“Don’t believe the [science] hype…”: CERN, LHC, Black Holes and Big Bangs

I have to admit that this morning, I was slightly peturbed that once CERN’s (European Centre for Nuclear Research – aren’t acronyms meant to have the letters in the same order ???) Large Hadron Collider (LHC – that’s a better acronym) was switched on, I would immediately be sucked into a man-made black hole. Not even a real one, but a sub-standard Euro-produced black hole that no doubt could have been made quicker and cheaper in the Far East (viva capitalism…!!!).

Thankfully – given that life is pretty good at the moment – I wasn’t but I did have to endure the switching on via Radio 5 which, if truth be told, wasn’t the most exciting or relevant of mediums through which to experience it. I was most disappointed though when – unlike Christmas lights in various parochial towns across the UK – some bit part Eastenders actor wasn’t there to do the honours and ‘turn it on’.

The reason for posting this is because of a conversation I had with someone close a while ago. When I was listening to the coverage, I couldn’t help but wonder whether this was merely a case of the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’. Why do I say that? Well because I don’t really trust – or believe – scientists.

When I said this to a friend, they were somewhat taken aback that I didn’t believe scientists. When I responded that much of what scientists currently espouse is based upon conjecture and is only fact until another scientist disproves it – and replaces with another theory – they thought I had gone mad. With the turning on of the LHC, I thought that I would explore this further.

In more technical terms, what I was trying to get across was the idea of ‘argument from ignorance’ or argumentum ad ignorantiam (“appeal to ignorance”) as it is also known. Here it is claimed that something is true only because it has not been proven false or, vice versa, false because it has not been proven true.

Take for instance the Big Bang theory, something that I said to my friend wasn’t necessarily provable. As the idea of argumentum as ignorantiam explains, just because a theory does explain all known relevant phenomena it would be wrong to conclude that this must then be correct. The fact that no counter-examples are known to exist – at this moment in time – is not in itself proof of a given theory, since there is always the possibility of some yet-to-be-observed and/ or proved counter-example. For instance, there are no known phenomena that are inconsistent with the Big Bang theory – at this moment in time – but this by no means constitutes definitive proof that the universe actually did begin with the Big Bang.

And this is my criticism of many within the scientific community because they are happy to allow people – the great unwashed like you and I – to proceed as if a given theory – the Big Bang for example – were definitively true. It’s not.

Ok, I admit it. I don’t have the answers and can’t make any more of a reasoned argument that quoting Latin to refute (some) science and to justify my mistrust of (some) scientists and (some) scientific theory.

The thing is though, when the LHC is turned on and they speak about re-creating the moments after the Big Bang, they’re not even sure that the Big Bang happened so how do they know…??? As I said, just because there appears to be no counter-examples known to the theory, this is not in itself proof of a given theory. In fact, the LHC might even offer the possibility of some yet-to-be-observed and/ or proved counter-example. How great would that be: they disprove exactly what they were intending to learn more about…?

And isn’t this the same premise upon which many people of faith also hold their belief: that until someone ‘proves’ that God doesn’t exist, they will continue to believe that it does.

As I said to my friend, scientists and people are faith are not a million miles away. The scientists just have the better PR.

And don’t forget, the scientists have the means to bring about an end to the world (just wait until the two beams collide and then we’ll see who’s the most dangerous…well maybe !!!).

At least people of faith have to have divine intervention on their side and there’s no proof that even exists: or is there…???.

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This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Based on a work at www.chris-allen.co.uk.


5 thoughts on ““Don’t believe the [science] hype…”: CERN, LHC, Black Holes and Big Bangs

  1. The trouble is that we can never ‘prove’ anything to be true, so if you discount science on that basis you have to discount all knowledge. Your standards are too high. The difference between science and faith is that science as a whole is quantifiable, and scientific theories make predictions so can in principle be proved wrong. This isn’t the case for belief in God, it cannot be proved wrong because it says nothing about the world that we can actually experience. That said, there is obviously a difference between theories like electricity which we can test easily and directly, and theories like the big bang which are only based on extrapolations of physics that we know works reasonably well at the scales and periods of time we can observe. For that reason, the big bang remains a weaker hypothesis than the theory of electricity, albeit one that a majority of physicists think is likely to be right.

  2. Scientific journalism is kind of a troublesome field – to get people to read their articles, the journalist usually hypes the invention/development/discovery as the next Big Thing. It’s just like any other story, they want to emphasize the parts that interest people, and play down the minutiae.

    Scientists aren’t lying to the public about their theories, they even call them ‘theories’. It’s the explanation that best fits the facts, and when a new theory comes along, it’s assessed, and accepted or rejected. This is the science/faith difference – a true scientist (I know there are exceptions to the rule) will throw away a theory he’s held for his entire professional career if you can provide evidence it’s incorrect.

    Also, there won’t be a black hole. A two proton ‘black hole’ pulls you just as much as two protons do – i.e., not at all.

  3. The comments above are right to the point. The trouble with Big Bang is 1) the metaphysical extrapolation of the theory to t=0 and 2) the metaphysical interpretation of the theory as the theory of the evolution of the WHOLE universe.

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