Sunday, November 30, 2008

A treble dilemma

Having heard Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols being performed by the college trebles, with some outstanding singing by two of my ex-tutees, it seems that Choral singing exemplifies the content of the Book of Ecclesiastes that there is a time for everything - a time to mend and a time to break! I find it rather hard that the beautiful crystal clarity of the voice of the boy has to vanish during the time of deep uncertainty called adolescence. You can spend five years training your voice only for it to succumb to the ravages of the hormonal storm about to break.

I nearly brought in a pair of garden shears the next day, but thought again. For me, the treble voice is suffused with this tragedy: that to continue to exist the boy must undergo an operation that renders him broken just for the sake of the beauty of his voice, or else to lose that glorious voice that inspires and brings tears to the eyes of the faithful in order to live a normal human life, but possibly without the ability to express the worship of God in that voice.

There are some simply ravishing pieces of music for the castrato singer, but is it enough to justify destroying a young man's life just so that he can make such a beautiful sound. Clearly the choirmasters of the renaissance thought so, but we know that it is not the case - we cannot justify such a crippling action. The tragedy is that we cannot have both. But then perhaps we are being greedy and clinging to things of beauty which pass away so that a newer beauty can take its place.

The song of a life well-lived walking humbly with God has a music that can surpass the glories of the human voice, though it takes a person well versed in this music to hear it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Existence, Evolution and...

2009 sees Darwin's bicentennary. As part of that, I was asked to contribute to yet another debate between Atheist and Theist accounts of Evolution. I followed my previous colleague, an intelligent disciple of Dawkins who followed the usual idea othat the Universe can only be explained via scientific means. This is my reply with a few details changed to preserve the identities of members of the school.

Homily gave to the sixth form at Eltham College on Wednesday 19th November 2008 as part of the series on Evolution and Darwin.

I have a confession to make.

I’m afraid I have no choice
but to agree with
my esteemed atheistic colleague here.

I believe in Evolution.

Of course,
to Professor Dawkins,
that makes me obscurantist and disingenuous.

What that means is,
Dawkins doesn’t like religious folk
who dare to argue with him.

So let’s be clear.

There is evidence
that the universe was created
in some gargantuan explosion
thirteen thousand million years ago,
expanding and evolving ever since.

More recent evidence
from Saul Perlmutter
shows that the Universe
will continue to expand
until the stars burn out,
matter becomes diverse,
and loses cohesion

Even fundamental particles
will decay into nothingness.

And so to quote my colleague:

"People and planets and stars will become dust.

And the dust will become atoms
and the atoms will become nothing!

…The destruction of reality itself!"

Oh wait, sorry, no that’s Davros.

I do apologise.


As a mathematician,
I have no problem with Evolution at all.

I have studied many evolution equations
such as the Lotka-Volterra equations
describing oscillating populations
of foxes and rabbits,
or the Ricci flow equations
describing how the curvature of space
can evolve in time.

To understand Evolution,
we need something to evolve
and a rule by which it evolves.

Mathematics produces several models
which fit the observed data of evolving space-time.

For the large scale,
there is Einsteinian General Relativity;
for the small, quantum mechanics;
for the middle Newtonian mechanics.

The trouble is,
none of them match up
to produce a coherent theory of everything.

You might think that’s okay,
but if the Universe expanded
from something very small
to something very large,
then at some point the Universe
would be described simultaneously by Relativity
and Quantum mechanics.

So what do you do
if your two most favourite theories
refuse to kiss and make up when it counts?

You look for a new theory.



Replace particles with little wavy strings
and a lot of problems go away!

However you do end up with five
(or six, depending on your reckoning)
different string theories
– type I,
– type IIA,
– type IIB,
– heterotic SO(32)
– and heterotic E8 x E8.

SO(32) is a 496 dimensional Lie Group, E8 is a 248 dimensional Lie Group.

Five string theories – we only want one?
“Ah,” says Ed Witten,
“if you stick them all in 11 dimensional
they all become the same one!”

So, our understanding of Evolution insists
that we become 11-dimensional.

No problem with that,
except that we can’t observe
these extra 7 dimensions.

according to the theory,
there have to be parallel universes.

Parallel universes explain the Big Bang
· two big 10 dimensional
drumskins smash together
creating ripples
that turn into strings
that turn into us
as well as producing
another universe.

Quantum theory allows for this,
producing a universe for each possibility.

So there is a Universe
where my colleague,
clad in dog-collar
argues passionately for shamanism.

a universe
in which Barney the dinosaur
is president of America.

a Universe in which Victor Meldrew
while combing his shoulder length auburn hair,
sings sweet rhapsodies to Billie Piper
in a mellow baritone.

And now there is a problem:
by definition,
Parallel Universes cannot be observed.

String theory puts forward no testable results,
and yet this theory is being touted
to be the theory of the real world.

Multiple universes
in which every possibility can occur
pile up on top of each other.

None of them can be scientifically tested,
yet our present understanding of Evolution
requires them.
But Occam’s razor says
the simple answer is usually the best.

The existence of God?

It’s certainly no less scientifically viable.


“Ah,” says Dawkins,
“but God is complex”
at which point
St Thomas Aquinas,
John Lennox
and Keith Ward clout him
from behind with
Summa Theologiae volume I
“you’ve not read this at all have you?

If God were material then you’d be right
but He isn’t made of anything!

Your argument falls down
because you confuse
the philosophical notion of simplicity
with your own view as to what it must mean
to be simple. ”

The truth is, in “the God Delusion
Dawkins really shows up
that he does not understand
any philosophy at all.

And why should he?

He’s only a scientist
and philosophical questions are not scientific.

You can read the God Delusion if you like.

I’d recommend that atheists read Bertrand Russell
- at least he actually thinks before he writes.

You see Dawkins cannot understand
that ideas,
and thoughts exist
and are neither material
nor reducible .

You can divide the brain up
into temporal lobes,
hippocampus, cerebral cortex et c.

You cannot divide a thought into any parts.
Can Science answer the question:
“what is a thought?”?

Can science even isolate a single thought?

If it can, can it determine what that thought is about?



There exist questions
that Science cannot answer,
and for all the statements
that Dawkins, Darwin and Evolution
do intelligently demonstrate,
the statement “God does not exist”
is not one of them.

It is a metaphysical question, just like “what is a thought?”

Science can verify
the observable aspects of my being,
but it cannot pick up on the fact
that I am conscious.

To say that humans have evolved consciousness
is not obviously explained
either by Dawkins or any other scientist.

This means that there needs to be
another way of explaining to account for consciousness
– explanation from the point of view
of being a person as a whole,
not reduced to a collection of atoms.

Dawkins cannot accept that,
because he believes every aspect
of humanity to be accounted for by Science.

We need to account for
the existence of matter and consciousness,
science and personal explanation.

Returning to Occam’s razor,
the simplest explanation is that
there is God,
an eternal and non-material consciousness
who did set the evolutionary process
going via the Big Bang
and shares with us
His aspects of consciousness
and personality.

God doesn’t exist
because of the gaps in our knowledge.

the existence of God explains
why science is actually to make explanations
in the first place.

On a personal note,
it is God that spurs me on in mathematics
- who allows me to see the wonder
and beauty of His world,
His Creation.

Perhaps one day
He’ll show me precisely how wrong I was,
and how right I am.