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Space Science

What If Dark Matter Really Doesn't Exist? 1063

sonar67 writes "According to The Economist: 'It was beautiful, complex and wrong. In 150AD, Ptolemy of Alexandria published his theory of epicycles--the idea that the moon, the sun and the planets moved in circles which were moving in circles which were moving in circles around the Earth. This theory explained the motion of celestial objects to an astonishing degree of precision. It was, however, what computer programmers call a kludge: a dirty, inelegant solution. Some 1,500 years later, Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer, replaced the whole complex edifice with three simple laws. Some people think modern astronomy is based on a kludge similar to Ptolemy's. At the moment, the received wisdom is that the obvious stuff in the universe--stars, planets, gas clouds and so on--is actually only 4% of its total content. About another quarter is so-called cold, dark matter, which is made of different particles from the familiar sort of matter, and can interact with the latter only via gravity. The remaining 70% is even stranger. It is known as dark energy, and acts to push the universe apart. However, the existence of cold, dark matter and dark energy has to be inferred from their effects on the visible, familiar stuff. If something else is actually causing those effects, the whole theoretical edifice would come crashing down.'"
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What If Dark Matter Really Doesn't Exist?

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  • If something else is actually causing those effects, the whole theoretical edifice would come crashing down.

    As it should.

    -Colin []
  • by tigersha ( 151319 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:08PM (#8229966) Homepage
    Let me see, changing the process about how galaxy clusters (which are extremely complex phenomena) are LESS disturbing than bringing in multiple forms of unexplanied forms of basic substances and forces into our fundamental model of the universe?

    This is the part I do not understand.

  • Theory. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:08PM (#8229968)
    It's a theory. Theories can be wrong.
  • by visgoth ( 613861 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:09PM (#8229982)
    It will be interesting to see how scientists who have staked their entire careers upon the existence of dark matter would react to the discovery that it does not in fact exist. Ideally an invalid theory is dropped, and a new, more "correct" theory is created. However, I have a feeling that a lot of people have invested too much time and effort into dark matter to let it go without some serious evidence.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:10PM (#8229988)
    are we in trouble or something? Is the universe going to collapse next week or what?
  • No friggin way? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bryan Gividen ( 739949 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:11PM (#8230003)
    We don't understand something fully? Wow... that's about as brilliant as deciding to cut my sandwich in triangles instead of in squares.

    The truth is this. We have such a little understanding of actually governing laws that we can't begin to fathom it. However, that doesn't stop us in progression to learning. Just because this theory might not be right (and probably isn't) doesn't mean we are any less an idiotic species. We've been working on these theories for many millenia. One of them turning out to be wrong won't be a surprise... it's a probability. Without the wrong hypthosesis, we can never stumble onto the correct ones. Its Edison's, "Every time I fail, I know one more way how to NOT build it" idea.
  • by suso ( 153703 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:11PM (#8230017) Homepage Journal
    ...then 99.9999999% of the world won't notice. But it will be on CNN anyways.
  • by JawFunk ( 722169 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:13PM (#8230041)
    I have read half of this man's short book "a Brief History of Time", and he did not claim, but discussed a theoretical possibility that if this energy pushing the universe outward is moving at a decreasing speed, the trend would eventually reverse and the universe would begin to collapse. As of right now, researchers have determined that the universe is still expanding, if my memory serves me correctly.
  • the economist? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Naksu ( 689429 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:13PM (#8230051)
    so let me get this straight... the economist is a reliable source for news about astrophysics? I guess i should just read then for news about politics...
  • The real conundrum (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:15PM (#8230085)
    Is not to figure out what it isn't if we are wrong but really what not to do if it turns out that we aren't right. That is the nature of Physics.
  • by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:17PM (#8230105)
    they will continue to work on it for years and years until their death just like Einstein did? A previous mover/shaker forever lost in the past by refusing to move along?
  • In 100 years... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iiioxx ( 610652 ) <> on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:22PM (#8230182)
    Dark Matter will be taught to school children as the Aether [] of 21st century science.
  • Re:Relativity (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RLW ( 662014 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:23PM (#8230197)
    A theory of how things work is only as good as that theory's predictions. Ptolemy's model must have been very useful for predicting the position of celestial objects or it would have been put aside even 'longer' ago. It's only when a model is in direct conflict with observed data that it is in trouble: even if there is no formulated model that works with the new observations.

    'Dark' energy and matter will only be in serious trouble when that model no longer explains observed data.
  • by Apostata ( 390629 ) <apostata AT hotmail DOT com> on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:24PM (#8230209) Homepage Journal
    There's nothing wrong with a kludge, aesthetics aside. Every evolving line of discovery needs it's necessarily flimsy connectors of reason. It's only when we allow our pride/ignorance/greed etc. to deny that the kludge is just a kludge: this is where mistakes are made, and thus we fail to evolve.

    The fact that the universe may not boil down to 3 categories of matter is not earth-shattering. If we discover something to the contrary we must look at it plainly.

    The problem with kludges is that it's only a kludge when it's a theory that is revealed to be inherently flawed. Before this realisation, it's just the best theory we have at our disposal. Just because something is revealed to be inelegant doesn't mean it wasn't serviceable, or simply the limit of our reason at the time it was presented.

  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:26PM (#8230263) Journal
    So what if it doesn't really exist?

    You can write a "hello world" program in most programming languages in under ten lines of code.

    You could also write a program to synthesize speech to say "hello world" in an MP3, rip the MP3 to a wav file, and then write a speech-to-text engine to finally dump "hello world" to the screen.

    Same idea here. Kepler's laws reduced a nightmarish tangle of mathematics to a three line "program", if you will. Out current model of how various things in our universe interact requires a degree in cosmology to fully grasp, and a PhD to do any meaningful work in. Imagine reducing that to one chapter of a freshman-level physics or astronomy course.

    So, it matters for that reason. Unneccessary complexity slows down work in the field, and in the long run can actually prove counterproductive to the field as a whole (think about it - 1500 years wasted trying to make epicycles work).
  • Re:Relativity (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:26PM (#8230264)
    Alright, this is either a +1 funny or a -1 troll. I'll bite because I know that even on Slashdot some people don't know the difference between relativity and relativism.

    "Theory of relativity" is shorthand for "Theory of the motion of objects relative to each other".

    From the time of Galileo until Einstein, this was very simple : just add or substract the respective velocities of your objects. This assumes that there are absolute space and time, a sort of great immutable cartesian grid in the sky. The only problem is that this can't be reconciled with observations in electromagnetism and dynamics (Michelson-Morley experiment). Einstein's stroke of genius was to postulate that the absolute against which relative motions should be calculated is the speed of light.
  • by umofomia ( 639418 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:27PM (#8230278) Journal
    As of right now, researchers have determined that the universe is still expanding, if my memory serves me correctly.
    Yes, the universe is still expanding, but that's not the controversy. The problem is that the rate of expansion is accelerating, and so far, physicists have been unable to explain this unless they introduce dark matter/energy. I don't really understand too much more about this, but it does seem like a kludge. Perhaps there is a more elegant solution out there.
  • by shrikel ( 535309 ) <hlagfarj@gmail.cMONETom minus painter> on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:32PM (#8230345)
    knowledge of its existence and how much of it exists will determine whether or not the Universe eventually implodes on itself I think it's safe to say that our knowing ANYTHING about dark or exotic matter will have no effect whatsoever on the fate of the universe.
  • Re:Theory. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tkittel ( 619119 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:36PM (#8230417)
    But mathematics can only prove that 1+1=2 if it has first ASSUMED some sort of framework for the 1's, the 2, the "+" and the "=". (often, 1+1=2 is actually taken as an assumption).

    Mathematics is NOT science, in the sense that it doesnt have experiments. It is useful yes, but science it is not.

    Its more like a branch of philosophy that turned out to also be a useful tool for science to use to formulate scientific laws.
  • Re:Theory. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fredrikj ( 629833 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:37PM (#8230423) Homepage
    You can only make mathematical proofs if you accept some set of axioms that themselves cannot be proved (and thus must be taken for granted) as the foundation for your proof. As for 1+1=2, it can be proved directly using the basic axioms of arithmetic which neither are hard to understand nor require 300 pages to express.
  • by wwwrun ( 633859 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:40PM (#8230479)
    I would be thrilled to see such a widely accepted theory overturned! It needn't be dark matter, it could be anything. It would be great to witness a moment where pursuit of the best explanation triumphs over all the ego, dogmatism and self-interest rife the academic world. If those who are "wrong" can brush off their dented self-esteem and carry on then it will be a great day.

    The crackpots who claim that "the establishment" never listens to new ideas will be left with several fewer legs to stand on.

    (Incidentally, I don't blame scientists who have strong feelings in favour of the theories they have developed or are familiar with. It's perfectly natural, and there's not a lot we can do about it other then try to be as grown-up as possible.)
  • by renard ( 94190 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:44PM (#8230527)
    I love the Economist as much as the next person, but in this case the search for "controversy" badly mischaracterizes the current state of our understanding of the universe.

    First claim: Analyses of the WMAP data on the cosmic microwave background (CMB) show correlations with galaxy clusters that indicate the official analyses of the data are wrong. I find this highly unlikely. First, the effect of the hot gas in those galaxy clusters on the CMB is well known - it is called the Sunyaev-Zeldovich effect and perturbs the spectrum in a well-known way. Second, the official fits to the WMAP data use a consensus cosmology model with about 12 free parameters to fit a dataset of more than a hundred points... beautifully. Third, the consensus cosmology itself has been built up out of a huge array of other observations (supernova distances; Big Bang nucleosynthesis; the "weighing" of galaxies and galaxy clusters; the age-dating of globular clusters), all of which were pointing to the existence of dark matter (even within our own Galaxy!) long before WMAP was even launched. Fourth, modern theories of particle physics also give us good reason to expect the existence of dark matter particles, independent of any astronomical observations whatsoever. So WMAP has simply been the final nail in the coffin, and anyone who wants to overturn dark matter and dark energy has a great deal of additional work ahead of them.

    Second claim: Measurements of the masses (actually, the luminosities and temperatures) of high-redshift galaxy clusters indicate a high fraction of baryonic mass, removing one of the justifications for positing dark matter. This finding is even more fishy-sounding. To understand this, realize that the group in question has deliberately chosen the most-distant and therefore hardest-to-study clusters to study, and adopted temperature-mass relationships that are calibrated in the local universe (and may not apply at these great distances) in order to find that their sample differs from the standard model predictions. Without even bothering to list all the ways in which they might be wrong, let me simply state that even if they are right there is a lot of independent support for the dark matter + dark energy picture that neither of these groups is addressing.

    Rather than distract yourself by trying to figure out why the carefully constructed consensus cosmology might be wrong, then, I think it is more useful to examine the remarkable ways in which it has been proven right in the last few years. Altogether it is truly a wonder of the modern world - even if it may at some point be shown inadequate to the universe we live in.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:44PM (#8230543)
    This is laughable. What happens if you live your live believing in the christian god, and it turns out that in fact the gods are norse? Or what happens if the test to get into heaven is that you didn't believe, that you didn't get faith?
  • by Graff ( 532189 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:45PM (#8230553)
    What's the difference if dark-matter is really just another false theory? In the long run it's not going to make a whole heck of a lot of difference.

    Actually it will make a huge difference. Just look at how Bohr's model of the atom changed chemistry and particle physics. Or how Plank's quantum theory caused a revolution in the physics community. And one of the most famous examples of an upset in scientific theory is Einstein's theory of Relativity verses the Newtonian theories most commonly held at the time.

    Each of these theories caused an almost immediate revolution in their respective fields which spread out to similar disciplines. Fast forward 20, 30, 50 years or more and a number of innovations and inventions appear which stem from these theories. If these theories had not been introduced then we would most likely not have had such an explosion in technology.

    Just because we wave our hands and say something is out there doesn't mean that we understand it or can use it. If we know the true mechanism behind dark matter and wether or not it is just "hand waving" then we can apply that knowledge to useful applications. For example, it is assumed that this dark energy exhibits a repulsive force similar to gravity but opposite to it in direction. If we truly understand how this works then we might be able to apply that knowledge toward "anti-gravity" spacecraft, etc. On the other hand if there is some other cause for the repulsion then we would need to know IT'S mechanism in order to utilize it.

    In the end, science is the quest for truth, not convenience. Just knowing that there is a certain effect is not enough. Scientists are not looking to solve the question of "what is that" but rather "why does that exist and how does it work". That is why it is important to seek out the true reasons behind the dark matter observations.
  • by tgibbs ( 83782 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:46PM (#8230560)
    Same idea here. Kepler's laws reduced a nightmarish tangle of mathematics to a three line "program", if you will. Out current model of how various things in our universe interact requires a degree in cosmology to fully grasp, and a PhD to do any meaningful work in. Imagine reducing that to one chapter of a freshman-level physics or astronomy course.

    Einstein's Special and General Relativity, Maxwell's Equations, and Schrodinger's Equation are all expressed in a few lines of equations. But you need extensive math and physics training to relate them to the familiar world around us. Simple doesn't mean easy. Theoretical physicists are already busily looking for theoretical formulations in which dark matter and dark energy arise naturally, rather than as a kluge. Of course, if the original observations turn out to have been misinterpreted, they may be wasting their time.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:48PM (#8230602)
    This is misleading because you mention that only 7% of scientists believe in a personal god but you don't bother to mention what "personal god" means. A personal god is one that interacts with / cares about each individual. Many scientists believe in the God that created the universe and set it in motion, but does not interact with each person directly.
  • Re:Theory. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:53PM (#8230683)
    >>Please demonstrate one species evolving from another. I don't want you showing fossils or intra-specie variations, but an actual demonstration an one species deriving from another.

    What kind of proof can be given to fit these criteria? Without historical evidence like fossils, what's left? micro-photography of the DNA of a creature being hit by a neutron, altered subtly during copying, and then a time-lapse movie of the daughter creature growing into a different animal?

    That sounds like an unreasonable threshhold of proof to me, but I'm curious... what kind of proof *would* be acceptable along the lines you mentioned?

    I feel that selection studies in the lab of fruit flies that all have eyes of a color A being produced from flies with color B is pretty compelling evidence... does that meet your criteria? or do you mean evidence like a proto-avian fetus inside, like, an archeapteryx shell?

    I am convinced of the likelyhood of evolution whenever I see chimps or rhesus monkeys in social groups.
  • by EvilTwinSkippy ( 112490 ) <[yoda] [at] []> on Monday February 09, 2004 @05:59PM (#8230811) Homepage Journal
    And of course there are those New-Age whackjobs who think that in truth we are simply making the rules of the universe up as we go along.

    I used to think it was crazy. But then I imagioned what life would be like for a process on a Linux box. In some respects, the system never changes. In other respects, as chunks of the system are refined an upgraded, previously famliar systems take on more complex, and at times, incomprehesible behavior.

    A process would be oblivious to the universe stopping and restarting with a new kernel. (Assuming the system had a suspend-to-disk function.) You would only be able to understand the universe indirectly through it's behavior, not through reading it's source. And assuming you could read parts of the source, it is always being updated and revised.

    It the process under Linux is too strange, how about a citizen under a government. Laws are just another form of code, and they too are every changing. Some parts are like the Constitution, broad in scope and largely set in stone. Others are like legal precidents, situation specific and sometimes arbitrary.

    Ok, time for more coffee.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:03PM (#8230870)
    The author of the article seems to be an idiot. People who study dark matter and (especially) dark energy do this because they think that our theories are not sufficient to explain what is observed. They are trying to gather enough clues to prove that current theories are wrong and to learn how things actually work.
  • by jesterzog ( 189797 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:03PM (#8230872) Homepage Journal

    In 150AD, Ptolemy of Alexandria published his theory of epicycles--the idea that the moon, the sun and the planets moved in circles which were moving in circles which were moving in circles around the Earth. This theory explained the motion of celestial objects to an astonishing degree of precision. It was, however, what computer programmers call a kludge: a dirty, inelegant solution. Some 1,500 years later, Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer, replaced the whole complex edifice with three simple laws. Some people think modern astronomy is based on a kludge similar to Ptolemy's.

    I don't think this is a very fair comparison to make. Ptolemy's theories were a kludge. They were accepted as fact by many people, accepted by the church as the "official" version of how God had designed all things, and anyone who contradicted it would be risking execution and ridecule.

    Even Galileo, who'd agreed quite strongly with the sun-centered Copernicus theories, had to promote it as merely a method to more effectively predict where planets would be rather than an explanation of how things actually worked.

    Of course you could apply Copernican theories and they'd explain where planets moved quite well, but everyone already "knew" that the real system that God had made was of transparent spheres with more spheres attached and glowing lights spinning around on them. Trying to prove or demonstrate anything otherwise was ludicrous, and trying to prove that it was correct was even sillier because it was plainly obvious that "this was how God had created the world".

    Modern theories of dark matter aren't nearly the same -- everyone knows that it only takes one contradiction to be found, and a theory will die. (in terms of scientific acceptance, at least). Although dark matter is a theory that's widely accepted as being likely, it's not yet accepted as fact and anyone who does fully accept it as such wouldn't go down well amongst others. This is why, right now, there are people out there that are trying to think of ways to prove that dark matter does exist, designing experiments and observations, and carrying them out.

    The fact that millions of dollars get allocated to experiments like this, just to try and prove a theory that's already thought to be likely, should demonstrate how important it's considered to prove theories correct before relying on them too seriously. It should also demonstrate why it's a different environment to that which was dictated, defined and ruled over by the church. Even the thought of such actions would have been silly in during the time that the church so heavily dictated people's beliefs.

  • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:06PM (#8230913) Homepage Journal
    I always thought this was an interesting an odd part of modern science and cosmology. Why should we assume occam's razor, that simpler explanations are better? Why should the universe be simple and elegant?

    The parent makes the point that it makes it easier to study. Certainly that's true, but that seems like a pragmatic social concern, where the scientific endeavour is supposed to be an objective search for knowledge.

    Sure, one can argue that if two theories are functionally equivalent, there's no downside to taking the simpler one. But has anyone demontrated this logically or mathematically?

  • by Dirtside ( 91468 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:06PM (#8230916) Journal
    Well, a force that we could never observe, we could never test the existence of. Sure, you could postulate it, but it wouldn't help the theory at all -- you wouldn't be able to tell if your theory was right or not. You might as well say that tiny invisible demons are causing strange things to happen...
  • by rknop ( 240417 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:11PM (#8231004) Homepage

    It will be interesting to see how scientists who have staked their entire careers upon the existence of dark matter would react to the discovery that it does not in fact exist.

    I doubt anybody has staked their entire career on dark matter.

    However, a lot of people have a lot invested in it. And, for those reasons, it is good that they will resist challenges to it. Scientists don't believe Dark Matter just cause it sounds neat, but because there is a lot of evidence for it. The cosmological/expanding Universe evidence is probably the weakest and least convincing; the rotation curves of galaxies and the dynamics of clusters provide strong evidence that has nothing to do with the interpretations of the CMB that this article talks about.

    If something else comes along, people will resist it, and that's good. If this other thing really is better and does a better job of answering the questions, people will move on to that. But the evidence will have to be strong, stronger than the evidence we have right now that Dark Matter exists. It is on the strength of that evidence that resistance will be based; it's not people trying to save their sinecure and their jobs, it's simply that they had good reason to be convinced of Dark Matter in the first place.


  • by iwadasn ( 742362 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:14PM (#8231035)
    As a physics major, I actually agree. Dark matter reminds me not so subtly of the luminiferous ether of days past. What's that you say, immense mass, completely transparent and immaterial, clusters throughout the univers exactly the way a smudge in a telescope would (halos around objects, etc...), perhaps our instrumentation (and understanding) is a little off. It's easier to swallow that gravity isn't exactly 1/r^2 over huge distances than it is to believe that the universe is full of stuff that we can't see or feel (except at large distances) that clusters around normal matter in a manner suggestive of a severe rounding error. And IAAP (I am a physicist, well, physics major at least). My $.02 (worth less every day bush is in office).
  • by boomka ( 599257 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:15PM (#8231046) Homepage Journal
    What makes me unhappy about science is that it no longer seems to gain understanding of nature, it only gains raw knowlegde.

    Let me clarify what I mean by that. As I see it, one of the main goals of science is satisfying our curiousity. The mission of science (or one of the missions to be precise) is to learn about nature so that everyone who is eager to know why things are the way they are can learn and understand.
    However, the way the physical science has been progressing lately, the more we "learn" about the universe, the farther we are from our goal. Before 20th century, the scientific knowledge could be explained to anyone, you didn't need any complex formulas, almost any law of physics could be explained in simple terms. People indeed could learn and understand.

    Now look at what science has become. In order to understand field theory, or cosmology, students study for 10 years in school, then 4 years in college, then several more years in grad. school and only then they start getting a grasp at what this whole thing is, and start to understand how it all works.

    It is practically impossible now for anyone except a very small group of very specialized people to understand the recent theories in physics. We seem to discover new things every day but noone understands them except a few chosen.

    I remember that Einstein used to say in the beginning of the 20th century that in the 21st century special relativity will seem just as obvious and normal to every kid as steam engine was to kids back then. Yet today, I am a graduate student in physics, and I cannot claim to really understand special relativity, I only understand how to use the formulas to predict how things behave.

    I think the way things stand now, science is failing one of its most important missions. We no longer understand our universe. All we do is learn how to predict the behaivor of things with greater and greater precision, which is very useful and all, but we are getting further and further from _understanding_ the universe which really is the inpiration of science.

  • Re:Theory. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:16PM (#8231052) Homepage Journal
    All species are intermediary species.
  • by EvilTwinSkippy ( 112490 ) <[yoda] [at] []> on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:18PM (#8231085) Homepage Journal
    Despite all that math, Cosmology still starts out with "In the beginning everything was in darkness and then [indetermined] said let there be light."
  • by CokoBWare ( 584686 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:18PM (#8231091)
    I know I'll get some flame mail for this idea, but I think God is humanity's longest living kludge out there. 95% of all people accept God to be true, but have we found out either way? No. We can only believe and hope it's true.
  • by DenOfEarth ( 162699 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:22PM (#8231144) Homepage

    I totally agree with you.

    I've been studying the sciences for most of my life. I do respect the great things that science has done for humanity, and I imagine that these things will continue well into our future.

    I was really taken aback sometime last year though. A colleague of mine, with whom I had done my undergrad engineering with (she went into mechanical, I electrical) went on to do a degree in medicine, which she is enjoying to a large degree. Last year, I was getting reconstructive surgery on my knee, and was talking to her about it. I mentioned that there was a 90-95% chance that my knee would be be back to 90% of its previous capabilities. She was genuinely surprised, and mentioned that she always thought we (humans) could build a better knee than the one that we came with. It seemed kind of naive to me, that she would say something like that, but ever since, I've met a lot of people who seem to think that our current level of science is a lot higher than it is in actual fact.

    So I kept going on, I enjoy studying what I do, and had a chance to take a course on quantum mechanics. Being genuinely interested in such stuff, took the course, was interested in the philosophy of it and such. I have since had many debates with people about genuinely interesting things such as the collapse of the wave-function, the copenhagen interpretation, etc..etc (If you don't know these, you should check them out, cool stuff). Anyways, I once talked to one of my classmates about it, and I mentioned that the concept that there are some permanent unknowns in the universe doesn't really bug me that much. He was amazed that I, an interested scientist-type, could take such views, and called me too pessimistic to be useful to science. I understand his optimism, but why should it be so alarming that we don't know everything...and we may never.

    In any case, exploration is good, the naivete of thinking we will know it all is not...wait until we get there, than we can say we are all-knowing, or something like that...

  • I think AC, your post comes from one who does not get it, and by rushing to the defense of religion where no assault is being perpetrated, you miss the mark completely.

    It is human nature to "know" how or why things are the way they are. You choose your explanation to be God. It is a nice and easy way to go about life, believing that everything has a purpose, but you do not need know what that is because you have God.

    Scientists, on the other hand, have a driving desire to learn. This has nothing to do with "anti-religion" or a desire to prove there is no God. In fact, you may find that quite a few scientists do believe in God or a "creator" or what have you. They just don't try to use this "God" concept to explain away the unexplainable. They have been issued a challenge by the universe and they have chosen to rise to the occasion. My guess is because there is precious little left to explain, as most of our daily life has been easily described by science.

    Besides, who is to say that what God is not the final answer to the Theory of Everything? Something tells me we are little closer to explaining how God works than we were a thousand years ago. What if science is merely an attempt to acheive a greater understanding of God?
  • Re:the economist? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by srstoneb ( 256638 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:23PM (#8231157) Homepage
    The Economist is one of the most respected news magazines in the world. It's merely not well known in the United States. They focus on economics-related news, but all of their coverage, including policitcs and science, is superb.

    I second the comment from "pclminion"; the parent comment should not have been modded "insightful". All it demonstrates is ignorance of what it's talking about.
  • by Royster ( 16042 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:23PM (#8231160) Homepage
    "Dark Matter" and "Dark Energy" are convenient labels to talk about unexpected observations. Either dark matter and dark energy exist or gravity and space-time don't behave the way we think they do.

    What's important is that we have a way to talk about unexpected observations. We observe stronger than expected gravity and it makes sense to talk about that in terms of matter which does not otherwise interact. If it were interacting, we'd have seen it. Perhaps it's really matter in an adjacent universe. But that's as unreal and inacessible as dark matter.

    Similarly, dark energy is a way to talk about the acceleration of the expansion of the Universe. So far, it's the simplest explanation which explains the current observations. Perhpas the real explanation is that the gravitational constant, G, varies over time. But without a mechanism to understand how and why G changes, it's not a very fruitful path.

    Physicists talk about new phenenoma in terms of familiar objects. It allows them to organize the observations and try to fit them into a well understood framework. Eventually, if enough observations are made which can not be fit into the framework, a new framework is necessary.

    Science is provisional.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:24PM (#8231176)
    Pascal's gamble is weak at best. Clever man, stupid's easy enough to show that the argument is absurd simply by using it to "prove" that you should believe things that no one in their right mind should.

    For instance...I walk into the room and tell you I'm Jesus and that I need you to perform some non-trivial task for me. You're not going to do're going to assume I'm crazy or a con man. As well you should.

    But the same argument for Pascal's gamble applies here and states that you should do what I say...just in case, because there's so little to lose and sooo much to gain.

    Take another course in Philosophy...and pay attention this time!
  • by NixLuver ( 693391 ) <stwhite@kc h e r e t i c . c om> on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:29PM (#8231250) Homepage Journal
    No, that's not correct. One must make certain axiomatic assumptions about the universe in order to gain knowledge; special creation is not one of those necessary assumptions.

    The math doesn't require an explanation of things prior to 'the big bang' in order to be useful; Some models of the universe say that it's impossible to model events prior to that event.

    I'll never understand the whole concept that an Eternal Creator is somehow inherently more reasonable to people than an Eternal Universe. All you're doing is moving the question up one level.

  • Just remember what Pascal said: If you believe and you are wrong, you've at least led a good life; if you believe and you're right, heaven is on your way. If you don't believe and you're right, you've lived your life the way you wanted to; but if you're wrong....which outcomes pan out the best?

    If I believe what? You tell me I'm going to hell if I don't believe in Jehovah...that guy tells me I'm going to hell if I don't believe in Allah...that guy tells me I'm destined for the land of Thud if I don't believe in Eris.

    You also assume that I can choose to believe. Even though I try to believe six impossible things before breakfast, some propositions I just can't swallow - say, that Elvis Presley is alive and living on the Moon in a love nest with Marilyn Monroe. Or most of mainstream religious dogma.

    Pascal's Wager is absolutely no help at all.

    This of course ignores that if there were a deity that created beings, endowed them with the capacity for logic, failed to provide evidence of its own existence, then punished those beings that failed to believe in it, said deity would be sick and twisted, not deserving of worship but in need of intense psychotherapy. (Hmm, now that does sound like a believable proposition. "God's not dead, he's just very very sick in the head.")

  • by Da VinMan ( 7669 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:36PM (#8231340)
    There is always, and will always be, a difference between the technical understanding of a phenomenon and the folk model understand of same. Unless (and if) we ever achieve planet-wide educational parity that may always be the case.

    That said, I think some of the complexity we see in physics and other fields is self-inflicted, by necessity. We theorize on what might be causing certain events. Obviously, since we don't understand everything, fitting particularly ill-understood events into our current perspective can get messy. But that's the best we can do until our understanding has improved. In the meantime, if you want the best explanation available, you need to be on board with the current theories, publications, etc.

    All of this doesn't mean science is failing. It just means we have more knowledge now and the bar is higher in terms of establishing a baseline of working knowledge.
  • by Decaff ( 42676 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:37PM (#8231349)
    Evolution is falsifiable. All it takes is a human skeleton in a rock layer more than a few million years old....

    Evolution (that organisms change with time as a result of alterations in genotype) is a simple and elegant fact that anyone can observe by picking up rocks and looking at the fossils. Its far stronger as a fact than atomic theory, as no-one really understands quantum mechanics.
  • by Kozar_The_Malignant ( 738483 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:44PM (#8231456)
    Sorry, but natural selection (the strong survive) has been shown over and over (which gives us confidence in it). Evolution, OTOH, has never been demonstrated or shown in an experiment. To demonstrate evolution would require watching a planet from start to finish, which we have not yet done.

    Natural selection is obvious, and, sorry, you're wrong about evolution. Evolution has been demonstrated repeatedly in both the lab and in the field. New species have been created in the lab and observ ed to evolve in the field. What definitin of evolution are you using? It is not necessary to watch the life of a planet from start to finish to demonstrate evolution any more than it is necessary to watch every movie ever made, or even watch one all the way through, to know that movies exist
  • by fetta ( 141344 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @06:51PM (#8231559)
    You take the facts, come up with a working theory that fits the facts. As more facts come in, you continue to test your theory against the facts. When too many anomolies show up, it's time to come up with a new theory.

    And there is nothing wrong with that. Is Newtonian physics worthless just because it couldn't explain everything? No, but we had to be willing to look for new answers when we began to see evidence that the old answers didn't work for everything we observe. It's called a paradigm shift.

    Check out Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions []
  • Why should the universe be simple and elegant?

    You're mistaking our description of the universe for the universe itself.

    The universe will be as simple or as complex as it is regardless of our theories.

    Our theories, on the other hand, should be as simple as they can be and still make sense. A terro-centric model of the solar system, with everything orbiting around the Earth, is still technically "correct." It's just too complex to be worthwhile to anyone save a stargazer.
  • by David Jao ( 2759 ) * <> on Monday February 09, 2004 @07:07PM (#8231751) Homepage
    Slashdot posts about mathematics are usually so far wrong that I don't even try to respond to them. It is really distressing to me (having a Ph.D in mathematics) to see how shallow the general level of mathematics understanding here is.

    However in this case your comment is only slightly wrong and therefore I have some hope that my reply might be a useful contribution.

    You are correct that mathematical proofs are based on axioms. However there is still a crucial difference between a mathematical proof and a scientific theory. A mathematical proof is an absolute certainty. Note that I am not claiming that the underlying axioms are certain. I am only claiming that the proof itself is certain.

    To put it another way, mathematicians are never certain about their underlying axioms but they are absolutely certain that if those axioms hold then the result stated in the proof also holds. It's kind of like a building with indestructible walls but no foundation.

    Scientific theory is a whole different kettle of fish. You cannot prove a scientific theory with absolute certainty. In fact it is not even clear to me how one can define certainty within the framework of the scientific method. You never have any guarantee in science that future observations will be consistent with past observations.

    In science you can prove a theory in the sense of preponderance of the evidence. You can even sometimes prove a theory beyond all reasonable doubt. But there is no way to eliminate the unreasonable doubts. Any endeavour based on empirical observation suffers from the fundamental limitation that you can never be sure of the next observation.

    Finally, regarding 1+1=2, the foundational proof of this fact using the standard propositional axioms of mathematics really does require 362 pages. You can see the 362nd page on the bottom half of this Russell's paradox [] site.

  • by BroncoInCalifornia ( 605476 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @07:10PM (#8231786)
    You keep telling yourself that... God boy. However only 7% of scientists believe in a personal god.

    Perhaps the physicists just do not believe in the God they hear about in a typical church service. Religions attach a lot of sectarian baggage to God.

  • by PhilK ( 20847 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @07:17PM (#8231857) Homepage
    It isn't really amazing that they all give the same answer, because they all make the same assumption:

    f = G.m1.m2/d^2

    What if this is only a *very* good approximation for all normal purposes, and even for things as large as the solar system (in the same way that Newtonian mechanics is good enough for all earthly based stuff).

    What if gravity doesn't quite work this way at galactic scales?

    There was a piece in New Scientist last year making this exact point, and the researcher was able to explain most effects that are otherwise explained by dark matter, by slightly changing the theory of gravity.

    Einstien did it for Newtonian Mechanics.

    The real problem I see here is that the scientific method has been largely ignored. We observe the universe, we devise theorems to explain it, we test the theorems against other observations. If the test doesn't match reality, we assume that the theorem is wrong.

    This doesn't occur with cosmology.

    We observe the universe, we make theories, and when they don't fit, we assume there must be something wrong with the universe!
  • by tgibbs ( 83782 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @07:18PM (#8231867)
    Instead of creating complex theories to help us see one level deeper, why not start with the simplest explanation(s) possible, and work our way up from there?

    In practice, it seems that the simpler the explanation is, the harder it is to determine whether it really explains our universe. Right now there are numerous mathematically simple theories that might explain our universe. The problem is that figuring out what these simple theories actually predict regarding the nature of the universe turns out to be very difficult.

    Obviously there must be something filling the space between what we think of as particles of matter, otherwise gravity, light, magnetism, and inertia (did I leave anything out?) couldn't exist in what we see as a "vacuum".

    Perhaps. In modern physics the vacuum is far from empty. On the other hand, trying to figure out what is "filling the space" between particles of matter may be as informative as trying to understand the fundamentals of how a computer works by figuring out what is "filling the spaces" between the bright pixels you see on your screen. Maybe we should be trying to understand what gives us the impression that there is such a thing as space in the first place.
  • But was he wrong? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Tired and Emotional ( 750842 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @07:25PM (#8231973)
    Or had he just invented the Fourier series a millenium and a half too soon? More seriously, I would be interested to know if the theory of epicycles was computationally useful - did it allow the ancients to predict planetary positions for considerable periods in advance. Did they do this? If so, the theory can hardly be said to be "wrong" anymore than Newtons Laws of Motion can be said to be wrong.
  • by Zurk ( 37028 ) <zurktech AT gmail DOT com> on Monday February 09, 2004 @07:36PM (#8232099) Journal
    no..the simplest and easiest explanation is that newtonian gravity works differently in different galaxies. we only have one model to go on -- our solar system with only 1 (fixed) gravitational constant for this galaxy. theres no reason gravitational constants couldnt vary across galaxies...ergo altering the galaxies behaviour.
    we havent really experimented with gravity enough to know how it behaves. electromagnetic forces can be varied depending on location as we drive across town (since we are on a planet with lots and lots of RF noise) ..why not gravity ? its a force, therefore it (probably) must work the same way. yes, im aware we have no idea whether any "gravity transmitters" exist or not...but consider the possibilities.
  • Occam's razor (Score:4, Insightful)

    by garyrich ( 30652 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @07:56PM (#8232316) Homepage Journal
    "Sure, one can argue that if two theories are functionally equivalent, there's no downside to taking the simpler one. But has anyone demontrated this logically or mathematically?"

    It's really a postulate, an unprovable given. If the 2 theories are really functionally equivalent you must accept the simpler. The more complex one only wins if it can explain behaviour that the simple one can't. Then they aren't really equivalent, are they?

    Assume for the moment that Einstein's physics and Newton's physics are functionally equivalent. Einstein's is more complex. If both came out in Newton's time, Einstein's would have to be rejected. Einstein's explains many things that Newton's doesn't - but back then they didn't realize that those things needed explaining. The only thing that could be pointed to then that Newton's didn't capture is slight misprediction of the orbit of Mercury. I'm not sure they could even measure it's orbit accurately enough to detect the misprediction back then. Not really good enough for Einstein to be percieved as more than a crank.

    As time goes on more and more evidence accumulates that Einstein can explain and Newton can't. They become less and less equivalent.
  • by Cyno ( 85911 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @07:59PM (#8232346) Journal
    Let's say our limited perspective from our solar system were somehow enhanced by a telescope/sensor at a neighboring solar system. Wouldn't this give us a much more accurate map of the universe than our current narrow view? For all we know most of the matter might not be visible because something is standing between us and it. The very fabric of space gets distorted by the weak gravitational field of our small star and each and every bit of matter floating around out there and we believe that larger gravitational forces exist, like black holes. If we can't even completely understand how and why our star warps the fabric of space how can we expect to KNOW the universe and all the matter contained within it?

    We don't understand the laws of this universe. We've barely been able to explain it with simple mathematics. The universe, for all we know, might require higher mathematics than the human brain can easily comprehend. And what if there are other universes? But what do I know, I'm just one small voice in this titanic harmony-challenged choir. I'm sure one day someone with a lot of money will figure it out and tell all of us about it in an infomercial late at night on TV.
  • by rbird76 ( 688731 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @08:09PM (#8232447)
    1) Pascal's wager doesn't work - lots of religions make countervailing or contrary claims to being correct. The question that most people have to decide is not whether to have faith in anything or not, but whether to believe in Christanity or Hinduism or Judaism or Islam or... Many of these choices are exclusive or contradictory, so believing in something won't necessarily save you - only believing in the right thing will. In addition, believing in something excludes options from the here and now - if you hold a religious belief, you must act consistently with it, excluding some possible actions that might benefit you. Pascal's Wager is not cost-free, and since its benefits are unclear (if all beliefs lead to the same place, Pascal's wager holds; if some beliefs lead to Hell (or some other bad place) then the value of choice may be much smaller and on the order or the cost of choosing and the opportunity costs of actions you cannot do), it isn't really a very good argument for religious belief.

    2) Science and religion are not exclusive unless one forces them to be. Science takes a pragmatic view of the world - what effects we can observe or measure are those of consequence to science. The immeasureable is not science's purview. Religious beliefs ask different, perhaps broader questions: What are we doing here? What do we do with our lives? How does everything work? Science can be considered a subset of this. Multiple religious beliefs may be consistent with a physical phenomenon - the things that distinguish them exist in a place science can't get to and thus has no legitimate say in. The problems occur when religious and scientific claims occupy the same ground and are contrary. In this case, science usually wins because it can be tested, whereas religion depends upon claims that cannot be tested (but which can only be trusted).

    In my opinion, it is not the "anti-religionists" who have betrayed us, but a subset of religionists. Religion and science have existed side by side for some time and were not considered inconsistent. In the last few hundred years, some religious folk have tried to "prove" their beliefs by misusing logic and science to their ends (creationism/intelligent design/creation science, for example). Trying to prove the unprovable only further hardens the demands of people for proof before they will believe, undercutting the faith; after all, if the people who claim to most strongly believe something require proof to believe in it, how much faith can they really have? There is also the bonus of trying to force people to have a faith whose value derives from chosen belief (thus destroying the object of belief for others). In addition, the likely purpose of the logical legerdemain (to compel others to behave as one would like) only serves to alienate those who would otherwise be quietly accepting of the faith of others. Vehement (and sometimes illogical) people who don't believe in religion probably come at least in part from this.
  • by STrinity ( 723872 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @08:11PM (#8232471) Homepage
    Hmm... two references to the same Almighty, and one to a made-up religion.

    So tell me, if I worship Jesus and it turns out he was just one of Allah's prophets, does he waive the "no other gods before me" clause? And if Jesus is divine but I worship Allah and deny that he was anything but a man, does Jesus forgive the mistake?

    Saying that Allah and Jehovah are the same bloke is fine if you're talking about the mythologic tradition, but as a practical matter it doesn't quite work out.

  • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @08:15PM (#8232514) Journal
    We don't know what the simplest explanation _is_. God knows, since He built the place, so if he felt like starting simple and working his way up, fine.

    But since we showed up after the heavy lifting got done, what we're stuck with is building the simplest explanation that looks like it'll work trying it out for a while, and finding out that, no, it doesn't do the job either, and adding more complexity or precision to one of the edges of the model, or developing new tools that help with problems we didn't know how to solve earlier. The Greeks were starting pretty much from scratch, building ugly kluges like Epicycles to account for the times their simple theories failed. Kepler and Copernicus eventually straightened that stuff out to the point that Newton could start over with gravity and Newtonian physics, which gave you some simple ways to solve the problems for medium-sized objects. That turned out not to do a good enough job for bigger objects (like stars' gravity bending light) or really small objects (anything where quantum effects matter), but it was enough of a start for people like Einstein and all the 20th century cosmologists to kick out from.

    The Universe still seems to be a really messy complicated place, full of division by zero (black holes), round-off errors (much of quantum effects), and more parts missing than the socks that vanished in the dryer. If you want to see farther than your companions, you're going to either have to find some giants' shoulders to stand on, or go sneak around under the feet of dwarves and steal a glance at the real plans.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 09, 2004 @08:20PM (#8232558)
    Is the value of Jesus teaching people to be good to each other dependent upon him coming back from the dead? There is an implied dependency between the value of the message and who is delivering it. Quite frankly, I'm bit baffled by it and hope you can clarify.

    It reminds me of someone I knew who liked this house in the neighborhood that was very charming and well decorated. But when she found out that the people living there were gay, she didn't like it. The house hadn't changed but her perception of it did because of who worked on the house. I still don't understand that.

  • by jefe7777 ( 411081 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @08:23PM (#8232592) Journal
    and we haven't proved that gravity exists. sure we've proven the effects: "drop an apple, watch it fall"

    yet we seem to put faith in the theory of gravity.

    science is really cool. and i'm not a creationist or anything wacko like that...I love science. i'm completely sceptical of religion, organized or other(it's man made) and do not find it appealing. i do have the common geek itch of wanting to know how everything works. i like things like startrek, cosmos, TLC, Discovery channel, mathematics, physics, etc.

    but with every new scientific discovery, theory or documentary, i just shake my amazement. and i think it's here, where i depart some of my fellow geeks.

    just think about entropy. while huge amounts of energy are falling to a lower level of order, planets cool, stars fade...yet their are pockets of INCREASING order that are just spectacular.

    humans. animals. life. blackholes. supernova. evolution.

    the phenomenon that we as conscience, self aware beings can appreciate.

    i don't think it's an accident.

    we could unlock 99.9% of the mysteries of the multiverse...and still end up asking a simple question:


    i'm pretty certain their's something bigger then us out there. existing on a different level.

    i choose to call it god...sure doubts arise. but that's faity. just like faith that the our theory of the sun is correct and will long out last me (it's there in the morning, guaranteed, even if i can't see it)

    science has done more for my faith then any bible thumping wacknut could ever dream of.

    faith in an organized/unorganized religion is a people thing. people naturally want to box things up, make rules, traditions etc.

    faith in a supreme being...that's all together different.

    -an anecdote by Steven Hawkings in the opening of "A Brief History of Time":

    "A well-known scientist once gave a lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collections of stars called our galaxy. At the end of lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said, ' What you told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.'

    The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, ' What is the tortoise standing on?'

    'You're very clever, young man, very clever,' said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down.'"

  • The underlying problem with this mindset is that (for the most part) religion relies upon faith - so there's no need to rely upon physical evidence.

    Faith, at least according to the bible, is belief in something without seeing any evidence. How wise is that? Do Christian parents teach their kids to believe anything a stranger says? "Hey kid, your mother sent me in this van to come pick you up after school. I don't have any evidence to support this, but you have faith, right?"

    Christians are actually proud of the fact that there is no evidence supporting their religion, then they go and get mad with scientists because there isn't enough of an abundance of evidence for them to accept evolution. Why are people willing to accept the existence of a supernatural being, despite a lack of any evidence, but they're unable to accept something like evolution because there might be some flaws in the massive amounts of evidence already supporting it?

    Just remember what Pascal said: If you believe and you are wrong, you've at least led a good life; if you believe and you're right, heaven is on your way. If you don't believe and you're right, you've lived your life the way you wanted to; but if you're wrong....which outcomes pan out the best?

    Sure, you can keep on believing in the God of the bible, but at your own peril! I am here to tell you about the Great Banana and I have my own wager to propose. If you believe in the Great Banana and He doesn't exist, you've at least led a good life. If you believe and you're right, you get a great reward of bananas. If you don't believe and you're right, then nothing lost. But if you don't believe and you're wrong, not only will you be continually ground up into banana tree fertilizer, but also all of humanity will too.

    See, there's a much greater downside to not believing in the Great Banana than there is in not believing in the God of the bible. Therefore, since you're reducing everything to simple comparisons, it makes much more sense for you to believe in the Great Banana. Trust me. It's a very appealing religion, just make sure you don't slip in your faith.
  • by iwadasn ( 742362 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @09:06PM (#8232953)
    I seem to have misplaced my cray, as soon as it turns up I'll get right on that. In the meantime, no proposed theory is really supported by the evidence all that well yet, and so my armchair quarterbacking tells me that in light of the extreme complexity of current theories, odds are good that something simpler will win out in the end. The simplest explanation seems to be that we don't fully understand gravity, simple as that. That was after all the final explanation to the luminferous ether, perhaps we should begin with paths that worked in the past before diverging onto the exotic pet projects of the theorists. And yes, I took a class from Brian Greene, he's a smart guy, very mathy, still quite possibly wrong. His math is correct, but I'm not sure this is the real application of it. Just a hunch.
  • by G-funk ( 22712 ) <> on Monday February 09, 2004 @09:14PM (#8233009) Homepage Journal
    Erm, I don't buy into any religion, but technically allah and jehovah are supposedly the same guy.
  • by CarlCotner ( 156175 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @09:20PM (#8233064)
    Actually, yes, Occam's Razor can be considered to be a mathematical conlusion of Kolmogorov Complexity Theory.

    Briefly, Kolmogorov Complexity Theory is the study of the compressibility of strings of symbols. E.g., consider the three 10 digit strings "0123456789", "4294967296", and "5286354993". Which is most compressible (or, almost equivalently, easiest to remember)? Well, the first is obviously easy to remember (compress): count from 0 to 9. The second is (not as obviously) perhaps even easier to remember (compress): it is 2^32. I believe the third to be difficult to remember (because probably it has to be completely memorized - I typed it in "randomly").

    Now suppose we consider infinite strings instead of finite strings, and we consider all computer programs that print out the first n symbols of a given infinite string. In Komogorov Complexity, Occam's Razor is equivalent to the idea that the shorter the program that prints out the first n symbols, the more likely it is to print out the correct (n+1)th symbol. This can be made completely precise, and then "Occam's Razor" is a provable conclusion.

    One way to think about why Occam's Razor is true: shorter theories are less likely to have arbitrary, extraneous features which imply incorrect conlusions (predictions).
  • by CaptainAvatar ( 113689 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @09:54PM (#8233316)
    No one has bothered to even look to see if the rules by which our universe exists today are the same as a few million years ago, or a few billion years ago. How would you be able to tell that, say, the gravitational constant of the universe has been constant all along?

    It's not true to say that no one has bothered to look. In general, we assume that the rules have not changed; if this assumption were erroneous, we would constantly get bizarre results when we applied this assumption the further backwards in time we look - eg distant galaxies, or very old geological strata. (Of course, one could argue that "bizarre results" in cosmology is exactly what we are talking about here.) And in particular, some physicists and astronomers have tried to excplicitly test these assumptions, as far as possible, and/or include variable "constants" in their models - Dirac was one who did this with the universal gravitational constant, that you mention.

    Just to deal briefly with some other points you mention - I don't see how military tactics changing has any bearing on anything. This is a social/cultural/technological thing, it's got nothing to do with the possibilty of changing physical constants. And au contraire, continental drift is a gradual process ... my fellow Australians and I are moving northwards at a measurable rate of 10mm per year. There will have been periods of faster movement, possibly even more catastrophic ones, but it is not true to say "It occurs one violent event at a time"; it's always occuring.

  • by zpok ( 604055 ) on Monday February 09, 2004 @10:51PM (#8233722) Homepage
    Well, if Dark Mmmmatter doesn't exist, we'll have to rethink gravity, won't we?

    IMO (very humble indeed) the Dark Matter theory looks more like a shortcut, a quick patch than a solid sound theory. Yes, it fits the observed facts, but probably just because from how little we know right now, we can safely fill in the huge blanks with the right numbers. Those blanks are easy to be filled because they're totally unobservable.

    I read something very interesting on gravity in deep space. A scientist who revised the rules of gravity so that the model worked without all this invisible stuff around. The amazing thing is that while this guy does exactly the same as dark matter believers - filling in blank spots until the model fits reality - he's not taken seriously at all.

    While I as a non-scientist will just have to wait and see until someone explains it weally well in small words, I am betting 10 to 1 on a revision of the general theory of gravity.

    Who's in? :-)
  • If you think everything in this universe happened by accident then I guess you don't understand just what is contained in this universe to know it's too complicated to not be planned.

    On the contrary, the Universe is too complicated to be planned! Planned things are simple and regular.

  • by amRadioHed ( 463061 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @12:27AM (#8234271)
    It is quite obvious to me that the Earth is motionless and the Sun rotates around the Earth. Seems like a nice simple theory.

    It is a nice simple theory, and it's one that worked for humanity for quite a long time. However, that theory becomes less and less simple as you try to explain the motion of the moon, the planets, the planet's moons, comets, astroids, and other stars.

    The point is, what is "obvious" and "simple" depends a lot on what you think and what you know and is by not necessarily universal.

    Actually, I'd say that the simpliest theory is entirely dependant on what you know and is almost certain to change as you learn new things.
  • by foidulus ( 743482 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @12:44AM (#8234395)
    I think the bigger mis-understanding is what science really is. Science consists of observing nature, and then creating a model to make predictions. Like Ptolemy's theory, he observed the movement of the bodies, and then attempted to come up with a theory that would be able to predict those movements. To the best of his knowledge, he was right. However, once more in-depth observations became available(the telescope etc), his model fell apart, and a different model took it's place. Science really doesn't "explain" anything in the way we think it does, it's merely observations and models, and yet it is the most powerful tool mankind has ever created!
  • by Dashing Leech ( 688077 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:06AM (#8234534)
    Absolutely. Most people seem to misunderstand science, like the grandparent post. It's not about "theories" and whether they are "true" or not. It is all about modeling observable patterns, and improving the models.

    Newton was not "wrong" as much as his model was incomplete. Einstein didn't prove Newton's model wrong, he improved upon it. (Case in point, we still use Newton's model for almost all practical applications.)

    This may seem like semantics, but it is important to understand that it is intimately linked with logical reasoning. A fair number of people still seem to think that if there is something that a scientific theory cannot explain, the theory is wrong and must be thrown out. That is incorrect, the model is merely incomplete. Any new model must be able to at least explain all that the old one could, plus the observations that are inconsistent with the old model.

    Another common misunderstanding is the use of the term "theory". In common usage people use it as an "unproven concept". In science, that more matches an hypothesis. "Theory" is the model by which it works. For instance, there is a such thing as "turbine theory". This doesn't mean that it's questionable whether turbines exist, the theory merely explains the principles by which the turbines work. And hypothesis are never proven right, they can only be shown to be consistent with observable phenomena. (If not, they are inconsistent and are discarded.)

  • by rickshaf ( 736907 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @02:09AM (#8234836)
    No argument here. However, even though "the whole theoretical edifice would come crashing down", I'm pretty sure the Universe itself would scarcely notice, and would likely go on as it has. In fact, I suspect that, if we could get a peek at the Universe's "coat of arms", the motto would be "I Plod...." (in Latin, of course).
  • by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @04:00AM (#8235294)
    > If we accepted theory as fact without any repeatable testing it would be religion, not science.

    Science IS a Religion. Don't believe me?

    The goal of Science is Truth. The goal of (pure) Religion is ALSO Truth.

    Science is SO blinded by their Dogma of Objectivity, that while it is busy worshipping at the Altar of Truth, it denies that Truth can ALSO be reached Subjectively. That is, there is knowledge OUTSIDE of science. Some people call this meta-physical (or spiritual) truth. Just because you can't experience something, doesn't mean it's not true. And the real kicker is, that for each person, Science is experienced Subjectively via the 5 senses!

    Remember that Truth is both Absolute, and Relative. To ignore (or deny) the opposite (objective/subjective), is to deny knowledge.

    Religion, Politics, Philosophy (Science) are all the SAME thing. It just depends on what paradigm you approach it from.
    If you were offended, then maybe you shouldn't of been.
    And if you weren't, maybe you should of been!!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @04:03AM (#8235304)
    Faith, at least according to the bible, is belief in something without seeing any evidence. How wise is that? Do Christian parents teach their kids to believe anything a stranger says? "Hey kid, your mother sent me in this van to come pick you up after school. I don't have any evidence to support this, but you have faith, right?"

    I think that you have a faulty view of faith. You seem to be depicting faith as a rube like acceptance of any assertion that someone makes to you. That isn't even close to the meaning of faith. (Pardon me for the following broad assumption...) When you were a child, and your mother said that she was going to the store to buy some milk and would be back shortly, did you worry that something else was going to happen? Did you worry that she might sneak off and leave you? That she wouldn't come back ever? If you and your mother are like most people, the answer is no. You might not have wanted to be parted from her, but you "knew" she would come back. But how did you know? You can't really "know" anything that hasn't happened, can you? The answer is you knew her, you knew she loved you, and you had faith in her that she would be true to her word and come back to the child she loved with the milk from the store. You didn't have to watch her every step of the way to the store, in the store, and on the way back. Faith in your mother is much like faith in God. You know God, and know that God loves you. You believe God will do what He says, even when you can't see Him doing it right before your eyes. You understand that God moves things you can't reach in places that you can't see, but that at the appointed time they will be ready for you.

    Christians are actually proud of the fact that there is no evidence supporting their religion,

    This statement is wrong in at least two respects.

    First, there is actually a considerable amount of evidence to support the historicity of the Bible. In terms of the documents themselves, they are tied much closer in time to the events they record than virtually any other ancient book. To the best of my knowledge there is a gap of about 1200 years between Plato and the earliest manuscript attributed to Plato, and yet how many doubt that Plato existed? There are fragments of the New Testament that are from only a few decades following the crucifixion of Jesus.

    Second, I don't think that there are many Christians who would take pride in there being an actual lack of evidence. They may not necessarily consider it important, depending upon the issue involved, but I don't think that they would take pride in it. One thing that I don't think that you realize is that Christianity is focused upon Jesus of Nazareth, a man who lived in history, and who Christians believe to the incarnation of God. If Jesus didn't exist, there is absolutely no point in being a Christian.

  • by Hast ( 24833 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @05:29AM (#8235578)
    There is a point in this that it's easy to be blinded with science as "the absolute holder of truth" that you fail to recognize other things. But it should be pointed out that while science can't do anything when you can't observere a phenomena (meta-physical if you so will) it doesn't claim to either.

    As I see it Science is a refinement of Philosophy which is a refinement of Religion. In that Science deals with things you can experiement with. Philosophy deals with answering big questions in Religion without resorting to "because it says so in the book" arguments. Religion was made to explain the world around us.

    I don't quite see how you fit Politics into it all though. As I see it politics is simply a way to help people interact with each other. It doesn't really say anything about the world around us.
  • by jazman ( 9111 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @06:17AM (#8235714)
    Common with, but not incompatible with. God knows how you think - he made you, so he should. He knows you need proof - he knew I needed proof, so he provided plenty of it.

    The problem is he won't be your poodle. "Come on, good doggy, jump through the hoop" generally won't get you the reply you were hoping for - there are plenty of examples in the Gospels. Read John's Gospel [] one day - you can read it with "skeptical", "defensive" and "I'm NOT going to be converted by this" modes on full blast; just have a look how Jesus operated and how he responded to those treating him like a dog doing tricks. It might even give you some ideas how to handle that stupid PHB who asks you to jump through some pointless hoop that doesn't help anything but his ego.

    You'll also get to see how he responded to those in genuine need, including intellectuals.

    Becoming a Christian does not have to be unscientific. Scientists start with a theory and seek out evidence to support that theory. God asks you to start with a bit of trust (the theory) then piles on the evidence until you're more than satisfied. That's how it worked with me. The exact line I used was "Ok, I'll give it a try." My Christian friend didn't like that - she said I had to jump in with both feet, but I wasn't having any of that.

    And here I am 18 years later, still "giving it a try." Actually the trial is long over.

    The second problem is he won't give you The Ultimate Answer To Life, The Universe And Everything (which we all know to be 42 anyway). He'll give you the proof you need, but he won't give you the proof that will convince everyone around you. Being the ultimate gentleman he won't impose himself on you, or on anyone else; there is no Christian equivalent to LARTing. I have the proof I need, but I know it won't be enough to convince you or the general /. community, so I won't bother even starting on it; this is a journey you have to make yourself.

    Even scientists have this problem - they post theories with experimental evidence, and have it torn to shreds by the community. Even when something has a wide following (the earth is round) there are still dissenters (the flat earth society), so if you think there's a scientific method that will prove the existence of God then you need to check your understanding of the phrase "scientific method."

  • by jason.hall ( 640247 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @08:41AM (#8236244)
    I believe you're missing the whole point of science. Using and applying science is not a free ticket to instant, complete understanding of the entire universe. It's a technique of, *over time*, increasing our understanding. Your argument is that since we don't know everything, we therefore know nothing. We come up with a theory. As long as experiments and observations agree with that theory, we keep it around. When they don't, we come up with a new, better theory that does. Do we know everything? Of course not - that's ridiculous to even consider. Do we have a better understanding of the universe now than 1000 years ago? If you compare how the accepted theories from then and now agree with our experiments/observations, yes - we have a more accurate understanding now than then.
  • by Dread_ed ( 260158 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @11:45AM (#8237848) Homepage
    "Your argument is that since we don't know everything, we therefore know nothing."

    Actually, I am arguing that if mankind increases its knowledge from and infinitesimal amount to an infinitessimal amount plus an arbitrarily small number we shouldn't get all puffed up about what we know.

    Furthermore, I am subtly trying to encourage people to remember that once you pidgeonhole a subject under the category of "known" you shut yourself off from seeing it in new and potentially revealing ways. Remeber that much of what is considered "new science" is sparked by accident, or by observing things that were overlooked by past scientists.

    Also, using and applying science has not led us closer to any final answers, it has only allowed us to see more clearly that the universe is full of things that we don't understand. The article we are posting under is an example of that.

    "It's a technique of, *over time*, increasing our understanding"

    This is my personal belief, but I think that as time goes on we will never run out of opportunities for us to increase our understanding. And with that in mind I think it is sophomoric to ever consider a subject closed, explained, or known.

    What's the matter oficer? I have obeyed all of your silly Earth laws!
  • by gooberguy ( 453295 ) <> on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @12:16PM (#8238262)
    Science constantly questions itself, religion doesn't.
  • by BenEnglishAtHome ( 449670 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:12PM (#8239120)
    "Christians ... get mad with scientists because there isn't enough of an abundance of evidence for them to accept evolution."

    Uh, no, we don't. Not as a group.

    It's possible to find people in any identifiable group who get mad over some silly thing, but that doesn't mean the whole group thinks with one mind. There are plenty of Christians who, like me, believe that God created everything and he used whatever tools he pleased to get the job done. Evolution was probably one of those tools. I don't know for sure, though I have a lot of confidence.

    Actually, I don't know much of anything for sure. I expect to know right after I'm dead, but in the here and now I'm willing to accept some reasonable things based on what my God-given intellect leads me to believe and I'm willing to accept some seemingly not-so-reasonable things based on faith.

    I think that's a reasonable way to live.

  • Re:So do I (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cagle_.25 ( 715952 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @01:28PM (#8239341) Journal
    If you are indeed interested in the current state of the discussion and evidence, I suggest the following:

    Hugh Ross [] is an "Old-Earth" Christian who argues that the universe itself gives evidence for design.

    Michael Behe [] is the point-man for the Irreducible Complexity argument.

    Alvin Plantinga (link found in first post) rejuventates a much older line of thought called the "Transcendence Argument".

    Those will get you started; some other time, if you are interested, I can give you links and bibliography for the philosophical side of things. Gotta go teach!

    Jeff Cagle

  • by gooberguy ( 453295 ) <> on Tuesday February 10, 2004 @02:36PM (#8240145)
    Religions don't use the scientific method. They simply interpret the bible in their own way. They question their own interpretations, but not the existence of god(s) or life after death.

Were there fewer fools, knaves would starve. - Anonymous