Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Race to the Moon

On this 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 flight to the moon, I would like to express some thoughts on the role the early days of manned space flight played in my life and my appreciation for the people who were instrumental in sending humans to the moon, which inspired a whole generation of current scientists. In contrast to many of my blog posts, this one will be autobiographical with little direct connection made between science and Christianity.

I spent eight and a half years of my childhood, from when I was five years old to when I was thirteen years old in Huntsville, Alabama, the city where the Saturn V rocket was designed and where the bottom stage of the Saturn V rocket was built and tested. During the 1960's and early 1970's, Huntsville was among the cities most involved with manned space flight, along with Houston where mission control existed and Cape Canaveral where flights were launched. I was fascinated and captivated by manned space flight. If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew, up I would have probably answered that I wanted to be an astronaut. Some kids could name their favorite sports heroes, but I could name all of the astronauts. The remarkable achievement of humans going to the moon, pushing the boundaries of technology and adventure, inspired a whole generation of scientists. I know that my interest in science and technology, which eventually led me to becoming an experimental particle physicist, was spawned and nurtured because of the accomplishments made in the race to put humans on the moon.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Is the Data Consistent?

Psychological experiments have shown that people tend to embrace evidence that confirms their already-held beliefs while overlooking evidence that conflicts with their beliefs, a phenomena called "confirmation bias." As a scientist who consistently analyzes data, not only must I be careful to avoid confirmation bias, but I must also take precautions against the opposite effect, which would be to bias experimental data with the goal of finding something new rather than just confirming what is already known. Many of the great discoveries in science have been made when the data shows an unexpected result rather than a confirmation of an already known effect. In short, it is important to be able to sift through the data in an unbiased way to try to determine the truth of a proposition. To assist me in this endeavor, I have developed an informal list of questions to ask that serve as a guideline to follow for determining the truth of an idea while trying to minimize bias.

In this blog I have regularly claimed that Christian beliefs are evidentially based, and not just a product of blind conviction. As a thinking person, a scientist, and a Christian, I have a desire to determine what is true about spiritual ideas and to try to avoid simple confirmation bias when examining evidence for Christian truth claims. Consequently, it may serve as an interesting exercise to apply the general principles I have developed for determining the truth of a proposition to certain spiritual claims and ideas. If the claims of Christianity are objectively true, then they should hold up under an examination that uses reasonable criteria to determine their validity.