Pope Benedict’s Final Testament On How Science Cannot Destroy Faith

Pope Benedict’s Final Testament On How Science Cannot Destroy Faith

Pope Benedict, as all popes do, left a Spiritual Testament, a short summary of his beliefs to be read after he was dead. Benedict devoted a good portion of his Testament to science (my paragraphification):

What I said earlier of my compatriots, I now say to all who were entrusted to my service in the Church: Stand firm in the faith! Do not be confused! Often it seems as if science – on the one hand, the natural sciences; on the other, historical research (especially the exegesis of the Holy Scriptures) – has irrefutable insights to offer that are contrary to the Catholic faith.

I have witnessed from times long past the changes in natural science and have seen how apparent certainties against the faith vanished, proving themselves not to be science but philosophical interpretations only apparently belonging to science – just as, moreover, it is in dialogue with the natural sciences that faith has learned to understand the limits of the scope of its affirmations and thus its own specificity.

It has to now be clear, even to the meanest intelligence, that science is often wrong, even usually wrong when the science is new. This applies in the strongest sense to the sciences of the most complex things, which are us, and which are the sort of sciences we usually cover. But this sad state is also found in the science of the simplest things, like physics.

You’ll find no better chronicler of how physics goes wrong than Scott Locklin (and here). Sabine Hossenfelder (yes, that same Hossenfelder we often tease) also provides us a nice service on this front, from time to time, as in this video:

If you’re like me, you hate watching videos because they are so slow. So you’d do little harm to the content to start this one at ten minutes. Hossenfelder has a succinct telling cartoon on how easy it is to make models, which is to say to create theories, and how difficult it is to give them up once made.

Point is this: you’d do best by shorting all new announced “discoveries”. All science is not good science, nor does all science describe Reality as she is. Common experience shows it increasingly likely, for all the many reasons we discuss, that most new science is wrong science.

Knowing nothing else (this is strict!) except that it is new, it is best to bet against it. This will fail you at times, of course. Yet even when it does, it’s not likely to cost you much. That’s because most new true science has little effect on you, or none.

Suppose one of the current speculations in cosmology turns out to be true. There really is some new particle that carries some “dark” force, which comprises “dark matter” and emits “dark energy”, or whatever. As fascinating as this would be to learn, and as much respect we’d rightly accord the discoverers of this particle or force, it would mean next to nothing to the vast majority of people. (My guess, for the little it is worth, is that gravity will be modified, and no new dark particle etc. exists.)

It would be unlikely engineers could harness this distant untouchable particle and make you, say, a superior washing machine. It couldn’t add speed, though perhaps it might boost the heft, to the thinking suppression cum tracking device you carry everywhere.

Benedict was thinking of how new science, even if true as we imagine here, serves as propaganda to academic Reddit-like neck-beards and other materialism scolds: “The new dark particle finally proves God does not exist,” they might insist.

They’d continue with something like, “We now know the universe is capable of self-organization.”

Which is false. At best, you’d know how some large-scale features have the shape they do. Which is neat to know, but it still leaves you blind why it’s these causes of these shapes and not something else.

Science is the pursuit of causes of measurable things. Even when, or if, science can give the complete cause—the material, formal, efficient, and directing or final causes—of an observable, it cannot say why this cause is the way it is. It can only accept.

There still has to be a reason why the world has the causes that it does, that it contains the essences we see. There has to be a reason why this is the Way Things Are, and that reason cannot be “chance”. Because even if that absurdity were true, there still has to be a reason this “chance” exists, and why caused things in the way it caused them.

And then, of course, most science is not true. Either way, Benedict is right. There is nothing in science that should affect your faith.

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  1. schonberg newton

    Science is a parasitic lie. The academic Jew scientists in the ivory towers at the universities and in govt positions pretend that science is respo sible for the advances i technology brought about by white dudes in industry using old science all done by white Christians. Their latest Datanic Jewish lies must be true, they assert, because “science gave you the iPhone.” So because white guys laid the goundations of physics and a white engineer used the physics that was all settled in the 1800s to make something, all thew new Jewish lies from hell must be true; that is their assertion.

  2. Vermont Crank

    Tragically, Benedict had already abandoned the Dogma of Transubstantiation so he his own self used his understanding of science to deny revelation.

    In the year 2000 there appeared (in German) Cardinal Ratzinger’s book God and the World, Believing and Living in Our Time (English edition Ignatius Press, 2002). The Work actually consists of conversations with journalist Peter Seewald. In their discussion of the Real Presence, Mr. Seewald makes the following statement concerning Cardinal Ratzinger’s proclaimed belief in transubstantiation and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist: “But anyone can see that the wine remains wine…” Cardinal Ratzinger’s reply is as follows:

    “But this is not a statement of physics. It has never been asserted that, so to say, nature in a physical sense is being changed. The transformation reaches down to a more profound level. Tradition has it that this is a metaphysical process. Christ lays hold upon what is, from a purely physical viewpoint, bread and wine, in its inmost being, so that it is changed from within and Christ truly gives himself in them [emphasis mine].”

    In the seven pages of the interview which deal with the Eucharist, Cardinal Ratzinger uses the word “transubstantiation” or “transubstantiated” four times. Like Rosmini, he uses the word in a fashion which violates its meaning. While repeatedly using the word, he is personally contradicting the Church’s defined doctrine of Transubstantiation – that the entire substance of the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, only the accidents (appearances) remaining – and is instead embracing consubstantiation (the belief that Christ is in, under, or with the bread) under the guise of transubstantiation.

    It only makes sense, therefore, that on the previous page of this book he states that “Luther held out (against Calvin, etc.) in favor of transubstantiation here, with great emphasis….” The Cardinal has simply changed the meaning of the word transubstantiation so that it is similar to the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation. The notion that Luther held on to the belief in Transubstantiation is a total absurdity. He detested both St. Thomas and the doctrine of Transubstantiation. In his Large Catechism he writes: “What then is the Sacrament of the Altar? Answer: It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in and under the bread and wine…” As the Lutheran Formula of Concord states, “Just as in Christ two distinct unchanged natures are inseparably united, so in the Holy Supper the two substances, the natural bread and the true natural body of Christ, are present together here upon earth in the appointed administration of the Sacrament.” (#37). The Lutheran formulation for the real presence is “in pane, sub pane, cum pane” – “in the bread, under the bread, with the bread” (#38).

    Neither Cardinal Ratzinger nor anyone else can make the Magisterium contradict itself on matters of faith and morals. But he and others possess many subtle means (including private statements and writings, and also non-doctrinal elements in magisterial documents) of making it appear that this is not only possible, but that it has already happened. Worse yet, they can make Catholics believe it is not only permissible but that it is also perfectly sane Christianity. Arch-Modernists like Gregory Baum immediately seized on the Rosmini rehabilitation to reinforce that very line of thinking and to bolster the heretical view of a fallible Magisterium. “We are bound to ask with Ratzinger,” wrote the supercilious Baum, “whether there is an internal contradiction in the magisterium. Were the solemn declarations of Boniface VIII and the Council of Florence [regarding estra ecclesiam, nulla salus] wrong?” And having encouraged such questions, the Cardinal can hardly complain about the heresy they engender, or the loss of faith among Catholics which is the inevitable fruit of the filtering down of these errors. Baum concludes: “I would argue – these declarations were wrong. The magisterium has made mistakes. The church [sic], guided by the Spirit is forever learning.” (National Catholic Reporter, 25/1/02). May we not safely assume that this conclusion which the Modernist has greeted with conscious rejoicing, is also being assimilated viscerally by the average Catholic?


    He used his authority to undermine prior teaching of Popes prolly not ever realizing that if he can ditch doctrine of pervious Popes he does not like subsequent Popes, like Francis, can do the same thing.

    He who abdicated was a profound radical who cared not a whit about Tradition or the Traditional Mass

  3. In all fairness, it must be conceded that the hard disciplines (physics, chemistry, biology, astrophysics [without reflection of signals], atomic physics [only in the numbers graveyard], etc) have failed miserably to show dating of and in particular creation ex nihilo based on empirical evidence.

  4. DAA

    Just an aside: the cosmic distances using supernovae were the context where this “dark energy” was postulated. Dark matter stems from the galaxy velocity curve, that is, the way linear speed increases as you move from center to periphery.

    In the first case, they detected an acceleration towards the present, meaning that the receding speeds were smaller in the past. But I have not yet figured out how they distinguish red shift that is the result of expansion and one that is the result of actual speed (with respect to co-moving coordinates, coordinates that account for the expansion but keep the rest the same, or simply: if you are not moving with respect to your neighbours, you are still moving thanks to expansion, in which case your co-moving coordinates are the same). Apart from that, this all depends on the science of supernovae. And a lot of calibration. All depends on a lot going on upstream, some mistake or assumption might have been made and things are all dependent on it.

    Galaxy velocity curves depend also on redshifts. Noone has actually seen a spinning galaxy, they are big and slow eben for a man’s life span. So, again, all depends on the accuracy of the supporting science. And interpretation.

  5. Science must remain silent on matters of faith. When scientists interfere with faith in the name of science, they are doing so in the name of a competing religion, not from intellectual rigor.

    @DAA – Measurements of redshift do, in fact, not take into account general relativity. So one would expect to see more distant galaxies to show greater redshift, simply because of relativistic effects. However, the redshifts are “adjusted” by “correction” data due to the motion of the Earth compared to the cosmic background radiation. When this adjustment is removed, the entire issue of unexpected acceleration disappears.

    @Vermont Crank – Jesus made use of a great many metaphors and parables. He seemed to, at times, despair of his (mostly rather dim) disciples ever understanding him. Some things never change.

  6. C-Marie

    Jesus Christ absolutely meant what He said, when He said, ” THIS IS MY BODY ” , and ” THIS MY BLOOD .”
    And, yes, science has proved the accidents remaining, are the accidents of bread and wine. And He told us to eat His Body and to drink His Blood, for He is the Lamb of God, slain for the sins of the world, to make reparation for all sin and punishment due to sin.

    In the Old Testament, the priests ate the flesh of the sacrifices, but no one drank the blood, for the Old Testament says the life is in the blood. And yet, He Who is the Lamb of God, not only told us to eat His Body, but to drink His Blood, for He is as He said He was, ” I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” What a shock that must have been for His Apostles and followers!!
    God bless, C-Marie

  7. Peter Savage

    I’m sure what the scientists call “dark mater” exists. It is the parts of God’s universe we cannot see. God exists; heaven exists; angels, saints, demons and hell exist. These will not be revealed until God decides, but they do exist.

  8. Ann Cherry

    Briggs says, “If you’re like me, you hate watching videos because they are so slow.”

    You probably know about that little gear-thingy at the bottom, to increase playback speed. Sabine is a fairly brisk talker, so 1.25 was about right; sometimes people talk so-o-o slow that 1.5 is better, and this shaves off several minutes. (2.0 speed sometimes works while watching how-to videos.)

    I thought this presentation of Sabine’s was better than the last one Briggs presented of hers, where she used her free will to tell us we have no free will.

    This one seems more in her wheelhouse.

    So now we know for sure: particle physicists are full of baloney. They make up “particles”, even naming one after a laundry detergent (Axiom), publish “peer-reviewed” articles written by several of them, (so no one person gets ALL the blame), and then they blow through massive amounts of other peoples’ $$$ to prove their theory is “falsifiable”… which it always is, because they made it up in the first place; then, rinse and repeat.

    Nice work if you can get it. We could call this “particle laundering scheme”, in which case naming one of them “Axiom” was a nice little troll.

  9. DAA

    If I understand correctly, as far as the Higgs mechanism, particle physics is not really a total sham. Of course, the calculations even at the QED level show that level of tinkering that really disappoints, but the basic reasoning, faulty and limited as it is, is not far-fetched. The problem is, of course, that no-one can say that the Emperor needs clothes – or you are fired. In science that is easy: since no-one gets a position with security, tenure, and so on, before so many years of ‘productive labour’, you cannot go far if you do not join the pack and no-one can say that you were fired… After QED you added group theory and more symmetries to the lot and obtained gauge theories; also you found a zoo of particles, and you built models that could explain(?) them. Was that sheer dumb luck? A lot of fudging happened here, but the details are important and only a really good specialist can distinguish the wheat from the chaff. I really do not know. Deadly to the theories is the conclusion by Dyson that the perturbative series does not converge. That should ring a bell – or two! But they said ‘look, using just some terms, we got a 12 decimal places correct prediction…’. However the initial reasoning, these calculations should be made in public. In CERN the codes for data analysis are not publicly revealed. At least those of the Higgs boson were not disclosed, as far as I can tell.

    I might add that the look for gravitational waves uses a filter that assumes the signals from the theoretical simulations. They have a signal to noise ratio of circa 1/1000. They build a library of ‘signals’ and they look for them. If they find, it is a discovery. I have been always under the impression that this ratio allows one to find whatever one wants in there… Is that right?

    Be that as it may, I believe that the real problem starts in the benches, where we are taught things in a way that it is the only way. Then, of course, after so many years, you cannot really think outside the framework. Things look as though they are necessary. But everything results from a choice, given what was known and what was possible back then, and some things are no longer so limited. Many assumptions go into the theories, but then are left there untouched. They become entrenched. This allied to the lack of perspective – we in the sciences lack even a reasonable level of scientific culture. We are not better than human computers. And there are icons that cannot ever be contradicted, no matter what. And they say the Church is wrong in declaring someone a saint! That is what they do in science, but in the wrong way.

    @McChuck: I thought the redshifts measured all assumed expansion, how can they correlate redshift and distance without it? Was not the work of Hubble a correlation between distances measured with the variable Cepheids and redshifts? Did that not allow cosmologists to determine distances with the redshifts? Or do they still measure with other standard candels, as they say, and then compare with redshifts? Or do they extrapolate the curve obtained thus to distances without standard candles? My doubt above is about how to distinguish between redshift due to expansion and due to proper speed. You are right about the Earth’s motion, but I was assuming we discounted all speeds related to our position in space – perhaps even the motion in and of the Milky Way? You said no relativity is used. What do you mean? If you say the unexpected acceleration is gone, then there is no reason to postulate dark energy, is there?

  10. C-Marie

    I just bought the book God In The World, Believing and Living In Our Time, due to a comment above which was horrible if true, and perhaps bordering on salacious, from wherever the material was imported, if untrue.

    Pages 406 through 409 in the Kindle version are where Benedict is questioned regarding the Eucharist and Transubstantiation, and in no place does he equate the Holy Eucharist with Consubstantiation, nor does he give any credence to consubstantiation, but fully speaks the truth of Transubstantiation, in full agreement with genuine Catholicism.

    God bless, C-Marie

  11. Vermont Crank

    Dear McChuck. I think you are suggesting that when Jesus was teaching His followers about the Eucharist He was speaking symbolically but were He have been speaking like that, He would have been telling them the way to eternal life is to assault and persecute Him

    To eat somebody’s flesh and to drink his blood is an old Hebraism meaning to assault and persecute

    Psalm 26:2.

    1 The psalm of David before he was anointed.
    The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?
    The Lord is the protector of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
    2 Whilst the wicked draw near against me, to eat my flesh.
    My enemies that trouble me, have themselves been weakened, and have fallen.

    Isaias 9
    18 For wickedness is kindled as a fire, it shall devour the brier and the thorn: and shall kindle in the thicket of the forest, and it shall be wrapped up in smoke, ascending on high.
    19 By the wrath of the Lord of hosts the land is troubled, and the people shall be as fuel for the fire: no man shall spare his brother.
    20 And he shall turn to the right hand, and shall be hungry: and shall eat on the left hand, and shall not be filled: every one shall eat the flesh of his own arm: Manasses Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasses, and they together shall be against Juda.

    Isaias 49
    26 And I will feed thy enemies with their own flesh: and they shall be made drunk with their own blood, as with new wine: and all flesh shall know, that I am the Lord that save thee, and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.

    Michaes 3
    2 You that hate good, and love evil: that violently pluck off their skins from them, and their flesh from their bones?
    3 Who have eaten the flesh of my people, and have flayed their skin from off them: and have broken, and chopped their bones as for the kettle, and as flesh in the midst of the pot.

    2 Kings 23:16-17 (2 samuel)

    7 Saying: The Lord be merciful to me, that I may not do this: Shall I drink the blood of these men that went, and the peril of their lives? therefore he would not drink. These things did these three mighty men.

    Rev 17:6 And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I had seen her, I wondered with great admiration.

    Rev 17: 16 16 And the ten horns, which thou sawest on the beast, these shall hate the harlot, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and shall burn her with fire.

    Thus Matthew 26: 26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:17-20 and 1 Cor 23-25 the words are literal and do not even give a hint of being symbolic

    John 6
    Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen, I say unto you: Moses gave you not bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.33 For the bread of God is that which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life to the world.
    34 Then they said to him: Lord, give us always this bread.
    35 And Jesus said to them: I am the bread of life: *he that cometh to me, shall not hunger: and he that believeth in me, shall never thirst.
    36 But I said to you, that you also have seen me, and you believe not.
    37 All that the Father giveth me, shall come to me: and him that cometh to me, I will not cast out:
    38 Because I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me.
    39 Now this is the will of the Father, that sent me: that of all that he hath given me, I should not lose thereof, but should raise it up again at the last day.
    40 And this is the will of my Father, who sent me: that every one who seeth the Son, and believeth in him, may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
    41 The Jews therefore murmured at him, because he had said: I am the living bread which came down from heaven.
    42 And they said: *Is not this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How then saith he, I came down from heaven?
    43 Jesus, therefore, answered, and said to them: Murmur not among yourselves.
    44 No man can come to me, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
    5 It is written in the prophets: *And they shall all be taught of God. Every one that hath heard of the Father, and hath learned, cometh to me.
    46 *Not that any man hath seen the Father, but he, who is of God, he hath seen the Father.
    47 Amen, amen, I say unto you: He that believeth in me, hath everlasting life.
    48 I am the bread of life.
    49 *Your fathers did eat manna in the desert, and they died.
    50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven: that if any one eat of it, he may not die.
    51 I am the living bread, which came down from heaven.
    52 If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread which I will give, is my flesh for the life of the world.
    53 The Jews, therefore, disputed among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?
    54 Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen, I say to you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.
    55 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
    56 *For my flesh, is meat indeed: and my blood, is drink indeed:
    57 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him.
    58 As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.
    59 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and died. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever.
    60 These things he said, teaching in the synagogue, in Capharnaum.
    61 Many, therefore, of his disciples, hearing it, said: This saying is hard, and who can hear it?
    62 But Jesus, knowing in himself, that his disciples murmured at this, said to them: Doth this scandalize you?
    63 If then you shall see *the Son of man ascend up where he was before?
    64 It is the spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I have spoken to you, are spirit and life.
    65 But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that did not believe, and who he was that would betray him.
    66 And he said: Therefore did I say to you, that no man can come to me, unless it be given him by my Father.
    67 After this many of his disciples went back: and walked no more with him.

    68 Then Jesus said to the twelve: Will you also go away?
    69 And Simon Peter answered him: Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
    70 *And we have believed, and have known that thou art the Christ, the Son of God.
    71 Jesus answered them: Have not I chosen you twelve: and one of you is a devil?
    72 Now he meant Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon: for this same was about to betray him, whereas he was one of the twelve.

    If we believe the protestants, that Jesus was speaking symbolically then He was telling the faithful the way to eternal life is to assault and persecute Him.

  12. fergus

    A common misconception is that physics tries to find theories that are right, when in actual practice finding theories that are wrong, so that they can be discarded, is the lifeblood of physics. As Feynman pointed out, comparing new theories to experiment can only show that as far as we can tell now, a proposed new theory is not wrong for now, never right. A theory that is less wrong than a previous theory is enough. Truth or the “true cause” of things is for other disciplines. John Wheeler opined that the job of a theoretical physicist is to make mistakes as fast as possible (where he meant by “mistake” was generating a proposed theory that turned out to be wrong). Feynman also opined that the most important skill of a physicist was finding flaws in his own proposed theories. If one wants to seek truth, correctness, or “true causes” perhaps another field would be a better choice.

  13. DAA

    Against fergus, I would say that physics is meant to find causes, this modelling is the extensive/quantitative aspect of it. The problem today is that physicists are just calculators. No philosophical training and so no understanding of what physics is.

  14. fergus

    @DAA Too little space to elaborate greatly. Suggest reading Feynman’s layman directed works and also his popular lecture transcript QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. The first chapter is very accessible, the latter chapters require patience and attention. Perhaps also just the first chapter of his book Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals (with co-author Hibbs). The latter chapters are very technical. Then read the many writings of John Wheeler. Then move to the present and read Kip Thorne’s semi-popular works and the several popular books of Roger Penrose. Then think about the “cause” of quantum mechanics and the “cause” of gravity. Then think about how you would predict outcomes of experiments from the “causes”. It is a different thing to philosophize about causes than to predict outcomes of experiments, the sole arbiter of a theory’s “wrongness” or lack of “wrongness”, in the view of practitioners of physics. The distinction is between those who talk about science (hard science as in physics, bio, chem) versus those who do it day in day out, what is sometimes elsewhere called the “lived experience.” As an exercise, after reading the first chapter of QED, cogitate on the “cause” of quantum electrodynamics. For a special treat, cogitate on what a plausible “cause” might be for the current situation in which in the limit of large numbers of things, so far quantum mechanics seems to correspond quite well with continuous physics in the classical world, but although general relativity is a classical theory, the transition (correspondence path) from quantum mechanics to the curvature of space time foundation of general relativity eludes us. But don’t just name possible “causes,” specify how those causes would quantitatively predict experimental outcomes. This will give you a feel for what physicists do versus what philosophers do.

  15. DAA

    @fergus: I understand your point, but I differentiate between what the general practitioners say and what intellectually is understanding something. Many concepts we use in physics are like scafolding, I am no sure what can be said of, say, quantum mechanics. Aristotle said that to understand somothing is to know its causes. Take the mathematical model of the heavens in the middle ages. That was a good prediction. No explanations were there to be given. Copernicus and then Galileo changed the demands of the science, affirming that what the models gave mathematically, was what it was physically. But that is exactly the problem today. We have mathematical models, but any postulated quantities may be artifactst of the model, as in the past epicycles and equants, and so forth. I am not saying that we are anywhere near undertstanding causes with modern physics. Modern physics is just (and again) the mathematical construction and the comparison with measurements and experiments. So aparently not that different from the medieval model of the heavens. But from Copernicus claiming that we were going after causes, physical descriptions, and so on. I do not trust the sayings of the present day physicists, because they are taught to assume that the model and the prediction is all there is. Of course, whether we can understand the causes of phenomena is another matter entirely. I undertstand the division of the sciences as “Physical”, “Mathematical” and “Metaphysical”. I see Physics as a discipline of Natural Philosophy, not as a branch of the persent day academic Philosophy, which is a restriction of the classical view of Philosophy. Just because some theory predicts correclty the outcome of an experiment, does not mean that it is correct. The same thing happens the other way: some wrong prediction does not mean that a theory is not ultimately correct. The sayings of the practitioners are very important in that they show how is is done on the ground, but does not mean that that is the way to go. Thank you for your insights, I hope I have made my point clear(er). Best.

  16. fergus

    It is OK. No points of real argumentation at all, just a different perspective, much more limited in a way. Physics is very mundane, workaday humble in a sense, and steeped in appreciation of what we do not know. The paradigm of physics is very simple, succinctly captured by Feynman many times and available to watch now in his Messenger lectures at Cornell in 64. (Easily findable by googling.) Physics is three simple steps. 1) Conceptualize a theory of something (Feynman said it is often just a guess). 2) Express the theory mathematically so it can be understood precisely by anyone the same way and so it can calculate predicted results of experiments non-arbitrarily and anyone can calculate the results. 3) Compare the predictions to the results of controlled experiments (sometimes observations such as in astronomy). If the quantitative prediction is within the experimental errors the theory is judged to be “not wrong” for the time being. That is all. As good as it gets. A theory is never “correct” or “true” it just cannot be said to be wrong for now. Truth and correctness a not part of the process. Distinguishing between theories that give very similar predictions or that have adjustable parameters can be challenging, but the challenge is to decrease the experimental errors sufficiently to distinguish between them. Theories in this context are seen as either useful or not useful, or perhaps useful under certain approximations or conditions. But never True or Correct. There is no need nor use for abstract “causes” that are not incorporated directly in the quantitative formulation. Not to say such things are not pleasing, or satisfying, or spiritually comforting to contemplate, just that such contemplations are not part of physics. They are for other disciplines such as philosophy and even philosophy of physics. And that is OK. The final arbiter of a theory in physics is comparison with experiment, period, which Feynman often called Nature. And he said it very simply, “Nature is never wrong.”

    As an aside, Galileo should be credited with bringing quantitative characterization of observations to the forefront. Much earlier work was not so, which led to such notions as the Aristotelian view that a body in motion must be acted on by a force to remain in motion, replaced by Newton’s first law. As to causes, Galileo and Copernicus are interesting also in that they both found strong evidence that planets orbited the sun, and even did so in quantitative ways that now can be derived and predicted with Newton’s laws. But neither had a clear theory that predicted such behavior, that had to wait for Newton (who was born the day Galileo died, oddly enough). One might think that Newton’s law of general gravitation serves as the “cause” of Galileo and Copernicus’ observations, but physicists tend not think in terms of “causes” in that way. Answering the question “why” is not the forefront, “how” is more at the front. How to predict something quantitatively is the aim, not why. So it is true in a way, physicists are in the end just calculators. But with a purpose, a goal to predict outcomes of experiments.

  17. DAA

    @fergus: I concede that what you say is the truth, in that it is in that way that the physicists think. But they always tend to add meat to the bones, when they try to infuse the technical discussions with a causal argumentation. The main motivation in the areas of fundamental physics is to know, the experiments themselves are just a means to an end. Adding to this, the explanatory theories tend themselves to be less predictive and vice-versa, following Cartwright. So the better predictive power of some theories is compensated by the deficit of explanatory power. This is quite frustrating. I won’t bother you with more. Thank you for this exchange.

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