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Saturday, August 30, 2008

A question science can't answer?

What is the origin of the universe? Spacetime itself and all the mass-energy in it were created in the Big Bang some 15 billion years ago. Humans are beginning to understand how the laws of physics allowed for the Big Bang to happen, and are even proposing reasons why the laws of physics have to be as they are. However, it may not be knowable why the laws of physics exist at all.

# What is the mechanism of the universe? The universe consists of fermions and bosons interacting through gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Humans can accurately model those interactions using General Relativity and the Standard Model of particle physics, and may be close to combining these two theories into a unified theory of the universe.

# What is the fate of the universe? There appears not to be enough mass in the universe to halt its (perhaps asymptotic) expansion into a vast emptiness growing steadily colder and darker.
clipped from scienceblogs.com

"Can anybody think of a question science can't answer?"

"Is there a God?" shot back a boy near the window.

"Good," said Mr. Campbell, an Anglican who attends church most Sundays. "Can't test it. Can't prove it, can't disprove it. It's not a question for science."

I despise that chicken-hearted answer. There are two reasonable ways to address that. One is to accept the usual open-ended, undefined vagueness of the god entity and point out that the reason it can't be answered is that it is a bad question — it's not even wrong. Science doesn't answer it, but then no discipline can, because it's a garbage question like "what color are invisible elephants?" If that's what window-boy intends with his petty little gotcha, he deserves to have the inanity of his idea disparaged.

The other approach
pin the question down. What god? What actions has it taken in the natural world? How does it influence us specifically? Then you can tackle that god with science by testing the purported effects it has
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