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February 3, 2011

Atheism — the religion of science (III)

Filed under: The World in Fei's Eyes — Fei @ 11:46 pm

As I mentioned above, the scientific method has its limitations. It does not (and can not) reveal the secrets of the entire universe. It is only a subset (or a small subset) of all secrets that all human agree on. Science evolves over time, the theory seemly perfect now may be overthrown by a better, more seamless theory in the future. The question is, are we willing to believe in something that seems weird right now because the current science does not support it?

For example, in the middle ages, all scientific theories drew the conclusion that the earth was the center of the universe. Sun, moon, mars, and stars all circled around the earth. It was the science back then. Do you think a person at that time unscientific and believed wrong because he believed otherwise: the earth was not the center of universe? If we look back from now, we may probably say no. Because we well know that earth is not the center2. The science at that time was wrong and that person assumed correct. If, one day, God will fit in the scientific models, will the people at that time consider all the people now believing in God unscientific and believed wrong? It is a tough question… at least for people now…

I don’t know whether God will fit in the scientific models eventually. But even if it will not, can people still claim them believe wrong? After all, science only reveal a small portion of the secretes. God may well influence the world. But maybe the interaction time is too short; maybe the target is human, the observer; maybe the interaction pattern is too irregular, scientific method cannot derive useful results. It is in a gray area, and thus need belief.

To me, the scientific world is all inside a nutshell. The shell itself is composed of numerous assumptions. Science does not say anything outside the shell. But because of the Occam’s razor, the easiest assumption is that it is outside the range of science and has no effect on our world (inside the nutshell). But is it true? Nobody knows.

It still goes back to belief. After all, atheism is a religion. It is a religion of science — the current science.

2Based on current cosmology, an interpretation is that earth is not  the center of the universe. However, it is still the center of our universe: the universe that influence us (and the universe we care about). It does not mean science goes back to mid ages, but to mean yet another improvement in science.

January 30, 2011

Atheism — the religion of science (II)

Filed under: The World in Fei's Eyes — Fei @ 10:20 am

Nevertheless, the scientific method works fairly well in natural science. It is, however, less effective in social science and the humanity due to two reasons.

First, the research target is human itself. Each individual is unique. Experiments on one person cannot be exactly reproduced on another person, which violates the “repeat” scientific method. Furthermore, the same experiment may not generate the same result if it is applied to the same person at different times. Human may not be objectively isolated. The person may simply interact with the rest of the world (or have time to think about the experiment) and draw a different conclusion in the second experiment. Thus, many disciplines in social science and humanities turn into researching the characteristics of a group of people, or the common parts of people. Statistics are widely used in deriving useful conclusions. It is precisely because the characteristics of a group of people change much slower than each individual person in the group. Experiments can be meaningfully “repeated” in a short period of time.

Second, some disciplines, such as history, focus on past events. We have only one chance to do the experiment, that is the time the event happens. It so happens that some information may be lost as time passes by. Later generations may only base on the remaining information and guess the cause or reason. We can only do such experiments “repeatedly” if we invent time machines, go back in time repeatedly, and objectively evaluate the event without interfering it. It is however not likely under the currently scientific discoveries (mainly general relativity). Because we cannot repeat the event, statistically, the error of such judgment is one. Moreover, people may well have predetermined judgment before analyzing the event, and thus be biased.

The distinction between natural science and social science is somewhat blurred in quantum mechanics. In quantum mechanics, the observer cannot be isolated out of the equation even for physical quantities. The quantities change so fast1 that quantum mechanics has to rely on statistics and focus its average over time. Both due to the scientific method “repeat”.

I sketched the limitations of “repeat” in scientific method above. Below I will focus on another basic scientific methodology, which people more or less focus less. It is Occam’s razor. It is often stated as “All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.” This principle is often used to reason the non-existence of God[3]. If the assumption of the existence of God does not help explain the phenomenon, the assumption is cut out.  The majority of the scientific community prefers to rely on explanations that deal with the same phenomena within the confines of existing scientific models[3]. This is the basis of Atheism: the scientific method cannot support the existence of God. Due to Occam’s razor, the God does not exist. Please note, however, if one day God can be fit in the scientific models, because of the same Occam’s razor, God may be assumed existence. But can God fit in the scientific models, even in the far far future?

1This is not an entirely accurate representation, but a more vivid description.
[3] Wikipedia: Occam’s razor.

January 25, 2011

Atheism — the religion of science (I)

Filed under: The World in Fei's Eyes — Fei @ 11:42 pm

Atheism, the non-existence of God (Gods), has a wide variety of meanings. Here I use the word “Atheism” to refer to “strong atheism”, or “methodological naturalism”. It asserts the non-existence of supernatural beings and supports scientific methodology as the only effective way to investigate reality[1].

I’m not in a position to judge whether it is right or wrong. I just hope to raise some of its fundamental assumptions, benefits, and limitations.

Naturalism relies entirely on scientific method to investigate reality, which includes the making of a hypothesis, the prediction of a possible outcome, the test of such a prediction, and repetition of the experiment[2]. To me, the most interesting method is “repetition”. This makes science a universal language. Everyone believes in science. If you don’t believe in a theory, go ahead and do the experiment yourself. You can either disprove it or support it from the experiment. Here I use “support” because scientific theories can never be “proved” correct. Maybe someday a better theory will replace the current one.

However, “repetition” has several limitations. First, it requires the experiment to be repeatable. That is, whatever the “value” the experiment intends to test, it must either remain unchanged, or follow a predictable pattern over time and space. Some of the physical values fall into this category and can be tested repeatedly, but some may not.

A simple illustration of this limitation is as follows: A grown-up person Tom asks a child Jerry to investigate a table in an empty room, and asks Jerry to write down the position of the table in the room after his investigation. Note, when Jerry performs the investigation, he is alone in the room with the table. He cannot communicate with anyone (including Tom) his discovery. Only after he leaves the room can he disclose the position of the table. However, as soon as he leaves the room, Tom (or some other people) goes into the room from a back door and changes the position of the table (assume they can do it quickly enough). Because the test should be “repeatable”, Jerry does multiple tests and find the table at a different position each time. Even though each time Jerry correctly writes down the position of the table, the best conclusion Jerry can get is that the table appears randomly in the room.

Fortunately, most of the physical values at the macro level are fairly stable. They either remain constant or evolve slowly enough that people can derive the difference of the tests using known knowledge. (However, we cannot guarantee it will remain this way.) When we go into the micro world, things are totally different. Quantum mechanics is based on the experimental discovery of the “uncertainty principle”. The theory gives up identifying the exact position and momentum of a particle, but focuses on their statistical relations “over time”. Can we test the position and momentum at every single time? Maybe we can, but we get different result in every experiment (think about error!). We are just like the child Jerry in the example above, unaware there is a Tom there changing the position and momentum each time. No wonder Einstein questioned: “Does God throw dice?”

[1] Wikipedia: Naturalism.
[2] Wikipedia: Scientific method.

January 21, 2011

The World in Fei’s Eyes

Filed under: The World in Fei's Eyes — Fei @ 6:09 pm

This is the craziest series I’ve ever created. Since my childhood, I’ve been wondering the origin of the universe, the meaning of human beings. Now, I have some interesting thoughts and I want to write them down. I’m sure lots of philosophers must have had the same ideas, so my thoughts are perhaps not really novel… Nevertheless, I want to write them down in my own words so that I will not forget in the future…

I will start the series with my thoughts on Atheism, Christianity, and Buddhism. Then I will explain my unproven philosophy of the origin. This series is not about science. There is no true or false; there is no right or wrong. There is only belief. But, what is belief? For this, I’d like to borrow from an anonymous saying:

Belief is nothing more than a feeling of absolute certainty.
—- anonymous

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Atheism — the religion of science
Christianity — the religion of human
Buddhism — the religion of everything
The story of frogs in a well
We believe in, what?
In Goddy we trust
Where are we?
Belief is everything

序前序

Filed under: The World in Fei's Eyes — Fei @ 12:57 am

前几天老柏发给我几本科幻小说,刘慈欣写的“三体”三部曲。我在一个周末全部看完。这部小说以宇宙为背景,写了人类上亿年的未来。我尤其喜欢他对物理,计算机的未来的诠释,真是给我们这些懂一点点科学的人看的小说。

看完这三部小说后我还是蛮感怀的。想当年我也是满心追求宇宙奥秘的有为青年,探寻生存的意义。不过现在早已堕入尘世,追寻短利,心境也清明不起来了。

这两天又翻开我三四年前写的文章,觉得写得还蛮有意思的。当时是决心写完的,可写到“In Goddy We Trust”时发觉我的英语实在太烂,想表达的意思抓破头也写不出来,就停了下来。一停就停到现在,也不知能不能继续。那故事还蛮有意思的,可惜呀可惜。

不管怎么说,就把我陈年的文章拿出来晒一晒,让世人笑评吧。

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