Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Proving Dr Einstein, God, Science and the Pinoy

I believe I met Dr Reinabelle Reyes in  Ateneo science dean  Dr Toby Dayrit's office around 7 years ago before she left for the US to do a PhD in astrophysics. Now she's back to present her work on confirming that Einstein's Theory of General Relativity works throughout the cosmos and not just in our solar system. Einstein's theory was first confirmed during a solar eclipse when starlight passing through the sun's gravitational field was "bent". It appears that this happens throughout the cosmos as "gravity lenses" and presupposes the existence but still unobserved "dark matter" which is believed to consist 83% of the universe's mass.

Reyes' research has focused on "dark energy" which is hypothesized to accelerate the expansion of the cosmos. According to general relativity, the evolution of the expansion rate can be parameterized by the cosmological equation of state. But while current theory predicts a slowdown, the rate appears to be increasing. If the increasing rate can be empirically tested, then we need to modify Dr Einstein's theory. Reyes has published quite a number of scientific papers on the subject of gravitational lenses.

Popular media has described this as proving Dr Einstein wrong. While that may be more understandable to the public, in science we don't prove something is wrong but rather falsify usually by modifying aspects of a theory. Scientists usually build on existing theory rather than completely overturn it. However there are times when in light of new evidence an old theory has to be overturned.

However this is not what made Pinoy netizens comment. As Rappler.com notes the whole science thingy about dark energy and dark matter was forgotten for the Bright Side of the Force! Personally as a scientist I would just focus on dark energy since it is part of the cosmos and yet unobserved but predicted by cosmological theory. Scientists go agog about things theory predicts but still hasn't been observed. As a biogeographer, I have had those moments!

The Bright Side however has to be taken on faith. No predictive modeling here!

Reyes appears to understand this though she doesn't believe in a personal God. In March installment "the God Issue" of NewScientist, the latest research on the evolutionary and cognitive aspects of religious belief are presented and it appears that natural selection has primed the human brain for religious belief. Religious belief is a product of various cognitive systems some of which are unrelated but with strong forcing factors had to work hand in hand. In classical Darwinism this would be the logical result as the population has to have fitness. Children are primed to accept the supernatural perhaps as a guarantee for survival in an unforgiving environment.

And much of the Pinoy debate has focused on Einstein's God. But Einstein may have taken the sedate route where he believed that there is an illimitable spirit which our limited minds cannot fathom. It supports the Darwinian view of God. Our cognitive faculties will not be able to completely fathom the constructs the mind has created as a response to changing natural selection forces.

But this is not the Delusion that Freethinkers assume. Perhaps the Ateneo has done good in pushing the idea that there is a need to differentiate Theology from Religion and Science from both of them. Science and Theology have more in common since they stem from the same philosophical tradition. Cognitively they are extremely similar. When the institutional Roman Church teaches why RH is wrong, there is a logical basis why it does so. It is similar when science teaches that Evolution is a fact. There is a logical basis why it does so. However religion does not need consistent logical support for success although in the Roman Church, religious beliefs may have strong theological underpinnings. But when the liberal Catholics, Sola Scriptura Protestants and the Freethinking atheists go into knots understanding the Black Nazarene procession in Manila, they fail to understand the Darwinian underpinnings of such religious devotion that gives one population of the faithful some degree of fitness.

The practice of science by scientists in society requires elaborate social and governance systems not unlike what is in the Roman Catholic Church. This is not surprising, Science is a child of Roman Catholicism. While Science is hard to do, Theology is also. Ask Pope Ratzinger, Charles Darwin or Richard Dawkins!

And Dr Reyes statement on her beliefs

"I don't personally believe in God. I think science does make one more critical of religion, but I also understand faith. It's just that I don't have any, at least not in a higher Being"

is something that a scientist will understand. It is quintessentially Atenean! But personally I am not critical of religion since I look at it using the lens of Darwinian theory

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