Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Albert Einstein published his general theory of relativity in 1905. As I write this, 102 years later, Einstein’s theory is still just that, a theory.On July 5th 1687 Sir Isaac Newton published Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, part of which outlined the law of universal gravity.

Why is Newton’s idea a law when Einstein’s is just a theory?

Quite simply, because science has proved Newton’s idea to be correct. They are, however, still working on relativity. Indeed I read recently that it is only now, over one hundred years after Einstein published his idea, that serious work is being done to test his great theory. Until now we did not possess computers capable of carrying out the incredibly complex calculations required – calculations which Einstein performed using only a pen and paper and the most remarkable mind!

So, what can relativity do for you?

Well to be honest, not much for you or me personally. By the time mankind gets around to understanding relativity and all that will come from it, such as an understanding of quantum theory and many more ideas as yet undreamed of, (undreamable, even.) both you and I will long have passed from this world. Oh, and I nearly forgot. It will also lead us to an understanding of where the universe came from, how it came to be, probably why it came to be and possibly where it’s all going.

The most important words in that last sentence are ‘why’ and ‘how’.

For several millennia we have been asking ourselves the same question. Why? Why are we here? Why is the sky blue? Why does it get dark at night?

The question we should be asking, the question science is continually asking is, how?
How are we here? How is the sky blue? How does it get dark at night?

Isaac Newton saw an apple fall from a tree and asked why the apple fell. However, he than asked a far more important question. How did the apple fall? Several questions later we had the law of gravity. Magic.

If Newton had followed the religious teaching of the time he would simply have accepted that the apple fell to the ground because that is the way God designed the world. Centuries earlier St Augustine implored scientists to simply accept the limit of human knowledge and to stop trying to discover things which we, mere men, were not supposed to know. If God wanted us to know where it all came from he would have given us that knowledge when he created us.

So where did the universe come from?

One answer is that it was created by God. The proof for this is to be found…….. well, nowhere.

Another answer is that the universe was created in the big bang. The proof for this is to be found…….. well, nowhere either.

That is why the big bang theory is still just a theory. We have not yet published definitive proof of its veracity but we have enough evidence for many people, me included, to accept that the big bang is most likely what happened at the birth of the universe.

In the census of the Irish population undertaken in 2006 over 3.9 million people clamed to belong to one religious faith or another. Only 175,252 people admitted to having no religious faith. So out of a total population of 4.1 million only 175,252 believe that the universe and everything in it was not created by God. 3.9 million Irish residents believe that God (any God) made the universe, presumably out of nothing at all. Some of them will believe absolutely the bible story of Genesis which tells us that God made the world in six days. The proof for this is not to be found anywhere except in the minds of believers and between the covers of their holy books. Church hierarchy tells us that it is so and we must simply believe. Religion offers no proof of anything, yet it asks us to believe the most fantastic things on faith alone. (‘Duh, there’s a reason it’s called faith stupid.’ I hear you, now shut up and listen.)

Science also asks us to believe the most fantastic things. Science however offers up theories and laws to help us to accept what we are being told.

When scientists see something which they don’t understand they go in search of an answer. When they think they have found it they offer up a theory, and then other scientists set out to prove them wrong. If they do prove them wrong the first to congratulate them will be those that have been proven to be wrong.

When religious see something which they don’t understand they simply make something up. Magic!