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Re: [Phys-l] Is evolution something to believe in?

Hi all-
Like all generalities (including this one) the bald statement "GR and QM are incompatible" is a meaningless pomposity. One intelligent response might be: How are QM and GR incompatible - which brings the statement down to specifics that can be discussed. A nice example is found at

The problem with supporting arguments of the nature of "that's what I remember from the courses I took and the experts I talked to" is the problem (or set of problems) that's common to all hearsay "evidence": 1. Did you hear and understand correctly?
2. How can we know the context in which the statements were made?
3. How can we know that the information you gleaned from your courses was correct?
4. What has transpired since you took your courses.

That is why I tell my students that argument by authority is never acceptable in a physics course, or, in the words of Feynman: "What I cannot create, I do not understand."

On Wed, 2 Apr 2008, curtis osterhoudt wrote:

It is quite certain that GR and QM are incompatible (based on several GR and mathematical physics graduate classes I've taken). However, in their domains of "usefulness", both are spectacularly successful theories, if one uses the criteria of: (1) providing a unifying framework from which to view the world, and (2) providing extremely high precision predictions which agree with experiment fantastically well.

The first of these criteria is provided by many hypotheses about life and its diversity: evolution, ID (*cough, cough*), creation myths, all supply more-or-less complete (fill in your own definitions of "complete" and "more-or-less" here) frameworks from which to view life.
On the other hand, evolution is (so far as I know) the only "useful" theory in the sense that it gives testable (and tested!) predictions about life's diversity, allele frequencies, and so forth.

In the context of this list, "belief" as it is taught to science students would have to include a discussion of the criteria for successful theories. Once that is covered, I don't see much problem with teaching what theories may be "believed in" based on available evidence, etc. Of course, as the sophistication of the students advances, more and more details may be investigated (the _basis_ for the beliefs).

Down with categorical imperative!

----- Original Message ----
From: cliff parker <>
To: Forum for Physics Educators <>
Sent: Wednesday, April 2, 2008 9:53:07 PM
Subject: Re: [Phys-l] Is evolution something to believe in?

Interesting point and I agree you are correct it has not been proven that
they are incompatible, however if past history is any indication it seems
likely that something drastic will probably have to occur to unite them and
that they will no doubt be at the very least tweaked from their present form
if they are ever united. Nevertheless the heart of my question stands. Is
a scientific theory, any theory something to believe in?

Let's go with Cliff, sounds a little friendlier.

Hi all-
The following statement in Parker's posting is incorrect.
"...the Theory of Relativity or Quantum Theory? Because apparently
something is wrong with at least one of them since they are not
No one has ever shown that relativity and quantum theory are
"not compatible." That would be an excessively dramatic demonstration.
The problem currently occupying the attention of many theorists is how to
combine the two. If someone proved that they are "not compatible", then
those efforts would, for the most part stop, just as most efforts to
disprove the 2d law of thermodynamics have ended.

On Wed, 2 Apr 2008, cliff parker wrote:

"Well _some_ Republicans don't believe in evolution,"

I seem to be seeing a lot of believing and not believing going on around
here. I site above only one example of many on the evolution thread. Is
evolution or any other scientific theory something to believe in? Do you
believe in the Theory of Relativity or Quantum Theory? Because apparently
something is wrong with at least one of them since they are not
The language we use betrays our true attitudes and that language sounds a
lot like religion and faith to me. Maybe if we taught our children about
science rather than what they should "believe in" we would be better off,
but sadly we do not. Every science class should begin with the comment
all of what you will learn in here is wrong, useful but wrong. The ideas
you will encounter are all models of one kind or another they help us
organize and visualize our thinking. Being correct is not the goal.
Getting models that bring us closer to what we see in nature is. That
should be repeated often and the reasoning behind it should be the first
thing that students think about when they think about science. We as a
collective group of "science" teachers have for the most part come
completely off the track!

Cliff Parker

Forum for Physics Educators

"Trust me. I have a lot of experience at this."
General Custer's unremembered message to his men,
just before leading them into the Little Big Horn Valley