After calling in sick the last couple of days, I got downstaffed today, meaning I've had a 5-day weekend. Thankfully I've got the PTO hours to cover them, so no harm done to the old wallet. Having some time on my hands, I went to Borders to drink some coffee and peruse books and magazines - one of my favorite activities. Whoever came up with that business model deserves a large cash reward. I had been working my way through a biography of Luther but it appears to have actually been purchased. I've also been poking around in NT Wright's books, finding them pretty interesting. I checked out "The Last Word" from the library and have been working through it. Its good if a little simplistic. I also read a lot of culural & political magazines, but since there aren't any new issues out of my usual fare, I popped over to "Discover" magazine, which I do from time to time, and read an interesting article (sorry, but you have to register to view the article) on a debate that's starting to gain some ground in the realm of physics.
For those of you who don't know, physics is plagued by a lack of a "grand unified theory" which works at both the macro (galactic) and micro (subatomic) levels. Einstein's relativity doesn't fly within the atom and quantum physics is persona non grata everywhere else. After reading "The Elegant Universe" some years back, I've found stuff that touches on these issues pretty fascinating. When scientists look at the universe they see that things don't fit within their elegant equations and models, specifically, in the rotational speed of galaxies. Looking at our solar system, the planets closest to the sun rotate much faster than those further out, which is what you'd expect. The further the distance, the less the pull of gravity effects those far flung planets and so they slow down. But this is not the case regarding stars orbiting around the center of a galaxy. The closer stars due rotate faster, but at some point all the rest of the outer stars rotate at the same speed regardless of distance. Newton's laws on gravity say this is impossible, so..."When confronting such a paradox, scientists have only a few options: Question the data; question the theory; or invent something new, maybe even something invisible, to explain the effect." Cue dark matter.
Dark matter is stuff that has mass, and thus generates gravitational pull, but neither emits nor reflects light. Its invisible except, allegedly, in its effects. A lot of astrophysics has concentrated on dark matter since this novelty was proposed and it has become something of a staple in the field. But this mainstay is now being challenged by the theories of Mordehai Milgrom, who proposed a simple change in Newton's laws that not only renders dark matter unneccessary, but also accurately predicts other astronomical phenomenon. It hasn't been proven, but it answers the questions at least as well as the theories of dark matter. But many in the physics community won't even give him a chance to explain himself. He has found it almost impossible to get his papers published and when they are, they are apparently dismissed out of hand. Other scientists are starting to take notice, but it has been a long uphill battle. What we have here is the ugly face of a fundamentalist physics, wherein the key dogmas have already been staked out and any challenge to them is treated as heresy (the article uses that word many times). No matter whether the heresy is supported by evidence, is simpler and/or functions at least as well as other theories.
I find this terribly ironic. Science, which as a whole in the last 100 or so years, has been deeply antagonistic towards faith in something unseen, is now itself fighting to maintain its own faith in something unseen. It is modeling the fundamentalist behavior that so many deride in the religious without realizing its own dogmatic claims.