August 10, 2009

I get mail

When I write something and post it here, I enjoy getting comments. Since I’ve failed at my attempts to be paid for my writing, comments provide, if not monetary reward, at least some satisfying feedback. What I don’t like as much is direct email commenting on my posts. Engaging me singularly is, I guess, okay… but I’d prefer if it came as comments on the blog so it would be an open debate with an audience. Narcissism, I suppose.

But it doesn’t always work that way, and I Get Mail. So, to answer one of those direct emails, shall we dwell for a moment on my last missive? My critic takes me to task for my comment regarding the null hypothesis. In my previous message I stated:

"Theists often turn science on its head by demanding proof of the absence of god. What they demand is not possible, so they offer the inability to prove the negative as proof of the positive. Not very good science."

My critic contends that if a hypothesis can’t be disproved, it must be considered valid. I strongly disagree. Let us draw an analogy. Consider the following two existing and well documented theories of the creation of the universe, and of mankind:

Theory 01:

In the beginning there was a great void. Let’s call it Ginnungagap. This void existed along with the land of fog and ice in the north, and the land of fire in the south. The mix of fire and ice caused part of reality to melt, forming a giant we will call Ymir, and a cow named Audhumla. Ymir survived by drinking the cow’s milk and everything was cool. Then Ymir fell asleep, and his armpits sweated, begetting a pair of frost giants. One was a dude and the other a chick. The sweat from Ymir’s crotch begat yet another dude. The cow needed something to eat too, so she licked the salty ice formed from Ymir’s sweat. The licking begat another god, who we will name Buri. Buri had a son, but we don’t really know how because he didn’t have a wife yet. Still, he called his son Bor. Bor had some kids too, and he named them Odin, Vili and Ve. These were bad kids, always into mischief I suppose, because for no good reason they decided to murder Ymir. Well, the dude bled a lot and it caused a flood that killed just about everybody, including all those sweat-induced frost giants. The two survivors were some dude we haven’t heard from yet and his wife. We don’t know where they came from, but they floated off in the flood of blood in a boat. We don’t know where the boat came from either. In the mean time the bad boy brothers three took Ymir’s corpse and tore it apart, slinging the pieces everywhere. Some of the body parts became the sun, stars moon, earth and the sky. Then the brothers three happened upon a couple of driftwood logs, from which they created they Ash tree (man) and the Alder bush (woman).

And that’s how we got here… [Editor’s note: please pay attention to the tree that was man, and then notice the name of this blog. Think about that for a moment]

Theory 2:

The universe sprang into existence as a "singularity" around 13.7 billion years ago. We don’t know what a singularity is, but we’re working on that. Singularities defy our understanding of physics, which makes us curious. We think they exist at the core of black holes, and we’re trying to find evidence to confirm that hypothesis, but we really don’t know what black holes are either. We think black holes are areas of intense gravitational pressure, so intense that finite matter is actually squished into infinite density. Infinite density is a mathematical concept that boggles our minds too, but again, we’re working it. Until we know something different we’re calling these zones of infinite density singularities, but we admit we may have it all wrong.

In summary, our universe is thought to have begun as an infinitesimally small, infinitely hot, infinitely dense, something or another, that we’ve decided to call a singularity. Where did it come from? We don't know. Why did it appear? We don't know. Like I said, we’re working on that.

What we theorize is that after its initial appearance, the whole kit and caboodle inflated really quickly and really explosively in an event we’ve taken to calling the Big Bang. We think that after the main act, the whole shooting match cooled pretty quickly, going from very, very small and very, very hot, to the size and temperature of our current universe over just 13.7 million years. And we think it ain’t over yet either. We think that the whole shebang is still expanding and cooling as we speak, and will continue to do so for another few billion years.

We also think that over those several billion years all manner of life forms have come and gone in some kind of cosmic dice roll to see what works and what doesn’t. At this moment in time, at this plain of reality, in this perceivable dimension, mankind and mules have been sort of successful at surviving, finding sustenance and shelter. We also create a lot of crap and may be lucky to maintain that survival.

All of this due to some infinitesimal singularity that we can barely describe, which appeared out of nowhere for reasons unknown.

And that’s how we got here… we think. [Editor’s note: please pay attention to the product of man’s existence, and then notice the name of this blog. Make any more sense now?]

Science is the trick pony

So here we are back to the null hypothesis. Mine for theory #1 would be that this is a bunch of mumbo jumbo…

But I can’t prove that. I can’t even test it for validity, so I can never affirm my null hypothesis with 100% certainty, just as I can never state that god doesn’t exist with 100% certainty.

But with theory #2 I can use science to diminish my doubts. I still can’t prove it, but I can defend it against some opposition because there is evidence in geology and astronomy… and we have gained some rudimentary understanding of physics.

So, in answer to my anonymous heckler, while I am never able to disprove one theory or another, that alone does not grant any theory automatic validity. I have some knowledge of the scientific method, and I understand the limits of man’s knowledge; therefore I will never make a positive statement in response to a null hypothesis. I cannot.

The fact will remain that my inability to disprove Ymir’s sweaty balls does not validate that particular hypothesis... but neither does it diminish my doubt.

p.s. I blew it on my word count again…


Brian Ballsun-Stanton said...

Interesting. Setting aside comments of Kuhn, Lakatos (My favourite) and Feyerabend (Also my favorite, just in a different way), questions of the null hyptothesis require discussing Sir Karl Popper.

At root, when trying to have certainty in something, one must make risky, falsifiable statements about that thing. In order to compare your two theories, claims the ghost of Sir Karl, simply consider what falsifiable claims one can make about either. The one that allows for (and then survives, of course) riskier claims is the winner.

As it's fundamentally impossible to make risky claims about God, we can make no useful assertions as to its existence.

Mule Breath said...

So you like the Austrians, eh?

The testing you describe is at the root of accepted scientific method. Regardless of the creation myth, when compared to current big bang theory, statements made in the myth lose credibility because they are untestable. Statements made in regard to big bang, however, are testable and thus credible. We do not know if the statements are true... only that they are more credible than the myth.

Ahh, Popper. The militant anti-metaphysician. If we are going to take Sir Karl's philosophies into account we will need to consider Wittgenstein's as well, else we lose balance. Feyerabend's reduction of absurdity theory fits this discussion well.

Thanks for a very interesting comment.