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Saturday, 24 November 2007

Weird Physics, Gravity, and doubting Evolution

At least until several years ago, I was more interested in physics than biology. The reason for this was due in part to my own academic interests (mathematics and computer science), both of which interface closely with physics. And it doesn’t hurt that my alma mater (University of Waterloo) is home to the Perimeter Institute.

Physics can be really, really weird. Anyone who doesn’t believe this has probably never cracked open a book on theoretical physics. General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and String Theory can make you dizzy (a good dizzy of course). Even if I just barely understand the basics, I do enjoy reading and thinking about these ideas, particularly when combined with a healthy dose of speculative science fiction. (There are those who argue that String Theory itself is speculative science fiction).

Last week The Telegraph ran an article on a physicist named Garrett Lisi who has proposed a “Grand Unified Theory” tying together all the fundamental forces of physics. (HT: Entangled States). This is something Einstein was unsuccessful in doing despite years of effort. And Lisi’s theory may not even be that weird :

… his proposal is remarkable because, by the arcane standards of particle physics, it does not require highly complex mathematics.

Even better, it does not require more than one dimension of time and three of space, when some rival theories need ten or even more spatial dimensions and other bizarre concepts. And it may even be possible to test his theory, which predicts a host of new particles, perhaps even using the new Large Hadron Collider atom smasher that will go into action near Geneva next year.
If Lisi’s theory proves correct (and many are calling it a long shot), we may finally have a better understanding of gravity, and how it relates to the other three fundamental forces. For, although just about everyone understands gravity at a basic level, no one really understands why it works the way it does.

That we don’t understand it fully is no reason to doubt the Theory of Gravity. Although initially there were those who opposed Newton’s theory on biblical grounds (after all, God held the stars in place, not gravity) very few people doubt it today. It is fascinating, however, to compare the acceptance of the Theory of Gravity with the acceptance of the Theory of Evolution, particularly when we may have better evidence for some aspects of the Theory of Evolution. Check out Gordon Glover’s post at Beyond the Firmament where he discusses this issue.


Cliff Martin said...

Thank you for the posts, Steve. Just wanted you to know I'm reading with interest!
~ Cliff

Tim Hakonson said...

I personally believe that the laws physics may be theory, but I firmly believe they are true. Evangelicals have a strong belief in in an anthropormophic God which tends to counter much of what science has as theory. Being a student of metaphysics allows me to believe in an universal intelligece beyond our understanding and yet a very part of who we are. Therefore, I have little difficulty accepting scientific theory. There is no such thing as a thory of theology