The latest strip from Calamities of Nature.
I woke up this morning convinced it was Friday. Needless to say, the realization it was only Wednesday threatened to undo the little bit of sanity that I’ve been holding onto this week, and that was quickly exacerbated by the first new story I came across on my Facebook feed “Asteroid 2011 AG5 My Pose Threat to Earth in 2040.” A long week and threat of annihilation from above? And all of this before coffee? So in an attempt to “rebalance” before facing today (and the rest of the week), I turned to a little comedy.
Here’s a clip from Ricky Gervais’ “Science” show, where he tackles the inconsistencies in Noah’s Ark. It’s very funny stuff (and I typically don’t like stand-up). I’ve decided to pass it along, in case you, too read about the asteroid or woke up this morning thinking it was Friday.
Earlier today, I wrote about Ian McEwan’s book Atonement in my “Day 4” post of the Thirty Day Book Challenge. In an attempt to shake off the melancholy that writing that post had inevitably brought on, I went through my archives of saved videos for this one, an interview of McEwan by Dawkins. McEwan is keenly intelligent and deeply insightful as to human nature, characteristics which surely contribute to his wonderful writing, but which also show so beautifully in this interview. When you have a few minutes to spare, sit and watch, you will be glad you did.
In an interview with ABC in 2010, Diane Sawyer asked Stephen Hawking the following question, “If the universe gave you a gift tomorrow, an answer, what’s the answer you most want?” In response, Hawking, who recently celebrated his 70th birthday, stated,
I want to know why the universe exists. Why there is something rather than nothing.
In seeming response to this question, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss’s new book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, is being released today.
I first read Krauss what seems like a lifetime ago when he published his book, Physics of Star Trek, and have, since then, continued to read his many works, my favorite being Quintessence (on the question of dark matter). He recently published a book about Richard Feynman titled Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science, which although I’ve not yet read, is on my list. And now, as stated above, his new book was just released, inspired by an incredibly popular video of a talk he gave titled “A Universe from Nothing.”
Like Dawkins, Sagan, Hawking, and others, Krauss has become a strong voice for the skeptics and rationalists among us, and in this talk for the Richard Dawkins Foundation he does not disappoint. I think he’s quite successful in conveying the idea that a godless universe need not be a “scary” place. According to Krauss,
It motivates us to draw meaning from our own actions. . . and to make the most of our brief existence in the sun.
Here is the video that inspired the writing of this book.
- Lawrence Krauss Writes ‘A Universe From Nothing’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science (quantumdiaries.org)
- Krauss finds something in nothing – Lawrence Krauss – asu news (richarddawkins.net)
As I’ve previously mentioned, I teach and study European history, and within that, my main area of interest is intellectual history, or the history of ideas. As a result, this is one of my favorite times of the year because I get to teach my students about the Enlightenment. Just so you understand, I have a bust of Voltaire prominently displayed on one of my bookcases, and a framed picture of him in my classroom. I fell in love with history through the study of his ideas, and those of the other philosophes.
Whereas Voltaire may have been my first love, David Hume captured my mind and heart in a more significant manner. His elegant writing and impeccable argumentation, the expression of his massive intellect that shows in every perfectly selected word and phrase, and the kindness and gentleness that pervade the majority of his writing, are what I find exhilarating and intoxicating. And today, my class of 27 sophomores were introduced to him. They were assigned chapter ten from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, “Of Miracles,” and although they first found it a bit daunting, they were soon converts to Hume. As soon as we began the discussion, I saw the same excitement in their eyes that I feel when reading him. They “got” his astonishingly insightful understanding of human nature, and they were giddy with how seamlessly he argued something that were not prepared to want to accept… namely, the undermining of religion through an undermining of miracles.
A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable, that all men must die; that lead cannot, of itself, remain suspended in the air; that fire consumes wood, and is extinguished by water; unless it be, that these events are found agreeable to the laws of nature, and there is required a violation of these laws, or in other words, a miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happen in the common course of nature… There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle; nor can such a proof be destroyed, or the miracle rendered credible, but by an opposite proof, which is superior.
His “Of Miracles” was one of the first things I read that really liberated my thinking from the restraints imposed on it during my childhood. It was very much a combination of discovering my love of science (namely astronomy and physics) with reading the philosophers who used that science to make sense of their world that shaped and framed my intellectual growth. As Voltaire wrote in his Philosophical Dictionary,
. . . a catechist announces God to children, and Newton demonstrates him to wise men.
So on that note, let me share a little Hume with you tonight. This video is from the “Five-Minute Philosopher series, by Massimo Pigliucci. Enjoy, and go read some Hume!