science has helped to build. I have found for the dialogues with Buddhists that the monks (esp. westerners with solid credentials in a scientific field converted to Tibetan Buddhism) spare no ammunition in critcizing the ideological assumptions and metaphysical bases of the western scientific Establishment, on matters as wide ranging as nuclear physics and atomic weapons, genetics and cloning, one life or not, etc.. I have sensed in the dialogues between Buddhists that the Buddhist ordained are very eager to make these occasions also at least sharing of worldviews, life views, aspirations of new avenues for humanity, etc.. In contrast it seems that when the dialogue is between scientists and Christian theologians, the latter spend so much time and effort in defending or establishing Christian theology as methodologically not inferior to natural science. This seems to be that the Christian theologians are saying implicitly to the scientists that "we won't rock your ideological boat". I sense a strong eagerness to assert oneself as on the same footing as the western scientific establishment, and very little compared to the Buddhists in pushing the agenda to whether the footing of western scientific establishment is best for humanity.

My ideal is to see multi-logues involving scientists, Christian theologians like Revd Polkinghorne as well as Buddhist monastics with backgrounds like Matthieu Ricard. I do believe that Christian theologians with such an interest need to be pushed by the Buddhists to critically reflect on what further lengths they can go in probing out the Grundlage of western science. The presence of more than one religious tradition I believe would push the dialogues to an encounter between science and religion, rather than just any religion.

These are some interesting points, though I don't think Christians are quite as un-critical of some of the smuggled assumptions as you suggest.

The International Society for Science and Religion tries to bring together serious scholars in this area from all religious traditions.