Krauss on Intelligent Design, Religion (and String Theory)

By Mark Trodden | November 7, 2005 10:57 pm

Lawrence Krauss, a tireless defender of science against nonscience, pseudoscience and nonsense (and a good friend and collaborator) has a provocative essay in Tuesday’s New York Times.

As far as I can tell, the essay has considerable intellectual overlap with his most recent book, Hiding in the Mirror : The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond, but is focused on the difference between science and religion, even when dealing with the most abstract, currently untested aspects of our universe.

Much of the essay is spent setting up a comparison between intelligent design (or creationism) and string theory (and, more generally, the idea of extra dimensions), which is sure to drive some of my colleagues crazy. Krauss is certainly critical of what he sees as the blind faith of many scientists pursuing string theory as the ultimate theory of physics. Nevertheless, he stops short of claiming a complete equivalence, conceding

Whatever one thinks about all of these ruminations about hidden realities, there is an important difference – at least I hope there is – between the scientists who currently speculate about extra dimensions and those whose beliefs cause them to insist that life can only be understood by going beyond the confines of the natural world.

Scientists know that without experimental vindication their proposals are likely to wither. Moreover, a single definitive “null experiment,” like the Michelson-Morley experiment in 1887 that dispensed with the long-sought-after ether, could sweep away the whole idea.

Religious belief that the universe is the handiwork of an all-powerful being is not subject to refutation.

Given Lawrence’s clear suspicions about the worth of various activities in contemporary theoretical physics, I’m very pleased to see him using his remarkably high profile to make it clear to the public that, even in its most esoteric aspects, science is fundamentally distinct from religion. He may find certain research directions to be wild goose chases, but it is the possibility of unequivocally proving that they are such that makes them science. Intelligent Design, and the religious ideas underpinning it, cannot make this claim.

Even though this essay is strongly pro-science, I suspect the comments on extra dimensions and string theory to guarantee that tomorrow it will be the topic of much conversation, some heated, in physics departments and some corners of the blogosphere.

  • Fyodor

    Krauss is really asking for trouble, and he will soon get it. He has this arty-farty analogy between string theorists trying to understand our world “by going beyond it” [into higher dimensions] and religion doing something which sounds vaguely similar. He will find, if he hasn’t already, that religious people will pick this up and use it for their own purposes; then when he tries to say that he didn’t mean it, that he was just entranced by the sound of his own voice, he will find that nobody listens. SJ Gould, who admittedly was even more pompous and vacuous, had a very similar experience. Richard Dawkins had a wonderful put-down for science popularizers who live by promulgating arty-farty metaphors: he called them “purveyors of the profoundly superficial”. It’s very easy to imagine that profound-looking but fundamentally vapid metaphors and analogies [“journalism is just like the uncertainty principle”…”dance is an exploration of space and time” etcetcetc] can help the public understand things, but such exercises almost invariably end up causing the good old bullshitometer to go right off the scale, while being exploited by people who have no real wish to learn any real science.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    We take different things away from Lawrence’s article. Here, his point is not mainly metaphorical. His point is that anything with no hope of ever being experimentally falsifiable is not science. He is very much against much of the modern work in string theory, and is known for having this opinion. What I take away from this article is Lawrence saying “Yes, I speak out against string theory, and yes it is a highly abstract subject that has yet to make contact with the real world. But don’t let the fact that scientists disagree over the worth of a particular topic confuse you – this kind of esoteric work, despite the superficial analogy that some have drawn with ID, is not the same thing. It is, in principle, falsifiable and people are working very hard to figure out how do do that in practice, This is what sets it apart from nonscience and, in particular, ID.

    I respect that fact that you read something else into his writing, but I also think that this kind of jumping all over our most valuable and effective popularizers of science is one of the things that dissuades more scientists from getting involved in such work.

    Indeed, I think you are unnecessarily harsh. He is not someone who “lives by promulgating arty-farty metaphors”, although sometimes he does enjoy using them. As for the possible response from religious zealots – Lawrence has said much more provocative things before and has spent oodles of time over the last five years battling creationists in public and private, in his own state and beyond. I suspect he knows how to handle it.

  • Fyodor

    Maybe I am being unnecessarily harsh. That we will be able to judge by the response to headlines like
    “Science and Religion Share Fascination in Things Unseen”.

    To *me* that looks like good material for Father McGlone’s sermon this coming Sunday.

    I do appreciate all the good work that Krauss has done against superstition. That’s precisely why it is so painful to see him behaving like this.

    As for dissuading people from getting into popularization: if only! But if people *must* go in for such things, all I ask is a certain awareness of Dawkins’ “profound superficiality”. From the fact that both string theory and Christianity deal with “things unseen” one should deduce precisely *nothing*. Somebody computing a Dolbealt group of a Calabi-Yau manifold is doing something utterly different from someone striving to savor the peace of God that passeth understanding. Krauss knows this, so why not say it? Because it doesn’t give that delightful frisson of pseudo-profundity that a line like “Science and Religion Share Fascination in Things Unseen” does, that’s why. Repeat after me: they’re just words, folks. One collection of words can have several different meanings. That is neither profound nor cool. People *are* fascinated by higher dimensions. So what? It’s interesting. That’s all there is to it. Saying that there is some analogy with religious feeling is like saying that people are fascinated by black holes for Freudian reasons. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Obviously.

    Sorry, gotta run, I need to partake of the Spirit, if you know what I mean…..

  • Martin Bebow

    Ok this response to the article from a religious person. No question that science and religion are distinct. I agree that the ID proposition is not science (although I don’t think it necessarily cannot be falsified. The belief that the earth was the center of the universe was falsified. However even if we someday show exactly how the eye evolved that doesn’t mean there is no God.) I think there should be a truce in this debate. In his article Krauss makes the statement that religious faith may have an evolutionary basis. I’ve read several books pushing this idea that religion is a product of evolution. The idea seems to be that science can explain everything. This to me is hubris and is what has provoked the ID response. Science is encroaching on religion’s turf. Science and religion are distinct but they have both proved necessary in man’s advancement.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    I confess that I didn’t like the essay. Most of it was about similarities between science and religion, only getting to differences in the last part — a part most people will never get to. Plus, the characterization of string theory (both in the essay and in the book) is misleading. Lawrence acts as if the only reason to contemplate string theory is because it’s beautiful. The real reason is because it’s a theory of quantum gravity, and both quantum mechanics and gravity are part of the world we observe. I think that message is completely obscured.

    I know that Lawrence’s heart is in the right place, but choosing to spend 2/3’s of an essay talking about the shared fascination in the invisible between science and religion, and finishing with a false dichotomy between “truth” and “beauty,” isn’t the best use of space in the NYT.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Fyodor – I understand your frustration, but to me it seems like you’re missing the point. There have been a number of attempts from the Discovery Institute and other pro-ID / anti-science people to exploit the recent string theory work (the landscpape, anthropic reasoning and the multiverse) to make it seem that there are parts of legitimate science that are just like ID/creationism/religion. I think that Krauss here is saying that superficially they may look alilke but in fact are very different.

    I’m surprised that you want less popularization of science, but you’re entitled to your opinion about that, of course.

    Martin – I don’t know what you mean by “Science is encroaching on religion’s turf”. The turf of science is anything about which a testable, consistent hypopthesis can be made. When this happens to an area, and the scientific understanding becomes well-tested and established, any claims to a supernatural explanation are over or (if one needs to be perverse) pushed back to “who created the laws of physics?” questions. Krauss isn’t saying scientific explanations prove there is no God. He’s saying that if one insists on defining one’s God as the entity that governs those things science doesn’t have an answer for yet, then your God is living in a tinier and tinier corner every day.

    The idea that religion has an evolutionary basis doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. If it’s testable I’d be fascinated. If not, it’s just an interesting idea.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Sean – I haven’t read the book, and so can’t comment on that. I guess I agree that the weighting in the article is a little skewed, but I feel the point he’s getting across is an important defense of string theory.

    I must say though – there is a serious problem with anyone who reads something of this length in the NYT and doesn’t get to the end.

  • http://www.math.coumbia.edu/~woit/blog Peter Woit

    There was a long discussion of this over at my blog a week or so ago, with some interesting comments amongst the usual noise:

    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=286

    The best argument for a distinction between string theory and ID that I’ve heard came from one of my commenters, who noted that in the case of ID, there is already a compelling, well-tested theory that explains what it is trying to explain: the scientific theory of evolution. If you’re going to claim to replace such a theory, you need strong evidence, and the IDers have none.

    In the case of string theory, we have no viable theory of beyond standard model physics, so much more speculative approaches with little evidence to back them up are a necessary part of the way science is done.

    I disagree with Mark that the current string theory framework is in principle falsifiable, but we’ve had that discussion before. One would like to say that the difference between string theorists and IDers is that string theorists at least acknowledge the importance of falsifiability and are working hard to find a falsifiable version of string theory. The problem with this argument is that some IDers claim ID is falsifiable, and some string theorists (the anthropic landscapeologists) are going wobbly on falsifiability. In his forthcoming book, Susskind attacks those who demand falsifiability, calling them “Popperazi”. At the moment there seems to be no plausible idea about how to get a falsifiable prediction out of the landscape, and yet it is being studied by an increasing number of theorists.
    Many string theorists take the more defensible view that string theory is just in too preliminary a stage to be able to make falsifiable predictions. This is perfectly reasonable: every speculative idea about theoretical physics starts out in a form where it is insufficiently well understood to be conclusively confronted with experiment. The tricky question is how many person-years of work on a speculative idea is it reasonable to allow before you decide that it is no longer scientifically reasonable to keep pursuing it. I would claim that the 40,000+ person-years so far invested with no progress towards a prediction are a really bad sign, others will disagree.

    Finally, one aspect of religion is the way some believers refuse to confront serious intellectualy discussion of the problems with what they believe and instead engage in nasty personal attacks on those pointing out such problems. String theory unfortunately shares this with religion, for examples from today, see the comments of Fyodor Uckoff, whoever he is, and Lubos Motl’s blog entry on Krauss.

  • Moshe

    I have had the priviledge of hearing, reading or communicating with many smart people who are skeptical about string theory. This last year for example I have had such chats with both ‘tHooft and Penrose, which were very pleasant and I learned a lot. Beyond the first approximation of “for or against” you find quite a bit of variation and individual taste and intuition, which is fascinating to learn about.

    One can have such conversations turn productive, we had some very nice ones here too. This can be done provided one stricks to the high ground. The “high ground” does not mean one is not allowed to vehemently defend their position, but it does mean you do not assume automatically that your viewpoint is correct, so you actually have to supply arguments for your position, and you are willing to change your mind. Secondly, you recognize that the subject is complicated and subtle and sweeping generalizations and gross characterizations will not do.

    So all this long and trivial introduction is to say, sadly, that in Krauss’ writing on the subject (especially this one essay) I can only discern insults, no reasoned analysis, no fine distinctions, just insults. Ultimately there is nothing there to start a conversation around, at least not an interesting one, so i think I will skip this one.

  • Martin Bebow

    Mark,
    Do you believe science can answer every question? Can it explain why there is something rather than nothing (this from Briane Greene’s latest book.) Religion’s turf IS the unexplainable (hence the need for faith.) How about the question of cause and effect. Is gravity, for example, a cause or an effect. From a religious viewpoint I would ay that everything in the universe is the effect of a spiritual cause. This is truely untestable and can only be a matter of faith. So by your definition this is outside the turf of science. I’m saying that much of what passes for popular scientific speculative writing is actually dealing with questions that science will never be able to test. Maybe what we should agree on is what those questions are? Will science every be able to determine some absolute causal agent??

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Krauss is correct that both religion and modern physics are fascinated by things unseen, but he seems to misunderstand or underestimate the significant differences in their methods to figure out whether the unseen things actually exist.

    See my text for more observations.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Martin – I don’t believe, period. As far as I am concerned, it is much more honest to say “I don’t know, but I’d like to find out why.” than to appeal to faith in some fanciful, untestable idea. So I disagree that there is any need for faith. The questions you are posing may or may not be interesting, may or not be important, or may or may not even make sense. We don’t know the boundaries of science – and certainly haven’t seen them yet. But the answers will ultimately either be those given by science, or will be “we don’t know”.

    I am happy to live this way, seeing the world as it is, not as how I might imagine it to be.

    I completely disagree with your statement “… much of what passes for popular scientific speculative writing is actually dealing with questions that science will never be able to test.” and am not even sure what counts as “popular scientific speculative writing”. In any case, what matters is what science claims.

  • Lee Smolin

    Hi everyone,

    Peter says, “At the moment there seems to be no plausible idea about how to get a falsifiable prediction out of the landscape…”

    Can I mention that there is a precise proposal for how to make falsifiable predictions given a landscape of fundamental theories, it was presented in my first book Life of the Cosmos (OUP, 1997) and related papers, going back to 1992. (For what its worth these were where the term “landscape of theories” originated.)

    The key point is that to make falsifable predictions you need a mechanism that generates an ensemble of universes that a) is very far from random and b) within which our universe is a typical member. This is very different from the anthropic context in which the ensemble is random and our universe is very atypical. Once our universes is atypical it can be anything and there is no falsifiability. But if our unvierse is a typical member of a highly non-random ensemble you can find falsifiable predictions. You do it by finding a property of typical universes in the ensemble that is testible but not known to be true (so it is NOT a consequence of our existence.)

    The cosmological natural selection proposal is an example of this methodology. Among the falsifiable (and not yet falsified) predictions is that neutron stars have kaon condensate cores so the upper mass limit is 1.6 solar masses. This is not new, the first paper was “Did the universe evolve?” Classical and Quantum Gravity 9 (1992) 173-191.

    By the way the reason for the term “landscape of theories” was to suggest the connection to “fitness landscapes” from population biology, which was where the methodology was copied from.

    To my knowledge, those papers and book were the first place in which it was argued in detail that string theory would have to lead to a landscape of theories. The rest of the book went on to explore the implications, particularly for how science could continue to make falsifiable predictions. Other implications, having to do with the connection between the realization that explanation in particle physics becomes “envirnomental” and the need for theories of spacetime to be background independent, were also discussed in detail.

    I wonder if I can then gently suggest that those who now, more than ten years later, finally agree about the need for a landscape of string theories, might want to consider the arguments which led to the idea originally.

    Finally, in case it still needs to be said, Laurence is absolutely right that it must be possible to kill a theory by an experiment for it to be part of science. We all must be willing to abandon our favorite theories, no matter what is invested in it, if it does not yield falsifiable predictions.

    Thanks,

    Lee

  • Moshe

    Mark, just noticed your comment number 6 where you mention some aspects of string theory (the landscpape, anthropic reasoning and the multiverse) which you think Krauss is talking about. These are the popular subjects to have discussion about, and I see it has already started…

    But, these words are not mentioned in the article at all. As you are aware this set of ideas does not coincide with the set of ideas called string theory. In fact, I am not sure Krauss finds the multiverse and anthropic reasoning all that objectionable in the context of, say, chaotic inflation and self-reproducing universes. You may know more.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Lee,

    I am convinced that your viewpoint is oversimplified, and Darwin’s theory – discussed by Krauss as well – is another great example besides quantum gravity. Could you tell me how exactly are we supposed to “kill” the evolution theory by experiments, so that you would accept that it is science?

    We are accepting the evolutionary framework because it logically follows from the most elementary insights we have about the real world: its age counted in billions of years; the early environment that did not admit life at the very beginning; the fact that new generations of animals and plants are similar, but not identical, to their predecessors; the fact that certain features of species demonstrably (and logically) reduce their ability to survive.

    Nowadays, we can add DNA-like arguments to this game. With this body of knowledge, the evolutionary framework in its broadest sense is more or less a tautology.

    These things simply imply that we must accept the evolutionary framework and only the details are open to discussion and further research as long as we remain scientists. There is just no conceivable way how evolution could be “disproved” as such by experiments.

    A very similar thing holds for quantum gravity. We know that both general relativity and quantum mechanics exist in the real world, and this very basic and modest observation is enough to eliminate hundreds of counterparts of creationism and to show that as far as we know today, the answer that respects the existence of GR as well as QM seems to be unique, and we call all solutions we have found, after 40 years or systematic search, string theory. Only details are open to discussion as long as we want to avoid logical inconsistencies.

    I think that the analogy between evolution and string theory is a rather fair one. In neither case, we have a practical method that would indeed allow us to kill the whole framework by a single observation. In both cases, there are hundreds of details that must be answered by a more detailed work. In both cases, someone’s emotional feelings that evolution is too cruel or extra dimensions are too religious are completely irrelevant for science’s opinion.

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Hi Moshe – I can’t speak for Lawrence, of course, but my guess is that he would find anything that cannot be tested pointless.

    I certainly agree that the things I mentioned are not all there is to string theory and, in fact, I was actually trying to single them out as things that lead to much criticism, but which are not necessarily what most people in the field agree with/care about/work on/.

  • Scott

    Lubos, you are obviously not very familiar with much of the evidence of evolution whose predictions have been tested. First of all microevolution has been observed as for macroevolution there is plenty of evidence beyond the simple step from microevolution to macroevolution. here is a link of some of the evidence.

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/

    Please educate yourself and stop using this analogy.

  • http://iso42.blogspot.com Wolfgang

    Lubos,

    I agree with you that superstring theory is currently the best proposal (and as of now the only consistent) for a quantum theory of gravitation.
    But it assumes that nature is supersymmetric and if LHC and subsequent experiments do not find evidence for supersymmetry we will have to think about alternatives. Lee and others are thinking about such alternatives already now.

    Of course, if the LHC does find nature to be supersymmetric it would be the greatest triumph of theoretical physics and the search for “alternative theories” would be over almost immediately.

    In this sense theoretical physics and superstring theory is not too different from past theories, it just so happened that energies at which we begin to see SUSY effects are quite high …

  • http://history-science.blogspot.com Doran

    One short comment. The idea that the Michelson-Morley experiment was an effective “null experiment” that swept away the “long sought after notion of the aether” is pure fantasy. Skilled and credible physcists did further research in aether studies (see Miller 1935) at least through the 1919 eclipse results. Important experiments such as the M-M interferometry experiment done at Case-Western Reserve, are never as cut, dry, and theoretically conclusive as physicists wish or dream they are.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Scott,

    thank you for your link; I am familiar with a lot of circumstancial evidence of evolution, but you seem to be unaware with circumstantial evidence for string theory, such as its prediction of gravity, fermions organized into families, gauge symmetries at low energies, and the black hole entropy that assure us that the theory is not just a random guess.

    Be sure that I won’t stop using this analogy as long as I am convinced that it is a good one.

    Best wishes
    Lubos

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Wolfgang,

    please accept my apologies but I don’t think that everything what you write is quite correct. First of all, string theory does not “assume” supersymmetry. The stable string theory vacua *predict* (spacetime) supersymmetry; supersymmetry is a derived concept in all these backgrounds much like gravity, gauge forces, and the rest of matter.

    If the LHC does not seem supersymmetry, it may mean that supersymmetry is not there to solve the hierarchy problem and it may be completely non-existent, but it may also mean that it is broken at higher energy scales than those accessible by the LHC. In this sense, the idea of supersymmetry (much like string theory) is not falsifiable by a single experiment either. To fully falsify supersymmetry, you would have to probe the energies up to the Planck scale. Most people would agree that SUSY broken at superPlanckian scales “does not exist” in any meaningful sense of the word “exist”. So the idea is falsifiable in principle which is very different from being falsifiable by experiments that cost a small amount of money.

    No doubt that if SUSY is not seen by the LHC, it will reduce self-confidence of everyone who believes that SUSY is there in the real world – and most people in string theory (not everyone; some people think that SUSY is not a prediction of string theory). But it’s just not enough to kill the idea entirely because the precise energy scale where it is broken is not known. More importantly, even if the LHC does not see supersymmetry, we will have to continue the search for *consistent* theories, not just arbitrary “theories”. Nothing qualitative will be changed about the scientific method in physics even if the SUSY is not seen. The scientific method is much more robust – and inconsistent theories will probably remain inconsistent.

    I agree with your sentence “In this sense theoretical physics and superstring theory is not too different from past theories, it just so happened that energies at which we begin to see SUSY effects are quite high…”

    Exactly – we are just asking questions that are more advanced and harder to test experimentally than the previous questions. We must do so because the previous questions have already been answered. This evolution requires that we give more weight to the mathematical and indirect arguments – because we don’t have too many experimental ones – but this is just a quantitative change of the approach implied by the actual situation, not a change in the meaning of the scientific method.

    Best
    Lubos

  • Scott

    circumstancial evidence? Did you read the link at all?

    In the following list of evidences, 30 major predictions of the hypothesis of common descent are enumerated and discussed. Under each point is a demonstration of how the prediction fares against actual biological testing. Each point lists a few examples of evolutionary confirmations followed by potential falsifications. Since one fundamental concept generates all of these predictions, most of them are interrelated. So that the logic will be easy to follow, related predictions are grouped into five separate subdivisions. Each subdivision has a paragraph or two introducing the main idea that unites the various predictions in that section. There are many in-text references given for each point. As will be seen, universal common descent makes many specific predictions about what should and what should not be observed in the biological world, and it has fared very well against empirically-obtained observations from the past 140+ years of intense scientific investigation.

    I don’t see how this is analagous to anything string theory has produced.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Wolfgang– I think that both sides of your implication are not quite right (although they seem to be common beliefs).

    String theory predicts supersymmetry, but it does not predict that supersymmetry is broken at experimentally accessible energies. Not finding evidence for supersymmetry at the LHC would not be evidence against string theory.

    Contrariwise, finding evidence for SUSY wouldn’t be very strong evidence for string theory, either. It would be nice, as SUSY fits well into string theory, but ultimately it’s just a statement about TeV-scale particle physics, not about quantum gravity.

  • http://iso42.blogspot.com Wolfgang

    > In this sense, the idea of supersymmetry (much like string theory) is not falsifiable by a single experiment either.

    Sure. But if we reach higher and higher energies and do not see evidence for supersymmetry (or extra dimensions), we would “falsify” the theory slowly but surely.

  • http://iso42.blogspot.com Wolfgang

    Sean (and Lubos),

    I understand that you hedge your bets, but from my perspective there are only two possibilities:

    i) the well-established toolkit of perturbation theory works even for quantum gravity, which would require super-symmetry (as super-strings or perhaps SUGRA, both are limits of supersymmetric M-theory anyway).

    ii) nature does not care about our perturbation series and some fundamental changes to the theory framework are necessary. In this case all kinds of proposals have ben made, from causal sets to deformed special relativity.

    If LHC finds evidence for supersymmetry, we are lucky and can go with i) and I will see a quantum theory of gravitation during my lifetime.

    If we find no evidence for supersymmetry (and of course we can always wait for higher energies) we have to think about ii) in whcih case I will see a theory of quantum gravity only if genetic engineering makes good progress 8-)

    Unfortunately, it is likely that nature neither cares about our mathematical skills nor me.

  • http://iso42.blogspot.com Wolfgang

    Sorry for 3 posts in a row.

    I am aware that people work on non-perturbative string theory and as we learned in a previous post, Clifford already begins to understand some 2D examples 8-)

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/09/cft-and-tomato-soup-can.html Plato

    I don’t have to remind you ladies/gentleman that this is a public forum? :)

    So the struggle is indeed a questionable one, that by a “coming out” by Krause, just serves to remind one about all the opinions that have been flying around between you people. Are you going to get a handle on it?

    While things have progressed quite sufficiently through the ideas of ancient ideologies, what Lee has to say about experimental verifcation does serves it purpose in the end. I think most understand this.

    What Moshe had to say about Hooft and Penrose is stimulating, and indeed, fyodor was quite harsh:)You cannot deny what good scientist like to implore in their basis of math and experimental valuations as they move to generalizations. Shall they then have been converted to religious doctrine? The synoptic roads to issues serve many well to see what a mind had to encompass in it’s views, as well as taking stock of what it had to learn. A Greene , a Kaku, or a Smolin.

    As the public we get the tail end, although some of us know that there are deeper and purer thoughts about these things.

    The Theaetetus account of Plato further develops the definition of knowledge. We know that, for something to count as knowledge, it must be true, and be believed to be true. Plato argues that this is insufficient, and that in addition one must have a reason or justification for that belief.

    Plato defined knowledge as justified true belief.

    One implication of this definition is that one cannot be said to “know” something just because one believes it and that belief subsequently turns out to be true. An ill person with no medical training but a generally optimistic attitude might believe that she will recover from her illness quickly, but even if this belief turned out to be true, on the Theaetetus account the patient did not know that she would get well, because her belief lacked justification.

    Knowledge, therefore, is distinguished from true belief by its justification, and much of epistemology is concerned with how true beliefs might be properly justified. This is sometimes referred to as the theory of justification.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology

    Having said this, you are entitled to your religion. You can believe in God if you like? :)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Hi Wolfgang – I don’t see how perturbation theory working for quantum gravity is connected to what we might see of SUSY at the LHC. My understanding is that there is nothing that we know about string theory that suggests that SUSY breaking should be a low-energy phenomenono. Low energy SUSY breaking is a phenomenological idea intended to address the hierarchy problem. I just don’t see that evidence for or against SUSY at the LHC has much of a bearing on string theory.

  • Arun

    Lubos,

    The theory of evolution has falsifiability tests. If we take a group of organisms and ask how they are related, we could ask these questions in many different ways – e.g., nuclear DNA versus mitochondrial DNA versus development sequences; all of these have to come out consistent, or else evolution is false.

    For examples:

    http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/evolving_motors/
    http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/evolution_of_the_mammalian_vagina/

    -Arun

  • http://iso42.blogspot.com Wolfgang

    Mark,

    I did not write that SUSY breaking has to be a low-energy phenomenon.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Arun,

    string theory has falsifiability tests. If we take a group of low-energy fermions and ask how much they contribute to the triangle gauge anomaly diagrams, we will find many different diagrams that must be cancelled – e.g. the electric charge squared; the electric charge times T3 squared, and so forth; all of these diagrams have to cancel, otherwise string theory – one that predicts a cancellation of spacetime gauge anomalies as a consequence of worldsheet conformal symmetry – is false.

    There are other quantities that can be calculated in many ways that don’t have to agree a priori but have to agree if string theory is false – for example, the entropy of 3-charge BPS black holes. All these tests work, and they fail in all other alternative, “intelligent designer” theories.

    For more examples, see textbooks of string theory.

    Best wishes
    Lubos

    P.S. you may argue that these consistency criteria are not specific to string theory. A creationist can argue that your criteria are not inherent to evolution either and that a God has created these things deliberately from the same DNA etc. It’s about the required stretch of imagination. There is just no other rational theory that predicts either these relations between the DNA or the relations between the different calculations of anomalies and/or black hole entropy, among other examples, which is why we treat the general frameworks of evolution and string theory very seriously.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Errata: electric charge CUBED … have to agree if string theory is CORRECT …

  • http://iso42.blogspot.com Wolfgang

    Lubos,

    can we agree that there are “real” predictions of string theory.

    There is supersymmetry, e.g. we will see fundamental spin-3/2 fermions at some energy below (but may be close to) the Planck energy.

    There are extra dimensions, e.g. this probably means that gravity becomes stronger (not weaker) at short distances.

    etc.

    In this sense superstring theory is just another theory of physics.

  • IN

    Dear Lubos,

    your arguments do not make any sense. If evolution was incorrect we would obviously know. You should not get your judgement confused by a dogmatic attitude in the string theory topic,

    IN

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    I looked at Arun’s links and as far as I see, neither of them contains the type of material that Arun claimed to be there: potential methods to falsify evolution. Both of them – the biomotors and the vaginas – include a discussion with the creationists, and both of them include predictions of Darwin’s theory for some old, unobserved phenomena for which we have no available evidence such as fossils; plus open questions about vaginas. They describe that the evolution is consistent with the biomotors – of course, I agree with that. That’s however on equal footing with string theory’s predictions of very high energy physics with the stringy and 10D/11D window near the Planck scale etc. and our usual comments that string theory is consistent with all qualitative features of the real world (generations of fermions, as an analogy for biomotors).

    More generally, I don’t believe that any particular insight about the structure of DNA and mtRNA and other things would convince anyone to abandon the whole evolutionary framework. It’s just a complete fantasy. Even if there were room for conceivable contradictions – such as the statement that the RNA-only organisms can’t be related to the DNA organisms – there would always be a lot of other ways how this discrepancy may be resolved.

    The general arguments supporting the evolutionary logic – long age of Earth; the observed validity of physical laws before and during the creation of our planet (not only from cosmology); the existence of mutation; the natural selection known from everyday life; and so forth – is just much stronger than any particular detail about DNA or RNA, and who claims the opposite is not realistic. Moreover, Darwin’s theory existed long before we knew that there was anything like DNA or RNA.

    I want to be very clear that an analogous situation exists in string theory, and a particular experiment such as the absence of SUSY at 2 TeV won’t convince me and most others that string theory is a wrong description of reality until someone shows me a working non-string theory that could explain anything beyond the Standard Model including gravity and a more elementary explanation of the degrees of freedom in the SM. A lot of new interesting phenomenology that may potentially be independent of string theory will make us interested in it; but it is a different thing from declaring that string theory has been superseded or even falsified. We have much stronger reasons to take string theory seriously – reasons that have something to do with the internal mathematical consistency, a very primary scientific constraint, and very basic properties of the real world – such as the presence of gravity and gauge theories.

    It seems to me that Wolfgang is correct and a subplanckian spin 3/2 particle with the SUGRA couplings; and extra dimensions implying growth of the strength of gravity that exceeds the 4D ones are among the general predictions of string theory. Some people may disagree that they’re general but anyway…

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear IN,

    if string theory were incorrect, we would also know. Some of these infinite divergent determinants or anomalies would not drop out. Complementary but different calculations of SUSY black hole entropy would lead to contradictory results. Or we would see that the lowest spin 2 particle in the string spectrum is not massless. Or we would have a proof that there can’t be chiral fermions in the theory. Or there can’t be multiple generations. Or there can’t be the right gauge group with the right fermion spectrum. In other words, we could have very well faced the same types of inconsistencies that all the “alternatives” competing with string theory exhibit.

    This has not happened. String theory is consistent and alive, much like evolution. The creationists remain unconvinced about the evolution and you remain unconvinced about string theory. It’s OK with me but I don’t see a truly qualitative difference between these two cases. If we forget about the standard logic of science – for example the assumption of no miracles (such as God’s creation or assumptions that infinitely many types of inconsistencies disappear without any good reason) – we pretty much know whether we should take evolution or string theory seriously.

    If we allow ourselves to assume miracles – creation, infinitely intelligent creators, Lorentz symmetry emerging without any good reason from a completely asymmetric combinatorial toy model and so forth – we may believe Intelligent Design or Loop Quantum Gravity. It’s just about the amount of departure from the conventional wisdom of biology and/or particle physics that we are ready to accept. If we want to avoid beliefs that can’t be justified and simultaneously look unnatural from the viewpoint of our current knowledge, we are pretty much forced to think that the origin of species is described by evolution and very high energy physics by string theory.

    Best wishes
    Lubos

  • Arun

    Lubos,

    The two links I provided both show evolutionary trees constructed from some very specific features. The fact that these two trees are consistent with all other trees is where the falsifiability lies. Sorry you missed seeing them. This has nothing to do with the specific structure of DNA or organisms or anything.

    One can look to historical linguistics, where such trees of descent have not always been mutually consistent, to see where a theory of evolution fails; languages can be said to evolve, but there are other processes going on as well, and this shows up.

    -Arun

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Arun,

    yes, one can derive the trees in various ways. You know very well that I am not arguing against evolution. ;-) What I am arguing is that the situation is analogous to string theory. You wrote:

    “And this also shows that the theory of evolution is falsifiable because we did not know a priori that the trees we draw from different data would come out consistent with each other.”

    I can use copy/paste and edit a few words:

    “And this [paper by Strominger and Vafa, for example] also shows that string theory is falsifiable because we did not know a priori that the black hole entropy we calculate from different descriptions would come out consistent with each other.”

    What do you think is exactly the difference between the two situations? In both cases, we talk about a quantity that we don’t observe directly – the historical tree and/or the black hole entropy – but inequivalent methods to derive them within our framework lead to the same results although it was not guaranteed a priori.

    Best
    Lubos

  • Torbjorn Larsson

    Lubos, creationist speaks so often about evolution being a tautology that it is in the talkorigins FAQ ( http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/tautology.html ).

    So when you say “With this body of knowledge, the evolutionary framework in its broadest sense is more or less a tautology” it sounds familiar.

    The usual evolutionary gospel goes like this: we have established facts of evolution (paleontology, geology, evolutionary adaptions in virus et cetera) and theories of it. The basic mechanisms of random events (mutation, sex) and nonrandom selection (culling) are simple to study. There has been over hundred years of research and millions of different tests, both postdictions and verified predictions to facts. Evolution is used to breed antibiotics and to anticipate the response to them in the organisms. (See http://pharyngula.org/ or http://www.talkorigins.org/ for pointers.)

    The analogy to string theory is that we have established facts of physics and string theories of it. There are tests, but postdictions or unverified predictions to facts, if I understand it correctly.

    Be certain that the picture you paint of evolution would not be recognised by biologists. Be equally certain that they would not recognise a creationism/ID analog in your description of string theory. Creationism is unfalsifiable in principle because it can be adapted to any outcome; old school creationism appeals to supernatural forces and new school ID refuses to describe its designer and how he is supposed to work. I don’t think string theory can rely on such opportune mechanisms.

  • spyder

    When Krauss writes: “Religious belief that the universe is the handiwork of an all-powerful being is not subject to refutation,” he is exampling the same sort of purveying of the “profoundly superficial” regarding religion that Fyodor detests about popular science writing. Would that all religions were monotheistic in their constructs, thus making it so much easier for the many to discuss them. Such is not the case however. Krauss’s statement is refuted, quite often, in religious studies departments.

    Most of my academic career was spent as a historian of religions, prior to my turning towards philosophy and consciousness studies. I come to this blog realm to learn about physics and the relationship of some of its practitioners with the political, social, artistic, and more mundane worlds of the non-physicists. I certainly don’t pretend to know much about theoretical physics, string theory, and quantum field studies; i deeply respect and admire those that do, especially the ones who have put this blog together and the others who comment herein. I do find it a tad bit disingenous when academics who do not study human religiosity feel so comfortable making statements about religion/s.

    Suffice it to say, one of the core concepts in the study of religion/s–one that must be addressed consistently, and evaluated with sound hermeneutical inquiry–is the human act of symbolizing the cosmos, from the most minute aspects of day-to-day life, to the most abstract relations with non-human spiritual entities and the universe. Symbolizing is something we humans do so very well. I read here in Cosmic Variance, columns of discourses, that represent the symbolization of constructs of thought and awareness, forged by conscious willful effort, to grasp hold of the universe to make it fully known. Testing the validity of one’s theoretical scientific construct and testing the power of one’s faith are two very different acts, and although the desired outcomes share the goal of affirming a concise symbolic expression of the experience, the processes and realities examined are nevertheless extraordinarily unique to themselves. Let’s leave it that way, shall we.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Lubos,
    The blackhole entropy is certainly a prediction of string theory, unfortunately it is experimentally inaccessible. Evolution and its mechanisms are experimentally accessible.

  • Scott

    spydor,

    I am not certain if Krauss was implying that all religions believed that, or just that it was a religous belief. I would bet on the latter.

  • Pingback: Not Even Wrong » Blog Archive » Krauss New York Times Essay()

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Torbjorn,

    I realize that the creationists say that evolution is a tautology, and as you can say, it seems that I agree with them – and I don’t care a single bit whether you are annoyed by any similarity. I probably disagree with them about the question whether a tautology is correct, but there is one point we share: it is not really possible to disprove the evolutionary framework as such by a single experiment. Any experiment that would be designed to disprove evolution as such could only result in the modification of some of its details.

    Incidentally, I also agree with your evolutionary “gospel” and there is no contradiction.

    Finally, when you write “Creationism is unfalsifiable in principle because it can be adapted to any outcome; old school creationism appeals to supernatural forces and new school ID refuses to describe its designer and how he is supposed to work.”, it is a complete analogy of:

    “Denying of string theory is unfalsifiable in principle because it can be adapted to any outcome; old school denial of string theory appeals to a supernatural cure of nonrenormalizable forces and new school anti-string-theory refuses to describe its building blocks of the SM fields and particles and how they are supposed to work. I don’t think that evolution can rely on such opportune mechanisms.”

    Let me remind everyone that those who claim that there is something wrong with my analogy have not yet shown what the problem is supposed to be. ;-)

    Arun: black hole thermodynamics is as accessible to tests as the trees of the oldest organisms: both of them are accessible in principle and indirectly, assuming a certain amount of logical reasoning, and both of them may become accessible in practice if we are lucky enough. I am personally much more certain about the black hole entropy’s being A/4G for large black holes than I am certain about any particular tree that reconstructs the relationships between some very old organisms. And this is not just some private opinion of mine – but an explicit example of the general fact that insights in physics are typically much more rigorous, reliable, and accurate than the results in biology.

    And that was the memo.

    Best wishes
    Lubos

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    spyder– No, I don’t want to leave it at that. Of course we could spend many happy hours debating what is meant by “religion.” People have used and abused the word too much for there to be a sensible answer on which everyone can agree. But if I take the easy way out and look in a dictionary, the first definition I see is “Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.” That seems like a perfectly sensible referent for the word “religion” (even if it excludes other reasonable possibilities), and as a concept it falls squarely within the purview of people who study nature, the universe, its origin and workings.

    Not that it matters. There is nothing disingenuous about physicists talking about religion, or mathematicians talking about the opera, or plumbers talking about Renaissance poetry, level of comfort notwithstanding. Nobody is pretending to credentials they don’t have, they are simply making arguments about the world as they see it. Those arguments should be judged on their merits, regardless of professional training — otherwise, I wouldn’t have to give in when my undergraduate students catch me making mistakes in class.

  • http://www.jumplive.com chimpanzee

    For some perspective, consider this interesting data-point from History: Religion, Science, Mathematics:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/transcripts/3010_archimed.html

    NARRATOR: He was more than 70 years old at the time. Archimedes’ death, in 212 B.C., brought a golden age in Greek mathematics to an end.

    DR. CHRIS RORRES: Archimedes’ writings were almost like religious writings:

    [ current accepted theories are considered “religion”, whereas new theories are considered “heresy”.

    “You cannot prove a theory, you can only DISPROVE it”
    — falsifiability criterion (Science has a self-correcting, self-organizing trait. Religion doesn’t) ]

    people felt that they were the final word on the matter. For example, nobody tries to improve the Bible today: it’s heresy. And back then they had that same attitude about the writings of Archimedes, that these were the definitive texts on geometry. There was no one that could follow him.

    Greek mathematics then gradually declined, and then the Dark Ages, the Age of Faith entered,

    [ Religion (“faith”) VS Science (“scholarly scrutiny”) ]

    where all interest in mathematics was lost, and, as a result, nothing really interested us scientifically.

    NARRATOR: But many of Archimedes’ writings did survive, copied by scribes, who passed on his precious mathematics from generation to generation, until, in the 10th century, one final copy of his most important work, called The Method, was made.

    But interest in mathematics had now died. Archimedes’ name was forgotten. Then, one day in the 12th century, a monk ran out of parchment. There were devastating results.

    [ Religion infringed on math/science textbooks. It’s happening today:

    http://www.cnn.com/2005/EDUCATION/11/08/evolution.debate.ap/index.html ]

    http://archives.cnn.com/2001/fyi/teachers.ednews/08/30/astrology.degree.ap/

    Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist who heads the Hayden Planetarium in New York, noted astrology was discredited 600 years ago with the birth of modern science. “To teach it as though you are contributing to the fundamental knowledge of an informed electorate is astonishing in this, the 21st century,” he said.

    Education should be about knowing how to think, Tyson said. “And part of knowing how to think is knowing how the laws of nature shape the world around us. Without that knowledge, without that capacity to think, you can easily become a victim of people who seek to take advantage of you.”

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Lubos,

    I can only laugh and shake my head in disbelief.

    -Arun

  • Scott

    Lubos,

    The theory that all organisms evolved is in no way the same postion as string theory. Microevolution, the prerequisite for the theories of speciation and common being general among all species, has actually been observed in the lab as well as selection pressures and other things. Corresponding things in string theory strings, compactified dimmensions, and susy have not been observed. Furthermore direct evidence that doesn’t depend on the observation of microevolution exist.

    In the following list of evidences, 30 major predictions of the hypothesis of common descent are enumerated and discussed. Under each point is a demonstration of how the prediction fares against actual biological testing. Each point lists a few examples of evolutionary confirmations followed by potential falsifications. Since one fundamental concept generates all of these predictions, most of them are interrelated. So that the logic will be easy to follow, related predictions are grouped into five separate subdivisions. Each subdivision has a paragraph or two introducing the main idea that unites the various predictions in that section. There are many in-text references given for each point. As will be seen, universal common descent makes many specific predictions about what should and what should not be observed in the biological world, and it has fared very well against empirically-obtained observations from the past 140+ years of intense scientific investigation.

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/

    String theory meanwhile has not been subjected to any tests.

  • Pingback: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous | Cosmic Variance()

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Scott,

    the prerequisite of evolution is microevolution; the prerequisites of string theory are general relativity and gauge theory that have been observed in the lab, too.

    We haven’t found convicing “fossils” – or what exactly you count as “direct” evidence of evolution – of string theory but it may change as soon as February 2006.

    Best
    Lubos

  • Martin Bebow

    Mark,
    You have your personal beliefs and I have mine. What I object to in popular scientific writing (like Briane Greene’s or Richard Dawkins) is when a scientist will cross the boundry between science and faith. In his latest book Briane Greene said he beleives science would eventually discover why there is something rather than nothing. He went from giving a lucid account of the latest scientific ideas about time and space (for which he can be relied on as an authority) to giving a personal belief for which he has no scientific justification. He undermines a belief in God with those in his audience who assume he is as much an authority for what to believe as he his for his opinions on matters of science. So writers like him are just as guilty as the ID crowd in injecting belief where it doesn’t belong. Stick to the facts guys.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Martin – I agree with you that one just shouldn’t use the word “believe”. However, I do not think there is any way in which a few throw away comments like this can be compared with a deliberately orchestrated political campaign such as that behind ID.

  • Martin Bebow

    Mark, it isn’t a few stone throws. Science in the west has been continually assaulting religious belief. It’s not surprising that religious people have gotten together to try and fight back. This needs to be addressed by the scientific community. Any discussion of ultimate origins by writers of science should be stigmatized by the scientific community in the same way that that commmunity is trying to stigmatize the ID argument. That would be fair and would, I think, defuse an increasingly nasty debate. I believe in the scientific method and I also believe in God. I have seen nothing in what I’ve read to make me think there is any need for me to give up that belief.

  • erc

    He undermines a belief in God with those in his audience who assume he is as much an authority for what to believe as he [is] for his opinions on matters of science.

    I find this a little hard to believe. Are you saying that a pre-existing belief in god is going to crumble because someone discussing science says that he does not share that same belief? Why is it a bad thing to make people question their faith? All that questioning means is asking them to actually think. I don’t suppose Brian Greene wants readers to abandon their faith on his say so – if they are encouraged to reflect on why they have those beliefs, what their religiosity means to them, whether there may be other ways to view the world, then as an educator and a scientist he has succeeded, whether they choose to continue believing or not.

    No scientist wants the public to blindly accept whatever they are told; they want minds to be engaged and individuals to make their own rational analyses based on the best evidence available at the time.

  • Martin Bebow

    erc,
    I’m saying that if scientists want to complain about the ID movement injecting belief into science then the least scientists could do is refrain from doing the same thing. Fair is fair. The fact is many people who want to attack religion use science as the club in a desceptive, unjustified (and in some cases like I imagine is the case with Brian Greene) unintentional way. I’m saying to the science community to be consistent and stick to the facts. If you want to talk about the implications of scientific reasearch on religious beliefs amoung yourselves fine. But don’t publish books that use the authority of your undoubted knowledge about scientific matters to speculate about things for which you have absolutely not scientific baasis.

  • erc

    Saying that one believes that science can explain all natural phenomena is not the same as a belief in supernatural explanations. He is not injecting faith into science at all – this belief is what drives scientists to look for explanations: the assumption that a rational explanation exists. It does not have any bearing whatsoever on the theories that are then proposed. This is in no way the same as using irrational, unjustifiable, unexplained superstitions as the foundation for constructing an “explanation” of the world we observe.

    There is a gulf between believing that science can provide answers to questions about the universe and believing that the universe cannot be explained rationally.

  • subodh

    dear martin,
    when you refer to science having consistently assaulted religion of late (it began with galileo), you should really take not here that it is only certain intertpretations (i.e. the dominant ones) of monotheistic religions that have any conflict with science. I’m not so sure that Hindus and Buddhists will agree with you that what physics has uncovered about the nature of the universe is in such violent conflict with their beliefs.

    to everyone: just as an aside, i remember this quote from I.I.Rabi (nobel laureate in physics) that i found rather interesting:

    “In lfe, there are two types of physicist. One who turns to physics because in their childhood, something was wrong with their radio. The other, because in their childhood, something was wrong with their god.”

    … food for thought….

  • Martin Bebow

    erc,
    You said “Saying that one believes that science can explain all natural phenomena is not the same as a belief in supernatural explanations. ” I disagree. They are both beliefs and, from a rational viewpoint, have exactly the same validity. Neither can be proved (as far as we know) and certainly scientists, to be consisitent, should stick with what the current evidence says and not go making giant leaps beyond that. Einstein was a genius but when he said that God does not play dice with the universe he made a fool of himself.

    Subodh,
    What a coincidence. I’m currently reading the Bhagavad Gita again and just came to the part last night where Krishna says that He is the originator of all natural phenomenon. I could get the exact quotation if you are interested.

  • http://www.phys.cwru.edu/~krauss Lawrence Krauss

    Again, I am somewhat surprised at the reaction to my piece in the Times.. I have to run, but will add more later. First, the choice of title was not mine (My title was “The Secret Universe”)..and I was somewhat disenchanted by it.. but my point was to argue that science and religion are different, but we all are fascinated by the world we cannot see.. We (scientists) handle it differently.. and I wanted to use string theory and extra dimensions as an example, because I have just written about them in my new book.. There is nothing more ephemeral, and less connected at this point to experiment, but I thought I defended the entire enterprise as being science, with the intent of producing falsifiable results.. (I also did not intend to put down religion by saying it is not falsifiable.. see my other writing in this regard… it is simply different than science..)One thing I will say however, that disturbs me, is that the reaction I seem to be getting in my attempt to introduce some honest skepticism here is very similar in vitriol to some of the attacks I get from those pushing ID, and alien abductions.. I had not expected this, frankly, from the scientific community.

  • Moshe

    LK,

    Honest skepticism coupled with specific answerable questions is most welcome, as far as anybody I know is concerned. From the little I read (and I will certainly try to look at your last book) I was not able to see preciely what you find wrong with the way string theory is practised, how could this be imporved, what are the areas where there was a lot of progress and what are the areas where there was none. These points could be much more useful for string theorists than just being told they have failed, end of story.

    As for this specific article, being compared to that reprehensible group of right wing fanatics is not a pleasant experience, which could explain the somehwat over the top response you got. Try some concrete and technical point of disagreement (as Peter Woit, Lee Smolin and other have tried) you may get a different response.

  • Torbjorn Larsson

    Dear Lubos,

    You shouldn’t care if I am annoyed. Actually, I am enjoyed. But you shouldn’t care about that either. :-)

    “it is not really possible to disprove the evolutionary framework as such by a single experiment. Any experiment that would be designed to disprove evolution as such could only result in the modification of some of its details.”

    This sounds like creationist claim CA211: “Any fact can be fit into the theory of evolution. Therefore, evolution is not falsifiable and is not a proper scientific theory.” ( http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA211.html )

    Some of the responses is falsification by observing a static fossil record, observing chimeras or observing spontaneous creation of organisms.

    Today we don’t expect these things to happen though some of these ideas were popular once. In a sense you may be correct; we are passed that stage. The conclusion I would make is that evolution has matured and is robust.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/09/cft-and-tomato-soup-can.html Plato

    It will be nice to see what you have to say about your stance on extra dimensions :)

    Was the book already written, when you encountered this response? People might have seen these things, as if, the book was written after your encounters with a sector of the population. You see?

    The “coming out thing” in NYT was just a recognition of the discourse that you saw had already been going on? So is your timing impeccable, or had you already seen these difficulties with that sector of the public?

  • http://www.anthropic-principle.ORG island

    Lee Smolin wrote:

    Can I mention that there is a precise proposal for how to make falsifiable predictions given a landscape of fundamental theories, it was presented in my first book Life of the Cosmos (OUP, 1997) and related papers, going back to 1992. (For what its worth these were where the term “landscape of theories” originated.)

    The key point is that to make falsifable predictions you need a mechanism that generates an ensemble of universes that a) is very far from random and b) within which our universe is a typical member.

    Like perpetually inherent thermodynamic structuring that enables the system to metasystems transition or “convolve” it’s characteristics to a higher order of the same structure each time that we have a big bang.

    http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/ASYMTRANS.html
    http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/MSTT.html

    If the vacuum is comprised of the same energy as matter, then the vacuum will expand when you make a particle pair from this energy, because you have to condense or compress it down over a finite region of space in order to achieve the matter density and this rarefies the vacuum, thereby increasing negative pressure.

    These “asymmetric transitions” will increase tension between the vacuum and ordinary matter as more matter is generated until eventually the integrity of the forces will be compromised and the universe will “evolve”.

    The anthropic principle

  • Arun

    Martin Bebow:

    The Krishna of the Bhagavad Gita is very different from Jehovah. The Gita is not Revelation; to do good does not consist of doing Krishna’s Will; we humans do not embody any divine purpose, etc., etc. That is why it remains compatible with physics.

    -Arun

  • Scott

    Lubos,

    At least try to keep your analogy straight.

    “I am familiar with a lot of circumstancial evidence of evolution, but you seem to be unaware with circumstantial evidence for string theory, such as its prediction of gravity, fermions organized into families, gauge symmetries at low energies, and the black hole entropy that assure us that the theory is not just a random guess.”

    ” the prerequisites of string theory are general relativity and gauge theory that have been observed in the lab, too.”

  • Martin Bebow

    Arun,

    “we humans do not embody any divine purpose”

    Have you read the Gita? I don’t see how you could and make that statement. Anyway in Chapter 9 verse 10 it says: “Under My guidance, nature gives birth to all things, moving and unmoving and by this means, O son of Kunti, the world revolves.” Krishna speaking to Arjuna. Nothing modern science has discovered has falsified Krishna’s claim. The point is that the claims of religion are not falsifyable which is what distinguishes religion from science. That does not mean that religion is any less valid. Religion has other concerns that showing how the material world works. This is what science does and it gives us better toasters. But science doesn’t help us find meaning in life. After we’ve figured out how nature works then what? In my view this world is a reflection of a greater world beyond time and space. I have reasons for believing this but they cannot be tested in a lab.

  • Arun

    Martin,

    I have half a dozen commentaries on the Gita at home. My family has spent months reading it through, in a Gita study group. I really think you have to know the Indian culture or else the translation will mislead you. However, this is not the place to discuss it.

    -Arun

  • http://www.phys.cwru.edu/~krauss Lawrence Krauss

    Moshe:

    I am wondering what writing of mine you are referring to exactly? I suspect that you have read what people may have said about what they think I may say, but I try to be accurate in my writing…

    As for comparing string theory to ID.. I do not know what piece you are referring to.

    LMK

  • Moshe

    Lawrence,

    Thanks a lot for taking the time to respond here, I honestly did not think you would given the time commitments you have. I am looking forward to your piece (which I suggested to our hosts may clear the air and clarify things).

    So, obviously my first statement here is over the top, and I apologize for that. I have read some of your writings but not all, and in particular not the last book which I understand is devoted in large part to string theory. In those writings I found legitimate opinions of string theory, but not so many reasons for holding those opinions. Maybe there are others…

    As I mention before, constructive criticism from outsiders is amazingly useful, as they are able to offer a truly different perspective on things. Again, if you are able to take the time and precisely point out where you think string theorists can do a better job, I would be most grateful, I am sure most of my colleagues will as well.

    Let me point out quickly, hopefully without getting obnoxious this time, to two points to which people like myself are sensitive, maybe again to demonstrate why the response you got was unusually hostile:

    First, I spend increasingly larger amount of time de-programming people from all kinds of misconceptions about the field. The subject is highly technical, but strangely enough a large numbers of people are interested. Some of these mistakes are honest, but one has the impression that some are there to make the subject look bad, since this is becoming a fad. Frankly, one can reasonably judge the subject either way, there is no need for straw man arguments…

    Secondly, string theory has that original sin, I understand that people made all kind exaggerated claims and predictions, and these did not pan out. Fine, but I was only starting to learn calculus when all this happened… so evaluating success relative to these overblown claims is unfair in my mind. It is making very good progress relative to more reasonable measures, the ones that are held by most practitioners.

    Finally, I don’t want to harp too much on this particular essay, since I do want to have a productive conversation. But, really, I know that you said that string theory, when all is taken into consideration is not like ID, but the comparison to begin with is insulting and inflammatory. As you know better than myself, ID is a reactionary political movement, I don’t see how my community’s scientific efforts are in any way similar to that political agenda.

    best,

    Moshe

  • Moshe

    OK, carefully scanning the piece in question I found only one reference to ID (when mentioning school boards), so maybe the discussion was about religion in general, and I misinterpreted things (along with a few bloggers), more useful to move on anyhow…

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Moshe,

    it is Peter Woit who repeatedly compares string theory to Intelligent Design.

    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=286

    In his book, Lawrence Krauss “only” declares that string theorists like David Gross are doing religion because they believe that mathematical beauty matters.

    Mathematical beauty has always mattered in theoretical physics, and it has always been the main criterion to choose which research path should be taken in the absence of more new direct data.

    There is nothing religious about it. On the contrary, it is a religious attitude to think that arguments based on mathematical robustness can’t matter and only fate as we see it can determine how should we think.

    Well, according to Clifford Johnson, the talk by Lawrence Krauss started by comments that he just returned from the East Coast where he was comparing ID and string theory.

    You can also read the book in detail. Nothing nice. ;-) If you conclude that LK is not doing pretty ugly and unjustifiable things, then you have probably been manipulated.

    Best wishes
    Lubos

  • Moshe

    Thanks Lubos, so again I may well have been confused and I regret that…I think we can move on from the points of controversy, it has not led to too much useful discussion… I will wait to see what Lawrence Krauss has to say, should be interesting.

  • http://thomas.loc.gov X

    Lubos, you stand by your comments about the science-hater,
    http://motls.blogspot.com/2005/11/modern-science-haters.html ?

  • http://www.phys.cwru.edu/~krauss Lawrence Krauss

    Moshe (and also Clifford): thank you for your thoughtful remarks.. and I also understand well the reasons that you cogently described for the sensitivity of young people who are working in this area… You will also see, in my response to clifford in the other stream (or whatever bloggers call it).. the point I was making in that context (not in the NYT piece) about string theory and ID.. and while it may seem offensive.. it is not meant to be.. I seriously have been questioned about this in that very context, and I think it is important to be honest about the notion of “theory” and what it means in physics, and it was in that context, where I had just flown in from a meeting dealing with the problem of talking about Evolution as a “theory” that I made the remark I made at Categorically Not.. and I stand by that.. Now, of course, whether I was too flippant or not in my presentation.. that is another question.. but I tend to be flippant in lectures… it tends to be my style, for better or worse…. but try not to be in writing, which presumably has more staying power..

  • Moshe

    Thanks Lawrence, I am learning about the staying power of the written word, atrocious typos for one thing…

    Your point about string “theory” being more like string “framework” is a good one, a point that was raised repeatedly here in discussions about string theory. In that context, a framework for quantum gravity and strongly coupled gauge theories, it is a success in my (not unbiased) opinion.

    I suppose field theory or perturbation theory etc. do not receive the attention string theory does, so they don’t come up too much in discussions. Lucky them.

    best,

    Moshe

  • Elliot

    News Flash: The Pope just came out in favor of some flavor of ID. Not that this makes it any more true, but for better or worse people actually listen to him.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Lawrence, as the author of an unfortunate remark earlier (“explain himself”), I apologize for that, and I’d like to assure you that what I meant to say was to be here to present your point of view, and I’m glad you’re here.

    I think we’d all agree that there are many good reasons for doing research in string theory, and many good reasons to be skeptical about whether we have learned anything new about the physical world by such research programs. The key problem identified in this thread, in my opinion, is how to present not-yet-settled-science to the general public. IMO, string theory might be a good example to educate the public about the difference between the polished product of scientific research and the process of scientific research; the former is as objective as is humanly possible, while the latter is full of the human foibles.

  • Lee Smolin

    Dear Arun,

    Wow, these debates are perhaps finally getting somewhere. But if I can suggest something-there is no conflict between having a good, honest, respectful debate over the open questions and presenting the science to the public. In my experience the best way to present what science is and how it works to the public is simply to carry out such debates in publically accessible forums like this-as well as in books and public talks. The public is smart and savy and they want the real thing. Many of them would rather look over our shoulder as we talk to each other than listen to something specially prepared for them.

    And, if I may add one point on the science side: the debate is not about whether it has been useful to do research in string theory, LQG, dynamical triangulations, causal sets, twistor theory etc. Everyone (or averyone who takes a respectful view of what their colleagues do) can see that these programs have produced lots of non-trivial results. The question is where it is worthwhile, as individuals and as a community, to invest our efforts in the future. The question to be asked about each theory is, have we learned enough about it yet to regard it as unlikely-by itself-to be the right theory and, if so, shall we take in the lessons learned, positive and negative, and move on. Move on means try to invent new theories that have the strengths of those investigated without the weaknesses.

    For sure there is a right theory of quantum gravity and beyond the standard model physics out there. My view is that we should spend less of our time investigating theories and ideas already on the table, because if one of them was the right theory we would know it by now. We should instead spend our time trying to invent new, better theories.

    I also am very sure that when we find the right theory it will provide us with lots of new, surprising and falsifiable predictions. So I’d rather spend my time looking for that theory than arguing over whether we can live without such predictions.

    Others may certainly disagree. But this is where I see the important questions are.

    Thanks,

    Lee

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Lee Smolin said

    there is no conflict between having a good, honest, respectful debate over the open questions and presenting the science to the public. In my experience the best way to present what science is and how it works to the public is simply to carry out such debates in publically accessible forums like this-as well as in books and public talks. The public is smart and savy and they want the real thing.

    cvj says:

    Yes! Yes! this is what I’ve been getting at on the other thread, (whereas people seem to get distracted and think I’m defending string theory).

    -cvj

  • Moshe

    In my opinion the meta-conversation has reached its logical conclusion, we all agree and are more than ready to have an actual conversation…as we did previously. Hope the context presents itself soon.

  • http://www.phys.cwru.edu/~krauss Lawrence Krauss

    Arun et al:

    yes.. and that was one of the purposes of the new book, which was, as honestly and accurately as I felt I could, to portray this difference, and to discuss what it is like to be in the midst of not knowing…

    ..and, actually I don’t think the Pope came out in favor of ID at all.. the press are distorting what he said.. I have been spending a great deal of time working outside of, and within, the catholic church on this issue, and I believe that they will settle on the correct side… the pope said merely that there was purpose to the universe.. which he surely must believe.. and which itself says nothing about evolution.

  • Moshe

    Actually, this raises a point I had not thought about before, which is whether or not one has to be a strict Popperian in order to clearly distinguish science from religion (and various political agendas). Also, there is always mathematics (science or not) which is not experimentally verifiable, but is clearly doing something different from religion.

  • Watcher

    —quote Moshe #80—
    we all agree and are more than ready to have an actual conversation…as we did previously. Hope the context presents itself soon.
    —end quote—

    Moshe, there is no need to end discussion just when it becomes substantive. Recrimination has quieted down and Clifford seemed welcoming of Lee’s last post where he says:

    —quote Smolin #78—
    And, if I may add one point on the science side: the debate is not about whether it has been useful to do research in string theory, LQG, dynamical triangulations, causal sets, twistor theory etc. Everyone (or averyone who takes a respectful view of what their colleagues do) can see that these programs have produced lots of non-trivial results. The question is where it is worthwhile, as individuals and as a community, to invest our efforts in the future. The question to be asked about each theory is, have we learned enough about it yet to regard it as unlikely-by itself-to be the right theory and, if so, shall we take in the lessons learned, positive and negative, and move on. Move on means try to invent new theories that have the strengths of those investigated without the weaknesses.

    For sure there is a right theory of quantum gravity and beyond the standard model physics out there. My view is that we should spend less of our time investigating theories and ideas already on the table, because if one of them was the right theory we would know it by now. We should instead spend our time trying to invent new, better theories.

    I also am very sure that when we find the right theory it will provide us with lots of new, surprising and falsifiable predictions. So I’d rather spend my time looking for that theory than arguing over whether we can live without such predictions.
    —-end quote—

    Will the next occasion be any better than at CV at this point? Now is your chance to ask Smolin what he has in mind in the way of moving on from the present state of Loop and Spinfoam quantum gravity. He has explicitly and unguardedly suggested he might see a need to do that. Not just to move on from string but from other QG. If the atmosphere is adversarial then asking what he has in mind might seem an unfriendly question, but if it is fact collegial then it is a natural and friendly question to ask.

    If you experts want a friendly conversation out in the open, here is your context. The tumult and shouting has died for the moment and the next occasion whenever might not be any more propitious than the present one.

  • Moshe

    Watcher, that was just my desire (as much as I enjoy Seinfeld), to have a conversation about something…other people may have different opinions.

    I am puzzled about the roundabout way you present your point. If you want to ask Lee for clarifications, and I agree that may be interesting, then why don’t you just do that? I thought we are already beyond symbolic actions.

  • Watcher

    Moshe, good idea! I will ask him. I wish you would because of things like phrasing and clout. But if you are also interested that would help.

    Lee (question from sidelines) have you got some idea of moving on to a beefed-up Loop Gravity, or some related approach to QG, which would generate the Standard Model?

    have to go, back later

  • Moshe

    Phrasing and clout…you must be joking!

    Part of the issue is that, since Lawrence is not here every day, I took more time than usual here, and now will have to go into my cave…

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    One of the nice things about blogs is that they are perpetual, ongoing conversations. But they work best when things are a little bit focused, at least post by post. I’m sure that we’ll have plenty of time to have a serious discussion about loop quantum gravity and other approaches, and certainly hope that Lee and others will contribute, but I don’t think this particular comment thread is the right place.

  • http://www.anthropic-principle.ORG island

    Elliot said:
    News Flash: The Pope just came out in favor of some flavor of ID. Not that this makes it any more true, but for better or worse people actually listen to him.

    No disrespect intended, but I never understood why Lawrence Krauss thought that the support of the Catholic Church is so important to science or the ID debate that he would defend multiverse theories and make appeals to the Pope. Origins science isn’t about speculative and known-to-be-fundamentally-flawed theoretical physics projections, multiverse theories have no business in origins science, unless you are “fending-off” an equally unsubstantiable attack. This is fine if the attack includes something the ludicrous plausibility of alien intervention, but it is NOT okay when the anthropic principle is used to support the idea that a fundamental and goal-oriented form of structuring/”design” forever exists in the energy of nature.

    If this is correct for only one possible universe, say, the one that’s actually observed and “known”, then this is what defines the values of the forces and the asymmetrical reason why the forces cannot be unified at any level.

    If you want to beat-back the lame hop to supernatural forces that’s supposed to lie beyond evidence for goal-oriented “design in nature”, then do it simply, by the fact that there is absolutely no evidence that the structuring of our universe isn’t forever inherent, regardless of how it started for us, and regardless of whatever mathematical “idealizations” may be pointed “toward” by our theories. That doesn’t even come close to actually getting there.

    You can’t conclude anything else without an unprovable assumption, so don’t even open the door beyond empiricism until these guys finally find a good reason to quit fighting with each other over which theory is the most screwed up!

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com/ Count Iblis

    Lawrence didn’t mention another analogy between unproven popular scientific ideas and religion in his essay. There is a tendency to interpret experimental results only using certain popular models. Take e.g. the search for dark matter using the direct detection method. Here one tries to detect phonons in crystals caused by nuclear recoils caused by interacton by DM particles.

    The DAMA team claims to have detected such interactions but other teams have disputed their results. See here for an old physicsweb article:

    http://physicsweb.org/articles/world/13/4/3/1

    Now, since then the DAMA team has collected more statistics, confirming and strengthening their earlier results. However the CDMS team hasn’t detected anything so far. It turns out, however, that the conflict between DAMA and CDMS only exists if you assume certain supersymmetrical models.

    But despite the fact that there are plenty of ways to make DAMA consistent with the CDMS experiment, most people working in the field don’t believe that DAMA has detected dark matter. So, this seems to be the case of an unproven popular theory ruling out experimental results.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    This is actually incorrect Count Iblis. It is the exclusion contours in the cross-section/mass plot that do not agree. They are not dependent on modeling the DM as a SUSY particle.

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com/ Count Iblis

    Hi Mark,

    Well, the exclusion plots have to be calculated by specifying a model. DAMA uses different elements than CDMS, so the cross sections can’t be related to each other in a model independent way.

    Even within supersymmetry it is possible to find a window that will make DAMA consistent with CDMSII. This is the case if you assume spin dependent interactions:

    http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0408346

    And very recently the DAMA team suggested another possibility:

    http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0511262

    Here one assumes that light pseudoscalar or scalar dark particles cause interactions with electrons and/or atomic elecrical fields inside crystal. One of the criticisms of the DAMA method was that they couldn’t distinguish between electron and nuclear recoils. CDMS and other experiments reject signals due to electron recoils. But in this latest proposed model CDMS would not able to detect the DAMA signal.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/11/future-of-book.html Plato

    Lee SmolinFor sure there is a right theory of quantum gravity and beyond the standard model physics out there. My view is that we should spend less of our time investigating theories and ideas already on the table, because if one of them was the right theory we would know it by now. We should instead spend our time trying to invent new, better theories.

    Wouldn’t this create more confusion? More battles?

    I would suspect then that if this was not the case( those well informed as to the nature of quantum gravity and what it is), then we would be looking at about 1% of the population who will guide people along, without pre-biased views right?

    How do you wipe away generalizations that may have gone wrong and added to the pot?

    I mean really, how do you relieve yourself of the burden of inclination, and not become a stringevangelism(a religion) versus a individual who is a stringevangelist(my mistake was the ism :)? This is not my fault Clifford.:)

    Wiki needs a clear defintion so we understand Clifford what we do not want in those other respective areas? You’ll have to write it.

    So this ism is applicable then is it not, to all areas of respective research? While the Cathiolic church exists and is very concrete there is something magical in our history that has been left for our inspections. Can this co-exist without it becoming a denunciation of all that is good in scientists and the responsibilties that they bear?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Your point is well-taken Count Iblis. It is true that there are ways to make them consistent. But I don’t think it is right to say that people don’t accept that DAMA has discovered dark matter because their results aren’t fit by the simple SUSY models. When I hear experts talk about this at conferences, the CDMS people do point out the loopholes.

  • Pingback: Cosmic Variance()

  • Pingback: Our First Guest Blogger - Lawrence Krauss | Cosmic Variance()

  • Pingback: Bloggernacle Times » Science and Religion()

  • Pingback: A Particle Physicist’s Perspective | Cosmic Variance()

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Mark Trodden

Mark Trodden holds the Fay R. and Eugene L. Langberg Endowed Chair in Physics and is co-director of the Center for Particle Cosmology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a theoretical physicist working on particle physics and gravity— in particular on the roles they play in the evolution and structure of the universe. When asked for a short phrase to describe his research area, he says he is a particle cosmologist.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »