Vanity thought #1363. Scientific challenges 2

Expanding on yesterday’s post – while the statistics about rise of atheism don’t look good what is really discouraging is that we have an opportunity to preach here and we are missing it. The stats cover only the US, dynamics in the rest of the world might be totally different, but it also means we can’t help our American devotees if they don’t help themselves. It’s their opportunity, their chance, and I hope they don’t blow it.

“Unaffiliated” category rose by 6.7% in the past seven years but only 1.5% of that went to atheists, the rest was shared by agnostics and “nothing in particular”. Assuming these are the people who left Christianity (-7.8%), it’s a 5% increase in churchless folk who have been awakened from the illusion and will never become atheistic again but have nowhere else to go. They need the holy name to sustain their faith but somehow we can’t reach them.

Or maybe I’m being overly dramatic. The preaching is still going on even if not in as pure form as it was during Prabhupāda’s time. We still hold festivals and programs and distribute books. There are good news coming out of the USA, too. Maybe we can’t get people to declare themselves as Hare Kṛṣṇas yet but out core principles are widely known and certainly noticed – no killing of animals, the soul is different from matter, there’s karma and reincarnation, and so on. Mantra yoga is now a thing, too.

Lord Caitanya is still in charge, His army will never run out of soldiers and He’ll give enough inspiration to His devotees when the time is right. It’s His movement, after all, we are just His tools.

Getting back to atheist propaganda – I’m still not settled about best arguments against demanding the proof of God. Probably I need to sleep on it some more. In the meantime, I want to discuss faults in atheist presentation itself.

They increasingly rely on the so-called “scientific method” and challenge Christians to proof God according to scientific rules. In it’s core scientific method is very simple – you look at the situation, make an educated guess, think what you would need to do to prove yourself right, then do it to check. There’s nothing particularly sciency about it, it’s just common sense and it’s how all people live their lives and solve their problems, even those without modern education.

Atheists dressed it up, however, make it bullet-pointed, and added explanations and requirements for each step. Wikipedia’s page on it contains more than eleven thousand words and countless links to related articles. This might be necessary to cover everything there is to know about scientific method but it also looks like it has been made artificially complicated to create an air of legitimacy around it. When I first looked at that page I thought it was written for ten year olds. I was looking at the mobile site then and right at the top of the page was an infographic image with “Think of Interesting Questions” as one of the steps. Reading small print there also looks like it is more suited for a classroom handout than for an encyclopedic article.

That image lists seven steps to the scientific method, btw, not four, but those additional steps are self-evident.

So, what’s the problem with it? Quite a lot, actually.

Scientific method is closely tied to experimenting. Without tests and experiments you can’t do science, apparently. Tests must also be repeatable so that other people might double check your findings. It sounds nice and logical and atheists expect that it would immediately put Christians off but that’s not how actual science works.

Ability to test theories is not universal, it doesn’t work in history, for example. It doesn’t work in law either – you can’t test the same argument in front of the same jury multiple times. Of course science has ways to get around these natural limitations but they are not reflected in the scientific method. Yet.

String theory is about to upend the whole thing. Problem with string theory is that it’s very mathematically attractive. It’s so beautiful it can’t be wrong, and so far it’s the only viable candidate for the ultimate theory of everything. Attempts to reconcile general relativity with quantum mechanics are going nowhere and are not likely to produce results any time soon. They still might but as of now it’s only string theory and nothing else. So, the problem is that string theory is largely a mathematical exercise that cannot be tested by experiments.

It’s not impossible, in fact string theorists can easily describe the necessary experiments to confirm it, but it’s impossible in practice. Large Hadron Collider built in Europe is the biggest corroborative project in science so far and probably in our lifetime but it’s wholly inadequate for stingists. They need a collider the size of the galaxy.

It’s very simple, actually, at least the way they describe it, and, you don’t need to be a stringist to agree – it just follows from basic formulas. The amount of energy needed to smash particles to see if they are strings or not is known and is impossible to handle by the humanity at our stage of development.

“Our stage” is a generous qualification, it presumes that at the next stage it could be possible but in reality it’s hopeless. Best days of experimental particle physics probably are behind us. The world can’t afford bigger colliders, it can’t afford bigger space telescopes either. Hubble is about to retire at the end of the decade and its successor, James Webb, has been facing multiple delays, cost overruns, and funding cuts by American legislature. There’s no public enthusiasm for such projects anymore and world economy doesn’t look too good to lavish money on science.

The fact of the matter is that string theory cannot be confirmed experimentally. It doesn’t mean no tests can be carried out, however, there are plenty of side applications that can be tested but to the opponents they won’t look like the proof of the main theory itself.

This practical limitation does not stop scientists, of course, they cite other reasons why string theory might be accurate and these reasons are open for debate but even the opponents realize that something needs to be done. Eventually they will come to some sort of an understanding that would legitimize non-empirical theory assessment.

Where will this leave atheists with their scientific method? Nowhere, they’ll be left holding the bag as science moves on.

The thing about scientific method is that it only describes how scientists do science, it doesn’t prescribe how science should be done. If scientific community decides to do things in a different way scientific method will have to comply, it has no power to legislate scientific process.

This doesn’t mean that scientists will suddenly accept religious arguments for existence of God but at least we could shake off annoying atheists with their “where’s you proof, where are your tests” kind of questions.

There’s more to be said about this evolution of science and I’ll leave it for tomorrow.

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