What qualifies as science in the wonderful world of Disney

[cross posted at uncommondescent: What Qualifies as Science in the Wonderful World of Disney]

The scientific enterprise entails:

1. observation
2. hypothesis
3. testing

Consider this passage from the class text of an introductory cosmology class I took once upon a time:

galaxies farther than 4300 megaparsecs from us are currently moving away from us at speeds greater than that of light. Cosmological innocents sometimes exclaim, “Gosh! Doesn’t this violate the law that massive objects can’t travel faster than the speed of light?” Actually, it doesn’t. The speed limit that states that massive objects must travel with v < c relative to each other is one of the results of special relativity, and refers to the relative motion of objects within a static space. In the context of general relativity, there is no objection to having two points moving away from each other at superluminal speed due to the expansion of space.

page 39
Introduction to Cosmology
by Barbara ryden

Let’s say for the sake or argument this is true, an agnostic, science-loving friend of mine expressed the following unease with this claim:

1. we can never observe these galaxies
2. thus we can therefore never test that they are moving faster than the speed of light from us
3. repeatability of the observation? Not even testable in principle
4. things moving faster than the speed of light? We can’t test that directly either!
5. if you add space between two attracting bodies, doesn’t that mean you increase potential energy out of nowhere?

I responded to point 5 by saying, “General Relativity might not implicitly assert the conservation of energy law”, but that didn’t seem to be reassuring to him. I then read this passage in the same book on page 17:

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Big Bang and Steady State models battled for supremacy. Critics of Steady State model pointed out that the continuous creation of matter violates mass-energy conservation. Supporters of the Steady State model pointed out that the continuous creation of matter is no more absurd than the instantaneous creation of the entire universe in a single “Big Bang”.

My agnostic friend just about fell out his chair laughing. We both laughed.

The scenario of faster-than-speed-of light motion can be fit into the Friedmann-LeMaitre-Robertson-Walker solution to Einstein’s field equations of General Relativity, but does that make it true?

Consider Newton’s 2nd law. Suppose we are dealing with a force of 5 Newtons, what are the some of the mathematical (not necessarily physical) solutions to an equation constrained by the assumption that the force is 5 Newtons?

F = ma where F = 5 Newtons
Solution 1:
mass = 5 kg
acceleration = 1 meter/ sec^2

Solution 2
mass = -5 kg
acceleration = -1 meter/sec^2


Astute readers will notice solution 2, though mathematically consistent with the equation F=ma, is not physically real (in classical or most physics anyway) since it invokes negative mass.

I recall when studying General Relativity the professor assigning us an exercise to analyze geodesic trajectories through a particular solution to the Einstein field equations. This solution yielded incredible possibilities, and I thought to myself, “wow, where can I find such a place in the universe to observe this?”

And then reviewing the solution in class, the professor said something to the effect, “I didn’t tell you, but the solution I gave you describes a wormhole, but I’m not sure wormholes are possible since you need negative mass! This was more an exercise in math.” I and my fellow students had a small laugh, especially after having endured this mathematical exercise. The point being however, just because something is a mathematical solution to an equation of physics doesn’t mean it’s for real.

So with respect to those galaxies which we can’t see, which we will never see, that move faster than the speed of light, we can only postulate their existence as fact via inference. We can’t do it by observation, not by repeatable measurement or direct testing. So is the claim of these unseen entities a scientific claim? It does not accord with 2 of the 3 elements listed above that describe the scientific enterprise. The positivists among us will assert, “well if we can’t see it, we won’t believe it.”

So I would respond, “Ok, so do you believe the unseen galaxies predicted by the Big Bang. You can’t see them, you won’t see them, you can’t verify them, but supposedly they exist, they have properties as galaxies, and to top it off they move faster than the speed of light even though in the lab or anywhere we have access to, we haven’t clocked anything moving faster than the speed of light?”

So is the claim of unseen, unobservable, untestable, unverifiable galaxies a scientific claim? Eh, I leave that to the philosophers of science to decide, but it seems to me if one will admit as scientific the unseen, untestable, unknowable, unobservable, unverifiable entities as existing and having certain properties via inference and without direct evidence, then — well uh — couldn’t we hypothesize all sorts of unseen, untestable, unobservable, unknowable, unverifiable entities as being real via inference, and hence call that hypothesis science? I provided one example of such an entity in the thread: Quantum Enigma of Consciousness and the Identity of the Designer where Richard Conn Henry (a professor at no minor school) argued that Quantum Mechanics suggests God exists. Richard Conn Henry argued God is a permissible construct within accepted physics, and so is consciousness. Whether God is ultimately real is a separate question, but science doesn’t preclude His existence.

Getting back to cosmology, I learned of Alan Guth who speculated the universe expanded briefly at around 1000 times the speed of light in a process called inflation. In fact Andrei Linde speculated Guth understated the inflation speed by a factor of 10^1,000,000. If Guth claims the universe was inflationary, Linde claims it was hyperinflationary. Yikes!

What wasn’t presented in our cosmology class was Guth’s other speculation, which I learned of in a taboo book by William C. Mitchell

Guth is reported to have said, “in fact, our own universe might have been started in somebody’s basement.” Overbye has reported that, Guth and another MIT professor, Ed Fahri, found that, “If you could compress 25 pounds of matter into 10^-24 centimeters, making a mass 10^75 times the density of water…a bubble of false vacuum, or what Guth called a ‘child universe’ would be formed. From outside it would look like a black hole. From the inside it would look like an inflating universe.”

page 229
Bye Bye Big Bang, Hello Reality
by William C. Mitchell

Mitchell further commented of Guth, “can you believe such garbage?” I withhold making such a judgment since Guth is a smart guy, but it seems to me if we admit the possiblity of the universe being created by some tinkerer in a basement, we can surely admit intelligent design of the universe.

On a marginally more serious note, there are a minority of dissenting voices that share some of the reservations about modern cosmology that I’ve hinted of in this thread. One of them is a respected cosmologist by the name of Michael Disney. He argues we have too little data to really form a cosmological model.

Here is an excerpt from Modern Cosmology Science or Folktale

Where Do We Stand Today?

Big Bang cosmology is not a single theory; rather, it is five separate theories constructed on top of one another. The ground floor is a theory, historically but not fundamentally rooted in general relativity, to explain the redshifts—this is Expansion, which happily also accounts for the cosmic background radiation. The second floor is Inflation—needed to solve the horizon and “flatness” problems of the Big Bang. The third floor is the Dark Matter hypothesis required to explain the existence of contemporary visible structures, such as galaxies and clusters, which otherwise would never condense within the expanding fireball. The fourth floor is some kind of description for the “seeds” from which such structure is to grow. And the fifth and topmost floor is the mysterious Dark Energy, needed to allow for the recent acceleration of cosmic expansion indicated by the supernova observations. Thus Dark Energy could crumble, leaving the rest of the building intact. But if the Expansion floor collapsed, the entire edifice above it would come crashing down. Expansion is a moderately well-supported hypothesis, consistent with the cosmic background radiation, with the helium abundance and with the ages inferred for the oldest stars and star clusters in our neighborhood. However, finding more direct evidence for Expansion must be of paramount importance.

In the 1930s, Richard Tolman proposed such a test, really good data for which are only now becoming available. Tolman calculated that the surface brightness (the apparent brightness per unit area) of receding galaxies should fall off in a particularly dramatic way with redshift—indeed, so dramatically that those of us building the first cameras for the Hubble Space Telescope in the 1980s were told by cosmologists not to worry about distant galaxies, because we simply wouldn’t see them. Imagine our surprise therefore when every deep Hubble image turned out to have hundreds of apparently distant galaxies scattered all over it (as seen in the first image in this piece). Contemporary cosmologists mutter about “galaxy evolution,” but the omens do not necessarily look good for the Tolman test of Expansion at high redshift.

In its original form, an expanding Einstein model had an attractive, economic elegance. Alas, it has since run into serious difficulties, which have been cured only by sticking on some ugly bandages: inflation to cover horizon and flatness problems; overwhelming amounts of dark matter to provide internal structure; and dark energy, whatever that might be, to explain the seemingly recent acceleration. A skeptic is entitled to feel that a negative significance, after so much time, effort and trimming, is nothing more than one would expect of a folktale constantly re-edited to fit inconvenient new observations.

Ah, the wonderful world of Disney. Disney wrote a more technical article in The Case Against Cosmology published in the Journal General Relativity and Gravitation..

It should be noted, there is a forgotten article in the Discovery Institute archives by David Berlinski: Was There a Big Bang

Is the big bang model correct? One of my professors, James Trefil, gave his estimate that its about half way confirmed, but he has still some skepticism as he articulated in his book The Dark Side of the Universe.

The answer to the question of the Big Bang is way above my pay grade, but I posted this thread mostly to point out that if we pass off certain unverifiable, unseen, unknowable, unobservable claims as science, by what standard is ID disqualified? After all, according to Richard Conn Henry, quantum mechanics suggests God exists, and if so (though he won’t go so far as I would), imho, ID can then be admitted into to the realms of scientific hypotheses since now we have a theoretical entity with a sufficient skill set to design life.

And finally, with respect to the question of ID being science, in light of considerations above, this passage by Bill Dembski comes to mind:

Thus, a scientist may view design and its appeal to a designer as simply a fruitful device for understanding the world, not attaching any significance to questions such as whether a theory of design is in some ultimate sense true or whether the designer actually exists. Philosophers of science would call this a constructive empiricist approach to design. Scientists in the business of manufacturing theoretical entities like quarks, strings, and cold dark matter could therefore view the designer as just one more theoretical entity to be added to the list. I follow here Ludwig Wittgenstein, who wrote, “What a Copernicus or a Darwin really achieved was not the discovery of a true theory but of a fertile new point of view.”

115 thoughts on “What qualifies as science in the wonderful world of Disney

  1. Just browsing, I see three kinds of redshift.

    Doppler shift is an apparent shift in frequency due to movement toward or away from. Cosmological redshift is due to the expansion of the universe. Then there’s gravitational redshift.

    So does Sal believe he’s stumbled upon something overlooked by a century of astrophysicists? Just asking. The thread title suggests he’s claiming that.

  2. It’s a “conspiracy” between time and space that keeps the measurement of the velocity of light constant for the experimenter. 😉

    Clocks are affected by the geometry of space-time as well as by relative motion between the observer and the clock.

    As Misner,Thorne, and Wheeler point out, for example, time is defined so that motion looks simple.

    There are different times that are used to describe different things in general relativity. Spacetime is locally Lorentzian for the experimenter. When looking at a more global picture, one has to use other time parameters. But it usually comes down to what one measures locally because our instruments are relatively close to us. Even distributing satellites over a larger volume of space in which concentrations of matter affect the geometry of spacetime means that the communication among these satellites is affected.

    Most general relativity textbooks spend a fair amount of pages of explanation and math on this.

  3. Allan,

    Nonetheless … Lizzie seems to be saying that the Doppler effect can’t be in operation on light because of the constancy of c for all observers. I don’t think that’s correct (but am perfectly happy to be wrong).

    You’re right, Allan. The speed of light is a constant for all observers, but that doesn’t mean that the frequency of a given light beam is the same for all observers.

    If Lizzie were correct, then we would be unable to determine our motion relative to the cosmic microwave background.

    Incidentally, the fact that the speed of light is a constant relative to every observer is why the Doppler shift equations are different for sound vs. light.

    (Or more precisely, the equations for sound are an approximation based on the fact that the speeds involved are tiny relative to light.)

  4. I didn’t pick up on Elizabeth’s misconception from what she said.

    The problem is trying to switch between the perspectives of being outside of space-time and being embedded within it.

    What clock does one use from outside space-time? What phenomena exist outside space-time that can be used as a clock? You really have to specify what a clock is.

    General relativity has to deal with what we actually measure while embedded within space-time; and we have to determine its geometry from within as well

  5. petrushka:
    So does Sal believe he’s stumbled upon something overlooked by a century of astrophysicists? Just asking. The thread title suggests he’s claiming that.

    Of course, YECcers like Sal have to believe that science has gotten something wrong about lightspeed, redshift, and age of the galaxies. They have to; they only have one other choice and it’s a really uncomfortable one: to worship a infinitely devious god which created everything with a consistent appearance of age just to fuck with their faith. Nope, can’t have that.

    The funny thing is, they know that science in fact has gotten it right. Relativistic physics works so well it’s impossible to deny. Their GPS receivers in their cars prove that GR is correct, at least in our little corner of the universe.

    So once again the cranky faithful have to push their hope of finding a place for their purported god further out towards the edge of the universe. Maybe out there the speed of light isn’t a constant or isn’t an actual limit. Maybe in tern that allows a tiny crack of hope that once upon a time – that is, about 10000 years ago – all that starlight was somehow created to appear old without being a really nasty deception on the part of god.

    It’s nothing new, it’s the same ol same ol “science doesn’t have all the answers, therefore I have a soul and Baby! Jesus! for the win!”

    Although to be honest, this OP from Sal Cordova does take a slightly different tack. He’s trending towards “science CANT have all the answers” because, reasons. You know, can’t make a test universe upon which to experiment … and so forth. Yeah, reasons.

  6. Here’s the really interesting bit. The big bang has not yet moved beyond the horizon. We can still see it, or at least we can still see the first galaxies. They have not yet passed the curtain of FTL.

    But they will. Consider it an experiment. If physics is correct, the oldest stars will eventually begin to wink out.

  7. Blas: Can you explain ToE predicts what will you found in embryo development? specifically how ToE predicts the hourglass model?

    Thanks awfully for leaving out the bit where I pointed out that ID provides absolutely no guidance whatsoever for understanding on this topic, Bias! As ever, the Creationist concept of ‘defending one’s own ideas” consists solely and entirely of attacking the opposition and hoping that nobody will notice that the Creationist position itself remains unsupported and undefended.
    Personally, I don’t happen to know how ToE “predicts the hourglass model”. What of it? From my knowledge of ToE, I expect that there are people working on this particular problem, that there are at least a couple of proposed solutions, and that there’s a good chance that at least one of the proposed answers to your question have solid experimental support. From my knowledge of ID, contrariwise, I expect that ID doesn’t say one damned syllable about “predict(ing) the hourglass model”, on the grounds that when push comes to shove, and it’s time to get your hands dirty with the details necessary for detailed scientific predictions, ID doesn’t say one damned syllable about anything, end of discussion.
    Go ahead, Bias. Prove me wrong about ID. Show us all what, if anything, ID does have to say about “the hourglass model”. And if it turns out that ID has nothing whatsoever to say about “the hourglass model”, please STFU, hmm?

  8. Petrushka,

    Here’s the really interesting bit. The big bang has not yet moved beyond the horizon. We can still see it, or at least we can still see the first galaxies. They have not yet passed the curtain of FTL.

    But they will. Consider it an experiment. If physics is correct, the oldest stars will eventually begin to wink out.

    Be careful. It’s not that those distant galaxies will move “beyond the horizon” and suddenly “wink out”. They’ll just get dimmer and more redshifted.

    Think of it this way: anything we can currently see is already connected to us by a stream of light. The cosmic expansion stretches that stream of light, and as it stretches it gets redshifted and becomes dimmer. However, it doesn’t suddenly “break” or move “beyond the horizon”.

  9. It will if the expansion is still accelerating. That’s not settled, as far as I know.

    Edit: your interpretation seems to be the accepted one.

  10. It will if the expansion is still accelerating.

    Acceleration doesn’t make any difference. Acceleration just means that the “stretching” of the light will happen faster and faster over time, which means faster redshifting and faster dimming. It doesn’t mean that the galaxy will suddenly move “beyond the horizon”.

  11. I guess I’m missing something here. I can see how light that is already on its way will become dimmer and more redshifted as space expands. But wouldn’t there be some point where the the most distant light sources are receding faster than light, so NEW light emitted after that time can never reach us?

  12. Flint,

    But wouldn’t there be some point where the the most distant light sources are receding faster than light, so NEW light emitted after that time can never reach us?

    Yes, but that doesn’t mean that the light sources will “wink out”, because a continuous stream of “old” light is still on its way and still being received by us. This remains true even though we will never receive the “new” light.

    Another way of putting it is that if the source is receding from us faster than light, then the continuous stream of light connecting it to us is being “stretched” by the same amount. It’s being stretched, but there is no interruption in the stream, so the source will never “wink out” from our perspective — it will just grow gradually redder and dimmer.

  13. There is a simple illustration that gives the relationship between wavelength and the size of the universe.

    Take a small circle and put a standing wave pattern around the complete circle. (it doesn’t have to be a closed wave, but the illustration is easier to see if it is)

    Say an atom emits that wave on one point on the circle when the circle is small and a receiver at another point picks up that wave.

    When the circle gets bigger, there is still the same number of standing waves around the circle; but now the wavelength has grown in direct proportion to the circumference of the circle.

    If a receiver at another point on the circle measures the wavelength after the circle has expanded, it will be a longer wavelength.

    Note that it is independent of the rate of expansion; whether uniform or nonuniform.

    A more thorough analysis shows this also works for “open” universes.

  14. The cosmic microwave background was first predicted in 1948 by Ralph Alpher, and Robert Herman.

    Alpher and Herman’s prediction was rediscovered by Yakov Zel’dovich in the early 1960s, and independently predicted by Robert Dicke at the same time.

    In 1964, David Todd Wilkinson and Peter Roll, Dicke’s colleagues at Princeton University, began constructing a Dicke radiometer to measure the cosmic microwave background. In 1965, Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson at the Crawford Hill location of Bell Telephone Laboratories in nearby Holmdel Township, New Jersey had built a Dicke radiometer that they intended to use for radio astronomy and satellite communication experiments. Their instrument had an excess 3.5 K antenna temperature which they could not account for. After receiving a telephone call from Crawford Hill, Dicke famously quipped: “Boys, we’ve been scooped.” A meeting between the Princeton and Crawford Hill groups determined that the antenna temperature was indeed due to the microwave background. Penzias and Wilson received the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery .


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