More examples of the “humanness” of scientific inquiry…
When Albert Einstein created the General Theory of Relativity, he didn’t like what he discovered. His theory predicted that the universe was slowly expanding or contracting – the universe was moving, one way or the other. At the time, that was a completely unconventional idea. So much so, that Einstein did something very human: the thought that the universe may not be uniform or constant was so repulsive to him that he inserted a “fudge factor” – a variable constant, retrofitted to keep the universe in a state of eternal equilibrium. Einstein’s theory told him what he didn’t want to accept…so he changed the formula to adapt to his beliefs.
In the 1920s, Edwin Hubble (Hubble telescope) further confirmed that the universe was in fact expanding. So, Einstein actually took a trip to see Hubble’s data with his own eyes. Both men believed in a static universe – but eventually conceded the point. The universe came into existence sometime in the past. Into the thirties and forties, scientists continued to rail against the implications of Hubble’s discovery. In 1938, when asked about the issue, chemist Walter Nerst angrily stated: “We cannot form a scientific hypothesis which contradicts the very foundations of science.”
The dissention continued through the forties, fifties, and sixties. Astrophysicist Arthur Eddington stated: “Philosophically, the notion of a beginning to the present order of nature is repugnant.” Rather than accepting the expanding universe and the beginning of existence, scientists spent their time coming up with alternate theories to contradict it. In 1948, Scientists Gold, Bondi, and Hoyle came up with the Steady State model while other scientists adhered to the “oscillating-universe” model. Both models stated that the universe had no starting point and remained in a state of equilibrium – Newtonian physics was safe. But eventually in 1965, two scientists in the Bell Telephone Lab provided data to support the “big bang”: cosmic microwave background radiation – a left over relic from the origins of the universe.
By the 1990s, based on mathematical computation and computer-generated models, most astrophysicists confidently stated that all solar systems in the universe behave in the same way as ours. In 1995, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz discovered a planet with similar characteristics to Jupiter orbiting a star in the constellation Pegasus. Everyone assumed this planet with similar physical properties would behave just like Jupiter does in relation to our Sun. They were very surprised to learn that the planet behaved nothing like Jupiter. It hurries around its host star every 4.2 days. It takes the earth 365 days. The planet only measured 1/8 the distance from its star that Mercury is from our Sun. So, it was closer and faster. About these differences, Mayor said, “It was very strange to consider the attitude of people facing something completely in disagreement with theory…some astronomers said things like ‘Oh, this is not a planet because you cannot form Jupiter-like planets close to their stars.’” But obviously, you can.
Once again, like last week – am I making a case against science? No. I like science. I’m making a case for the very real “humanness” of any academic discipline. Every discipline has stories like these in its history. Yet, though religious ones are paraded for a wide audience, you have probably never heard about these. Next post, I’ll explain why we feel that “humanness” in science is unacceptable.