Beyond Science and Religion


Our Strange World of Dark Matter

Chasing a failing worldview is like heading down a dead-end street: the signs that the street is coming to an end may be all around you, but bullheadedness keeps your foot firmly on the accelerator; after all, this is where everyone else is going.  But then the dead-end comes and, once again, you have this thought that perhaps you should have paid more attention to the warning signs.  Social and peer pressure are powerful forces, however, and it is a rare soul who challenges the march of the masses. This brings us to dark matter, which is thought to make up 83 percent of the matter in the universe. But dark matter is not really “matter;” it’s not extended in space; does not resist a force; and cannot be seen.  Dark matter (like dark energy) is better thought of as a placeholder concept waiting for a better theory to explain the cosmos. With dark matter, the law of gravity trumps...

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The New Natural Science

The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, wrote that “For all men begin .  .  .  by wondering that things are as they are.” A central problem in achieving scientific respectability for the field of spirituality is the words we use to describe what we are talking about.  Science uses terms that describe hard, physical objects and forces; things we can touch, see, and measure: subatomic particles, cosmic rays, the electromagnetic force, gravity, neurons, and genes.  The field of spirituality or consciousness, however, has not yet come up with a word to describe itself that sounds scientific.  The word “spirituality” sounds religious, which is out-of-bounds for science.  “Consciousness” is better, but this term itself eludes a clear definition and is likely beyond measurement. A little history, though, helps advance the discussion.  What we know as “science” began as natural philosophy, or the study of nature using the mind rather than technology and experiment.  As natural philosophy developed, it soon gave...

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Parallels between the God Particle and the Hard Problem of Consciousness

The cover of the new issue of New Scientist highlights the improvements made to the Large Hadron Collider in Europe, not only the world’s most advanced atom-smasher, but the most sophisticated piece of technology ever built by humankind.  The cover says, “Forget the Higgs, Now we’re searching for the root of reality.”  Meanwhile, at the other  end of the scientific spectrum, neuroscientists remain lost in the quagmire of solving the so-called hard problem of consciousness, which, according to David Chalmers is “the question of how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experiences.” So with the Large Hadron Collider, the question is whether physicists will find the answer to the mystery of the universe in computer-generated images of colliding subatomic particles.  With the hard problem of consciousness, the question is whether neuroscientists will find the secret to the vivid, three-dimensional awareness we call consciousness in the firing interactions between brain...

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UFOs as a Commentary on a Divided Worldview

Probably no topic so divides science and the “new age” as UFOs.  A recent column in Astronomy Magazine entitled, “Let’s cut the UFO crap,” makes the point that it is only naivete about the cosmic distant scale than allows people to believe in UFO’s.   This is a powerful argument when one considers distant scales.  The closest star to the Earth other than the sun is Alpha Centauri, which 4.37 light years — or over 25 trillion miles away.   An extremely fast spacecraft traveling at 100,000 mph    (the record for a manned spacecraft is just under 40,000 mph)  would take about 28,000 years to reach the Alpha Centauri planet.  And this is the closest possible one.  So from this perspective, the notion that alien spacecraft are roaming the sky, darting in and out of our vision, waiting for the right moment to land, seems preposterous.  The scientific case builds...

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Michael Shermer and 360 Degrees of Skepticism

Michael Shermer is the publisher of Skeptic Magazine, the author of many popular science books, and a regular columnist in Scientific American.  In his book, The Believing Brain, he tries to explain how the common person comes to believe in strange things, such as God, miracles, Heaven, the survival of the soul after death, and psychic phenomena.   According to Shermer, “reality exists independent of human minds, but our understanding of it depends upon the beliefs we hold. ”  (Believing Brain, 5).  In a tell-tale sign of his materialistic tendencies, he criticizes claims of psychic phenomena by stating that “until psi proponents can explain how thoughts generated by neurons in the sender’s brain can pass through the skull and into the brain of the receiver, skepticism is the appropriate response. ” (Id. 149).  (This is materialistic because Shermer assumes that mindless particles are the source of reality and anything that cannot...

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