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Saturday, 24 September 2011

Science vs Religion - The Lesson from CERN

A couple of days ago, scientists working at CERN published a paper with data which seems to question one of the very fundamental principles upon which modern physics is built - that nothing can travel faster than the velocity of light in a vacuum (c).  They appear to have discovered that a fundamental particle - the neutrino - does, by a very small, but significant margin.

They have asked the scientific community to scrutinise and criticise their data and methodology, in short, to pull it apart and find fault with it. To crawl all over it, to shoot it down in flames whilst blowing it out of the water (mixed metaphor intended).

They have applied the basic principle of scientific honesty and integrity which understands that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and they have submitted their findings to peer review.

This is the principle which gives science its extraordinary power of discovery and self-correction. The principle is based on the intellectually honest and humble position that, we could be wrong; we are human and capable of making mistakes or allowing our biases to influence us.  Please look and tell us if we are wrong.

Can anyone see the similarity in their approach to that of exponents of religion, in particular to that of Creation 'scientists' to discoveries which cast doubt upon their fundamental beliefs?

In fact, one of their main governing bodies, the Institute for Creation Research, insists they swear an oath not to admit to anything which does.

Clearly, when religious people claim to hold a monopoly on moral integrity and presume to lecture the rest of us on it and on humility, they are thinking of something very different to that of normal intellectual honesty and humility, as practiced by scientists.

It's easy to see why science can be relied upon to tell the truth whereas religions only supply unreliable dogma. (Tweet this)


3 comments:

  1. Yes, you describe the strength of science, when it is prepared to rethink their most basic assumptions according to new evidence. Such has always been lacking in the religious milieu. Yet that same necessity to 'rethink' may now be about to confront both religious and atheist alike.

    The first wholly new interpretation of the moral teachings of Christ for two thousand years is spreading on the web. Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new 'claim' is predicated upon a precise and predefined experience, a direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power to confirm divine will, command and covenant, "correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries." Like it of no, a new religious claim testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment, evidential criteria now exists. Nothing short of a religious revolution appears to be getting under way. I'm testing the teaching now myself. More info at http://soulgineering.com/2011/05/22/the-final-freedoms/

    ReplyDelete
  2. klatu.
    I would be grateful if you would refrained from using this blog for blatant advertising.

    Just a small correction however: no claim can be tested 'by faith' otherwise every other equally fatuous notion could be tested and found to be valid by the same process.

    Any further advertising here will be deleted.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Science is founded on the idea that beliefs should be adjusted to reality and that therefore there is a duty to determine what is real and what is not, rather than insisting beliefs are true irrespective of the evidence.

    The CERN team appear to have submitted their work for scrutiny by the scientific community in exactly that spirit, as you can find out from their various interviews:

    http://www.lukesci.com/2011/09/24/interview-with-cern-neutrino-study-authors/

    http://www.lukesci.com/2011/09/28/nottingham-physicists-comment-on-new-cern-neutrino-results/

    However, it should also be noted that there have been objections to the way they have done this, as for example from the famous and accomplished theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, of Arizona State University:

    "It is an embarrassment as far as I am concerned. It was not unreasonable for the experimentalists to submit a paper with an unexplained result. But a press conference on a result, which is extremely unlikely to be correct, before the paper has been refereed, is very unfortunate—for CERN and for science. Once it is shown to be wrong, everyone loses credibility. Neutrino experiments are hard, and systematic errors at the limit of resolution can be significant. Moreover, because the experiment appears to violate Lorentz invariance, which is at the heart of so much known physics, one should be skeptical. One should be additionally skeptical because observations of SN 1987A​ showed, as I wrote in 1998, that neutrinos and photons travel at the same speed to one part in a billion, several orders of magnitude below the claimed effect. Now, the only way out of that is to have some energy-dependent effect, but all the ones that make sense don't wash here."
    (source: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=ftl-neutrinos)

    I'm not going to pass comment further, except to mention that peer-review in science doesn't END with publication of a paper, but BEGINS there. You submit a paper, it's peer-reviewed, and IF it is published, the rest of the world's scientists can scrutinize it further for years on end - peer review unending.

    ReplyDelete

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