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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Consilience & The Death Of A Messiah

Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, died a couple of days ago.  Funny how Messiah's come and go, and the world keeps moving along according to the laws of physics.  Moon's aim was to unify all the other religions under his (of course!).  Like Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon religion, Moon had been jailed for being a con man.  

Moon also tried to unify religion and science.  Today, that general effort continues with the Templeton Prize.

Religion is like a chihuahua grabbing the ankle of a runner.  At best it's neutral to science, but more often it constantly attacks science when scientific evidence contradicts its dogma.  Just ask Galileo or Bruno.

Quoting physicist Victor Stenger, "Science flies you to the moon, religion flies you into buildings"

Unlike religions, which contradict each other, the sciences are forced to reconcile any contradictions.  This leads to a huge unification in our understanding of reality over time.  Biologist E.O. Wilson has given the term "consilience" to this phenomenon.

Consilience is like a great patchwork quilt, with some frayed edges and a few holes, but what an achievement of the human intellect.  And everyday, it grows a bit more, some frays get repaired, a hole shrinks.  Occasionally the opposite happens.

Here's a recently uploaded YouTube video, from 60 years ago, illustrating the unification of many sciences as people conducted research on radiation and its health effects.  

The scientific consensus on any subject (global warming, health physics, etc.) is a product of the power of consilience.  To yearn for a different outcome in denial of the science is a messianic yearning.


  1. It's interesting, isn't it, how often that 60-year-old film uses the phrase "dangerous levels of radiation". It implies they were already aware that there are indeed safe levels of radiation.

    Applying the linear-no-threshold model to low-level radiation is a shining example of a model that has been disproven by the data yet hanging on by inertia and political effects.

    A no-threshold model would make sense for its simplicity if we have solid data (on this probabilistic effect) at medium to high levels - but only if the data is at least consistent at low levels also. However, in reality, the data at low-level exposures is NOT consistent with a linear extrapolation from the well-understood dangerous levels of radiation. In order to rescue the LNT from statistical oblivion, a fudge factor (DDREF) has been invented, but that completely breaks the only attractive feature of the model - the linear link to higher-level effects.

    Time to abandon the evidence-free LNT for low level radiation. Thresholds are far simpler.

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