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“Truth Cannot Contradict Truth”
All about Science and the Church

Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.”  St. John Paul II, Letter to Rev. George Coyne, S.J., Director of the Vatican Observatory.

 

The video above, “From the Big Bang to Hubble,” is put out by EESA (the European Space Agency) and is featured, among other bells and whistles, on the home page of my new web-book “Truth Cannot Contradict Truth.   Here’s what I’m trying to do with this, as set forth in the Preface:

What!—another book about science and the Catholic Church; who needs it?”

That was the question I asked myself as I thought about writing this ebook. Six months earlier I had published an ebook about science and Catholic teaching; “Science versus the Church—‘Truth Cannot Contradict Truth’”. I wrote it to demonstrate that there was no conflict between what science truly told us about the world and Catholic teaching. A few months after that, a very fine book (hard-copy) “Particles of Faith” by Stacey Trasancos came out, with the same goal and theme. And some 14 years ago, a classic work by Stephen Barr, “Modern Physics and Ancient Faith” had appeared, to mention just a few titles.

Well, here was the problem: I had taught several adult education courses on science and Catholic teaching for the Diocese of Harrisburg and had given talks locally about the subject. A great difficulty in this enterprise was that some students, adults, lacked the basic scientific knowledge needed to engage meaningfully with the proponents of “scientism” (the atheology that says science explains everything we need to know about the world); and I didn’t have the skill to impart these basics in the limited course time available. This lack was not only a concern for me, but is general, according to this headline in the U.S. Catholic, “Should Catholics get an F in science?”

So, my remedy: a book that proposes to give a background in the basic sciences, on a qualitative, pictorial level, to students that will enable them to understand, and when necessary, refute, arguments given by those who proclaim that science explains everything.

I’ve made every effort to avoid complex mathematics and have tried to give explanations that are pictorial, qualitative and down to earth. According to beta-readings of chapters by my wife (who’s a math-phobe), former students, and privileged viewers of my blog, this effort has been successful.

I’ve tried to relate specific areas of Catholic teaching with the appropriate science basics, as shown in the Table of contents. Finally I have tried to show how science, by its very nature, is limited in what it can tell us about the world. It has achieved much to enrich us materially, but as that great philosopher-physicist, Fr. Stanley Jaki, put it so eloquently,

“To answer the question To be, or not to be?’ we cannot turn to a science textbook.”

Here are posts to explore: Table of Contents;  ESSAY 1–The Catholic Church, Midwife and Nursemaid to Science; ESSAY 1, Section 5–Science Background, the Physics of Motion;  ESSAY 6–Can a Computer Have a Soul?

Please read and comment—praise welcomed, criticism tolerated, spam deleted.

Many thanks, and

Shalom,

Dr. Bob

4

The Death of Cassini

There’s a beautiful article by Paul Greenberg on the death of Cassini, the Saturn explorer–I can’t add much to it, other than these few thoughts on AI (artificial intelligence).   Despite the intelligent and benevolent (sometimes) robots and androids of science fiction (Asimov’s, HAL 9000, etc.), no artificial intelligence could have written that self-obituary.   It is man who celebrates Psalm 19A, “The Heavens declare the glory of God” and only man.

 

15

The Materialism of Limited Toolset

I make a point of always trying to listed on the EconTalk podcast each week — a venue in which George Mason University economics professor Russ Roberts conducts a roughly hour-long interview with an author or academic about some topic related to economics. A couple weeks ago, the guest was Robin Hanson, also an economics professor at GMU, who was talking about the “technological singularity” which could result from perfecting the technique of “porting” copies of humans into computers. Usually the topic is much more down-to-earth, but these kinds of speculations can be interesting to play with, and there were a couple of things which really struck me listening to the interview with Hanson, which ran to some 90 minutes.

Hanson’s basic contention is that the next big technological leap that will change the face of the world economy will be the ability to create a working copy of a human by “porting” that person’s brain into a computer. He argues that this could come much sooner than the ability to create an “artificial intelligence” from scratch, because it doesn’t require knowing how intelligence works — you simply create an emulation program on a really powerful computer, and then do a scan of the brain which picks up the current state of every part of it and how those parts interact. (There’s a wikipedia article on the concept, called “whole brain emulation” here.) Hanson thinks this would create an effectively unlimited supply of what are, functionally, human beings, though they may look like computer programs or robots, and that this would fundamentally change the economy by creating an effectively infinite supply of labor.

Let’s leave all that aside for a moment, because what fascinates me here is something which Roberts, a practicing Jew, homed in on right away: Why should we believe that the sum and total of what you can physically scan in the brain is all there is to know about a person? Why shouldn’t we think that there’s something else to the “mind” than just the parts of the brain and their current state? Couldn’t there be some kind of will which is not materially detectable and is what is causing the brain to act the way it is?
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15

The Promises of Artificial Intelligence

Most of us are familiar with some concept of artificial intelligence, be it Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, C-3PO and R2D2 from Star Wars, HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Skynet from The Terminator, or Joshua from War Games, to name a few popular examples. We’ve long been introduced to the notion of the struggle to determine if artificial intelligence constitutes life whether these beings, which we have created, deserve rights. We’ve also come across the notion of whether we need to restrict these beings so that they cannot turn and extinguish human life (think Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, and movies like The Terminator and The Matrix, where the artificial intelligence has turned on humankind). Yet we very rarely hear the debate as to whether such artificial intelligence can ever be a reality. In fact, and partially due to the promises made in the 50’s and 60’s, many people think that super-intelligent machines are destined to occur any day now.

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