Tuesday, July 20

In Re: God and The Pope Under Attack (Part 1)



According to columnist Rigoberto Tiglao (PDI issue of July 8, 2010), the rise of atheism and agnosticism is the triumph of science as “the only tool to obtain objective truth”. Such a sweeping statement admitting no exceptions, is most typical of those who do NOT understand “science” as it is now and always has been. For if Tiglao’s theory is true which it is NOT, and such falsehood is demonstrable even by COMMON SENSE, therefore Tiglao’s 2-part article itself would a priori be violating “objective truthper se because its presentation is by no means a scientific treatise whatsoever.

In fact, being obviously NOT a qualified science practitioner himself, cosmologists and particularly those involved in theoretical quantum physics will cringe at Tiglao’s seemingly (to a science tyro) impressive statement that “science, with mathematical elegance and rigor, is going to the very depths of reality (super-string theories) and to the start of time (the Big Bang)”. And thus according to science-tyro Tiglao, “there is no need for the childish creation myths of religion”. It is therefore apparent that his conclusion is based on the naïve theory that science alone can explain cosmological reality (the whole physical structure of the universe) in full, down to the infinitesimally small nuclear quantum level, strictly by means of physics and mathematics. And worse: for IF SO, therefore we Catholics who sincerely believe in the Holy Trinity One God, including those among Tiglao’s PDI associates, are childish myth-fanatics or the like!?!

But in fact the Tiglao-cited “super-string theories” (for indeed there are several theoretical variations at odds with one another), are still infinitely far from “going to the very depths of reality”. As of now these theories consist of mere trial-and-error ATTEMPTS over the past 20 years to verify its YET UNPROVEN MAIN ASSUMPTIONthat physical matter at the quantum level is a string-like membrane or combination of infinitesimally small compositely structured quanta”, and NOT the classic quantum physics STANDARD MODEL’s single point-like specks (e.g. electrons and quarks). And their researcher-scientists have NOT yet even arrived at the initial stage of mathematically DEBUNKING existing contrary theories under Einstein’s widely accepted General Theory (yes, also still a theory up to now!) of Relativity or the old classic Standard Model based on quantum particle physics.

In fact String and Super-String theories have been overtaken by a more recent and CONTRADICTORY theory - - that of the theory of Loop Quantum Gravity (LQG) as the latest alternative to String Theory or M-Theory, its more technically acceptable name. LQG’s main theoretical ASSUMPTION (thus its parallel attempts in competition with String theorists to prove its assumptions as mathematically correct), is that space is NOT continuous, but comes only in specific quantum units of area and volume. The term “loop” refers to its mathematically implied existence of “small loops marked out in spacetime”. The dynamic quantum geometry of space over infinitesimally short periods of time is what is referred to as spacetime.

But Tiglao’s worst error is his implicit conclusion that science as exemplified by the EXPLORATORY mathematics of those behind Super-string theories, has already and forever demolished any reasonable belief in God and His creation of the world out of nothing; and implicitly, that all these mind bogglingly complex yet mathematically precise (conceptually) infinitesimal structures are mere products of RANDOM CHANCE.

For had Tiglao correctly understood the basic aspects of “String Theories”, the reverse conclusion is MORE REASONABLE, which is that there must be a sovereign Super-Intelligence behind it all! For it is basic in the science of statistics with its unique mathematics on permutations and combinations I first learned in our Higher Algebra (Math 30) course in U.P. under Prof. Manuel Bendaña, that with MORE FACTORS involved, the GREATER are the odds against the random occurrence of a specific event. For example, picking the shortest route covering 100 towns by mere chance will have odds of 1 in 100-factorial, where the latter number is 100 x 99 x 98 x 97 … x 2 x 1. Thus even the most modern computer engaged in solving this classic Traveller’s mathematical problem would take tens of millions of years to arrive at the complete answer. For the skeptic, try multiplying with a calculator just the first five (5) factors to get an idea of how many permutations and combinations are involved, each of which the Traveller cum computer must still analyze to get the shortest route.

And so let’s consider that thus far, String Theories’ mathematical models and equations (from my old copy of the Special Edition of the Scientific American, February 2006) IMPLY, not prove but merely imply, as follows:

1. Aside from the four dimensions of length, width, height/depth and time, there are SIX extra DIMENSIONS that are too small to have yet been detected.

2. It also suggests that our present observable universe with its present approximate radius of 13.4 billion light years, may just be “one random valley (or universe) out of a virtually infinite selection of valleys (or multiverses) in a vast landscape of possibilities”.

3. This infinite landscape or “spacescape” has perhaps 10500valleys”, each one of which has its own set of “Laws of Physics” that operate uniquely in separate vast “bubbles of space”. (Pls. note that 102 is 100, 103 is 1000. Thus 10500 has 500 zeros in it all in all!)

4. Our present visible universe would thus be “only one relatively small region within one such bubble”. (Note: From the article by Raphael Bousso and Joseph Polansky in the Special Edition (The Frontiers of Physics) in my old copy of The Scientific American, February 2006.

And yet Tiglao unabashedly proclaims that a) all these are already existing

realities and b) all these by inference, are products of random chance arising from OUT OF NOTHING, in keeping with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Is it a reasonable or a cock-eyed conclusion based on common sense?

Furthermore, let me also correct Mr. Tiglao’s Bible exegesis on the “virgin birth” of Jesus Christ from the Blessed Virgin Mary’s womb. Its scriptural proof is NOT primarily much less exclusively based on the Old Testament, but from the New Testament i.e. from the Gospels of St. Matthew (1:18-25) and St. Luke (1:26-38) whose translations from the original text have NEVER been seriously questioned as to their correctness.

At any rate, Mr. Tiglao’s selection of popular and seemingly heavyweight atheist-witnesses for his persecution/prosecution of God e.g. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Victor J. Stenger among others, as his testimonial evidence to prove that “God is a myth”, in contrast to his choice of little known lighweight “defenders” such as John Polkinghorne (a former priest), Karen Armstrong (a former nun) and Antony Flew (an atheist allegedly converted to theism!), clearly smacks of a rigged Trial Court with himself as the only member of the jury.

And contrary to Tiglao’s primary thesis that science, particularly physics and mathematics “is the only tool to obtain objective truth”, his primary witness Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, similar to the Tiglao column, is mostly a hodge-podge of passionately bitter polemical criticisms of the alleged downright STUPIDITIES of fanatics in all religions. And so Dawkins VULGARLY describes them as merely “sucking up to their God”. The book is also larded over with a lot of pseudo-metaphysics that would easily be fried crisp if subjected to the 24-carat metaphysical and theological brilliance of St. ThomasSumma Theologica.

On the other hand, Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, so highly touted too by Tiglao, uses the 9-11 tragedy at the New York City Twin Towers, as his ultimate exhibit in his litany of CONDEMNATORY EVIDENCE versus ALL kinds of religious FAITH. Thus he extrapolated those Twin Towers as proof that: the perpetrators of such a heinous act were allegedly men of perfect faith”. ERGO, all such “pretensions to theological knowledge” are EVIL per se… whether from a Buddhist, Christian, Hindu or Muslim, etc.

How I wish Gilbert Keith Chesterton our Thomas Aquinas of the 20th century and par excellence defender-through-common sense of our faith, were still alive! He would have easily and simultaneously put both Dawkins and Harris down on the floor, whether figuratively or even literally, during any debate.

Tiglao’s third seeming heavyweight witness for the prosecution of God and all religions, is Victor J. Stenger together with his book “The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does NOT Exist”. Stenger is the only one among Tiglao’s witnesses who uses modern physics as the major part of the proffered evidence. Thus Stenger, the professional particle physicist and lately active in philosophy and popular fora on religious skepticism, insists that if God exists, some evidence of His existence should be detectable “by scientific means”, and that there is none of such evidence whatsoever. On the other hand, Stenger claims that based on all the SAME scientific evidence available, the conclusion should be that “beyond reasonable doubt the universe and life itself exists” without any alleged Sovereign Prime Being to thank and acknowledge as the Creator. In short: if I can’t prove my presence/innocence, therefore I must be non-existent/guilty beyond reasonable doubt?!?

And so I now present as my rebuttal witness, Stenger’s colleague in the science profession. He is Charles Townes, a former UCLA professor, co-inventor of the laser and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. And in March 2005 at the age of 89, he was the recipient of the Templeton Prize for “Progress towards Research and Discoveries about Spiritual Realities”, with a cash award of USD 1.5 Million.

Townes’ simple and straightforward rebuttal testimony is that “Many people don’t realize that science basically involves assumptions and faith. But nothing is absolutely proved. Wonderful things in both science and religion come from our efforts based on observations, thoughtful assumptions, faith and logic”. Townes concludes that it is “extremely unlikely” that the findings of modern physics will ever prove that life and humanity are “just accidental”, thus leading to the reasonable religious belief that the universe has an intelligent author-creator. For indeed if there is such a God, which we Christians DO BELIEVE to be true, therefore faith and reason will NOT, can NOT CONTRADICT each other.

Lastly, I call on my early boyhood’s love, Mathematics - - the quintessential SCIENCE- - as my last witness for the DEFENSE of GOD and for the purpose of showing that contrary to Tiglao’s theory, Mathematics itself, through its unavoidably esoteric and complex but necessarily THEORETICAL mathematical models, is NOT INERRANTLY capable of solving all the mysteries of cosmological and quantum realities. And so I offer as my exhibit-in-evidence page 30 of my old copy of another Special Edition of the Scientific American on “The Mysteries of Mathematics”. I refer in particular to an article written by John L. Casti entitled “Confronting Science’s Logical Limits” originally published in October 1996, where John L. Casti asked the following crucial yet ILLUMINATING question:

How do we know that mathematical models of a natural system and the system itself bear any (exact or otherwise) relation to each other?

And that is exactly why Nobel Prize winner Charles Townes says: “Science basically involves assumptions and faith.” Deo gratias et AMEN!


God and the Pope under attack (Part 1)

By Rigoberto D. Tiglao
Philippine Daily Inquirer
July 8, 2010

THAT CERTAINLY IS AN ATTENTION-GRABBING headline that, some critics say, is this newspaper’s flavor. But I assure you, it’s accurate. And it is certainly news in a country where Masses are held even in malls, where prelates pontificate on politics, and where a jogging cleric’s rants are news sound bites.

The 21st century is seeing the most intense attacks on belief in God in general and the Roman Catholic Church in particular. The siege is both on the intellectual level, the subject of the first part of this column, and on the cultural and institutional level, next week’s topic.

In high school, practically the only intellectually rigorous argument against the existence of God was Bertrand Russell’s essay, “Why I Am Not a Christian” (published 1967), which during those times you couldn’t even find in local bookstores.

Not anymore, the first decade of the century has seen a slew of books by the planet’s most respected intellectuals debunking religion, and arguing that God is simply in the genre of Santa Claus, Zeus, or the sky-god Bathala—fairy tales necessary in humanity’s infantile phase, but now unnecessary. Not only that, these have become bestsellers, so widely in demand that they are mostly now in paperback, a sure sign that a lot of people have read them and a lot more are likely to buy the cheaper edition.

UCLA neuroscientist Sam Harris probably ignited current interest with his short “The End of Faith” (2004). It argued that the rejection of reason, which is what religious faith is, has led to humanity’s monstrosities—from the brutal wars waged by the tribes of Israel to the medieval crusades to the latest jihadist car bomber. Even the Holocaust is said to have been justified by the anti-Semitism that the Good Book bred when one Gospel blamed the Jewish mob, not the Romans, for the Messiah’s crucifixion.

Several top-caliber intellectuals and scientists stepped out of their specialized fields to write books debunking religion, among them, particle physicist Victor Stenger (“God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist”), biologist and consciousness-research pioneer Daniel Dennet (“Religion: Breaking the Spell”); Oxford University evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (“The God Delusion”); and respected intellectual and journalist Christopher Hitchens “God is Not Great.”

One of the memorable trivia (at least for me) in Dawkins’ book was his ridicule of the pantheon of Catholic saints: “The Catholic Community Forum helpfully lists 5,120 saints, together with their areas of expertise, which include abdominal pains… anorexia… bowel disorders. ” (Fortunately, the Filipino faithful now has its patron saint, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, martyred in Japan in 1637, the sole Filipino saint after five centuries of Christianity, and for a country with the planet’s fourth biggest Catholic population.)

On the other hand, many of Hitchens’ points stupefy this Jesuit-educated columnist. Example: If the Ten Commandments were the word of God, how come it didn’t prohibit slavery and rape, among the heinous crimes all humanity abhors? His answer: The Commandments were simply a tribal code—as all tribes have in one form of another. Slavery and rape were acceptable 4,000 years ago, if inflicted on a conquered tribe.

There have been, of course, a slew of counter-attacks against the atheist books by scholars of Dawkins’ or Dennet’s caliber, notably from University of Cambridge professor of mathematical physics and former priest John Polkinghorne (“Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship”), former nun and professor of religion Karen Armstrong (“The Case for God”), and perhaps one of the most respected philosophers of the past century, Anthony Flew (“There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind”).

These, however, actually would give little comfort to Catholics. For instance, it turns out that Flew’s “conversion” means he still does not believe in “the Gods of the Christian and the Islamic Revelations,” but rather in “the God of Aristotle or Spinoza.” That’s an abstract god; you might as well believe in Yoda’s “The Force.”

The rise of atheism and agnosticism do not seem to be a fashion, but the result of the triumph of science starting in the past century as the only tool to attain objective truth. Even 200 years ago, the story of Adam and Eve would have been so easy to believe. Impossible now after Darwin and the reality—not theory—of evolution by natural selection. Science, with mathematical elegance and rigor, is going to the very depths of reality (super-string theories) and to the start of time (the Big Bang). There is no need for the childish creation myths of religion.

And I do not mean only natural sciences. Without the development for instance of anthropology and linguistics, the following claims could never have been brought up:

• That the word “virgin”, as in Jesus borne out of a virgin, is a mis-translation from the Hebrew almah of the Old Testament which only means “young woman.” And after all, virgin births are almost always a feature of ancient Mediterranean religions, from the Egyptian god Horus to Greek heroes to even the Roman Emperor Augustus. (Cf., James Still, “The Virgin Birth and the Childhood Mysteries of Jesus.”)

• That “virgin” as in the dozens of “virgins” that a jihadist martyr would purportedly enjoy in the afterlife as his reward is a mis-translation from a word in Syriac (a language other than Arabic used in the Koran) that means “white raisins.” (Cf., Ibn Warraq, “Virgins, What Virgins?”).

(Next week: The cultural and institutional siege against the Church)

Email: rigoberto.tiglao@gmail.com


jom said...

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