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Freeman Dyson, Science and Religion

flying angel

Well 2012 is one week old.  51 more weeks left, unless you believe in that Mayan thing, then only 50 weeks left.

I happened upon a new philosopher that I like, Freeman Dyson.  Not sure how I surfed to his Wikipedia page.  I know his name from a famous Star Trek TNG episode (that’s the series with Capt. Picard) where Scotty from 1966 Star Trek (TOS original series) reappears in the new series as himself because he crashed into a “Dyson’s Sphere” which was a way of bringing real 20th century sci-fi ideas into 24th century fictional Star Trek.  The real Dyson theorized that a very advanced alien race would eventually build a giant sphere around their sun so that you could live on the inside and let all the sun’s energy be captured and used, let alone the benefit from having the internal acreage living space of a billion Earths.  It personally think it’s a bad idea, but it’s interesting and worth thinking about.  Personally if my species was that advanced I would advocate just colonizing the existing planets, all 20 quintillion of them. 

Anyway, what interested me was what else the real Dyson had to say about science and religion, and apparently he has a lot of ideas that merge the two together, where science and religion complement each other.  Sadly we live in an age where Science is pitted against Religion because of stupid things like Evolution v. Creation, or Age of the Earth (6,000 years v. 4 billion), or Size of the Universe (why so many galaxies and stars if Earth is all that’s important?).  The original scientists at the beginning of the Age of Reason, people like Newton, felt that science helped explain the power of God, that there were two books to understand God—the book of Nature, and the Bible.  That there was no contradiction, only that we didn’t understand completely how they worked together. 

There were other things that made the relationship between the two strained, like the Catholic Church siding with very wrong Aristotle and his scientific ideas, and saying that not to believe in them was a sin.  Then every time Aristotle was shown to be wrong, it made infallible Church look stupid.  Also, Darwin and his ideas have contributed to "Nature is right and the Bible must be wrong" black-and-white world view, and no third possibility or understanding synthesized from the two.

Here’s a Dyson quote about Science and Religion from one of his works as found on Wikipedia:

Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but they look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect. Trouble arises when either science or religion claims universal jurisdiction, when either religious or scientific dogma claims to be infallible. Religious creationists and scientific materialists are equally dogmatic and insensitive. By their arrogance they bring both science and religion into disrepute. The media exaggerate their numbers and importance. The media rarely mention the fact that the great majority of religious people belong to moderate denominations that treat science with respect, or the fact that the great majority of scientists treat religion with respect so long as religion does not claim jurisdiction over scientific questions.

The 20th century brought in a whole new science, Quantum Mechanics.  I don’t even want to begin giving my ideas about how that could be right or wrong, since I know next to nothing about it.  But here’s where Freeman Dyson has some ideas.  Here’s a quote from one of his works as found on Wikipedia:

"The universe shows evidence of the operations of mind on three levels. The first level is the level of elementary physical processes in quantum mechanics. Matter in quantum mechanics is [...] constantly making choices between alternative possibilities according to probabilistic laws. [...] The second level at which we detect the operations of mind is the level of direct human experience. [...] [I]t is reasonable to believe in the existence of a third level of mind, a mental component of the universe. If we believe in this mental component and call it God, then we can say that we are small pieces of God's mental apparatus"

I’m planning on getting a copy of this book where the quote comes from.  I don’t like the “pantheistic” tone at the end, if it is indeed pantheistic, since what can you tell from such a limited quote.  But he is right, and I’ve said this in several blog entries, and that is our spiritual existence seems to all hinge on our decision making, the opportunities to pursue belief and action in infinite world circumstances.  It seems to me to be what is always in our faces when living, and what much of our energy is devoted to, and what defines us in many ways.







Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Jan. 10th, 2012 03:23 am (UTC)
Foundations Higher Education
106 of the first 108 colleges were started on the Christian faith. Harvard College, 1636: one original Rule of Harvard, "Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life”, (John 17:3); William and Mary, 1691; Yale University, 1701: it was started by Congrega- tional ministers in 1701,"for the liberal and religious education of suitable youth…to propagate in this wilderness, the blessed reformed Protestant religion…"; Princeton, 1746: associated to the Great Awakening, was founded by the Presbyterians in 1746; University of Pennsylvania, 1751: Ben Franklin and others placed emphasis on reading of the Holy Scriptures. Some other colleges started before America's Independence include: Columbia founded in 1754 (called King's College up until 1784), Dartmouth ,1770; Brown started by the Baptists in 1764; Rutgers, 1766, by the Dutch Reformed Church, etc. Catholics and others had their own. Sorry, Bill Maher, Education and many of the superior Scientists are Christians (who know the Designer of all things) - and not the over-stated flat world scenario and other bad examples forced on civilization by narrow minded political leaders. All the intricacies and amounts of species confound the idea of chance...
(Anonymous)
Jan. 22nd, 2012 07:50 pm (UTC)
META-Physics
Davester,

Sounds interesting. As a happy Papist we don't get "caught" in the literal Biblical interpretation stuff, at least not in this century!

I always remember the wise words of a priest at St. Michael's Abbey - Metaphysics is just that - the study of "other than" the physical.

As science is correctly defined as the postulation of theories based on empirical observation "of the physical" - metaphysics and science ARE speaking two entirely different languages.

I agree with Dyson that that doesn't mean they can't talk about the same topic(s).

Blake
(Anonymous)
Jan. 23rd, 2012 12:23 am (UTC)
It was not Aristotle
Dave if the Church gets a rap it Is not for claiming aristotles science was infallible. The church held scripture infallible or more properly literally true. Bellarmines admonition to Galileo was not to not cross Aristotle. But rather that he could not publicly publish a book that contradicted sacred scripture.
sfstreetangel
Jan. 23rd, 2012 12:41 am (UTC)
Re: It was not Aristotle
Hi Blake,

I had two History of Science classes at college. Although it was over 20 years ago, I think I remember Aristotle and the Church!

I Googled Aristole and Catholic Church and came across this non-Wikipedia web site http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/galileo.html. It's long, but the first couple paragraphs support my statement. Here's a sample:

"The primary problem, as introduced earlier, was that Aristotle's science was going out of style; but the church was still attached to him. It could not make a distinction between Aristotle and Christian teachings; and in that era, there was no distinguishment or separation of science from philosophy. For the Church, if Aristotle was wrong, Christianity was wrong."

Thanks.

David
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )