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Old Dec 10, '10, 11:07 am
Anselm33's Avatar
Anselm33 Anselm33 is offline
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Default Philosophical Issues in Cosmology

The full summary of GFR Ellis's article on this is now available on the Magis Center of Reason and Faith website:
The last article (a summary of the previous summaries and giving the philosophic issues themselves) is at
Reasoned comments, positive or negative, would be much appreciative.
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Old Dec 12, '10, 7:36 am
cassini cassini is offline
Join Date: November 17, 2008
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Default Re: Philosophical Issues in Cosmology

Originally Posted by Anselm33 View Post
The full summary of GFR Ellis's article on this is now available on the Magis Center of Reason and Faith website:
The last article (a summary of the previous summaries and giving the philosophic issues themselves) is at
Reasoned comments, positive or negative, would be much appreciative.
Trouble is Anselm that there are so many threads on faith and science that one could find one repeating oneself, if you pardon the pun. Anyway, I read some of the stuff on the recommended site and I am so fed up with this sort of MODERNISM that I have decided to make a stand, just to get the subject aired for once and for all.

Let me first ask what in God's name is SCIENCE these days? Let me quote from this popular site:

Put your faith in science
Don't be afraid of the discoveries of dark matter and black holes. Science can shed a light on faith.

"How can you believe in evolution?" a Christian woman accuses me. I explain that I don't believe in evolution. I accept evolution as a scientific theory in the same way I accept the theory of gravity. In 2006 National Geographic News reported that only 14 percent of Americans thought evolution is "definitely true." A third rejects the idea. Only people in Turkey have a lower rate of acceptance of Darwin's discoveries.

Americans are becoming more and more scientifically illiterate. We often fail to distinguish between different kinds of knowledge-theological, philosophical, humanistic, and scientific. Scientific knowledge, by definition, is always revisable, but that does not mean it is untrue. All scientific knowledge is theoretical. A theory holds until someone comes along disproving the theory and offers a better explanation. Truth for science means "that which has not been disproven." The "law of gravity" is "just a theory" in which we have a whole lot of confidence.

Those who resist science are not defending our faith. The bishops at the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes affirmed the "rightful independence of science," warning against the attitude "that faith and science are mutually opposed." In just the past few decades we have learned more about the universe than all the humans who came before us. The 13.7-billion-year-old universe is expanding at an accelerating rate; the fossil record demonstrates evolution. Without evolution the vaccines and pills so many take would be little more than snake oil. Without science, all our technological gadgets, from TVs to computers to cell phones, would not exist.

First of all Fr Richard G. Malloy, S.J., describes the 'science' he tells us can be good for our Catholic faith, the science that enters into theories (because it does not know the facts mainly because it will never know the facts but pretends it will some day know all the facts - just like God, nay better than God, for in Genesis they tell us He preferred myths and stories rather than facts). The theories he brings up are of course theories that conflict with the traditional understandings of many aspects of Catholicism including de fide dogmas. He then offers the likes of FOSSILS as 'demonstrating' evolution when in fact the dogs in the streets know all the fossils they have to demonstrate with could fit in one coffin. But enough of that banned subject, and rightly so.

Vatican II with its "rightful independence of science," is another modern departure from traditional WISDOM, that never gave science such independence to Catholics, but made it subject to theology.

ĎThe knowledge proper to this science of theology comes through divine revelation and not through natural reason. Therefore, it has no concern to prove principles of other sciences, but only to judge them. Whatever is found in other sciences contrary to any truth of this science of theology must be condemned as false.í --- (ST, I, Q 1, a 6, ad 2).

Now what good in God's name can come from subjecting any aspect of Catholicism to theories that have no reality in them. Imaging resting the creative act by God on the theory of a Big Bang. Next year the same scientists could be laughing at the idea of an atomic explosion in which matter accumulated after the bang (unlike any other explosion that never results in accumulation.) What then for the dogma of creation associated with the theory that could become a big 'scientific' mistake.

I could go on. I am now convinced that the LAST thing the Catholic faith need to have anything to do with is 'science'. Catholicism is about faith, in an ex nihilo creative act of God, with all now working only because of His concursus and not because of natural 'scientific laws', and miracles, dozens and dozens of them, all 'alien to science' if you pardon a pun again. True science, that is what we have learned about the things around us in nature is different. Its revelations show the true wonder of nature, the true omnipotence of God. For example, the discovery that every snowflake has a different structure, that the number of stars are as numerous as the numbers of grains of sand on earth as the Bible says somewhere. Indeed if anyone want to know the anti biblical aims of science I once saw on TV that guy who stars in Jurassic Pakk on a cosmology programme (to give it more credibility?) saying that there were TWICE as many stars as grains of sand on earth. Yeh, twice as good a scientist as the Bible.
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Old Dec 21, '10, 3:46 am
hecd2 hecd2 is offline
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Default Re: Philosophical Issues in Cosmology

Anselm Ė Iím dragging this thread back because this is a serious subject into which you have put a lot of effort. It deserves more than the single silly reply that it has so far received.

First of all, I think that you have written a comprehensive and accurate review/summary of George Ellisís paper. You have obviously worked hard, first to digest Ellisís comprehensive and complex paper and then to summarise it. If it brings Ellisís thinking to a wider audience, then thatís a good thing.

I think that Ellisís paper on the philosophy of cosmology (look here), which has been extant for more than four years, represents a landmark in coherent thinking about what is and is not a good scientific hypothesis in cosmology. One doesnít need Ellis, of course, to recognise that some theoretical physicists and cosmologists (or the popular media in reporting their work, or apologists for this or that metaphysics or religion seeking to use their ideas in support of their own) overstep the mark in the scientific confidence with which they make some cosmological claims. But Ellis takes those popular critiques of speculative cosmology and grounds them in a rigorous scientific and philosophical foundation. He has the benefit of fully understanding the science and this brings great credibility (too many philosophical critiques of various scientific positions founder on the scientific ignorance of their authors - cf the postmodernist French deconstructionists). Itís far ranging and comprehensive, touching on many aspects of method and epistemology. It is an antidote to assertions that claim that ďscience showsĒ certain things that are no more than speculative.

The problem that he highlights arises from what I think is a crisis in fundamental physics that is leaking over into cosmology. Progress in developing unification theories that are consistent, testable and supported empirically has been disappointing for some time. The nature of dark matter and dark energy are unknown, and so is their status in fundamental physics. The projects to detect exotic entities predicted in some theories (gravity waves, magnetic monopoles, Higgs, and particles in the super-symmetry zoo) are delayed or stalled. The nature of the inflaton is unknown and not tightly constrained. Plausible but completely incompatible cosmological scenarios multiply in the absence of constraining evidence. So what we see is the proliferation of incompatible, partially self-inconsistent, untestable or potentially unphysical theories year on year. In many cases these hypotheses unwind previous choices such as the constancy and universality of the laws of physics or FRLW metrics or Newtonian gravity, thus opening up a theoretical Pandoraís box. Just look at astro-ph or gr-qc on arXiv to see this. There is nothing wrong with any of this hypothesising as long as people donít pretend that it represents knowledge or well-supported science.

I think it would be tedious for me to go through the whole article making detailed comments about each step in the argument. That said, and accepting Ellisís fundamental thesis that we should avoid misrepresenting the confidence with which we can assert certain claims about cosmology, letís look at the few areas in which I have reservations about his paper (and your summary and review of it.)

First if all, I think that one has to be extremely cautious in attempting to discern between things that a) are in principle knowable but are not known yet, b) are in principle knowable but that in practice we cannot know because of practical considerations such as our ability to gather sufficient data or because understanding them requires a level of cognition greater than that possessed by humans or c) things that are not knowable in principle, for example because they lie forever outside the accessible region of reality. I think that, if anything, Ellis tends to lean towards the last option too readily. If you were to ask an 18th century scientist about the possibility, in principle, of more or less instantaneous communication from one side of the world to the other, I wonder what his answer would have been. We should be careful about declaring that this or that is impossible because of some physical principle, when the possibility exists of discovering new physics. Itís a sort of hubris of modesty. We donít know what we donít know.

To be continued
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Old Dec 21, '10, 3:52 am
hecd2 hecd2 is offline
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Default Re: Philosophical Issues in Cosmology


So where I differ from Ellis is that I am more optimistic about the ultimate potential to know things about the starting conditions for the observable universe and therefore something about the underlying causes and processes.

Letís turn to some more detailed considerations: His thesis B6 on observational horizons limits our ability to directly observe beyond the visual horizon represented by the surface of last scattering Ė in other words we canít see anything before decoupling and what we observe is the matter that emitted the CMB photons. But we can infer events beyond that horizon by observing the configuration of matter at decoupling. For example, the theory of the physics of the photon-baryon plasma prior to decoupling based on acoustic oscillations in the fluid seeded by quantum fluctuations in the inflaton predicts certain properties in the angular power spectrum of the CMB anisotropy. COBE, WMAP and BOOMERanG confirm those predictions. So the CMB tells us a lot about what occurred prior to decoupling Ė the visual horizon is not an absolute barrier to evidence.

Similarly the detection of gravity waves can, in principle, tell us about events prior to decoupling, so that visual horizon is not absolute.

Ways are also being sought to test some of the more speculative hypotheses, at least to the point of constraining them. You yourself give an example of Penrose and Gurzadyan looking for a signature of a cyclic universe in the CMB Ė circles of non-Gaussian low variance (currently being vigorously refuted and defended). Similarly, Feeney et al have recently suggested evidence for a theory known as eternal inflation Ė they have detected candidates for the signature of collisions with other bubble universes in the CMB - here. Itís early days, of course, because these theories canít both be right, so at least one group is seeing things that arenít there, but they illustrate the principle of seeking ways to empirically test things that canít currently be tested by finding means that are not yet discovered.

Another example is thesis C1 where he asserts that the energy of events in the very early universe is unattainable experimentally. This is an argument from technology rather than an argument from principle Ė we should be cautious about such arguments. Sure, the GUT energy is about a trillion times higher than the design energy of LHC and unification of gravity is a thousand times more than that. So we would need a conventional accelerator a light year across for probing GUT and a galactic sized one for TOE (ridiculous I know), but there might well be other ways to probe these extreme energies (and, no, I donít know what they are).

Finally, for now, I donít have the philosophical difficulties that Ellis professes with actual infinities, at least not with regard to future eternal and spatial dimensions, but I agree with him that the hypothesis of actual temporal or spatial infinities cannot be empirically verified (although, of course, it can be falsified in particular cases Ė for example, if we determine empirically that the universe is small and connected, by detecting light from a single body arriving via multiple paths).

There is much more that I could say about the Ellis paper and your summary, but letís start with this.

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