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String theory unstrung

by

15 August 2006
“ The hunt for a theory of everything is going nowhere fast. ”

New Scientist

A Nobel laureate recently said that physics is in ‘a period of utter confusion’ and ‘we don’t know what we’re talking about’.1,2 Dr David Gross made these revealing admissions at a physicists’ conference on the quantum structure of space and time, about the quest for a ‘theory of everything’. That is, one that can describe every force and particle in nature.

Star field

In particular, string theory is billed as ‘the great hope’, and has generated lots of mathematical equations. ‘But these equations tell us nothing about where space and time came from and describe nothing we would recognize,’ laments an editorial in New Scientist. (Emphasis added.)

The editorial’s subtitle was ‘The hunt for a theory of everything is going nowhere fast. It goes on to explain that when astronomers discovered the accelerating expansion of the universe (which string theory fails to account for), string theorists excused their theory by saying their equations describe all possible universes. But New Scientist rightly challenges that notion, querying that if string theory doesn’t fit the known universe, ‘is it science?’

Stephen Hawking

In his book A brief history of time, Stephen Hawking suggested that scientists were on the verge of discovering a ‘theory of everything’. He is well-known for having remarked that to know such a theory would be to know the mind of God. But Hawking has since abandoned this notion, admitting that a famous proof by the late mathematician Kurt Gödel rules out a ‘theory of everything’.

And New Scientist relays this joke circulating on physics blogs: ‘[W]e can after all, call our universe unique. Why? Because it is the only one that string theory cannot describe.’

This should be a lesson to would-be apologists, such as ‘progressive creationist’ Hugh Ross, who try to use string theory to prove the Bible (or at least his billions-of-years distortion of it).

Also, even Stephen Hawking has finally realized that a ‘theory of everything’ is a fantasy that founders on Gödel’s incompleteness proof:3 that in any theoretical system as complex as arithmetic or above, there would always be true statements that cannot be proven within the system. (See also Does logic need faith?, Journal of Creation 20(2):123–127, 2006.)

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References and notes

  1. Ideas needed—The hunt for a theory of everything is going nowhere fast, New Scientist 188(2529):5, 10 December 2005. Return to text.
  2. Baffled in Brussels, New Scientist 188(2529):6, 10 December 2005. Return to text.
  3. Sample, I., Ultimate equation is pie in the sky, says Hawking, The Guardian, 23 February 2004, 22 June 2006. Return to text.

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