Re: Rational Methodology for Evaluating Supernatural Claim

From: george murphy (
Date: Tue Nov 28 2000 - 14:17:56 EST

  • Next message: "RE: Rational Methodology for Evaluating Supernatural Claim"

    > >GM1 1. no one has thought of the correct theory. Aristotelian mechanics
    > was falsified by Galileo, but his theory (not falsified) wasn't quite
    > correct either. Newton came along and fixed it, but his wasn't quite correct
    > either so Einstein corrected that. To date, there is little reason to correct
    > Einstein, but that doesn't mean that in the future we won't see a need.
    > >GM1 2. People reject the wrong theory for inadequate reasons. Continental
    > drift is an example of this. Wegner, Du Toit and others argued long and hard
    > that the continents had been connected and then moved apart. In the 20's the
    > AAPG held a conference in which they questioned everything about drift
    > including Wegener's parentage. They rejected it based upon the notion that
    > there was no mechanism which could account for the continental motion. They
    > were wrong. In the 1960s evidence was found which resurrected the theory and
    > provided a new mechanism Thus their falsification of drift was false.
    > >GM1 3. The mathematics for the development of the theory may not have been
    > invented yet. General relativity could not be invented until Riemannian
    > algebra was invented in the 1800s. If anyone had suggested General
    > Relativity to a friend in 1750, it would have been rejected as the creation
    > of a mad man.
    > Those that claimed the planet orbit was a circle were proved wrong when it
    > was found the actual orbit matched the ellipse better. Those that claimed the
    > circle orbit theory was correct never proved there was no other possible
    > orbit theory such as the elliptical one. Those that claimed the planet orbit
    > was an ellipse were proved wrong when it was found the relativity
    > perturbation to the ellipse matched the actual orbit better. Those that
    > claimed the elliptical orbit theory was correct never proved there was no
    > other possible orbit theory. I could go on, but the point is clear, your
    > examples do not show that PE incorrectly determined a theory true rather it
    > was the human individual who made incorrect presumptions.

            This last paragraph shows some confusion about the theories in question.
    The claim of Newtonian gravitational theory is not that planetary orbits are
    elliptical but that bodies move in accord with Newton's laws of motion and that
    there is an attractive central force between them obeying an inverse square law.
    Of course this gives elliptical orbits. Actual planetary orbits are better
    described by Einstein's theory. But those aren't the only alternatives. One
    could keep the basic Newtonian framework but alter the force law in an infinite
    number of different ways. In particular, there are several ways to modify the
    inverse square law (e.g., by adding an inverse fourth-power term which also
    depends on angular momentum) in order to get the correct - i.e., Einsteinian -
    orbital precession.
            You can do similar things to patch up Newtonian theory to take care of
    other phenomena. But at some point you see that all your doing with Newtonian
    theory is making _ex post facto_ adjustments to new data which Einstein's theory
    was able to explain on the basis of its original assumptions. In Lakatosian
    terms, the Einsteinian program is progressing while the Newtonian one is
    degenerating. Of course that doesn't mean that Newtonian theory is worthless.
    Moreover, it is possible for a degenerating program to be resurrected.
            Classical general relativity is the best theory of gravitation we have
    today but it certainly isn't the last word. We know on rather general grounds
    that there has to be a quantum theory of gravitation (which may involve
    modifications of quantum theory as well as general relativity) but we don't know
    what it is yet. If we were actually eliminating "impossible" theories we'd have
    to eliminate general relativity and say we had no correct theory of gravitation
    at all.


    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Tue Nov 28 2000 - 14:15:30 EST