Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Prof Cox's limited worldview (updated 1 Feb 2013)

The new BBC series Wonders of Life  (BBC2, 27 January 2013), presented by Professor Brian Cox, implied in its first episode the standard world view of some evolutionary biologists and cosmologists:

  • Life consists of ‘nothing but’ a chemical process and arrangement for converting one form of energy into another. It is no different in kind from an internal combustion engine converting chemical energy into mechanical movement and waste heat

  • All consciousness, thought and mental experience are ‘nothing but’ evolutionary accidents and therefore without meaning (presumably this means that everything anyone has ever said is without meaning, significance or truth; this would include the words of Prof Cox)

  • The evolution of life, and before that the unfolding of the universe from the quantum event horizon to the formation of the Earth, is entirely without purpose, despite the fact that the physics is preternaturally fine tuned for the emergence of life , as Cox admitted at the end

Many would say that such a worldview is self-contradictory and without any evidential foundation. It is certainly metaphysics rather than science. Yet the BBC still appears to be in the grip of a naturalist mafia that adheres to such a view and presents it  as scientific fact, in the same vein as Einstein's empirically verified equations, rather than as an empirically shaky working hypothesis.

I believe these people are driven by a fear of young earth creationists who they think will invoke god as the direct causative agent of all phenomena. This is an understandable but exaggerated concern. Plenty of scientists prior to modern geology and palaeontology made powerful discoveries yet some of those must have been young earthers, since geological and fossil evidence for an old earth (4.3 billion years) has only been available and understandable for the last couple of centuries.
In essence we are all creationists. It is entirely rational to believe that the universe, including our home planet, was created; but most of us believe it all started 13.7 billion years ago.  The weight of evidence and rational thought points to a creation event.  If you think that a rational God did not create the universe, or that there is no god, you have to come up with something else and deal with the likelihood that the universe does not operate in a rational way.

 Monotheism does not mean ascribing any natural phenomenon to a miraculous intervention. Paganism would ascribe everything to a chaotic multitude of gods invented by people, a view which would have prevented the emergence of scientific knowledge.

So how could Brian Cox have presented this programme without annoying those viewers who, like me, do regard themselves as more than bags of chemicals?

All he had to do was admit that theistic beliefs are entirely compatible with scientific enquiry and model building and that there are rational reasons in support of that worldview. For me, a programme conceding at the outset that many viewers are justified in believing that science is only part of reality would have made this expert documentary inspirational rather than visually engaging and informative at a scientific level but offensive to many people’s intuitive feel for the real world.

This was only the first of 5 in a series and it may be that the omission is corrected in future episodes. This would be as welcome as it would be surprising.

See also this Scientific American blog
Is scientific materialism almost certainly false?
which appeared only about 12 hours after writing the above. This reassures me that it won't be long before the BBC science editors will be forced to break out of the epistemological strait jacket which removes the wonder and reality from much of their reporting. As a Christian I find the new emerging worldview refreshing and supportive of my faith but if you are an atheist please note that some leading thinkers who have more or less disproved materialism are still adherring to atheism, although how they can do so mystifies me. 

 See also these posts;

The end of eternity (updated 30 Jan 2013)

Consciousness without a brain

Are some scientists from the planet Vulcan?

Author, 2077 AD
Reach me at cosmik.jo@gmail

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The proton size puzzle

The proton is one of the so-called ‘building blocks’ of the nucleus of an atom, along with neutrons, although these basic constituents themselves consist of three  much smaller entities called quarks.

a proton comprises
3 different kinds of quark bound together
Over the decades the mass and size of the proton has been determined with increasing accuracy and the received view of physicists has been that they are both constant. For proton mass, this still holds; but for proton size the situation changed with a measurement made in 2010 by Pohl et al (Max Planck Institute, Germany) and published in Nature.

It had been determined that the diameter of a proton was 0.87 femtometres (1 fm = 1 metre divided by a quadrillion, i.e. a 1 followed by 24 zeros). It was always assumed that this was a constant property of a proton throughout space and time, independent of the measurement method, which was normally done using a hydrogen atom, which comprises a proton and an orbital electron.

 The method used in 2010 was a new one and involved focusing a fine laser beam onto a muonic hydrogen atom. Like ordinary hydrogen this comprises a central proton of positive charge attended by a negatively charged particle. In the case of normal hydrogen the negative particle is an electron whereas with muonic hydrogen it is a similar but heavier particle called a muon.  The larger mass of the muon, 200x that of an electron, would indirectly result in a more accurate measurement of proton size than the method employing the usual electron. That was the reason for using it; but the result was entirely unexpected: a 4% smaller radius.

 Another experiment in 2012 employed a slightly different method, though it still used muonic hydrogen, and the same result was obtained –i.e. a diameter of 0.84 instead of 0.87 fm.

No one has been able to find any fault in the methodology of these new measurements and existing physics does not explain why the size of the proton depends on whether an electron or a muon is accompanying the proton. Does this mean that the photons in the laser beam interact with muons in a fundamentally different way than with electrons? Maybe the Large Hadron Collider will give a clue. The chase is on, one of many in modern physics that will hopefully converge to reveal more of the splendour of God’s creation.

see also


Radioactivity half life is not contant


Author of 2077 AD

Friday, 25 January 2013

USA, Europe and China in 2013

Here are some thoughts on the year ahead. It is impossible to make predictions but we can at least look at the facts and forces. So, concentrating on the major power groups some observations are listed below.

 One general point about public debt, a problem throughout much of the western world. Why is it always assumed that cutting government expenditure means rendering public sector workers redundant and damaging both infrastructure and social fabric? There is an obvious alternative: slightly reduce wages and benefits until the books are balanced. Am I being too simple? There must by now be a general acceptance that we are in pay back time; so while this solution would have evoked widespread indignation 5 years ago it could, with honest leadership, be made acceptable today.

USA (population 314 million)

  •  Public debt is now $11.5 trillion. On top of this there is a mountain of private debt by individuals and commercial debt by private companies. Welfare, health and education cannot be provided from present funds. Democrats must accept spending cuts; Republicans must accept widespread tax rises.

  • President Obama has less to lose in taking unpopular measures, since he is constitutionally denied a third term. Also, Republicans and Democrats will be under more pressure to reach agreement.  Over the last term only 2.8% of bills introduced in Congress were passed in the Senate. Ten times this percentage were passed in the 1950s.

  • Hispanic Immigration means the USA (median age 37.1 compared to 45.3 for Germany) has the youngest workforce in the industrialised world. If this population can be put to work productively it would raise a lot of tax revenue and combined with the USA’s characteristic innovation allow the economy to grow faster.

  •  Shale gas has reduced greenhouse emissions by 8% (1st quarter 2012 vs 1st quarter 2011) and drastically reduced the reliance on oil imports. The USA could be energy self-sufficient within 10 years if shale gas exploitation is combined with alternative energy development and uptake.

  • Defence spending will have to be cut while Islamic fundamentalist terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East, Africa, and even Europe, is a constant threat. This is going to be a tough circle to square since, like it or not, the western world relies to a considerable extent on the US for security, along with significant inputs from the UK and France. Other countries will have to step in – perhaps the better-trained ones in Africa.


European Union (population 504 million in 27 countries)

  • The euro is now comparable in value to what it was before the Greek debt crisis and confidence in Greece’s economy is growing. The government now has to offer yields of around 10% to raise money through issuing 10 year bonds. This compares with 29% a year or so back and with Germany’s present 1.6%.   Chancellor Angela Merkel has strong popular support in Germany despite having to rescue Greece and Spain.

  • Economic growth in Europe, including the UK, is slowing. Can this be stopped? Maybe it depends on new markets growing up in the USA and China, as well as economic growth by Poland (population 38 million), which is keen to integrate more fully with Europe as the UK talks about disengaging.

  • Germany seems keen on Turkey (population 80 million) joining as its economy grows fast (GDP growth 8.5% p.a. in 2011). It could be seen as a bridge to the Middle East and a boost to the EU. There is however a danger of it acting as a gateway for jihad to invade the west.

  •  Population is aging – another reason for letting Turkey into the EC, since its median age is only 28.8 years (cf Germany’s 45.3).
  • As with the US shale deposits could help it become less dependent on other regions for energy and reduce its greenhouse emissions while switching to alternative energy technology.

  • The UK's referendum announcement (January2013) could lead to other non-euro countries (10 out of the 27) re-negotiating terms.

China (population 1.3 billion)

  •  Xi Jinping, the new president is thought to be ready for reforms. He has a reduced span of control within the Politburo Standing Committee, 7 instead of 9, so this should give him more power.

  • The economy continues to grow at over 8% p.a.  (although its per capita GDP is much less than the US: $8,400 per head vs $48,000) but its balance is changing as workers get higher wages.  Innovation is growing, often through copying western technology, and infrastructure investment is high. Attempts to emulate the western R&D model continue.

  • Income differentials are steep socially and geographically. The population is aging fast, there is no state-run health or elderly care and no state pension. Savers have little choice but to put most of their savings into property which, together with business investment, is causing a bubble. Western financial instability must presumably be disconcerting since China has large reserves abroad.

  • Social instability and corruption are major concerns to the government, and could come to a head if the property bubble bursts since many would lose their savings. No doubt the Chinese Communist Party is thinking hard about this and may be forced to come up with innovative solutions (e.g. Christianity?)

  • Disputes with an increasingly bellicose Japan over the Spratly Islands  in the South China Sea could be used as an excuse for conflict, by which to divert social unrest from domestic problems. Or could China take on Afghanistan, rich in resources, is some way?

  • Pollution is visibly serious in the cities and this is forcing government measures to finance alternative technology.

This is how I see things as a layman with access to the web and a few magazines and newspapers. I hope you find it interesting in any case.


Author 2077 AD

Reach me at cosmik.jo@gmail.com or use comments box below.


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Israel vs Palestine: the struggle for peace

The history is complex. Palestine, before it was split in two, had been occupied by Ancient Egyptians, Canaanites, Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, the Sunni Arab Caliphates, the Shia Fatimid Caliphate, Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mameluks, Ottomans.

In 1922, after the defeat of the Ottomons, the League of  Nations gave Britain a Mandate to rule Palestine (what today we call Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan). It faced constant revolt by warring factions, a legacy of the region's chequered and violent history over thousands of years. It is not surprising that the administrators were happy to relinquish governance at the first opportunity.

 Here is a simplified summary of post-British Palestine and Israel, which I hope is fair.



Origination of Palestine and Israel

 The world after WW II had been shocked by the unprecedented horror of the holocaust and so felt a need to recompense the Jewish people by giving them a homeland. This was done through the UN General Assembly. The UK relinquished its administration of Palestine in 1947 and part of Palestine was made into Israel - a new state for the scattered Jews.  This process trapped a lot of Palestinian Arabs inside Israel, which they understandably resented. This was followed by the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, since when Israel has been repeatedly threatened by the surrounding Arab states. The 6 day war of 1967 was technically started by Israel in response to a military build up by Egypt on its border. Jordan and Syria joined in. The outcome was that Israel not only fought off what most observers regarded as aggressors but acquired extra territory: the West Bank (so-called because it is to the west of the river Jordan, while Israel is to the west of the West Bank). Jerusalem is situated on the south west border of the West Bank and is divided into sectors for Moslems, Jews and Christians under an international agreement.


Obstacles to peace: Palestine

The Palestinian cause was initially advanced by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO, of which Fatah is the largest faction)led since the 1950s by Yasser Arafat, who died a few years ago. This is a military movement; but unlike jihad groups it is primarily political in its objectives. To the best of my knowledge it does not preach hatred of Jews or target civilians or use them as human shields or destroy sacred places or murder people at worship.

Over the decades there have been numerous attempts to negotiate peace with Israel and create a viable Palestinian state. Palestine now consists of the Gaza strip together with the West Bank and is represented internationally by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), with elected members from Hamas and the PLO. Since 2013 the PNA has become known as the State of Palestine but is thwarted in its attempts to achieve a peaceful settlement with Israel by the growing power of Hamas, a jihad group dedicated to the complete destruction of Israel and to an Islamic theocracy in Palestine. Unfortunately, Hamas has a lot of popular support and grew from the Moslem Brotherhood, while Fatah (the main part of the PLO) has a top-down history.

Quoting the Wikipedia entry “Since the Battle of Gaza (2007), the two separate territories, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, are divided into a Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip and a Fatah civil leadership in the autonomous areas of the West Bank. Each sees itself as the administrator of all Palestinian Territories and does not acknowledge the other one as the official government of the territories. The Palestinian Territories have therefore de facto split into two entities.”

So Palestine as a single negotiating entity does not exist. The PNA (State of Palestine) has tried to serve as the negotiator and act as a state but obviously has little authority, notwithstandong the UN’s best efforts to bestow such authority on it.

There is also the problem of another terrorist group: Hizbollah. This was started in the Lebanon in 1982 in response to Israel’s occupation, which ended in 2000. It is financed and supported by Iran and Syria and is has seats in Lebanon’s parliament. It is indirectly active in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel itself and is in fierce conflict with Hamas (Gaza-based), since it comprises Shi’a Moslems, while Hamas comprises Sunni Moslems. It shares one long term goal with Hamas: the complete obliteration of Israel.

 The only hope of peace being secured with Israel rests with the moderate elements of Hamas and Hesbollah which may be willing to observe truces and cease fires while seeking Israel’s eventual destruction. Whenever the State of Palestine tries to reach an agreement with Israel it is thwarted by extremists who generate death and chaos out of all proportion to their support.

So on the Palestinian side of the repeated peace initiatives we have the so-called State of Palestine alongside Hamas and Hesbollah – who are unable to agree amongst themselves and represent different parts of Palestine.


Obstacles to peace: Israel

 Israel is a true nation state of 7.2 million, with a parliament recognised internationally as legally representing all those within its borders; but it too is hampered by irreconcilable differences within its borders, making it difficult to reach accord with hostile peoples surrounding it.

 The populace is fairly diverse. Jews form 76% of Israel’s population with Moslems making up most of the rest. Two thirds of Jews were born in Israel and about a quarter are immigrants from Europe and the USA. The remaining 10% are immigrant Arabs and Asians.

The ultra-Orthodox Jews now form 10% of the population. They will never countenance compromise with the Palestinians and have enough representation in parliament to skupper peace initatives, e.g. by encouraging settlers to move into the West Bank whenever peace negotiations are making progress. There are currently 700,000 settlers in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights (in Lebanon). There are also individual fanatics able to prevent peace agreements, such as the one who assassinated Rabin in 1995 while he was negotiating the Oslo peace process.


 Israel has had nuclear weapons since the late 1950s in contravention of international agreements. Being the only Middle East power so armed gives it some sense of security when surrounded by hostile nations. If Iran, which supports Hizbollah, gets nuclear weapons, then Saudi Arabia (Sunni Moslem) , a long term enemy of Iran (Shi’a Moslem), will also want them and have the resources to get them. Israel is therefore tempted to take pre-emptive action against Iran, which is not likely to be more than nominally opposed by Saudi Arabia.  It would only be a matter of time before a jihad group acquired some kind of nuclear capability. This all adds to confusion and a sense of insecurity in Israel and this must affect its negotiations.

Israel's sense of insecurity has recently increased due to the migration of Sunni jihad groups towards its border with Syria. Such groups were formerly restrained by the Shi'a government of Assad.
Their military power has recently been increased by weaponry stolen from Libya during the general chaos of the Arab Spring.


International pressure for peace

What peace moves have been taken result partly from outside pressure, mainly from the USA and Europe, which obviously have different agendas, both from Israel and from each other. In particular, the USA has a powerful Jewish lobby: AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. This lobbies both Congress and the government.  Public opinion in the west is influenced by both Israel and Saudi Arabia both of which finance some  western universities. Financing of universities is important in forming the concensus view of a nation’s intelligentsia and press. Oil has always been a big factor in attracting outside influences. Will this continue as foreign powers become increasingly energy self-sufficient? Will the problemsof jihad and its threat to western civilisation weaken or strengthen its resolve to pressurise Israel and Palestine into reconciliation?



 So you could sum up the Israel-Palestine problem in one word: complicated.

 One possible route to peace could be through Hamas’s links to the Muslim Brotherhood, from which it was spawned. The Muslim Brotherhood  forms the power base in Egypt after the 2012 election which followed the revolution and President Mohammed Muri  renegotiated an expired peace deal with Israel  before putting Egypt under Shi'a law. Maybe this is where the hope lies. Egypt is a large country of 84 million, comprising 90% Sunni Moslems and 10% Christians. If Israel can trust a Muslim Brotherhood president to keep order and honour an agreement with Israel, as did the deposed president Mubaki for several decades, it may also be able to reach informal agreements with Hamas which could lead to a more unified Palestine state, one with which Israel could have meaningful negotiations. So it falls on Muri to put pressure on Hamas to give up violent attacks on Israel and cooperate with the government in the West Bank.

Unfortunately, this would not deal with the problem of Hizbollah, who are as opposed to Hamas as they are to Israel.
In the USA the Jewish lobby needs to encourage the US government to put pressure on Israel to stop building settlements, i.e. to take steps to curtail the influence of ultra-Orthodox Jews on government policy. They could start by withdrawing financial benefits to them for having larger families and by rewarding settlers who return to Israel. If the western powers could help finance the rewards to settlers this should help.

Another approach, perhaps a complementary one, could be for the UN to finance a major project in the most ordered parts of Palestine. Unemployment is a major a cause of instability and this could be dealt with if the project in question led to careers and prospects for many local people, who might be tempted away from AK 47s and suicide bomb kits. It would have to be long term, inspirational to young people in the area and provide long term prosperity. Perhaps an entire state-of-the-art city could be built in the desert – or a solar power plant to serve a large area of Palestine.
There is nothing like offering people a strong incentive to work together to get them to forget their differences and I have heard of medical organisations working across boarders and employing practitioners from more than one faith. These need to be encouraged and built upon.
These are possible, though difficult to implement, practical  solutions; but the only long term solution must be a spiritual transformation.

A politically incorrect approach


The Middle East is where a divine message of love, forgiveness, rescuing of the needy and the elevation of humility as a strength, broke into the world 2000 years ago.  A world of multiple whimsical anthropomorphic gods, human sacrifice, slavery, female subjugation, rigid hierarchy, pride, brutal punishment, vengeance, man-centred arbitary judgement and king worship – not only in the Middle East but in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

From the very humblest of beginnings the message has spread to influence world history. It has been and continues to be a struggle, and a long, continuing one, with many departures from the message. But today, all societies which have held sacred this message enjoy peace, technological innovation, thriving science, good health and prosperity by comparison with those which have not. Whenever they move away from it and fail out of hubris to recognise its divine source, there is trouble.  In countries like the UK there has been an upsurge in atheism and spiritual dilution in the established church which is leading us into a downward spiral of economic, financial, social and spiritual disorder.

So it is tragic that the place from which the divine message emanated is now in turmoil. The various religious groups which have rejected it hate each other and interminably seek revenge.   God alone knows what is really happening and what will happen next.  So what can be done?
Recently I was sent details of a Middle East ‘Peace House’ situated on the Mount of Olives. I  learned of the continuing life work of Haj Ibrahim Ahmad Abu El-Hawa, who set up a refuge for all faiths called the Peace House on the Mount of Olives. This is the effort of one man, talking to crowds and helping individuals, regardless of religion.  There are others, all needing financial support. What the Middle East needs is hundreds of such inspired people on this or similar missions. Only in this way can the spirit of hatred and revenge be conquered. Without such a transformation the troubles between Jews and Moslems, Sunnis and Shi’as, will go on until some catastrophic event like a nuclear exchange finally ends the seemingly interminable conflict.

How could this spiritual transformation come about? I invite leaders of Christian and other churches to think about this.

See also

 Muslim fundamentalists' hatred of the West

Egypt: Facebook, football and the Moslem Brotherhood

Egypt and world peace

North Africa and the Middle East: what next?

author, 2077 AD

reach me at cosmik.jo@gmail.com


Monday, 7 January 2013

Germs for peace

In my forthcoming novel 2077: Knights of Peace one of the methods used to disable minorities which try to impose their will on society by violence is the use of explosives-eating bacteria.

Student  led research at Edinburgh University has according to a 2009 BBC news item been trying to develop bioluminescent bacteria which glow in the presence of buried landmines. Does anyone know of similar work or have more information on progress at Edinburgh?  


Even better would be  bacteria that could destroy the explosives as well as find them. One problem would be to avoid stopping the useful employment of explosives in, e.g., quarry blasting. Presumably they would have to be tagged to deactivate the germs. And keeping such powerful genetically engineered bugs out of reach from malevolent groups would be a major challenge. Perhaps the only long term solution is to make a world in which malevolence itself is eliminated - a theme which is tackled in the book.

Author, 2077 AD