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Would physics improve “with large doses of theology”?

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Well, consider: Our physics colour commentator Rob Sheldon offers some thoughts on the problem of theoretical physics starting to seem like a fly repeatedly hitting the window pane (Sabine Hossenfelder’s term):

Peter Woit sees the same thing and blames it on data-free speculation. Another physics blogger (and graduate of my alma mater), Chad Orzel blames it on underemployed theorists. Sabine Hossenfelder thinks the social aspects of the scientific method have deeply infected the matter.

Let me toss my hat in the ring and blame it on the Enlightenment. It was Christianity that birthed science and the scientific method, and atheism that killed it. If you permit me to be politically incorrect, Stanley Jaki argued that neither Hinduism nor Islam could birth science because the first held that the gods were immanent, and no laws were expected from gods who lived in the same world as us; whereas the second held that god was transcendent and did not need to obey the regularities that humans saw in the operation of nature. Jaki argued that it took the incarnation, the God who was both immanent and transcendent to embody both the nature and purpose of science.

Translating this philosophical argument into modern physics. The immanent is experiment. The transcendent is theory. And the fragile compromise between these two is what we call the scientific method. Science stands in a fragile position between immaterial, logical theory, and material, imperfect data. And when that fragile trinity was destroyed, either by naturalism or dualism, so also was the science that partook in the same spirit.

The scientific method must take data seriously, being absolutely ruthless in the theories that it rejects because they do not match the data. Einstein and Feynman are two Nobelists who said as much . Or as my poetry professor told me early in the semester, “kill all your little darlings.” Sabine admits this is very hard to do, and then goes on to justify it as a necessity to eat (e.g., make money). It is a symptom of a late stage cancer that has so permeated theoretical physics, that she can use it as an excuse without being embarrassed.

On the other hand, experimentalists are under the same pressure as theorists, to manufacture data. Anything within Wifi distance of a computer can be tainted by its remarkable ability to manufacture “real looking” data. After all, a simulation isn’t there to make a theory visible, it is there to populate a theory with synthetic data. I cannot tell you how many promising scientific fields were destroyed by computer simulations. Which is what happened to Global Climate and Big Bang Cosmology among others.

So how do we navigate these treacherous shoals? By clinging to the one thing that never changes, that is better than a million computer simulations, that is more beautiful than 10^500 string theories—the mind of God. It is what inspired Newton and the Enlightenment, and was the founding principle of every branch of science. (Barring parapsychology and evolutionary biology from the fold.) It is the “real” scientific method, but one we are forbidden to discuss.

So yes, Sabine, the scientific method is under attack. But it won’t be cured by large doses of sociology. Or money, Chad. Or data, Peter. But it will improve with large doses of theology.

See also: Theoretical physics like a fly hitting a window pane? Hossenfelder is right about the situation, surely. But physicists are not flies. They don’t keep hitting the pane just hoping it will somehow work. At this point, they know it probably won’t work. But no one wants to say we are on the wrong track. The right track may not be Correct. Hitting the pane is painful but safer.

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17 Replies to “Would physics improve “with large doses of theology”?

  1. 1
    harry says:

    Genuine science requires relentless objectivity that follows the evidence wherever it leads, regardless of how the implications of a scientific discovery may confirm or contradict one’s philosophical/religious assumptions.

    The Christians launched the scientific method. They could pursue what it revealed with relentless objectivity and without fear of the philosophical/religious implications of what would be discovered because they knew that no matter what it might temporarily look like, in the end there could be no real conflict between genuine science and the true religion because nature was authored by God, too.

    The militant atheism born from the Enlightenment does not have such faith. That isn’t to say they don’t have any faith. They most certainly do. Atheism requires faith. It is impossible to prove God isn’t there. That belief must be taken on faith. The difference is that atheism requires a huge, blind irrational faith and Christianity requires a very small, rational faith that springs from reason and takes one beyond the limits of what can be known by reason applied to empirical evidence.

    The militant atheists were all over Darwin’s theory like flies on a rotting, dead animal. This was not because Darwin had provided overwhelming evidence of the veracity of his theory — far from it. His theory had its very intellectual and respected detractors from the beginning. What Darwin’s theory had going for it was the affinity of the implications of his theory with militant atheism. So, from its beginning, Darwinism began perverting science, redefining it to mean that which confirms atheism, objectivity be damned.

    Now that the discoveries of modern science have rendered completely irrational the notion that the digital information-based nanotechnology of life came about mindlessly and accidentally, and then became as we find it today mindlessly and accidentally, the militant atheists behave like extremely wealthy criminals whose crimes have come to light. They use all the power of the system they have corrupted to defend themselves. They sue school boards. They ruin the careers of scientists who make public the absurdity of abiogenesis and macroevolution. They do everything except calmly and rationally explain why the mounting objections to Darwinism are wrong. That is because they can’t explain why they are wrong.

  2. 2
    Seversky says:

    Would physics improve “with large doses of theology”?

    You mean physics would be improved by replacing string theory, multiverse theory and so on with “Goddidit”? Yeah, that’s a big help.

    Peter Woit sees the same thing and blames it on data-free speculation.

    Karl Popper encouraged scientists to be bold in their conjectures. What is Woit suggesting they do, stick to butterfly collecting?

    Sabine Hossenfelder thinks the social aspects of the scientific method have deeply infected the matter.

    When didn’t it? Science is a human enterprise embedded in human cultures. If she thinks this is a new insight she needs to study the history of science a bit more.

    It was Christianity that birthed science and the scientific method, and atheism that killed it.

    I know a lot of believers think that but if you permit me to be politically incorrect, I think that’s BS. Yes, what we think of as modern science emerged in Christian Europe two to three hundred years ago but it’s nothing like as simple as you make out. If anybody’s actually interested in a deeper, more detailed and more nuanced understanding of the history of science in Europe, I suggest you look at a blog called Renaissance Mathematicus. And it’s only a kind of Eurocentric hubris, for which Darwin and other nineteenth-century scholars have been criticized, that would pretend that science or its precursors was not practiced at various times in China, India, ancient Egypt and Greece and under Islam.

    Stanley Jaki argued that neither Hinduism nor Islam could birth science because the first held that the gods were immanent, and no laws were expected from gods who lived in the same world as us; whereas the second held that god was transcendent and did not need to obey the regularities that humans saw in the operation of nature. Jaki argued that it took the incarnation, the God who was both immanent and transcendent to embody both the nature and purpose of science.

    Jaki was a Benedictine priest. I would have been very surprised if he had attributed the origins of science to anything other than Christianity.

    The scientific method must take data seriously, being absolutely ruthless in the theories that it rejects because they do not match the data. Einstein and Feynman are two Nobelists who said as much . Or as my poetry professor told me early in the semester, “kill all your little darlings.” Sabine admits this is very hard to do, and then goes on to justify it as a necessity to eat (e.g., make money). It is a symptom of a late stage cancer that has so permeated theoretical physics, that she can use it as an excuse without being embarrassed.

    So, do you and these other luminaries argue that a theory that already has some evidentiary support can and must be overturned by a single counter-example or do you allow that a theory may be adjusted, if possible, to accommodate new data before being completely discarded?

    On the other hand, experimentalists are under the same pressure as theorists, to manufacture data. Anything within Wifi distance of a computer can be tainted by its remarkable ability to manufacture “real looking” data. After all, a simulation isn’t there to make a theory visible, it is there to populate a theory with synthetic data. I cannot tell you how many promising scientific fields were destroyed by computer simulations. Which is what happened to Global Climate and Big Bang Cosmology among others.

    Really? My impression, for what it’s worth, is that Global Climate Change research and Big bang cosmology are still going strong. How were they “destroyed” by computer simulations and do you have any other examples of this happening?

    So how do we navigate these treacherous shoals? By clinging to the one thing that never changes, that is better than a million computer simulations, that is more beautiful than 10^500 string theories—the mind of God. It is what inspired Newton and the Enlightenment, and was the founding principle of every branch of science. (Barring parapsychology and evolutionary biology from the fold.) It is the “real” scientific method, but one we are forbidden to discuss.

    You can discuss it all you like as far as I’m concerned. Personally, I lean towards The Force but I suspect that both it and the Mind of God are equally fictitious. And even if they were true they are both so poorly defined as to have no explanatory power at all. Saying “Goddidit” tells us no more about how something happened than saying “The Force did it”

  3. 3
    ppolish says:

    Yes Sev – Goddidit. And the Greats of Science contemplated HOW goddidit. Duh?

  4. 4
    Axel says:

    ‘They do everything except calmly and rationally explain why the mounting objections to Darwinism are wrong. That is because they can’t explain why they are wrong.’

    Alas, they need to explain first, why their own assertions are right. They assert a vapid postulation.

  5. 5
    Axel says:

    ‘ And it’s only a kind of Eurocentric hubris, for which Darwin and other nineteenth-century scholars have been criticized, that would pretend that science or its precursors was not practiced at various times in China, India, ancient Egypt and Greece and under Islam.’

    ‘at various times’ being the operative phrase, of course. Really Sev, it’s not as if it’s not been explained repeatedly that what distinguished Christendom’s role in the development of science is precisely the unremitting application to its ongoing development of empirical science that made the crucial difference. The rest, such as the understanding that man, the uniquely rational creature, was made in the image of God, simply contribute valuably-cogent explanations.

    All nations, though perhaps most notably, India and China, having now caught on to the unfortunate fact that the application of the lowly worldly intelligence to the, at least initially, gross material world, among its other benefits, brings prestige to them, have absolutely shone. And are most unlikely now to let up on their research, etc.
    —————–
    ‘Yes Sev – Goddidit. And the Greats of Science contemplated HOW goddidit. Duh?’

    Nice one, ppolish ! It can never be too obvious for the dirt-worshippers.

    What happened to the chap who used that designation ? Haven’t seen him on here for ages. Nor the Wild Man, whose name I also forget. I think it was something like Harry.

  6. 6
    Bob O'H says:

    Don’t Christians also believe “that god was transcendent and did not need to obey the regularities that humans saw in the operation of nature”? How else are miracles explained?

    Also, if physics is to be saved by theology, then whose theology? Newton’s?

  7. 7
    ppolish says:

    Newton’s theology worked great for Newton Bob. As did Einstein’s for Einstein and Maxwell’s for Maxwell and etc etc etc etc..

    What has Krauss given us? Nothing. Thanks Lar. Or Tyson? Wait, he’s not a real Scientist har har. Oh the Multiverse – where Jesus rose twice somewhere. Slow on the uptick universe over there.

  8. 8
    Bob O'H says:

    ppolish – I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make. That we can use any theology? Can you explain what you mean (preferably without making derogatory comments about people)?

  9. 9
    ppolish says:

    Bob, I’m not talking about any theology – but theology in general. Theology = “the study of the nature of God”. Thanks.

    The “which god do YOU believe in?” gambit is boring yawn. Thanks again.

  10. 10
    LocalMinimum says:

    Failing to settle with material reality as it is known is exactly what needs to be done to take science further.

    Having a system of belief that extends beyond it can provide many angles of attack against what is expected. “Useless” math of time past becomes vital to modern systems, and religious philosophizing can become physical theory.

    That which differentiates the wide-eyed fanatic from the world shaking theorist isn’t a materialistic predisposition (as we’ve witnessed far too many of the former among the a-mats), but rigour. It’s simply a matter of investing honest toil.

  11. 11
    jdk says:

    Does this count as “Theology = “the study of the nature of God”.

    I’m very interested in the theologies of the world’s great religions.

    Vishnu (Sanskrit pronunciation: [v???u]; IAST: Vi??u) is one of the principal deities of Hinduism, and the Supreme Being in its Vaishnavism tradition.[3][4] Along with Brahma and Shiva, Vishnu forms a Hindu trinity (Trimurti); however, ancient Hindu texts do mention other trinities of gods or goddesses.[5][6][note 1]

    In Vaishnavism, Vishnu is identical to the formless metaphysical concept called Brahman, the supreme, the Svayam Bhagavan, who takes various avatars as “the preserver, protector” whenever the world is threatened with evil, chaos, and destructive forces.[8] His avatars (incarnations) most notably include Krishna in the Mahabharata and Rama in the Ramayana. …

    Theology

    The Bhagavata Purana summarizes the Vaishnava theology, wherein it frequently discusses the merging of the individual soul with the Absolute Brahman (Ultimate Reality, Supreme Truth), or “the return of Brahman into His own true nature”, a distinctly Advaitic or non-dualistic philosophy of Shankara.[44][66][67] The concept of moksha is explained as Ekatva (Oneness) and Sayujya (Absorption, intimate union), wherein one is completely lost in Brahman (Self, Supreme Being, one’s true nature).[68] This, states Rukmini, is proclamation of “return of the individual soul to the Absolute and its merging into the Absolute”, which is unmistakably Advaitic in its trend.[68] In the same passages, the Bhagavata includes a mention of Bhagavan as the object of concentration, thereby presenting the Bhakti path from the three major paths of Hindu spirituality discussed in the Bhagavad Gita.[68][69]

    The theology in the Bhagavad Gita discusses both the sentient and the non-sentient, the soul and the matter of existence. It envisions the universe as the body of Vishnu (Krishna), state Harold Coward and Daniel Maguire. Vishnu in Gita’s theology pervades all souls, all matter and time.[13] In Sri Vaishnavism sub-tradition, Vishnu and Sri (goddess Lakshmi) are described as inseparable, that they pervade everything together. Both together are the creators, who also pervade and transcend their creation.[13]

    The Bhagavata Purana, in many passages parallels the ideas of Nirguna Brahman and non-duality of Adi Shankara.[67] For example,

    The aim of life is inquiry into the Truth, and not the desire for enjoyment in heaven by performing religious rites,
    Those who possess the knowledge of the Truth, call the knowledge of non-duality as the Truth,
    It is called Brahman, the Highest Self, and Bhagavan.

    —?S?ta, Bhagavata Purana 1.2.10-11, Translated by Daniel Sheridan[70]
    Scholars describe the Vaishnava theology as built on the foundation of non-dualism speculations in Upanishads, and term it as “Advaitic Theism”.[67][71] The Bhagavata Purana suggests that God Vishnu and the soul (Atman) in all beings is one.[66] Bryant states that the monism discussed in Bhagavata Purana is certainly built on the Vedanta foundations, but not exactly the same as the monism of Adi Shankara.[72] The Bhagavata asserts, according to Bryant, that the empirical and the spiritual universe are both metaphysical realities, and manifestations of the same Oneness, just like heat and light are “real but different” manifestations of sunlight.[72]

    In the Bhakti tradition of Vaishnavism, Vishnu is attributed with numerous qualities such as omniscience, energy, strength, lordship, vigour, and splendour.[73] The Vaishnava tradition started by Madhvacharya considers Vishnu in the form of Krishna to be the supreme creator, personal God, all-prevading, all devouring, one whose knowledge and grace leads to “moksha”.[74] In Madhvacharya Vaishnava theology, the supreme Vishnu and the souls of living beings are two different realities and nature (dualism), while in Ramanuja’s Sri Vaishnavism, they are different but share the same essential nature (qualified non-dualism).[75][76][77]

  12. 12

    Thanks ppolish#7, that’s my point. If you don’t make your religion explicit, then it becomes implicit. And implicit theology is idolatry–the conversion of undeserving objects into metaphysical persons. And the funny thing about persons, is that they are self-aware, whether intrinsically (like people) or extrinsically (like idols). Science operates best when extrinsic things (rocks, galaxies, electron wave functions) are kept extrinsic and not turned into self-aware, intrinsic persons (e.g. Natural Selection, Nature, Weak Anthropic Principle, Evolution).

    What destroys theoretical physics, if Sabine were to tell you her three favorite “bad theory papers”, is the internalization of these idolatrous concepts as necessary assumptions of the model. Mind you, it isn’t that the idea starts out idolatrous, it only becomes so when it becomes self-aware, internalized, what Imre Lakatos called a “degenerate science program.” Complications of the theory exist only to maintain the fiction that the theory can defend itself against invasive data.

    And that is what the Global Climate Models have become. That is what the “Standard Model” has become. What Lambda-CDM cosmology has become.

    So how do we avoid this tendency to prop up our theories, our models, insulate them from the competition, privilege them in comparisons, demand loyalty to them in hiring? By knowing what worship is, and the properties of idols. By reading what centuries of scholars have said about proper attitude toward God, and how to avoid the pitfalls. This is God knowledge, the purpose of theology.

  13. 13
    Bob O'H says:

    Robert Sheldon – atheists don’t have a theology, by definition. Are you therefore saying that atheists can’t do physics?

  14. 14
    Origenes says:

    Bob O’H @13

    If atheists take their idolization of matter seriously, then, indeed, they cannot do physics or any other science. If everything — scientific research and knowledge included — is the result of purposeless particles bumping into each other, then rationality goes out the window and the whole edifice of science comes crushing down.

  15. 15
    Bob O'H says:

    Origenes – why is rationality out of the window if everything “is the result of purposeless particles bumping into each other”? Are you claiming that rational behaviour is impossible in this situation? If so, what’s your evidence? I think your evidence would have to be pretty solid to make such a definite statement.

  16. 16
    ppolish says:

    Atheists can do physics of course. They just can’t do Great Physics. Although most theists don’t do Great Physics either. But you got to play to win:)

  17. 17
    asauber says:

    atheists don’t have a theology

    Yes, they do. They just deny they have one.

    For instance, they frequently present the argument that God Wouldn’t Do This Or That if He was real.

    Someone without theological perspective would never present ideas about God at all, because they wouldn’t have any.

    Atheists have ideas about the nature of God. They use them to attack Him.

    Andrew

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