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.