Would physics improve “with large doses of theology”?
|April 16, 2017||Posted by News under Cosmology, Intelligent Design, Naturalism|
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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