[cross posted at uncommondescent: What Qualifies as Science in the Wonderful World of Disney]
The scientific enterprise entails:
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.
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
mass = 5 kg
acceleration = 1 meter/ sec^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.”
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.”