Physics theories are remarkably similar to God theories

I was listening to lectures by Carlo Rovelli on Loop Quantum Gravity and Sean Carroll on Quantum Wave Theory. While the maths used in modern physics is beyond my capabilities, it is very evident that the leading physicists of today when propounding their theories do not sound so very different to priests talking about their gods.

WSU Master Class: Loop Quantum Gravity with Carlo Rovelli

Mysteries of Modern Physics by Sean Carroll


I take physics to be the all-encompassing field which includes, among other scientific disciplines, astrophysics, astronomy, cosmology, particle physics and quantum mechanics. In one critical sense physics lies at the base of all the physical sciences and thus chemistry must be a sub-set of physics (though no self-respecting chemist would ever openly admit that). Mathematics, of course, is a language (actually many languages) invented to describe the world around us. The more precise and specific a branch of mathematics the more esoteric its application. It appears, at first glance, that physics gives chemistry which gives rise to organic chemistry which, in turn, leads to biochemistry. However, there is a crucial element missing when considering biochemistry as merely a sub-set of chemistry and then of physics. Neither physics nor chemistry can explain how the spark of life which animates biochemistry and biology came to be or why it should be at all. Some other unknown thing, in addition to physics, is needed to convert chemistry into biochemistry and for living things to emerge. The brute empirical fact of the existence of life and living things becomes both a fundamental assumption and a boundary condition for biology.

There are no physics theories which do not start with some fundamental assumptions which generally make up the initial and boundary conditions for the field of study. The field of study does not, cannot, thereafter, penetrate why those assumptions must be. Physics assumes causality and therefore cannot conceive of any non-causal events. (A contradiction arises whenever physics relies upon or invokes a truly random event since such an event must be – by definition – without cause). Biological and medical sciences start with the assumption of the existence of living things and do not, thereafter, concern themselves with the “trivial” question of why life came to be. The scientific process, in every branch of science, assumes that all observations are explainable, that causality prevails, and that the flow of time is regular, one-directional and irreversible. Philosophy and metaphysics sometimes address existence and causality and the nature of time but no science and no logic can address the fundamental assumptions it is itself built upon. Assumptions enable the many fields of study but they also constrain the field of study.

At the level closest to metaphysics lies the Standard Model of Cosmology which, in turn, is built upon the Standard Model of Particle Physics and the General Theory of Relativity. They all need fundamental assumptions which the models themselves cannot address. It is when justifying or explaining these basic assumptions (beliefs) that physicists and cosmologists become indistinguishable from theologists justifying the existence of the Divine.

The current Standard Model of Cosmology (SMC), also called the “Concordance Cosmological Model” or the “ΛCDM Model,” assumes that the universe was created in the “Big Bang” from pure energy, and is now composed of about 5% ordinary matter, 27% dark matter, and 68% dark energy. While the SMC is based primarily upon two theoretical models:

  1. the Standard Model of Particle Physics (SMPP), which describes the physics of the very small in terms of quantum mechanics and
  2. the General Theory of Relativity (GTR), which describes the physics of the very large in terms of classical mechanics;

it also depends upon several additional assumptions. The main additional assumptions of the SMC are:

  1. the universe was created in the Big Bang from pure energy;
  2. the mass energy content of the universe is given by 5% ordinary matter, 27% dark matter, and 68% dark energy;
  3. the gravitational interactions between the above three components of the mass energy content of the universe are described by the GTR; and
  4. the universe is homogeneous and isotropic on sufficiently large (cosmic) scales.

I note that the certainty of our science is based on observation of just part of the 5% of the universe which is observable. The other 95% (presumed to be and labeled dark energy and dark matter) is not observable but is imbued with just those properties needed to make our observations of part of the 5% fit into the Standard Model of the whole. They are, in fact, fudge factors to make observations fit a model. The God of Fudge Factors is brought into play but God forbid that it be considered a God. Dark energy and dark matter are just labels for unknown, magical sources of undetectable, unobservable matter and energy inferred to exist. Dark energy and dark matter are as true, and as slippery as heaven and hell are in theology.

The universe of this Standard Model starts without space, without time, and without any laws governing what causality should be. Physics and cosmology cannot address the question of existence (an assumed initial condition) and therefore resorts to trickery to create something local from a global nothing.

(Net zero)global = (+ something)local + (-something)local-elsewhere

This trick allows matter and energy (locally) to be “created” from a global nothing. We cannot detect enough anti-matter to balance all the matter we observe in our local universe, but don’t worry, it must be out there somewhere else. But that is not all. Just as our ancient ancestors invoked gods when there was no explanation, modern physicists invoke random events happening entirely by chance – as just one probability of many, that just happened to realised. Truly random must be without cause. Anything without cause is remarkably magical. To assign divinity to the magical is just a small step. Whenever it is claimed that it was pure, probabilistic chance that led to our particular universe or parts of it coming into existence, it is no more than an invocation of the Supreme God of Random Events.

Where there is no energy, pure chance allowed the use of this trick such that a

net zero = +(any amount of energy) – (the same amount of energy),

This gives some positive energy (from nothing) while at the same time (what time?) creating an equal amount of negative energy somewhere else (what somewhere else without any space?). Just preceding the Big Bang, Cosmic Inflation started (why?) and created space which allowed the laws of physics to emerge. Time emerged (why?), all entangled with the space, and this all somehow led to the Big Bang. They are all just Creation stories. Listen to cosmologists talking about Cosmic Inflation, or about the appearance of a local positive energy when the net global energy is zero and it is like listening to theology.

Whenever a physicist today claims that something is emergent, it is because that something defies explanation. In fact all the various speculative theories trying to bring quantum theory and gravitation together (string theory, loop quantum gravity, asymptotically safe gravity, causal dynamical triangulation, and emergent gravity) are all theories ultimately about the existence of our universe. When quantum mechanics brings in Everett’s universal wavefunction which collapses to give everything that existed, exists or will exist, we have just reached a God of Wavefunctions which rules them all.  Listening to the avid proponent of any particular theory is not so different to listening to an incomprehensible Sufi mystic. Hearing a string theorist arguing against a loop quantum gravity adherent is very like listening to the noises made by a Sunni arguing against a Shia. 

We need to remember that all God and Physics theories ultimately originate from inexplicabilities. Every mystery allows room for an explanatory theory which can be labeled a god. The Great Mysteries, which in past times would have been couched in terms of the Divine and called theology, are today couched in the language of mathematics and called Physics.

I seem to go around in circles but I can reach no other conclusion than that Gods and Physics theories are both just attempts to explain the inexplicable.


Science needs its Gods and religion is just politics

This essay has grown from the notes of an after-dinner talk I gave last year. As I recall it was just a 20 minute talk but making sense of my old notes led to this somewhat expanded essay. The theme, however, is true to the talk. The surrounding world is one of magic and mystery. And no amount of Science can deny the magic.

Anybody’s true belief or non-belief is a personal peculiarity, an exercise of mind and unobjectionable. I do not believe that true beliefs can be imposed from without. Imposition requires some level of coercion and what is produced can never be true belief. My disbelief can never disprove somebody else’s belief.

Disbelieving a belief brings us to zero – a null state. Disbelieving a belief (which by definition is the acceptance of a proposition which cannot be proved or disproved) brings us back to the null state of having no belief. It does not prove the negation of a belief.

[ (+G) – (+G) = 0, not (~G) ]

Of course Pooh puts it much better.


Science needs its Gods and religion is just politics


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