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Theoretical physicist: Science is not about certainty

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Carlo Rovelli at the New Republic:

In my field, fundamental theoretical physics, for thirty years we have failed. There hasn’t been a major success in theoretical physics in the last few decades after the standard model, somehow. Of course there are ideas. These ideas might turn out to be right. Loop quantum gravity might turn out to be right, or not. String theory might turn out to be right, or not. But we don’t know, and for the moment Nature has not said yes, in any sense.

Discuss.

Science is not about certainty. Science is about finding the most reliable way of thinking at the present level of knowledge. Science is extremely reliable; it’s not certain. In fact, not only is it not certain, but it’s the lack of certainty that grounds it. Scientific ideas are credible not because they are sure but because they’re the ones that have survived all the possible past critiques, and they’re the most credible because they were put on the table for everybody’s criticism.

The very expression “scientifically proven” is a contradiction in terms. There’s nothing that is scientifically proven. More.

Hmm. There are other reasons, as a matter of fact, for believing a theory. It could be meeting a cultural or personal need.

In that case, the theory will seem much more credible than evidence warrants.

See, for example: The science fiction series at your fingertips (cosmology).

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9 Replies to “Theoretical physicist: Science is not about certainty

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    as to:

    “In my field, fundamental theoretical physics, for thirty years we have failed. There hasn’t been a major success in theoretical physics in the last few decades after the standard model, somehow. Of course there are ideas. These ideas might turn out to be right. Loop quantum gravity might turn out to be right, or not. String theory might turn out to be right, or not. But we don’t know, and for the moment Nature has not said yes, in any sense.

    Discuss.

    Science is not about certainty. Science is about finding the most reliable way of thinking at the present level of knowledge.

    First as to, “Science is about finding the most reliable way of thinking at the present level of knowledge, it might be helpful to honestly admit where science has gone completely off the rails. The founding of modern science was born out of a firm grounding in Theistic, particularly Christian, metaphysics:

    Science and Theism: Concord, not Conflict* – Robert C. Koons
    IV. The Dependency of Science Upon Theism (Page 21)
    Excerpt: Far from undermining the credibility of theism, the remarkable success of science in modern times is a remarkable confirmation of the truth of theism. It was from the perspective of Judeo-Christian theism—and from the perspective alone—that it was predictable that science would have succeeded as it has. Without the faith in the rational intelligibility of the world and the divine vocation of human beings to master it, modern science would never have been possible, and, even today, the continued rationality of the enterprise of science depends on convictions that can be reasonably grounded only in theistic metaphysics.
    http://www.robkoons.net/media/.....ffd524.pdf

    Jerry Coyne on the Scientific Method and Religion – Michael Egnor – June 2011
    Excerpt: The scientific method — the empirical systematic theory-based study of nature — has nothing to so with some religious inspirations — Animism, Paganism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Islam, and, well, atheism. The scientific method has everything to do with Christian (and Jewish) inspiration. Judeo-Christian culture is the only culture that has given rise to organized theoretical science. Many cultures (e.g. China) have produced excellent technology and engineering, but only Christian culture has given rise to a conceptual understanding of nature.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....47431.html

    Here’s a bit of a who’s who list of the founders of modern science. A list in which you will be hard pressed to find one atheist who contributed to the founding of modern science:

    Founders of Modern Science Who Believe in GOD – Tihomir Dimitrov – (pg. 222)
    http://www.academia.edu/273960.....OD_Journal

    These men excelled because they believed they were made in God’s image, and since they were made in God’s image then, of course, they believed they had to capacity to grasp the rational order in which God has created the universe:

    Epistemology – Why Should The Human Mind Even Be Able To Comprehend Reality? – Stephen Meyer – video – (Notes in description)
    http://vimeo.com/32145998

    Yet, despite the success that Christian Theism had in providing the correct epistemological basis for thinking about the universe, the materialistic/atheistic worldview has crept in without warrant to declare itself the supposed ‘scientific’ worldview. Yet, materialism, far from being conducive to science, actually undermines the epistemological integrity of modern science so as to render its conclusions absurd. Case in point is Boltzmann’s Brain:

    BRUCE GORDON: Hawking’s irrational arguments – October 2010
    Excerpt: What is worse, multiplying without limit the opportunities for any event to happen in the context of a multiverse – where it is alleged that anything can spontaneously jump into existence without cause – produces a situation in which no absurdity is beyond the pale. For instance, we find multiverse cosmologists debating the “Boltzmann Brain” problem: In the most “reasonable” models for a multiverse, it is immeasurably more likely that our consciousness is associated with a brain that has spontaneously fluctuated into existence in the quantum vacuum than it is that we have parents and exist in an orderly universe with a 13.7 billion-year history. This is absurd. The multiverse hypothesis is therefore falsified because it renders false what we know to be true about ourselves. Clearly, embracing the multiverse idea entails a nihilistic irrationality that destroys the very possibility of science.
    http://www.washingtontimes.com.....arguments/

    Did you catch that?, “embracing the multiverse idea entails a nihilistic irrationality that destroys the very possibility of science. That is not a minor criticism at the edge of some theory but is an crushing indictment against the whole materialistic philosophy which purports to be the ‘only’ possible scientific worldview.

    Much the same criticism is to be levels against string theory and inflation:

    The Absurdity of Inflation, String Theory and The Multiverse – Dr. Bruce Gordon – video
    http://vimeo.com/34468027

    Last powerpoint of the preceding video

    The End Of Materialism? – Dr. Bruce Gordon
    * In the multiverse, anything can happen for no reason at all.
    * In other words, the materialist is forced to believe in random miracles as a explanatory principle.
    * In a Theistic universe, nothing happens without a reason. Miracles are therefore intelligently directed deviations from divinely maintained regularities, and are thus expressions of rational purpose.
    * Scientific materialism is (therefore) epistemically self defeating: it makes scientific rationality impossible.

    Dr. Gordon goes on to reassert the necessity in science, for the epistemological integrity inherent within Christian Theism, in his Washington Post article:

    BRUCE GORDON: Hawking’s irrational arguments – October 2010
    Excerpt: This transcendent reality cannot merely be a Platonic realm of mathematical descriptions, for such things are causally inert abstract entities that do not affect the material world,,,
    Rather, the transcendent reality on which our universe depends must be something that can exhibit agency – a mind that can choose among the infinite variety of mathematical descriptions and bring into existence a reality that corresponds to a consistent subset of them. This is what “breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe.” Anything else invokes random miracles as an explanatory principle and spells the end of scientific rationality.,,,
    Universes do not “spontaneously create” on the basis of abstract mathematical descriptions, nor does the fantasy of a limitless multiverse trump the explanatory power of transcendent intelligent design. What Mr. Hawking’s contrary assertions show is that mathematical savants can sometimes be metaphysical simpletons. Caveat emptor.
    http://www.washingtontimes.com.....arguments/

    The multiverse, string theory, and inflation, are not the only places where materialism/naturalism leads to the epistemological failure of science. Alvin Plantinga has developed Van Til’s and C.S. Lewis’s reasoning more rigorously and shown that assuming naturalism as true for evolution leads to epistemological failure for science as well:

    Is Atheism Irrational? By GARY GUTTING – NY Times – February 9, 2014
    Excerpt: GG: So your claim is that if materialism is true, evolution doesn’t lead to most of our beliefs being true.
    Plantinga: Right. In fact, given materialism and evolution, it follows that our belief-producing faculties are not reliable.
    Here’s why. If a belief is as likely to be false as to be true, we’d have to say the probability that any particular belief is true is about 50 percent. Now suppose we had a total of 100 independent beliefs (of course, we have many more). Remember that the probability that all of a group of beliefs are true is the multiplication of all their individual probabilities. Even if we set a fairly low bar for reliability — say, that at least two-thirds (67 percent) of our beliefs are true — our overall reliability, given materialism and evolution, is exceedingly low: something like .0004. So if you accept both materialism and evolution, you have good reason to believe that your belief-producing faculties are not reliable.
    But to believe that is to fall into a total skepticism, which leaves you with no reason to accept any of your beliefs (including your beliefs in materialism and evolution!). The only sensible course is to give up the claim leading to this conclusion: that both materialism and evolution are true. Maybe you can hold one or the other, but not both. So if you’re an atheist simply because you accept materialism, maintaining your atheism means you have to give up your belief that evolution is true. Another way to put it: The belief that both materialism and evolution are true is self-refuting. It shoots itself in the foot. Therefore it can’t rationally be held.
    http://opinionator.blogs.nytim.....&_r=0

    “Refuting Naturalism by Citing our own Consciousness” Dr. Alvin Plantinga – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r34AIo-xBh8

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    Thus, assuming Naturalism as true leads to the epistemological failure of science on multiple levels, whereas assuming Theism as true, particularly Christian Theism as true, led to the founding of modern science. Moreover, assuming Christian Theism as true still provides fruitful avenues of research. Case in point, at about the same time, (mid-March 2014), as the much ballyhooed, and now much questioned, polarisation/gravitation-wave findings were released with great fanfare from the media to the public, another paper was also released to the public. The paper was released much less fanfare from the press. In fact, I don’t think a single science news source covered the release of the paper then nor have any covered it since. The ‘pre-print’ paper was released at a church in New Orleans during the Craig-Carroll debate at the “Greer-Heard Point/Counterpoint Forum on Cosmology and Existence of God”. The paper, like the now highly questionable gravitational wave findings, also deals with reading certain properties of light coming from the early universe, But what dramatically separates these two papers/findings is that, one, the Intelligent Design paper featured a prescient prediction prior to the discovery of evidence supporting its hypothesis, and two, the evidence discovered for the hypothesis is far more trustworthy/robust in its integrity than the polarisation evidence for gravitational waves currently is. Here is that Intelligent Design paper that was, and still is, ignored by the larger scientific community:

    The Fine-Tuning for Discoverability – Robin Collins – March 22, 2014
    Excerpt: Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation
    Prediction: DLO: Within the range of values of a given parameter p that yield near – optimal livability, p will fall into that subrange of values that maximize discoverability (given constraints of elegance are not violated).
    In every case that I was able to make calculations regarding whether the fundamental parameters of physics are optimized in this way, they appear to pass the test.[iv] This alone is significant since this hypothesis is falsifiable in the sense that one could find data that potentially disconfirms it – namely, cases in which as best as we can determining, such as a case in which changing the value of a fundamental parameter – such as the fine – structure constant – increases discoverability while not negatively affecting livability.[v] Below, I will look at a case from cosmology where this thesis could have been disconfirmed but was not.,,,
    The most dramatic confirmation of the discoverability/livability optimality thesis (DLO) is the dependence of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMB) on the baryon to photon ratio.,,,
    …the intensity of CMB depends on the photon to baryon ratio, (??b), which is the ratio of the average number of photons per unit volume of space to the average number of baryons (protons plus neutrons) per unit volume. At present this ratio is approximately a billion to one (10^9) , but it could be anywhere from one to infinity; it traces back to the degree of asymmetry in matter and anti – matter right after the beginning of the universe – for approximately every billion particles of antimatter, there was a billion and one particles of matter.,,,
    The only livability effect this ratio has is on whether or not galaxies can form that have near – optimally livability zones. As long as this condition is met, the value of this ratio has no further effects on livability. Hence, the DLO predicts that within this range, the value of this ratio will be such as to maximize the intensity of the CMB as observed by typical observers.
    According to my calculations – which have been verified by three other physicists — to within the margin of error of the experimentally determined parameters (~20%), the value of the photon to baryon ratio is such that it maximizes the CMB. This is shown in Figure 1 below. (pg. 13)
    It is easy to see that this prediction could have been disconfirmed. In fact, when I first made the calculations in the fall of 2011, I made a mistake and thought I had refuted this thesis since those calculations showed the intensity of the CMB maximizes at a value different than the photon – baryon ratio in our universe. So, not only does the DLO lead us to expect this ratio, but it provides an ultimate explanation for why it has this value,,, This is a case of a teleological thesis serving both a predictive and an ultimate explanatory role.,,,
    http://home.messiah.edu/~rcoll.....osting.pdf
    Here is a video of Dr. Collins announcing the paper:
    Greer Heard Forum: Robin Collins – “God and the Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Discovery” – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBWmMU7BXGE

    That a highly dubious finding in science supporting materialistic inflation would completely trump such a interesting and successful finding in science supporting a hypothesis from Intelligent Design, in terms of the excitement it generated from the press, is a sad testimony to the state of science in America today.

    Supplemental note:

    The very conditions that make Earth hospitable to intelligent life also make it well suited to viewing and analyzing the universe as a whole.
    – Jay Richards

    etc.. etc.. etc..

    Verse and Music:

    Isaiah 1:18
    “Come now, and let us reason together,”,,,

    How Great Is Our God (World Edition) [feat. Chris Tomlin] – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....qs3p8zzvlw

  3. 3
    Robert Byers says:

    Its done by people(primates for evolutionists) and so conclusions in science can be wrong. Because people can be wrong.
    Evolution is wrong and they will use this as a historic example of how science was almost certain but wrong.
    Of coarse its not science but just small circles of not the sharpest people.
    Its aboput the weight of evidence in anything.
    So what is the weight in evolutionism etc etc.
    Lets weigh and make sure there is no cheating.

  4. 4
    kairosfocus says:

    Higgs Boson.

    (And yes, scientific explanations are not certain, they are inherently provisional. Even “facts” can be found out to be wrong later, in some cases. And as for the “gold standard” of peer review . . . )

  5. 5
    gpuccio says:

    Very good thoughts. I absolutely agree, except of course the “optimistic” part about:

    “Scientific ideas are credible not because they are sure but because they’re the ones that have survived all the possible past critiques”

    We know all too well of a couple of “scientific ideas” which, up to now, have “survived all the possible past critiques” out of mere brutality, and without being credible at all. 🙂

  6. 6
    awstar says:

    Science is not about certainty. Science is about finding the most reliable way of thinking at the present level of knowledge. Science is extremely reliable; it’s not certain. In fact, not only is it not certain, but it’s the lack of certainty that grounds it. Scientific ideas are credible not because they are sure but because they’re the ones that have survived all the possible past critiques, and they’re the most credible because they were put on the table for everybody’s criticism.

    Here’s a proposal to insure all possible critiques are created equal.

    Pass federal laws that restrict research funds to be granted only if the published papers to science journals have discussion of all uncertain findings removed (good use of peer review). Allow these papers to have addendums that discuss uncertain findings that can then be published in a separate part of the same issue of the journal or different journals under the category of “Natural Philosophy” along with subsequent publishing of the best opposing critiques to those explanations of uncertain findings (without peer review).

    That way, operational science will be cleansed of state funded religious bigotry while still allowing freedom of speech in the discussion of uncertain findings resulting from state funded research.

  7. 7
    AnimatedDust says:

    This is my first comment. I have been lurking for quite a while. I find your posts, BornAgain77 and Kairosfocus to be an epic breath of fresh air and I have great respect for the time you devote to your posts. I had a slow day at work yesterday for example and it took my quite a while to process the lengthy thought provoking work you both do. I was amazed at the new work being done on the Shroud of Turin.

    I’ve been bashing my head against the wall hoping that the intellectual bankruptcy that is the religion of Darwinism can eventually be exposed to the light of day. It’s so entrenched and yet it’s in my opinion the biggest lie being foisted on humanity in modern history.

    An entire paradigm of thought has been devised to prevent consideration of the supernatural or the Lewontinian “divine foot in the door.” Or argument from atheistic preference as I like to think of it.

    Are either of you familiar with Stephen Blume and his Evo-Illusion book or website?

    Thank you again for providing the intellectual hearty meals that I seek in my search for truth. It is light years away from the blind faith we are so often accused of.

    I am in your debt.

    AD

  8. 8
    bornagain77 says:

    AnimatedDust as to,,

    “Are either of you familiar with Stephen Blume and his Evo-Illusion book or website?”

    I’ve seen a few interesting articles from the Evo-Illusion site, although I can’t recall any off the top of my head right now. I remember it as a fairly high quality site with interesting articles.

    I agree censorship by Darwinists is systematic!

    Although kf deserves the compliment for his tireless work, I can assure you that I just ‘borrow’ most my stuff from others. People such Stephen Meyer, William Dembski, Michael Behe, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, etc.. etc.. etc..,,, These are the guys who, IMHO, bear the brunt of battle and deserve the most thanks.

  9. 9
    buffalo says:

    Is there a way to receive email notifications that someone has responded to or added to a thread?

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