Sunday, June 20, 2010

in appreciation of martin rees

Martin Rees is a very interesting character. An eminent British cosmologist (a scientist who studies the universe and its expansion from the initial big bang), he is the Astronomer Royal (a largely honorary title) and president of the Royal Society, Britain's most elite scientific organisation. Along with Stephen Hawking, he was instrumental in proving that the universe had not existed forever, but began with the big bang, about 14 billion years ago.

Recently, in a column in The Times (We may never discover how the Universe ticks), he pondered the enormous scope of scientific discoveries in the last century, but said he felt that uncovering some of the big secrets may be beyond the scope of human brains.

"we should be open to the prospect that some aspects of reality — a unified theory of physics, or a full understanding of consciousness — might elude us simply because they’re beyond human brains, just as Einstein’s ideas would baffle a chimpanzee" he said.

If you want to know about how the laws and numbers that determine the shape of our universe are astonishingly adjusted to allow it to exist at all, his book "Just Six Numbers" is recommended reading - authoritative yet easy to read. In it he looks briefly at ultimate causes, and believes this "fine-tuning" cannot have occurred by chance. Perhaps God did it, he agrees, but as a scientist he believes we should look for a scientific explanation.

Interestingly, in this day of science vs religion, he said in a 2005 interview: "I don’t see any conflict between science and religion. I go to church as many other scientists do."

What is even more intriguing is that he says, despite his church attendance, he doesn't believe in God as most people would define him. Rees thinks there is a great mystery about the beginning of the universe that science can never hope to explain, and prefers to withhold judgment on how this mystery might be explained.

I really respect Rees for that. That makes him (for me) a scientist I can trust, one whose views are governed by his science without a bias for or against religious or anti-religious belief.

Read more about the big bang and about universal fine-tuning.


  1. You might like this video:

  2. That is a good video, and I really interesting site. Thanks for telling me/us about it.

  3. Glad you like it too. Credits to chuff at the Quodlibeta Forum for posting it there. I get the impression that new participants are added regularly.


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