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Cosmology, Mythology, and Heaven

first_imgStephen Hawking’s recent comment that heaven is a fairy tale (see The Guardian) started blogger keystrokes clicking.  But one might ask, what does he know about it?  Are the opinions of a cosmologist any better than those of a theologian?    Hawking told The Guardian that he considers the brain like a computer that stops working when its components fail.  It was timely that PhysOrg just reported that Jian-Jun Shu, an engineer Nanyang Technical University in Singapore, thinks that the next stage of computing should imitate genetics.  “For some problems, DNA-based computing could replace silicon-based computing, offering many advantages.”  Its potential for parallel processing and fuzzy logic are attractive.  Shu is wondering, though, how to plug a monitor into DNA.    Returning to the topic of heaven, the science blogs are focusing not on the evidence for it, but on whether or not belief in heaven is innate, or is useful to human beings.  PhysOrg told about 40 studies in 20 countries that indicated belief in an afterlife is “hardwired” into the human brain.  “The studies (both analytical and empirical) conclude that humans are predisposed to believe in gods and an afterlife, and that both theology and atheism are reasoned responses to what is a basic impulse of the human mind.”    The 57 researchers were not out to establish the validity of beliefs but to determine whether they are innate or learned.  One researcher commented, “Just because we find it easier to think in a particular way does not mean that it is true in fact.”  Even so, why would an unguided evolutionary process produce belief in god or heaven that do not exist?  Echoes of Anselm’s old Ontological Argument for the existence of God may come to mind.  The article did not discuss how evolution would produce belief in heaven, but a lively debate arose in the reader comments.    Stephanie Pappas at Live Science weighed in with her take on Hawking’s statement, saying that his opinion doesn’t matter, because belief in heaven offers benefits.  Pappas invited responses from Daniel Kruger, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan, and Nathan Heflick, a psychology doctoral student at the University of Florida, who has investigated beliefs in the afterlife.  Kruger noted that belief in heaven provides hope, staves off fear of death, and promotes a sense of fairness that stimulates society to produce just laws.  Heflick pointed out that heaven enables people to think of themselves as more than their bodies.  “If you think of your body as a machine, it’s kind of hard to believe in life after death,” Heflick said.  “You’re not going to be able to think of yourself as a spirit.”  Nevertheless, such thinking might well raise questions about the Inventor of the Machine, based on our common experience that machines come via intelligent design.    Thus far, we have watched scientists trying to analyze a theological question.  But how firm a grip does science have in its own domain? – on reality, even so-called observable reality, or nature?  New Scientist posted an intriguing article on the many ways our eyes fool us.  Our brain is filling in information and predicting the future for us, reporter Graham Lawton pointed out, producing in us a “grand delusion” that we see what is really there.  Speaking of cosmology (Hawking’s specialty), Live Science reminded us that cosmologists are still looking for 96% of an assumed universe about which they are clueless.  It would seem premature for Hawking to rule out heaven when the reality he believes in is mostly hidden – even if he could trust his senses.  There might be much more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in his philosophy (naturalism).    Scientists do best when they stick with the observations.  PhysOrg, echoing a press release from Cardiff University, provided a mix of news and history in an article about the Herschel Space Observatory, describing not only the latest observations, but giving a history of the Herschel family – William, the father of stellar astronomy, who discovered Uranus and infrared light and catalogued thousands of objects in space (and many comets) along with his faithful sister Caroline, and John, his son, who extended the observations into the southern hemisphere.  Professor Matt Griffin said, “Two centuries on, I think William and Caroline would be intrigued and certainly quite pleased to see how what they started has developed.”    Hawking might take note of the fact that excellent scientific work, both observational and theoretical, was done by the Herschels who were strong believers in heaven.Immature Christian to scientist: “if you will just keep your nose out of our heaven, we’ll keep our hell out of your labs.”  That emotional response should be discarded for a more charitable dialogue, in which we first invite the scientist to consider his own limitations, such as flawed eyes, logical fallacies, and tendencies to believe in his own fairy tales (like 96% of a reality that cannot be seen).  Then we turn to his attention to his undeniable sense of justice and truth, and ask how that could evolve.    Once we get him to admit that justice and truth make reference to universals that are necessary and timeless, we help him to discover that his own reasoning depends on the assumptions of theology.  Having lifted the hapless soul out of his naturalistic slumbers, we can begin asking the right questions about eternity, taking advantage of innate knowledge of such things that had been buried under the academic dusts of unreasoned assumptions.  The response might be heavenly.(Visited 34 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

Peers to honour Madonsela

first_img17 July 2015The General Council of the Bar of South Africa will bestow the Sydney and Felicia Kentridge Award on Thuli Madonsela, the public protector, at its annual general meeting in Cape Town on 18 July 2015.The tribute is given to people or institutions that have made an outstanding contribution to law in southern Africa worthy of public recognition.“I am deeply honoured by the award‚” Madonsela said.“The greatest value in these awards is the recognition and affirmation of the public protector as an institution,” the advocate said. “They also inspire interest in the institution as an important avenue for access to justice in the area of administrative law and public accountability as an essential for strengthening constitutional democracy.”The awardThe award is named after Sydney Kentridge‚ who was the counsel for the defence in major South Africa political trials‚ and his late wife‚ Felicia‚ who was also a human rights advocate.Lady Kentridge‚ who died last month‚ was a co-founder of the Legal Resources Centre.Previous recipients of the award include late chief justices Arthur Chaskalson and Pius Langa; Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke; Justice Yvonne Mokgoro; senior counsel George Bizos; and human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa from Zimbabwe.Office of the Public ProtectorMadonsela has been the public protector since October 2009 following a unanimous vote in parliament. She is the first woman to hold the position.“Since Advocate Madonsela took office, the Public Protector as a constitutional institution has tackled tough questions and has received unprecedented national and international recognition,” reads her profile on the Office’s website, “which has included her being recognised by Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential people in 2014.”The main job of her office is to investigate abuses of power and maladministration of state affairs, mediate administrative disputes, and advise on possible solutions through recommendations and reports.SAinfo reporterlast_img read more

Can We Live Happily Underground?

first_imgHigher costs and more concreteA big problem with PAHS construction, Holladay replies, is higher construction costs. Because it’s underground, lots of concrete will be required, he says, and that will require waterproofing in order to keep the house dry. Because a large amount of soil around the structure must be insulated, rather than just the building envelope, insulation costs also are higher. Finally, all that extra excavation will mean more spending.“If you have a fat enough budget to cover these expenses, and you trust the veracity of the anecdotes you’ve heard about PAHS comfort, go right ahead,” Holladay says. “Readers of GBA who are thinking about different approaches to energy-efficient construction, however, deserve an analysis that considers whether these added expenses yield any energy savings. In my opinion, they don’t.”You’re generalizing, Lepper replies.“You are wrong with your sweeping statement about PAHS houses being ‘much more expensive than other forms of construction,’” Lepper says. “That’s like saying that rammed earth houses are expensive. They are if you have them built by a professional in California.“You are wrong about PAHS houses needing lots of concrete because they are underground, for similar reasons. PAHS houses can be bermed, they don’t have to be underground. Mine is on a south-facing slope, and digging out the hole for it was certainly no more expensive than pouring lots of concrete to make the foundations for an above-ground house on a slope.”Earth-bermed houses need no more waterproofing than the typical basement or underground garage, Lepper says, and the earth surrounding a PAHS house is protected by a waterproof, insulated umbrella.“Your next assertion, that ‘you’ll need more rigid foam because you’re trying to heat the whole neighborhood’ makes me wonder if you are really interested in a serious discussion about PAHS (which is what Laurel was asking for),” Lepper addis. “This remark, and your vague reference to ‘physics,’ seem to indicate that, despite the evidence from homeowners, you think heat cannot be stored in the vicinity of the house and is just going to dissipate around town.“If that was the case those homeowners would be shivering for six months of the year. Why do they say their house is the most comfortable one they’ve ever owned?“Is Hait a crackpot, or could he be the genius of the insulated umbrella?” Lepper asks. Other considerationsDavison is looking for specific recommendations in key areas: the specs of the insulating and waterproofing membrane over the soil surrounding the house, and the ventilation the house will require. But GBA reader Brendan Albano suggests she is looking for answers in the wrong place.For advice on the membrane, Albano says, go to the company supplying the components for the shell. For ventilation advice, consult someone who’s familiar with PAHS construction rather than the third-year civil engineering student Davison has been speaking with. Read Malcolm Wells’ book on earth-sheltered construction, Albano advises.“And just to be clear, I’m not trying to discourage you from posting here, just pointing out to be cautious about the information you receive if you are asking for experts in one subject (standard above-ground energy efficient building, and off-grid living in these sorts of buildings) for advice about a related but different subject (below-ground PAHS energy efficient building and off-grid living in those sorts of buildlings),” he says.“And just to be clear, my biases would be to build a standard insulated home for efficiency purposes. And if you want to have it be underground for aesthetic purposes, just put it underground! Even if it’s just a big pile of dirt, PAHS is still a complex system. I would argue that if you’re after simplicity, a well insulated wall and a wood stove is much simpler than PAHS. But if you want to build a PAHS home, definitely seek out advice from people with the expertise!”Stephen Sheehy has one additional thought: recouping costs through the sale of a PAHS house might not be very easy.“One thing about PAHS is that I suspect such houses, once complete, are probably not salable at a price that would recoup much of the significant cost of construction,” Sheehy says. “So long as one is either rich enough not to care or old enough to be sure this is the last house, resale isn’t important.”Malcolm Taylor adds that PAHS construction is likely to remain a niche building technique, if only because it requires at least a large suburban lot and is unsuited to urban or multifamily construction, which makes up the bulk of the housing market.“They also use techniques outside the established construction used by builders, and the end product isn’t one familiar to the tastes marketers and culture have instilled in home buyers over time,” Taylor says. “That doesn’t mean individuals shouldn’t build one if they want to. There are all sorts of alternate types of construction, like log houses, rammed-earth, straw bale, etc., that are easy to dismiss because of their lack of general adaptability which make their individual occupants very happy.” Earth-bermed houses built with the Passive Annual Heat Storage (PAHS) approach are a little off the beaten track for most builders and prospective homeowners. These houses go back a bit: John N. Hait described the construction of an early “umbrella house” in the 1980s.As unusual as they may be, PAHS houses have their advocates. One of them is Laurel Davison, who is planning to build one in Missouri on a gently sloped lot with an unimpeded southern exposure.In a Q&A post at Green Building Advisor, Davison outlines the basics of her proposed new house: a shell made by Terra-Dome Corporation, heated mostly with passive solar with a minisplit air-source heat pump for backup heating and cooling, and a variety of energy saving electrical appliances.Davison sees several advantages to this approach, including little to no required exterior maintenance — not something she’d get with an above-ground house — and protection from tornados, always a threat in this region. No data to back up claims“I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings,” writes GBA senior editor Martin Holladay, “but I am going to give it to you straight: You have decided to adopt a discredited approach to residential construction. The design approach you are discussing (the passive annual heat storage approach) has passionate advocates but little data to back up its claims. In those respects, it resembles the earthship approach.”Elements of energy-efficient construction are already well known, Holladay adds: a compact house shape, not too many windows, a tight building envelope, and lots of insulation in the ceiling, walls, and floors.“That’s basically it,” he says. “You don’t need many cubic meters of soil around your house, nor do you need to install buried insulation to isolate this soil from other soil. Sorry, but it’s true. The PAHS approach requires large investments in measures that are irrelevant to your home’s energy performance — expensive measures with no energy yield.”While it’s true that underground houses eliminate most exterior maintenance, the cost of waterproofing details are likely to be higher than maintaining siding in conventional construction. Insulation should be located in the shell of the building, not located some distance away from the house as is the case with a PAHS house, Holladay adds. And if tornado protection is a concern, an option worth considering is building above ground with insulated concrete forms (ICFs).“There are so many aspects of the PAHS approach that make no sense that it’s hard to list them,” he says. “However, it’s probably worth warning you that many homes with earth tubes [a feature of the underground house shown in the illustration above] have abandoned and sealed the earth tubes because of problems with air quality and mold.” Do Earth Tubes Make Any Sense?Earthship Hype and Earthship RealityAll About Thermal MassSolar Versus Superinsulation: A 30-Year-Old DebateNostalgia for the Hippie Building Heyday Another PAHS advocate respondsBruce Lepper says he is building his own half-buried PAHS house with rammed-earth walls in Toulouse, France, a process he describes in his own construction blog.Lepper was convinced to try the building approach by someone who’s lived comfortably in one for years. “He says it’s the most comfortable house he’s ever lived in, and his neighbor, who ordered a copy from him, says the same,” Lepper writes.He mentions other PAHS success stories, including that of Tom Beaudette, founder of Beaudette Consulting Engineers in Montana, who built one for himself. Lepper also cites the experience of Joe LaCour, who he says converted a 1970s era house in the Pacific Northwest into a PAHS structure (see comment #13 in this GBA post).“There are many other isolated examples, but as Martin would point out it tends to be anecdotal,” Lepper says. “I’m hoping to add a little data with the buried temperature and humidity probes around our house, but that will be in the future.” “Please review my plans… and pick holes in them,” Davison writes. “I don’t guarantee to change my mind, but I do promise to research varying opinions thoroughly and supporting data would be appreciated … I have an interested builder, land, money, and a quiet winter to get all the details addressed.”The merits and pitfalls of this type of construction are the topic for this Q&A Spotlight. RELATED ARTICLES Our expert’s opinionHere’s what GBA technical director Peter Yost had to add:Having toured the Terra-Dome website, I have to admit that some of their homes in the photo gallery are pretty intriguing. That’s the Hobbit in me, and I don’t say that sarcastically; there is something comforting and cozy about any earth-bermed home. And in some ways, depending on the specific design of the home, you are essentially building a walk-out basement home.But the builder and building scientist in me cringes, based on these points:Ground-coupling. This approach — inherently cooler in summer and warmer in winter — just sort of rolls off the tongue. But it’s damn near impossible to accurately model this to get insulation levels well-tuned. Overheating and underheating when diurnal cycles and the sun and clouds don’t cooperate may well end up being the rule and not the exception. And whether or not we can accurately model ground-coupling, installing a radiant floor heating system that is ground-coupled (with no insulation underneath the coils) will heat the ground below more efficiently than the living space above.The need to be mistake-proof. With so many complex waterproofing details buried underground, you pretty much get just one chance to get it right. Any home benefits from quality of design and construction, but this approach seems to me to require it.Durable but inflexible design. Depending on the design — just how much of the roof is actually underground and how many interior walls are structural concrete — you had better get the size of your home and family perfectly matched, and you had better anticipate all the intended uses. Retrofit and addition options will be more than just limited.Cost. I took a quick look at the pricing sheet for Terra-Dome. It does not start off well: “…Insulation, waterproofing, drainage, and backfill are not included in the construction costs.” It scares me that while other per-component costs are included in the price sheet, something as essential to the design as moisture management is not included, even in a per-square-foot range of cost.Warranty. With this type of design and construction I would expect a warranty to be front and center on the website. I searched around quite a bit and found no discussion at all of system warranties.Here is the good news: This GBA Q&A Spotlight blog and the Q&A thread that inspired the blog mean that Laurel Davison has a ton of information and insights to make her eventual design and construction much more successful.last_img read more