Saturday, 18 February 2012

A scientists stance on God?

As a disclaimer: I will not be discussing any specific religions, just the mere existence of a God.
So whenever I tell people that I study neuroscience and that I am a Catholic one of the common reactions is “Really!? How can you study science and believe in God? Hasn’t science proven that there is no God?”.
Anyone who has studied science or the so called ‘scientific method’ will most likely agree that, science can not prove that an ‘object’ does not exist. In a very strict sense of the meaning of ‘proven’, science has not proven anything at all. Firstly scientists are busy trying to disprove null hypothesis. Secondly they do that on the basis of probability. Now the deal with scientific hypothesis is that they have to be falsifiable.
The hypothesis ‘there is a God’ is not falsifiable. The scientific method cannot show that something does not exist. You can not go to an e.g. lingerie shop and say “look there are not any lions here, so lions do not exist”. One could do that for every single space in the whole universe and in all dimensions and still one could be wrong as one might not simply have the tools to do that. Following from the previous sentence it should be pointed out that only because we can not show that something exists does not mean it doesn't e.g. for centuries people did not believe in the existence of viruses, but that did not mean that they did not exist. And it would not surprise me if tomorrow scientists come out with completely new theory regarding the existence of viruses. It is also the case that null hypothesis usually imply the lack of something. In science it is usually a null hypothesis would say: there is no significant difference between x and y. Hence ‘there is no God’ seems like a better and more practical null hypothesis. Although it also does not imply any difference between two phenomena.
Before we move on with that null hypothesis a couple of words have to be said about the phenomenon of significance in science. So I used to think that science was quite efficient at asserting things and more useful than most of humanities, but the more science I learn the less I think that is the case. Besides the fact that loads of high profile science is actually low quality, the fact that something is deemed significant in science if it is statistically likely to occur less than 1 in 20 times by pure chance. It would not be such a depressing thought (but still depressing) if there was a good reason for choosing 1/20 - but there is not! Pretty much a bunch of guys who though that they were clever must have just decided on it and frankly truth is neither defined by a democratic vote nor simply by someones authority. But whether through our faith or our pragmatism I still think we managed to learn a fair bit about the workings of this world through this flawed method.
Moving back to the null hypothesis that there is no God... Well to disprove this we would have to present evidence that is likely to arouse by chance not any more often than 1/20 times... But lets skip that notion since it is flawed anyway and lets just think about the evidence. It is unlikely that we could measure God if the cases made by a couple of religions were true, if God was measurable, He would probably be controllable and that does not seem to mach most criteria of a deity. It is often argued that Goedels proof shows that there is at least one God, but it had been subjected to loads of criticism and whether he managed convince himself still remains a question. What I can comment on is that any evidence that can be shown is merely proxy (and we can never be sure if proxy do their job correctly). Many scientists (not that authority really matters) argue that the complexity of the universe and its presence can be used as arguments for Gods existence but there are alternative explanations (often not incompatible with Gods existence) that can be used to explain those events. Nevertheless those theories of Gods involvement are not really falsifiable by science. There exist also arguments proposed by religious groups to try to help their cause, this is usually material or historical evidence, that one should not dismiss straight away (one can read Lee Strobels book for some examples).
I think it can be seen from this that all those arguments require faith and, but frankly so does the stance of atheism. It is a judgement call. I have also proposed that atheism is a very radical stance and since it might be the case that the hypothesis ‘there is no God’ might not be falsifiable due to practical reasons as well the hypothesis that ‘there is a God’. The only reasonable stance seems to be agnosticism, as all other sides require some faith.
Still that does not answer the question why I believe in God. Well I like to search for the truth (and I do question my faith). I search for truth to be able to live a better life, to be able to make better choices. Reason is probably the one single biggest tool that we have available to assess the truth. But the knowledge that we obtain (and can further assess) is usually obtained by some sort of revelation. As a neuroscientist I am well aware that our senses and our perception can be tricked and even trusting them requires faith and we do it for pragmatic reasons - they seem to work. Great discoveries were made by people who questioned what was known and could be affirmed by reason (and still many leading scientists question what the public perceives to be scientific facts). This often requires faith into ‘weak’ evidence and pursuing the exploration of them. And I trust the evidence for God (in my opinion it is quite strong), the same way I trust in the scientific method being able to tell us something about the world.  And as much as pragmatism does not make anything good I think if we do not want to go crazy, we seem to need some in life.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Adam Smith encounters

So I am slowly going through Adam Smith's Invisible Hand and while walking through Edinburgh (UK) I have encountered a nice statue.

Monday, 23 January 2012

In the light of SOPA, PIPA and ACTA

In the act of legislation, that is being put forward to deprive us from our God given freedom, listen to the second part of this video:

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Kicking people out

Recently in Scotland this video became quite famous and a follow-up is available here. Now I do not belong to the type of people who want to beat up every idiot that I see on my way, though I truly believe that, I would be physically capable of doing that in most cases, purely because in many cases those people were never shown an other way of behaviour and it would be a much better act to show them other options - anyway for the sake of argument this does not matter.
What matters here is that we had someone using a service for which he did not have the required proof of pay. Now the fact that maybe when he was buying the ticket in the first instances it was sold to him wrongly, but most sensible people check that they get what they pay for. Neither can his medical state be used as excuse for this, as a adult he is probably well aware of it and should take adequate measures to control it - it is sad, but this is not much of a different case of people abusing e.g. alcohol and behaving like idiots.
Now I heard opinions that the boy was treated harshly and that if other people were asked to move by someone who is not a police officer, they would also try to punch them. In the first instance the boy was offered several times to move freely out of the train - he did not. He was lifted-up by someone who had permission of a employee responsible for eliminating fare-dodgers (I have no idea how much less force could you use - tap him on the shoulder???) and told to move - he did not. He tried to swing a punch, but was moved out, not even put in a arm lock. He then tried to run back into a train (private property), to which he did not have the right to enter.
Now with regards to police and security. Police are nothing more than security employed by the government, I have seen them many times doing a great job and I heard stories from my friends experience about the contrary. By no means should police though be put over other people, it is the sad case that in many instances they seem to have extra privileges, often not completely even related to the acute actions that they might have to take in their job (this makes me thing of politicians...). There is no reason why a owner or a person designated by him should not be allowed to kick someone out of their property as long as they do not break any contract. Trains should not be regarded any different than pubs and clubs, where even the law states under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005, that when asked people should leave the private premises and reasonable force might be used to enforce this.
If we are not allowed to protect our property, if we are not allowed to freely use our lives, what are we allowed then?

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The problem with the greater good

I was (kind of) challenged by someone who claimed that taxes are a necessary evil and at the same time a fairer way of paying for some stuff e.g. ambulances... I think that one of the problems that those people have is that they praise the idea of the so called greater good. The idea that society can choose to ‘use’/abuse/torture certain individuals who have committed no offence against anyone because doing so will ‘benefit many people and only cost a couple’. Well so now we know that we live in a age of quantity and not a one of quality. Sad it is. But it is even more sad that those same arguments would have been used by all sort of socialist derived regimes like natzis (sacrificing certain individuals, of Jewish descent, disabled etc.) or commies (who justified sacrificing the rich..., well for the government I guess, since the so called poor did not seem to benefit so much). If we do not stop this, we might find ourselves living in a world where it will legal to make experiments on individuals against their will - ‘for the greater good’; strip rich people (who I have no idea why people hate so much) of all their possessions - ‘for the greater good’; kill your elderly relatives - ‘for the greater good’.
Without freedom, there will be no justice...

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Means ends and moral dilemmas

People often like to challenge each other with so called moral dilemmas. An example of it one is the following:
‘If by killing 1 person (the person is not sacrificing her/his life voluntarily), you could save the lives of millions, would you do it?’
Now let me explain why do I believe that the answer to that question is NO. I am not arguing by any means against human charity, but we do not have any obligation to help anyone (unless we have some kind of contract), so helping someone is a good dead (something more than we would normally expect), not helping them is neutral, there is no fundamental reason why we should. By not helping them we are not harming them, we are just not helping them. If we on the other hand push them to harm, then we are doing them something evil.
Lets look at a example if someone is hanging on from a cliff we can either do nothing (stay neutral), help them get up (do something good) or stamp on their fingers and make them fall (do something evil).
Further on, there is no ‘objective’ way of compensating someone who we have done something evil, by doing good to other people. I.e. stealing from someone rich and giving it to the poor does not compensate the rich person for the harm that was done to him.
So by not harming the 1 person and not helping the million we stay neutral. Our means our just and hence the ends are moral.
By harming the first person and helping the million we have still done something evil and immoral, that is not compensated by the fact that we helped the other million. By doing harm to someone pour means can not be just and hence their outcome can not be moral.
If we do not follow the above algorithm, then situations like this can be deemed moral:
  1. A gangster stealing all your money  and killing, you and your family would be deemed just if he donated some of that money and saved a 1000 lives in a poor country.
  2. Governments would be justified by exploiting minorities (look at the Nazi and Soviet regimes) to help their majorities.
Referencing my dear old friend The Young Monarchist, our means justify our ends. So consider wether harming some people (e.g. by taxes) to ‘help’ other people by ‘social services’ really is just (even if you think that the social services actually help).

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


In life we desire many things, often we say that we are tempted by something. We can then decide whether we subdue to it or not, it might be a hard or easier to make that decision, but ultimately it is ours. Sometimes those desires hint us to do something ‘good’ e.g. when we are tempted by food, because we are hungry and subdue to the crave we do not die from starvation. Sometimes they are not so good e.g. sexual temptations. It is very interesting as if two people make a agreement to have sex, nothing immoral happens (unless they previously agreed with someone else that they will not do that). The problem occurs that temptations are often self-reinforcing, a good example being smoking, which mainly shows itself in how difficult it is to quit. So though one does not commit anything immoral, one might become obsessed with something. This means that it becomes harder for him to reject the temptation. If we look across history, especially religion, we notice that some of the greatest individual e.g. Jesus (and the saints that followed his teachings), Buddha, Tao masters, were famous not only for their gentleness, but also for a high moral code and restraint.
This hints to me that if one tries to restrain himself in everyday life, it is easier to make clear decisions in times of stress and gives him a higher degree of freedom/independence.  This can make one think about neijia martial arts, which are based on intent and preserving ones balance, doing things that benefit one and do not create a weakness.
Hence when we are deciding on something we might not only think whether it is just, but also if it is beneficial in perspective.