We hear the word "rational" thrown around a lot. I like to think I am a rational person but I often find some moments where I need to struggle with what that actually means. Sorry that this got a little long but I think it is an important subject and I wanted to detail out some of my thinking to other intelligent people because I don't have many folks around me who like to discuss this stuff.
Most rational people point to science when they present their conclusions about the universe. Yet, in my view, the most rational principle of science is that it is agnostic. Things are often talked about as if they are fact in Astronomy Magazine and on the Discovery Channel. . . but there is a big asterisk under every scientific conversation that says everything is constantly being tested and some theories have much bigger holes than our confidence suggests. People don't always live up to this asterisk though. There are plenty of examples, in fact, where the progress of science has been slower than it needed to be because too many of the establishment members were over-confident in the existing theories rather than under-confident.
The idea of God is probably the most glaring example in many people's minds of the boundaries between being rational and irrational about the universe. I'm pretty sure that the reason that science has long avoided the concept of God, and mysticism in general, is not because of a deliberate, irrational choice to reject God. It is because of the rational choice to look for evidence and make determinations based on what we have found. I think it is a fair and rational position to say that the past evidence of God brought to us by old books and belief systems has been adequately disproven. . . I am not so sure about statements that no such thing could ever exist in a rational scientific framework, however.
I only say this because it seems to me that Science can accept some really supernatural sounding concepts if there is a rational case being made for them. Think of string theory with multiple dimensions, or the "multiverse" which suggests a nearly infinite number of big bangs happening inside some larger construct where whole universes come and go like bubbles in foam. I once found a suggestion by a physicist that every electron in the universe may be the same single electron that is jumping time boundaries to appear everywhere at once to those of us observing it from our time bound viewpoint.
These are some really big and crazy sounding concepts in a universe that is appearing more and more crazy as we learn more about it. In the last analysis many of these concepts are also completely untestable and unobservable. Yet, there are many scientists and "rationalists" who will gladly ponder these things because they are intriguing and there are ways with math and logic to make them appear plausible regardless of how crazy they may appear on the surface. String theory is one of the more obvious examples of that.
There is also observational evidence of things we cannot resolve, such as dark matter and dark energy which have unremarkable sounding names but they are properties of the universe that appear to exist, but only as their effect. What is creating the effect appears to be totally undetectable with all known means of scientific testing (for now at least). With our current understanding of gravity, they also seem to hold an incredibly irrational amount of invisible power we can't account for. This is not evidence of an invisible entity holding the universe together. . . but it is certainly evidence that we have no business talking about our understanding of even something primal like gravity as "established fact" and we should be careful if we want to use the ability to detect things as the only standard of proof.
I am in the middle of a book called "The Self Aware Universe" by a quantum physicist who has turned into a sort of science mystic because he discovered the ancient monistic concepts of his Hindu upbringing within the framework of quantum physics. It is not quite an anthropomorphic God concept (so far) but it certainly presents a concept of the universe that is not purely mechanical and materialistic like many would choose to believe. He believes he has reached this view through rational means by examining the evidence.
I found myself speculating one day about infinity. Infinity, as a matter of "fact", is a purely mathematical concept. Infinity, as a reality of time or space in the universe, is a concept that makes rational sense but it is more of a leap of faith. There is no way to test it for confirmation, so there are mixed views on the matter. What gets me, though, is that If we enter into some speculation about an infinite universe, then we could arrive at a supreme being concept just by using evolution and time. Take a universe full of intelligent species and project it forward a few billion or trillion years of additional evolution and it is not hard to imagine some sort of supremely evolved being as a result. That's projecting forward in time. But, If we can project the evolution of such a being by looking forward into infinite time, then the infinite amount of time behind us could also have already evolved it, could it not? I'm way out on a limb here, I know. . . but how crazy is this, really, compared to the rational thinking that brings us the 10 or 26 dimensions of string theory? Or the theory that something comes from nothingness if enough time passes? Where do the boundaries of being rational begin and end? Are any and all speculations about a God type concept a taboo no matter what, just because of how long we have been telling ourselves that science killed God?
If we are truly rational is it proper to be something like a Theist or and Athiest who make declarations as if they are facts? Or is it better to always be agnostic, and acknowledge the possibilities while never totally committing to an absolute position on anything? Even when it is something so central to many people's self identity such as believing in a God, or the lack of a God?
I don't claim to have the answers, and I'm not here pitching a new God concept (except as a personally intriguing intellectual exercise). I try to fall into the agnostic category for the most part. . but I have no fear of speculating within reason and that often leads me to strange places where I wonder where the boundaries of being rational really are. At this point I feel like the truly rational choice in a belief system is not to harbor any belief system at all . . .only a "possibility system" which is always open to change. Science strives for this as a field, but can individuals really do it? Latching onto tribal belief systems seems to be part of human nature. It makes me wonder if any and all belief systems are in danger of becoming just another form of over confidence, self deception, and tribalism; even the ones who are trying to be rational.
Is this a. . . rational. . . concern?
Indeed you've caught me red handed. I've been so used to dealing with cases where tests of theories result in either negation or confirmation that I got caught up in it. Yes we can drop the line about confirmation.
The theory that the sun is larger than the moon is falsifiable. Of course it is. I can devise a test where if the result is x then the theory is false: Fly a rocket at the same speed around the sun and around the moon at the same time. If the rocket flying around the sun completes it's loop before the rocket around the moon then the theory is false.
There we go. The theory is falsifiable. Facts and knowledge as you mentioned earlier have nothing to do with it. It's about delimiting scientific propositions with pseudo-science.
Did I dispute that the theory that the sun is larger than the moon is falsifiable? No. What I did say is this:
While the theory that the Sun is larger than our moon is falsifiable through various measurements, the notion that the Sun weighs more than the moon is not falsifiable.
In saying it's not falsifiable, I mean there is no non-absurd empirical test which could in principle, if not fact, falsify the idea that the moon is heavier than the Sun.
Also, I think that to introduce the notion of falsifiability, one needs a reason to apply it. Does any sane person (much less any scientist) believe that the moon might weigh more than the Sun? Is there a serious controversy over it? Falsifiability applies to open questions.
Are these points at the link below the falsification of the big bang theory? If not, why not? And why can a similar list of holes and problems be drawn up and used as the falsification of other theories?