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Old 12-14-2012, 11:43 AM
 
Location: Somewhere out there.
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Is Theoretical Physics the new religion?
This is question that has been bugging me for years and I wondered what other people thought.

Just for background, I am no scientist or mathematician, (my husband is though) but I am fascinated by cosmology and theoretical physics ever since watching 'Cosmos' on TV as a kid and attempting to read 'A Brief History of Time' some years later. I am most definitely what you would call a 'layman' in these matters. It has taken me a long time to pronounce myself 'atheist'. I have never felt the presence of a god and I don't know why it has taken me so long to admit that.
I am missing this 'god gene' ie 'faith' that I believe religious people have.

In much the same way though I wonder if theoretical physicists have that 'faith' they would have otherwise have devoted to religion if they had lived at a different time (I'm not saying science and religion are necessarily mutually exclusive though).

In particular, I am having trouble getting my head around String Theory. Now as I said I am no mathematician so would not understand the proof if it was put in front of me but I am doing my best to understand the theory.
I quite like this dumbed down 'string theory for idiots' guide. This is about my level:
Why String Theory | a layman's journey to the frontiers of physics
I know mathematicians have all the evidence in front of them, so they can more easily understand it than me, but string theory is asking me to believe (amongst other things):
  • That the nature of reality changes and that everything is made of tiny vibrating strings so small we will never be able to see them or likely test whether they are there.
  • That string theory predicts 10 dimensions (or more) or in the case of M-Theory 11 dimensions.
Now if you are not a mathematician, this is a big ask.


Even the widely accepted theory of the big bang requires you to believe that 13.75 billion years ago all spacetime was collapsed into a singularity, where all the matter and energy in the Universe were present at a single point of extremely hot (if not infinite) temperature and density, from which spontaneously erupted this universe of space, time and matter.

I'm not saying I don't believe any of the above, because unlike the idea of 'God', the maths seems to be in place to support these ideas, however even given the maths (and I can only take their word for it), you need a pretty vivid imagination to believe any of it, as well, I would suggest a certain amount of 'faith'.

I'd be really interested to hear, particularly if anyone is an expert in these matters whether they think theoretical physics is a replacement for or requires 'faith' similar to the kind of faith everyone used to have for god?
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Old 12-14-2012, 11:44 AM
 
Location: Lower east side of Toronto
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Christ has knowledge of quantum mechanics and time...space and all those other modern things...This is not new or progressive thinking- It is ancient stuff.
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Old 12-14-2012, 11:56 AM
 
Location: Northeastern US
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I'm no expert or mathematician by any stretch, but I think "faith" is not the operative word here, at least not in the religious sense of believing something in the total absence of evidence or even believing contrary to apparent evidence. The detailed math is definitely beyond all but a handful of people but even a layman can vet the credentials and career performance of those few and can see the peer-reviewed nature of their work.
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Old 12-14-2012, 01:41 PM
 
Location: Mississippi
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Originally Posted by Oleg Bach View Post
Christ has knowledge of quantum mechanics and time...space and all those other modern things...This is not new or progressive thinking- It is ancient stuff.
Yeah, because archaeologists recently dug up some writings from Christ's personal collection wherein they found thoughts on Hamiltonian operators, Planck lengths, Schrodinger's Equation, and Minkowski space all bundled together waiting to be found. If only the people who assembled the Bible had simply remembered to put those things in there....
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Old 12-14-2012, 02:23 PM
 
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Originally Posted by mordant View Post
I'm no expert or mathematician by any stretch, but I think "faith" is not the operative word here, at least not in the religious sense of believing something in the total absence of evidence or even believing contrary to apparent evidence. The detailed math is definitely beyond all but a handful of people but even a layman can vet the credentials and career performance of those few and can see the peer-reviewed nature of their work.


Without understanding the math there's no way to know for certain. But many of the ideas of theoretical physics are indeed entirely or almost entirely theoretical in the sense that there's little or no physical evidence for them.

However, they are logical ideas based on empirical observations of how sub-atomic particles behave. This doesn't mean they're true, but even most scientists describe them as logically based, but theoretical. The fact that even the scientists who postulate these theories acknowledge that they are just uncertain ideas disqualifies the argument that they're religious. Religion is absolute belief in concepts which can't be proven nor disproved usually based on faith. The ideas of theoretical physics are subject to change, and not based on faith.
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Old 12-14-2012, 04:38 PM
 
Location: North by Northwest
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Originally Posted by Apathizer View Post


Without understanding the math there's no way to know for certain. But many of the ideas of theoretical physics are indeed entirely or almost entirely theoretical in the sense that there's little or no physical evidence for them.

However, they are logical ideas based on empirical observations of how sub-atomic particles behave. This doesn't mean they're true, but even most scientists describe them as logically based, but theoretical. The fact that even the scientists who postulate these theories acknowledge that they are just uncertain ideas disqualifies the argument that they're religious. Religion is absolute belief in concepts which can't be proven nor disproved usually based on faith. The ideas of theoretical physics are subject to change, and not based on faith.
Pretty much this. People also don't go to math church every Sunday.
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Old 12-14-2012, 06:34 PM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
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I just came from the inspiring services at my local Theoretical Physics Church, the First Reformed Abstract Unificationists.

We gave thanks to the random chaos which resulted in our being here, the choir sang "The Quantum Questions", "Entrophy Blues" the haunting "Black Hole In My Heart" and we all sang along with the hilarious "Thank God For Physics."

The collection basket was passed to raise money for another attempt at an American Supercollider. They think they may be able to get this one off the ground, or under the ground I suppose, by obtaining a corporate sponsor, like the Frito-Lay Supercollider or the NetFlix Supercollider.

After the sacred ceremony of changing money into wine, we sat around drinking and watching some Big Bang Theory re-runs.
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Old 12-14-2012, 07:51 PM
 
Location: Somewhere out there.
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Mordant and Apathizer, thank you for your considered responses.

Grandstander if I wanted a purely sarcastic, mocking and wholly unhelpful response I could have just asked my husband. We Brits have sarcasm in spades.

Last edited by Cruithne; 12-14-2012 at 08:05 PM..
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Old 12-14-2012, 08:23 PM
 
Location: Somewhere out there.
6,857 posts, read 3,782,423 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Apathizer View Post


Without understanding the math there's no way to know for certain. But many of the ideas of theoretical physics are indeed entirely or almost entirely theoretical in the sense that there's little or no physical evidence for them.

However, they are logical ideas based on empirical observations of how sub-atomic particles behave. This doesn't mean they're true, but even most scientists describe them as logically based, but theoretical. The fact that even the scientists who postulate these theories acknowledge that they are just uncertain ideas disqualifies the argument that they're religious. Religion is absolute belief in concepts which can't be proven nor disproved usually based on faith. The ideas of theoretical physics are subject to change, and not based on faith.
Thank you. I guess what I'm saying is that I have a hard time believing anything unless there is hard physical evidence or at least something that can be tested and proven. I guess if the scientists themselves acknowledge that they are just theories, then I can go along with that. Thank you, your response was helpful.

Quote:
Originally Posted by HeavenWood View Post
Pretty much this. People also don't go to math church every Sunday.
I didn't mean really to compare theoretical physics with an actual 'church style' religion of any kind. I meant it as a metaphor and as way of explaining my thoughts on the human mind having to accept some pretty difficult new concepts.
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Old 12-14-2012, 09:01 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Kentmum View Post
Thank you. I guess what I'm saying is that I have a hard time believing anything unless there is hard physical evidence or at least something that can be tested and proven. I guess if the scientists themselves acknowledge that they are just theories, then I can go along with that. Thank you, your response was helpful.
As mordant stated, there are probably only a handful of people who truly understand the math of quantum physics, and related areas of study. A few months ago I think I remember reading that the actual number is about 30 persons, but don't quote me on that - human memory isn't very reliable, so I could be off on the math.

For me theories of the fundamental origins of the universe (or universes according to the multi-verse theory) aren't like, say the theory of biological evolution: I think I thoroughly understand the principles on mechanism of how biological evolution operates, and the physical evidence is so overwhelming, and it explains so much that it's about as close to factual as any scientific theory that has ever existed. With most of the fundamental origins theories, I only kind of understand them; the math and some concepts are so complicated, it's just beyond me and most people.

So, in a sense I guess you could say I'm sort of taking particle physicists on faith, or at least trusting them in an area I don't understand very well. But their thinking is rooted in evidence (whenever possible) or reason, so this isn't the same as religion.
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