Intelligent Design

Gravity in Elfland Redux

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Isaac Newton candidly admitted that his laws of motion were more of a description than an explanation of gravitational phenomena:

Then from these forces [of gravity], by other propositions which are also mathematical, we deduce the motions of the planets, the comets, the moon, and the sea. I wish we could derive the rest of the phenomena of nature by the same kind of reasoning from mechanical principles; for I am induced by many reasons to suspect that they may all depend upon certain forces by which the particles of bodies, by some causes hitherto unknown, are either mutually impelled towards each other, and cohere in regular figures, or are repelled and recede from each other; which forces being unknown, philosophers have hitherto attempted the search of nature in vain; but I hope the principles here laid down will afford some light either to this or some truer method of philosophy.

Preface to Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica

In this post O’Leary for the News Desk commented concerning Newton’s statement:

As it happens, his equations worked, not because they explained why attraction occurs (we still don’t know) but because they encapsulate its fundamental physics

Commenter groovamos responded with a fascinating comment:

I don’t know why the OP makes the general we still don’t know statement without specificity, about as useful as telling us we don’t know everything, or that water is wet for that matter. Maybe the OP doesn’t know that space-time is warped by mass, and how the linkage between space and time inevitably governs how objects and fields move and propagate. If she does know, she would be right to say that we don’t ultimately know why space-time is warped by mass-energy. But to tell us simply we still don’t know is kind of a slap at Einstein, Minkowsky, Wheeler and the rest, as if we know nothing from these guys’ life work. As a kid, I felt privileged to know something that Newton could not have known, and even learned some, not all, of the mathematics required to probe the 20th century genius of the guys mentioned.

Well, groovamos, O’Leary said we still don’t know why attraction occurs because we still don’t know why attraction occurs, as even your own comment seems to admit. Newton’s equations, which formed the basis of classical mechanics, remain perfectly valid depending on the size and speed of the object being measured. Yes, as you rightly point out, Einstein’s equations describe gravity more accurately. That is beside the point O’Leary was making. Let’s get this straight. Newton’s and Einstein’s equations describe observed regularities. They do not purport to “explain” gravity.

You don’t seem to understand this. You write, “the linkage between space and time inevitably governs how objects and fields move and propagate.” This is simply not so. You refer to a “linkage between space and time” that “governs” as if the space-time linkage is a causal agent that directs bodies to behave in a particular way. You are looking at it the wrong way. Einstein’s equations DESCRIBE the way objects behave in space-time. They do not EXPLAIN why those objects behave the way they do. For that, we need Chesterton:

When we are asked why eggs turn to birds or fruits fall in autumn, we must answer exactly as the fairy godmother would answer if Cinderella asked her why mice turned to horses or her clothes fell from her at twelve o’clock. We must answer that it is MAGIC. It is not a ‘law,’ for we do not understand its general formula. It is not a necessity, for though we can count on it happening practically, we have no right to say that it must always happen. It is no argument for unalterable law (as Huxley fancied) that we count on the ordinary course of things. We do not count on it; we bet on it. We risk the remote possibility of a miracle as we do that of a poisoned pancake or a world-destroying comet. We leave it out of account, not because it is a miracle, and therefore an impossibility, but because it is a miracle, and therefore an exception. All the terms used in the science books, ‘law,’ ‘necessity,’ ‘order,’ ‘tendency,’ and so on, are really unintellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis, which we do not possess. The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, ‘charm,’ ‘spell,’ ‘enchantment.’ They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a MAGIC tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched.

From The Ethics of Elfland chapter of Orthodoxy.

As I have discussed before, the materialist says that water runs downhill because it is obeying the general law of gravitation. True enough for what is worth. But what does that really explain? Why does the water molecule obey the general law of gravitation with such slavish devotion? Have we really explained the phenomenon when we merely say, “the phenomenon conforms with a previously observed regularity”? Do we have any warrant to believe that the previously observed regularity is necessary?  Groovamos seems to think the observed regularity we call “gravity” is — his word — inevitable.  But is it?  Are there not possible worlds in which water would behave slightly (or even vastly) differently? In other words, isn’t the observed regularity contingent instead of necessary? These are questions materialists never seem to ask themselves, and as a consequence they are blind to much of the beauty and wonder of the universe.



12 Replies to “Gravity in Elfland Redux

  1. 1
    Mapou says:

    I have said this many times before on UD. Spacetime is a fictitious mathematical construct. It does not exist for the simple reason that nothing can move in it by definition. This is something that many relativists know about but rarely mention because it makes them and Einstein look silly. What with all the crackpot claims they have made in the last century regarding the magical power of spacetime to curve and cause gravity?

    “There is no dynamics within space-time itself: nothing ever moves therein; nothing happens; nothing changes. […] In particular, one does not think of particles as “moving through” space-time, or as “following along” their world-lines. Rather, particles are just “in” space-time, once and for all, and the world-line represents, all at once the complete life history of the particle.”
    Source: Relativity from A to B by Dr. Robert Geroch, U. of Chicago

    Why can’t anything move in spacetime? Simply because time cannot change by definition. Why? Because a changing time implies a rate of change (velocity) which would have to be given as v = dt/dt which is nonsensical. As simple as that. So any so-called physics derived from spacetime (black holes, wormholes, time travel, etc.) is plain hogwash and unmitigated crackpottery. Go tell that to the little guy in the wheelchair.

  2. 2
    chris haynes says:

    Thank you, you’re correct, Scientific Laws are not explanations, they are descriptions.

    The definition of Scientific Law:
    A Scientific Law is a Statement of a Regularity that has been observed in the Physical World.

  3. 3
    Box says:

    Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion:

    Joel Primack, a cosmologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, once posed an interesting question to the physicist Neil Turok: “What is it that makes the electrons continue to follow the laws.” Turok was surprised by the question; he recognized its force. Something seems to compel physical objects to obey the laws of nature, and what makes this observation odd is just that neither compulsion nor obedience are physical ideas. (p.132)

    In a Landscape in which anything is possible, nothing is necessary. In a universe in which nothing is necessary, anything is possible. It is nothing that makes the electron follow any laws.
    Which, then, is it to be: God, logic, or nothing?
    This is the question to which all discussions of the Land-scape and the Anthropic Principle are tending, and because the same question can be raised with respect to moral thought, it is a question with an immense and disturbing intellectual power.
    For scientific atheists, the question answers itself: Better logic than nothing, and better nothing than God. (…)
    The laws of nature, as Isaac Newton foresaw, are not laws of logic, nor are they like the laws of logic. Physicists since Einstein have tried to see in the laws of nature a formal structure that would allow them to say to themselves, “Ah, that is why they are true,” and they have failed. (p.133)

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    The Laws of Nature (Have Never ‘Caused’ Anything) by C.S. Lewis – doodle video

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: It has been said that science describes, explains, predicts and controls/influences phenomena of the natural world. Empirically based Laws, in that context, can be seen as summary descriptions, that where we have figured out enough, play a part in theories that explain or at least model as best we understand. Thus it is the explanatory model to which we should look when we need to scratch our itch to understand. For instance, Mars notoriously loops in its observed orbit around the sky against the backdrop of “fixed” stars; a puzzle that made the classic Ptolemaic model ever more complex. Kepler, working on Brahe’s data and model, discovered the three laws of elliptic motion (which Galileo neglected to properly attend to as empirical laws) that then helped explain the loop better than the Ptolemaic or Tychonist systems. Decades later, Newton reflected on the fall of apples and Moons and saw a connecting law, inverse square gravitation. This, he could not explain at a deeper level, but saw that it led straight to motion of planets etc in conic sections, which includes both ellipse and circle. Kepler’s laws were now explained by one unifying principle. But the itch just went on to the next level. Eventually, it could be seen that as flux through spherical surfaces naturally attenuates with distance in an inverse square variation due tot he expression for the surface area of a square of radius r as 4 pi r^2, we see something analogous to a flow was warping or influencing space. Faraday, working with electricity, envisioned lines of force which look a lot like the lines of flow in a flow-field. The field concept was firmly grounded: mars interacts with the field of the sun’s gravitational effect. but the itch moved on. Eventually, Einstein saw how mass warps space-time, similar to weights on a stretched rubber sheet dimple it. From this came the prediction of the gravitational lens effect c 1916 and lo and behold, in 1919, observations of displacement of apparent location of stars surrounding the eclipsed sun confirmed the effect and its size. The itch moved on to trying to unify the major force fields, and that frustrated Einstein for the rest of his career and still stands as an unresolved matter, at least as something confirmed empirically, the wonders of string theories and branes notwithstanding, etc. The itch is permanent, it seems. KF

  6. 6
    Mapou says:

    Eventually, Einstein saw how mass warps space-time, similar to weights on a stretched rubber sheet dimple it.

    It’s a delusion that mass warps spacetime. I already explained why spacetime is unchanging and abstract. This is the reason that Popper compared Einstein to Parmenides (who famously and wrongly denied the existence of change) and called spacetime, “Einstein’s block universe in which nothing happens.”

    There is no more physics in spacetime than in ptolemaic epicycles. You can get highly accurate predictions out of it by adding more epicycles but that does not make it a physics theory. And this is the difference between Newton and the relativists. Newton was humble enough to admit that he did not explain anything. Relativists boldly and arrogantly proclaimed for a century that they know what causes gravity. They created a religion that has retarded progress in our understanding of nature for a hundred years.

  7. 7
    groovamos says:

    I think gravitation “governs” as I said how objects e.g. in orbit move. Granted, gravitation has nothing to do with the amount of kinetic energy of the objects or the momentum vectors RELATIVE to each other (to try to conform to Mapou’s very high standards, not to say that I succeeded). I mean what is the precise definition of ‘govern’ as used by me here? I really don’t think that word definitions are that precise. My original use of the term COULD be construed as to assume K.E. and momentum given. My comment on the previous thread was to try to impart some additional information to the (paraphrase) “we don’t know why attraction occurs”. Which itself seemed to brush off some stupendous achievements. I guess I could head smack and say “stupid me I never knew what the precise definition of ‘why’ is”. Anyway here is a pretty advanced article for lay persons that actually uses the term ‘govern’ to say that mass “governs the gravitional action”, maybe not having a precise definition of the verb. article

  8. 8
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    General Relativity (i.e, the concept of spacetime) was an amazing feat of thinking on Einstein’s part, but it is incomplete as a description of reality, for it fails to take into account at least one dimension that we all personally know exists, unless you are a zombit: The Now.

    Einstein’s spacetime is four dimensional- three spatial, one temporal, a static four dimensional “fabric.” Hawking tried to peddle this B.S. using complex (i.e., “imaginary”) numbers in a Brief History of Time. The problem is, our consciousness is obviously “flowing through” this alleged “static four dimensional spacetime.” General Relativity cannot account for this. I suspect the inability of physicists to mate the equations of Quantum Mechanic with General Relativity is due to consciousness being the bridge. We are not going to be able the two unify these areas into a single theory unless we start out with consciousness as the primary unifier.

    Just a hunch.

  9. 9
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    Furthermore, I predict “gravitrons” will never be discovered, for they do not exist. At some point we will reach the limits of our descriptions of Reality because we will have hit the fundamental rules that are in operation. One thing the QM world seems to say is that it’s an information universe. Something is “executing” the operation of this information universe.

    Time will tell, but, yes, I suspect we live in a “matrix.” A computed reality. Empirical experiments with regards to how photos operate all but proves it, IMO. Something is operating instantly and at all times between all events in the universe to achieve what is occurring at the quantum level. I suspect we are currently at the “bottom of the pond” with regards to what we can detect within this reality. What is “executing” this reality is beyond our purview. But physicists should keep on slogging away, nevertheless.

  10. 10
    coldcoffee says:

    CentralScrutinizer #7

    Time will tell, but, yes, I suspect we live in a “matrix.” I suspect we are currently at the “bottom of the pond” with regards to what we can detect within this reality. What is “executing” this reality is beyond our purview. But physicists should keep on slogging away, nevertheless.

    You are talking like a physicist. How can we be living in a Matrix? What proof do you have?

  11. 11
    CentralScrutinizer says:


    I can’t prove it. Like I said, I suspect it because of the empirical results of experiments such as the Wheeler delayed choice experiments and photon erasure experiments. Not to mention quantum entanglement in general. Or even simple questions like, why do all electrons have exactly the same properties.

    Some unified reality “under the hood” of our reality is responsible for all these statistical results. And they’re not the result of super-luminal effects travelling through space. They’re the result of instantaneous effects beyond temporal considerations. And it appears to be operating algorithmically on objects within our reality that amount to, well, information objects. Like pixels on a computer screen.

    This points strongly to a computed reality, IMO. And I’m not the only one. What’s doing the computing, I have no idea. Maybe the creator is doing it directly. Maybe the creator setup up a colossal computing environment on a scale unimaginable to us. Or maybe something utterly beyond description. Whatever it is, it appears to be an algorithmic information processor that is processing information objections across all space and time without regard for our perceived limitations of space and time.

    Time will tell.

  12. 12
    CentralScrutinizer says:


    This might interest you:

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