Archive for June 2006

Sovereignty and Science

27 June, 2006 EUTC

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. (Prov 16:33)

A few months ago I had a friend argue that if I believe in evolution, then I believe in something that was unguided, and that this would contradict my faith. In this post I would like to address that claim, and describe my position on God’s actions in nature. I am particularly interested in feedback on this post, as I try to develop my thoughts in this area.

First of all, saying evolution is unguided is in fact unscientific. While it is true that scientists sometimes make comments like that, eg. this statement, science cannot actually make such statements. In giving explanations of nature in terms of natural processes, it cannot comment on whether those processes may be caused by a supernatural entity. Sometimes scientists slip up and speak beyond what science can say, and sometimes they speak of their religious convictions (eg. Richard Dawkins), at which point they are not speaking scientifically. (more…)

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Firefox

24 June, 2006 EUTC

I've been using the firefox browser for a while now, and I'm a big fan. It has convenient tabbed browsing, eliminates most pop-ups, and has extensions that do cool things like remove ads and restore the session when I reopen firefox, plus you can get skins to change its look. The extensions are great, so many features you can add, and more coming. If you haven't tried it yet, give it a try at http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/.

My current favourite extenstions are:

Adblock (filters ads from web-pages)

SessionSaver

Forecastfox (shows weather forecast)

Customize Google (removes ads from google, gmail etc.)

McAfee SiteAdvisor (warns you if a site is unsafe)

TimeTracker (shows how long you've been browsing that day)

Sage (RSS reader)

Performancing (For writing blog articles) 

Gmail Notifier (tells me when I get email, even if gmail is closed

Gmail Skins

Cricketfox

IE Tab (load sites within firefox but using IE)

Science and the Supernatural

24 June, 2006 EUTC

An important issue in the intersection of science and religion is whether science should include supernatural explanations. A good post on this issue is What is Science? by Jason Rosenhouse at Evolutionblog. Jason starts by saying

Science is best viewed as an activity undertaken with a specific goal in mind. That goal is to understand the way nature works. We measure our understanding by the extent to which we can make nature’s phenomena predictable and controllable. Any investigative technique that brings us closer to this goal can reasonably be considered part of science.

All of the standard pieces of the scientific method we learned about in high school – experimentation, hypothesis testing, inductive reasoning and so forth – have their role to play in bringing us closer to our goal of predictability and control. By contrast, hypothesizing the actions of ill-defined supernatural entities such as ghosts or poltergeists do not help us move closer to our goal. Consequently, the actions of supernatural entities play no role in modern scientific discourse. The day someone finds a way to use such an hypothesis to bring clarity to some confusing aspect of nature is the day scientists will embrace the supernatural. (more…)

Electric Chair Problem

20 June, 2006 EUTC

Suppose there is a person who has been condemned to be killed by the electric chair, the first time it is being used. There are 2 components that need to be functioning correctly for the chair to work. The chair will fail to work if component A is tampered with by a sympathetic guard. Component B includes a number of switches that can be in any one of a huge number of configurations. There is 1 configuration for which the chair does not work. The configuration should be chosen at random so it could be in the safe configuration by chance, however a guard could select the safe setting if they were friendly to the condemned person.

Question 1. Suppose that you observed that the person was not killed by the chair, and when you checked, you found that component A had not been tampered with, but component B was in the safe configuration. Would this make you more confident that the guard was sympathetic?

Question 2. Does it make any difference if you were the person who was not killed by the chair, and who found that component A had not been tampered with, but component B was in the safe configuration?

Bonus Question. Why have I placed this post in the categories religion and science?

I promise I'll explain my view of the solution in due course; as the bonus question implies, the implications are greater than the hypothetical scenario might at first suggest.

Intro to Bayesian Statistics

20 June, 2006 EUTC

I find the Bayesian view of statistics a helpful one for thinking about various issues, so this post will be an overview of the ideas I may be using from that point of view.

There are 2 ways to view probability. In the traditional (frequentist) view, the probability of an event is the relative frequency that the event occurs as the experiment keeps being repeated. Eg. you toss a coin 10 times and perhaps it comes up heads 4 times (40% of the time), you keep tossing the coin up to a total of 1000 times and 49.2% of the time it comes up heads, you toss it 1000,000 times and 50.01% of the time it comes up heads. If the coin keeping being tossed would mean that the relative frequency would converge to 50%, then the probability is 0.5. Statistics based on this view of probability are called frequentist Statistics.

In the Bayesian view, and the one I will be using from now on, probability is subjective. This is usually expressed in terms of a bet. If a person would be willing to bet $0.60 to win $1 if the coin comes up heads, and would also accept the opposite bet of $0.40 to win $1 if the coin comes up tails, then their subjective probability of heads is 0.6. For another person the probability could be different. (more…)