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Tuesday, 7 October 2014

An Exchange with Geoff

What a guy! He has kept me amused, thinking and writing for half a day. This is how the back and forth went. Geoff is blue and I am red. Geoff’s honourable surname is Boyes. Hence a boyesillion. His grandmother, my Auntie Gert in the exchange, was a Beeby, my grandfather’s sister. She married the estimable Albert Boyes.

I tried to comment on your blog but it's not easy. So here is a comment on your blog of 17th Sept.

You say "the force of gravity is defined as: F = mg, where m is the mass of the body and g is a constant vector with an average magnitude of 9.81 m/s2. Why not a nice round 10.00 m/s2? Science has no answer to this question."

I'm afraid the answer is simple: If a Metre (a French invention) had been appropriately defined as being  slightly smaller than one ten millionth of the distance between the North Pole and the equator, then the acceleration due to gravity could have been exactly 10m/s2.

The same applies to many scientific parameters. However, certain constants such as Pi and e are inherently independent of any measurement system - apart from the number base in use

It's probably my fault; but you have missed the point, which is that there is nothing in the Laws of Science which determines why g is 9.81 m/s2. It could have been anything. But if it were anything other than 9.81, we wouldn't be here. Convention measures it in metres, for sure, and convention could have chosen furlongs or cubits; but in either case the furlong value or the cubit value is exactly equal to 9.81 m.

The probability of the actual value being exactly what it is is 1 in a boyesillion. Gravity is only one of many constants which are similarly fine-tuned. Any of them could have been different and Science has nothing to say about why they aren't. Science has discovered what they are. Science can tell us why other values would give you a non-star-producing universe.

Have you ever looked at the Numberphile videos (qv) on YouTube? My maths is not up to understanding them; but I love 'em all the same.

It's good to hear from you. I am creaky but otherwise well. My house has been re-decorated and substantially de-cluttered. I am having it valued next week; but I'll probably stay in it for another year or so.

I'm going to Barcelona for Christmas with Gabriel, Carrie and Clara. There I shall meet Leo, my grand-nephew for the first time. I'm going to Singapore, where I shall meet my fifth grandchild, and Melbourne in the new year.

I rather think you might disappear up your own fundament with that line of thinking! You may as well ask why Mount Everest is 27,940 feet high or why water is composed of two elements. Or why is that particular pebble on top of Scarfell Pike.

I rather suspect what you are wanting to hear is that it is all part of God's plan.

Why are you creaky? Doc Geoff's prescription is get down the gym three times a week. Then drink beer regularly. Does you the power of good and gets your bowels working properly - the key to good health.

Where are you going to move to? Why move anyway?

BTW, I discovered we have Gerty's 1942 hymn book and I have started to play some hymns on the piano. My fave is "Eternal father" and the 23rd Psalm. I can't stop singing them. Is this a sign?! Should I be worried?
Be afraid; be very afraid!

The reason for the current height of Mt Everest is something that can hypothetically be known. The actual values for the momentum of the tectonic plates, the mass and composition of said plates are things that can (in principle) be known. In fact, we can predict the height of Everest a thousand years from now. India is in a slow-motion crash into Asia. There are too many variables (including 'chaotic' stuff like wind and erosion) for us to make precise predictions. However, we can say that the collision of the plates is forcing the surface of Nepal to rise. 'Scrunching' is going on.

Hydrogen and Oxygen react to form water because their atomic structures are what they are. Science tells us so. You built that cairn on Scarfell Pike. Or it is another result of scrunching? Science can pronounce (in principle) on why the plates float about on a sea of magma. But Science is silent on why Gravity is what it is. There is no Scientific reason. My belief is that there is a reason. but that Science will forever remain silent. That cannot be known scientifically, even hypothetically.

What I want to hear is neither here nor there. I wield Occam's razor. It looks like a plan. That it is a plan is the most parsimonious explanation. 'Why, Daddy, why?' We can answer 'because, because, because' but not an infinite number of times. 'Daddy, why does g have the value it has?' 'Precious Child, no Scientist knows; Theologians have an answer. Even brainy Uncle Geoff doesn't know.'

I love this house. Have you ever seen it? But the stairs are very steep. If and when I move, it will be to a one-bedroom, one-level flat, preferably in this very convenient part of South Manchester.


PS a boyesillion is roughly 7.19 x 10^27, I think, if you assume 1 inch is 2.5 cms. Sums not my stongest suite. Actually, I'm pretty sure that I have got it wrong. It is an unimaginably big number.

PPS I have just received A Simple Koran, edited by Bill Warner. Did you know that the standard Koran is not organised thematically or chronologically but by length of sura? I smell a conspiracy.

OK, then in the same division as gravity, light travels at 180,000 miles per second. If it didn't the universe would be a lot different.  In this respect gravity is nothing special. How about the Boltzmann Constant, or Coulomb's Constant. There are a stack of them. Electricity is attenuated by a resistor according to a formula. Pressure times volume is a constant. These are all just facts of physics. And they all have massive ramifications for how the universe works.

I'm now singing "Praise him Praise him" endlessly. I think it's a sign.

It may be a sign. I hope so...

You are reinforcing my argument. Is it the influence of Gert's hymn book?

But (in passing) pressure times volume doesn't involve constants. Boyle discovered a law which relates one to the other. This is one of the things that Science does tell us.

However, the other constants you refer to, the speed of light, the Boltzmann Constant and Coulomb's Constant are, like the force of Gravity and the strong and the weak nuclear forces and all the rest of the 'stack' are factory settings. Science has discovered them but cannot have anything to say about why they are what they are. Not so with Boyle's Law which does tell us why the pressure of a given quantity of gas has increased - it's because the volume has been reduced.

‘Massive ramifications’ is an understatement. In several cases (Gravity is the one I know best) the ramifications extend to billions of galaxies and trillions of stars versus no galaxies and no stars.

The fine-tuning argument for God's existence is one of the most persuasive. Proofs belong to Mathematics. If Sam demands a proof for God's existence I will have to disappoint him. I can rehearse an argument which persuades me. This may not persuade him. Perhaps this says more about him than it does about the argument. If he introduces a rule which declares that only physical causes can be admitted in a discussion about the nature of the World, I will accuse him of being like a lawyer who bases his defence of his client on the proposition that there is no such thing as guilt.

Anthony Flew, for decades the most famous atheist in the World, changed his mind when confronted with the work of the intelligent design guys. This, I submit, could happen to any atheist who abandons the absurd metaphysical rule that only materialist/naturalistic explanations have any validity.

I think things are going my way in Philosophy and (possibly) in Physics. Logical Positivism is dead. It collapsed when it was demonstrated that its central tenet, namely that only propositions that are supported by sense data (ie Science) had any meaning, was shown to be a proposition that could not be supported by sense data.

Two books that seem to me to be very persuasive are: Nature's Destiny by Michael Denton and The Privileged Planet by Jay Richards and Guilermo Gonzalez. They are both books which make a long cumulative argument based on data from Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Another book which uses the same technique of accumulation is Darwin's The Origin of Species.

The following scarcely even amounts to an argument: Theists (Peter Kreeft, John Lennox, Jay Richards, Keith Ward, William Lane Craig, William Dembski, Michael Behe, Alvin Plantinger et al) are all so much more winsome than the opposition, who are a dyspeptic crowd.

My dear Cousin, I have enjoyed this exchange very much. So much so that I propose to make it into a blog post. I won't upload it until Monday. So you have time to forbid it.

To be honest, I doubt if many scientists would even give it any thought. To a scientist if it's 9.81 then it's 9.81 and what's the point of delving any deeper? They are simple souls.

They simply use these constants, which are all listed in the standard work "Kay and Laby", as part their work - e.g to make sure that the space shuttle lands at the right place etc etc. They are not likely to have had any thoughts about metaphysics - that is for others such as your good self.

Would a cabinet maker ponder over the origin of his chisel? Does an accountant agonise over why we traditionally count to the base 10? Of course not.

To be honest with you, and I appreciate that I am no great scientist - although I did the course, I couldn't write a sentence on metaphysics without resorting to Wiki. As for teleology ..........!

I look fwd to your blog

On a completely different topic, how on earth will a bunch of celibate old men attending the synod in Rome come up with anything meaningful about sex, abortion, families etc? Surely, your attendance and contribution would be far more valuable. The whole thing is just laughable and frankly, bad PR.

Thank you for telling me about Kay and Labey.

Honest journeymen scientists, preoccupied with landing shuttles, are not simultaneously doing metaphysics. Nevertheless, they all make metaphysical assumptions all the time. Dawkins does it. You do it. And I do it, though I make even less claim to being a scientist than you do.

Your last paragraph is a classic fallacy. To recast it (fairly, I think), it amounts to this: only sexually active men and women can possibly come up with anything meaningful about sex, abortion and families. This is a bit like saying that only embezzlers, rapists and muggers should be listened to on the subject of crime; or that only software engineers have useful opinions about what constitutes a user-friendly or cost-effective application or that only teachers’ views on education should be respected, Victims, users and parents (and children and employers) might have some insights. Perhaps a rugby spectator sees some things that are not apparent from within a scrum.

Anyway, this is going up now. Thanks for your contributions!

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