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A scientific leap, but without the faith
Philadelhpia Inquirer ^ | Sun, Feb. 05, 2006 | Amanda Gefter

Posted on 02/08/2006 2:33:11 PM PST by bvw

The recent ruling in Dover, Pa., against the mention of intelligent design in biology textbooks was a small cultural victory for science - not because intelligent design posed a genuine threat to the theory of evolution, but because the decision showed the public that there is an important difference between science and pseudoscience.

In the wake of the trial, scientists are being criticized, even by their own colleagues, for working on anything that might be construed as pseudoscience - and string theory is drawing most of the heat. An intense controversy has erupted regarding the status of this potential "theory of everything," which aims to describe the whole universe in one fell swoop: space, time, and everything in it.

According to string theory, the fundamental building blocks of matter are not dimensionless point particles but tiny, one-dimensional strings. What appear to us as different kinds of particles are actually different vibrations of the same string. String theory might be able to reconcile Einstein's general relativity (the theory of gravity) with quantum mechanics (the theory of matter), but that's because in the theory, gravity turns out to be just another string vibration.

String theory requires extra dimensions of space that have never been detected, and it describes not one universe but a near infinity of them. Parallel universes, invisible dimensions... these fantastic concepts are not directly observable, so the critics cry: "It's not science!" They appeal to the philosopher Karl Popper, who said that what distinguishes science from pseudoscience is that science can be falsified through experiment. In Popper's scheme, string theory and intelligent design can be lumped into the same category of untestable claims, and critics can make allegations that string theory is no better than religion.

Case Western physicist Lawrence Krauss, whose latest book, Hiding in the Mirror, has stirred the controversy, feels that science's current struggle against political and religious agendas makes string theory a dangerous liability. As he writes in the journal Nature, the scientific status afforded to string theory "opens us up to otherwise avoidable attacks, particularly from those who would include religious ideas in high school science curricula."

But the real danger is not string theory's lack of experiments - it is the misrepresentation of what scientific theories are all about. Sure, falsifiability is a key component of the scientific method. But there is something that matters more: the power of explanation. History reveals that the structure of a theory itself - its internal mathematical consistency, its scope, and its beauty - often determines whether it is accepted as science.

For instance, it is commonly said that the 1919 observation of the bending of starlight around the sun was fantastic confirmation of Einstein's theory of general relativity. And in the public eye, it was. But in reality the results were far from conclusive - perhaps only 30 percent. Still, no one would have rejected the theory based on the outcome of that experiment. When Einstein was asked what he would have done had the experiment falsified his prediction, he replied, "I would feel sorry for the dear Lord. The theory is correct."

Why this confidence? Because the theory is breathtakingly beautiful. It takes phenomena once thought to be separate and unifies them to simplify the world, to pare it down, to inch closer to the core of reality. It enlightens and it explains. General relativity might eventually fail a test, but it will be replaced only by a better explanation.

In the Dover courtroom, proponents of intelligent design could be heard repeating their mantra: "Evolution is just a theory. It's not a fact." Scientists would then point out the categorical error: A theory is a framework to explain the facts. A theory is one level up from fact, so the mantra ought to go, "Evolution is not just a fact. It's a theory."

The theory of intelligent design is not only not falsifiable; there is simply no way to test it. But that is not the main reason it is not science. The main reason is, that ID does not actually explain anything. When we ask, "Why is the world the way it is?" it answers, "Because it was designed that way." The world is the way it is because it is that way. That might be the furthest from a useful, satisfactory explanation you can get.

String theory has problems, too. But while intelligent design is untestable in principle, string theory is just really hard. It is quite possible some clever scientist will devise a way to test it. Physicists have some ideas, but it is not going to be easy. In his new book The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design, string theory's inventor Leonard Susskind writes: "To divine the fundamental laws of nature that govern a world 16 orders of magnitude smaller than any microscope will ever see is a very tall order. It will take not only cleverness and perseverance, but it will also require tremendous quantities of chutzpah."

As Columbia University physicist Brian Greene says, "String theory is a work in progress. It is science because in its decades of development it has always adhered to the well-established methodology of theoretical physics. So far, we have not revealed enough about string theory to extract detailed predictions that are within reach of today's technology. If, however, we believed that this latter goal of testing string theory were permanently unattainable - as it most certainly is for ID as currently presented - we would no longer work on the theory. As of now, there is no way to tell how things will pan out. But that's what theoretical physics is all about: Devise theories, analyze them with rigorous mathematical tools, do your best to extract experimental predictions, and test them. No one can predict how long each individual step in this progression will take." So be patient!

In the meantime, mathematical consistency could provide its own sort of falsification. Mathematics is the language science uses to describe the world, and if the equations of a theory lead to nonsensical results, the theory is mathematically falsified. Intelligent design cannot be described mathematically, so, to use physicist Wolfgang Pauli's famous phrase, "it's not even wrong."

But the fate of string theory is unlikely to be decided by experiment. It will be decided when a physicist wakes up one day and slaps his forehead and yells, "Aha! Now it all makes sense!" If string theory can stitch together the facts of the world that do not quite fit, if it can explain why the universe is the way it is, no one will conjure the ghost of Popper. Yes, string theory is lacking in testable predictions, but more important, it is lacking some underlying principle to give it deep explanatory power. Still, scientists pursue it because they see paths of unification, shards of beauty, glimmers of ultimate reality. And that determination to explain the mysteries of the universe no matter how difficult the task, and the refusal to accept easy pseudo-explanations in place of truth, is a telltale sign of genuine science.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: crevolist; dover; id; popper; stringtheory
In this "science" article scribe Gefter boldly claims that there are no reasons for Patents.
1 posted on 02/08/2006 2:33:13 PM PST by bvw
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To: PatrickHenry; Junior
fyi and ===> Placemarker <===
2 posted on 02/08/2006 2:39:29 PM PST by Coyoteman (I love the sound of beta decay in the morning!)
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To: bvw
In this "science" article scribe Gefter boldly claims that there are no reasons for Patents.

I'm not getting the connection you're making there. Please explain?

3 posted on 02/08/2006 2:43:14 PM PST by Chiapet (The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. -Yeats)
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To: bvw
In the Dover courtroom, proponents of intelligent design could be heard repeating their mantra: "Evolution is just a theory. It's not a fact." Scientists would then point out the categorical error: A theory is a framework to explain the facts. A theory is one level up from fact, so the mantra ought to go, "Evolution is not just a fact. It's a theory."

The theory of intelligent design is not only not falsifiable; there is simply no way to test it. But that is not the main reason it is not science. The main reason is, that ID does not actually explain anything. When we ask, "Why is the world the way it is?" it answers, "Because it was designed that way." The world is the way it is because it is that way. That might be the furthest from a useful, satisfactory explanation you can get.

String theory has problems, too. But while intelligent design is untestable in principle, string theory is just really hard. It is quite possible some clever scientist will devise a way to test it.

That's some major leage convoluted logic.

I still don't know why people aren't free to reach their own conclusions about our origins.

OR

4 posted on 02/08/2006 2:47:18 PM PST by ovrtaxt (I have a crush on this bag lady. Does that make me a hobosexual?)
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To: Coyoteman
Interesting, but probably not for the evo list. It doesn't really accomplish anything.
5 posted on 02/08/2006 2:48:09 PM PST by PatrickHenry (Virtual Ignore for trolls, lunatics, dotards, scolds, & incurable ignoramuses.)
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To: bvw

So, if I understand this correctly, it should be illegal to discuss STRING THEORY in school.


6 posted on 02/08/2006 2:49:11 PM PST by GLDNGUN
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To: GLDNGUN
Well, not quite. At least by scribe Gefter's take. She says Popper's falsifiability is not the big reason that ID isn't science. If so, then you'd be right: esoteric confections like string theory, multi-verses etc. would not be able to be mentioned outside of a mythology course. Yet string theory is science. Why?

Because being such an estoric theory it is "grand and beautiful". (She can say "grandiose and beautiful" that because she's never done the math of it, btw.)

7 posted on 02/08/2006 2:57:12 PM PST by bvw
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To: betty boop; RunningWolf

fyi


8 posted on 02/08/2006 4:20:07 PM PST by bvw
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To: bvw

Are scientists still seeking a unifying theory?

If so, do they anticipate, in light of the mathematics, that it will be orderly or chaotic?

Is the theory of chaos itself one of order in chaos?

Does orderly necessarily equate to intelligent or is intelligent an idea we impose on it? (Of course all meaning is imposed by us.)

Does intelligence necessarily imply a creator?

If so, is that logical?

If not, what is all the hullabaloo about?


9 posted on 02/08/2006 4:32:33 PM PST by Mind-numbed Robot (Not all that needs to be done, needs to be done by the government.)
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To: bvw
"For instance, it is commonly said that the 1919 observation of the bending of starlight around the sun was fantastic confirmation of Einstein's theory of general relativity. And in the public eye, it was. But in reality the results were far from conclusive - perhaps only 30 percent. Still, no one would have rejected the theory based on the outcome of that experiment."

The author is absolutely wrong. Had the bending of starlight not been observed, the hypothesis would be junk.

10 posted on 02/08/2006 4:39:46 PM PST by spunkets
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To: spunkets

I was not sure what to make of that either. It sort of begs an explanation in the essay.


11 posted on 02/08/2006 4:42:02 PM PST by bvw
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To: bvw
"string theory's inventor Leonard Susskind "

He didn't invent string theory.

12 posted on 02/08/2006 4:42:29 PM PST by spunkets
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To: ovrtaxt

LOL!


13 posted on 02/08/2006 4:44:19 PM PST by spunkets
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To: bvw
" It sort of begs an explanation in the essay."

The author is in over her head. She's drowning.

14 posted on 02/08/2006 4:47:19 PM PST by spunkets
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To: bvw
Intriguing article bvw thanks for the ping.

Wolf
15 posted on 02/08/2006 5:44:46 PM PST by RunningWolf (Vet US Army Air Cav 1975)
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To: bvw; Alamo-Girl; marron; hosepipe; Lindykim; xzins; TXnMA; PatrickHenry; balrog666
Thanks so much for the ping, bvw, which must be a ping for later. Looks like seriously intriguing material. Will get back as soon as I can, God willing.

Meanwhile, I've pinged some friends.

16 posted on 02/08/2006 6:26:31 PM PST by betty boop (Often the deepest cause of suffering is the very absence of God. -- Pope Benedict XVI)
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To: bvw; unlearner

bvw,

unlearner really knows these subjects well.

Wolf


17 posted on 02/08/2006 10:04:37 PM PST by RunningWolf (Vet US Army Air Cav 1975)
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To: ovrtaxt
It looks as though looter-guy has been more places than forest gump.

He is a FG on the cosmic scale!

Wolf
18 posted on 02/08/2006 10:06:40 PM PST by RunningWolf (Vet US Army Air Cav 1975)
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To: RunningWolf

Gotta love looter guy!


19 posted on 02/09/2006 1:38:37 AM PST by ovrtaxt (I have a crush on this bag lady. Does that make me a hobosexual?)
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To: Chiapet
Why can I say that Inquirer has taken a stance against Patents?

The essayist writes:

But that is not the main reason it is not science. The main reason is, that ID does not actually explain anything. When we ask, "Why is the world the way it is?" it answers, "Because it was designed that way." The world is the way it is because it is that way. That might be the furthest from a useful, satisfactory explanation you can get.
By saying that examining Design is not useful and not satisfactory the Inquirer diminishes the value of any Patented Design. For by that logic, "Who cares?" about any design. It is simply unuseful and unsatisfactory, so they claim, to study Design as design.

There is NO value in reverse engineering, none in copying and incorporating the best of other designs. Instead, we engineers and scientists should (1) throw random bits of this and that into a pile a wait for natural selection to evolve it into a useful product, and (2) develop estoric fantastic equations describing the dynamics of junk in such piles because such high mathematics is grandiose and beautiful.

What a program for progress they propose, what a way to pay the bills!

20 posted on 02/09/2006 7:33:21 AM PST by bvw
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To: bvw
When we ask, "Why is the world the way it is?" it answers, "Because it was designed that way." The world is the way it is because it is that way. That might be the furthest from a useful, satisfactory explanation you can get.

But, what if that explanation is true? Because it is "unsatisfactory", boring, etc. to some scientists, should it, therefore, simply be rejected out of hand? Is there nothing to be learned if what is being studied was designed?

Can an art student learn nothing from a Renoir or a Van Gough because the paintings were the result of conscious action? Shall I stop studying the C++ source code of those with far more experience than I because "It is the way it is because that's the way the programmer intended it"?

The venemous anti-ID'ers seem to be saying that the principle of ID spoils all the fun in science, so it should be banished outright. I simply don't get the basis of the hatred.

21 posted on 02/09/2006 7:53:26 AM PST by TChris ("Unless you act, you're going to lose your world." - Mark Steyn)
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To: bvw
A theory is a framework to explain the facts. A theory is one level up from fact, so the mantra ought to go, "Evolution is not just a fact. It's a theory."

Clearly, this joker "author" is not a 'scientist'.

What a MAROON!


22 posted on 02/09/2006 10:36:36 AM PST by Paul Ross (Hitting bullets with bullets successfully for 35 years!)
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To: RunningWolf
This article makes one good point - that the demarcation standard of science is not as clear cut as some around here would have us believe.

My biggest complaint is that somehow science does not rely on faith. Yes it does. Faith, perhaps not a religious or spiritual kind, does play a large role in science. It is fundamental to it.

Consider trust. As children we do not need to understand the germ theory of medicine in order to follow our parents instructions about washing our hands before we eat. We do it on the basis of trust. (Either we trust that father knows best, or at least we trust that disobedience has consequences.) When we become adults we may continue to wash, not because we trust our parents, but we trust what we have learned about the benefits of cleanliness and disadvantages of its absence.

In science we use empirical evidence. However, empirical evidence does not mean that everyone who accepts data as accurate is an eye witness to a test. We use peer review. But this does not mean that every peer reviews. Nor does this method eliminate error or fraud entirely. Our understanding of the methodology of science causes us to trust the overall process to lead to beneficial results. We generally accept scientific findings as "true" or at least useful. Trust is an integral part of the process.

Some want to diminish the role of faith by confusing it with dogma. A belief that is unwilling to be tested becomes dogma. Unfortunately, many detractors of the role and value of faith are often the most guilty of being dogmatic.
23 posted on 02/09/2006 10:55:26 AM PST by unlearner (You will never come to know that which you do not know until you first know that you do not know it.)
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To: unlearner
I always get your points and understand what you say unlearner. You say it very well, thats why I pinged you.

The circular circular circular nature of evos!
24 posted on 02/09/2006 10:59:46 AM PST by RunningWolf (Vet US Army Air Cav 1975)
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To: betty boop
Thank you so much for the ping!

I find this remark in the article most telling:

Case Western physicist Lawrence Krauss, whose latest book, Hiding in the Mirror, has stirred the controversy, feels that science's current struggle against political and religious agendas makes string theory a dangerous liability. As he writes in the journal Nature, the scientific status afforded to string theory "opens us up to otherwise avoidable attacks, particularly from those who would include religious ideas in high school science curricula."

But the real danger is not string theory's lack of experiments - it is the misrepresentation of what scientific theories are all about.

LOLOL! As we have observed on several threads - when one defends science with a worldview that reality is "matter in all its motions" - even mathematics gets wiped off the table as beyond natural for purposes of "methodological naturalism".
25 posted on 02/10/2006 9:46:46 PM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: Alamo-Girl; marron; hosepipe; xzins; YHAOS; gobucks
LOLOL! As we have observed on several threads - when one defends science with a worldview that reality is "matter in all its motions" - even mathematics gets wiped off the table as beyond natural for purposes of "methodological naturalism".

Indeed, it's like seeing through a filter rather than directly. The upshot is ever a reduction of reality to the capability of the filter -- and the filter is expressly designed to exclude certain things altogether, on principle. But those things are still in the world nonetheless! They still substantially contribute to the constitution of reality! And so they don't just go away when you refuse to look at them.

If Krauss were to have his way, I guess string theory would make the list of "forbidden areas" where science is not supposed to go -- joining ID, and heaven knows probably the next really interesting scientific paradigm to emerge.

Or so it seems to me.

Thanks so much for the "chuckle" at Krauss' expense, dear sister. This guy seems to be quite worried about "attacks" on the "purity" of methodological naturalism. His defense seems to be the refusal to admit any possibility of scientific theoretical development according to any new theory that does not fit the Procrustean bed of that tiresome ontological monism, "matter in all its motions is all that there is." Sure. And science doesn't use mathematics everyday. People like this are walking self-contradictions!

Well, my two-cents' worth anyhoot....

26 posted on 02/11/2006 10:00:14 AM PST by betty boop (Often the deepest cause of suffering is the very absence of God. -- Pope Benedict XVI)
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To: spunkets
Had the bending of starlight not been observed, the hypothesis would be junk.

The bending could have been explained by refraction.

The sun has atmosphere, any light passing near the sun would pass through the atmosphere. Light is bent by refraction when it passes through the atmosphere.

27 posted on 02/11/2006 10:33:23 AM PST by Dan(9698)
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To: betty boop
The upshot is ever a reduction of reality to the capability of the filter -- and the filter is expressly designed to exclude certain things altogether, on principle. But those things are still in the world nonetheless! They still substantially contribute to the constitution of reality! And so they don't just go away when you refuse to look at them.

So very, very true! Thank you for your excellent post.
28 posted on 02/11/2006 9:56:48 PM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: Dan(9698)
" The bending could have been explained by refraction.

No. The calculation was exact. There were roughly 15 stars. The results are that the deflection of the stars is inversely proportional to the angular separation from the center of the sun. That doesn't happen with refraction. The refractive index is close to one(space), since the stars are well out of the way of the sun's atmosphere. If they weren't, the sun's atmosphere would absorb the light and no atar would be seen.

29 posted on 02/11/2006 10:10:10 PM PST by spunkets
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