Are Your Beliefs Defensible?
© 1 Jun 2015 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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Comparing religion to gravity.


From time to time someone tries to convince me that I do not or should not believe in God. Rather than defend that belief here, I want to apply the same kind of reasoning to the law of gravity.

The Gravity Mythology

Why do I believe in gravity Just in case anyone gets the wrong impression from this post, I do believe in gravity. ? I don’t mean the day-to-day “‍things fall down‍” kind of gravity, I mean Newton’s version where all matter attracts all other matter and the strength of that attraction decreases with the square of the distance between the objects; or, if you are more modern in your beliefs, Einstein’s law where mass warps some kind of four-dimensional hyperbolic geometry into a non-hyperbolic pseudo-Riemannian manifold called “‍spacetime‍”.

There is probably somewhere in my readership someone who will claim personal knowledge of gravity, but probably not more than one or two. I’ve tried it out. I can’t jump any higher on the top of a mountain than I can at the bottom of a valley, nor in an airplane than on the ground. I’ve never seen objects being pulled together, no matter how massive or close to one another they might be. I’m told that the relationship between orbital speed and altitude of satellites supports gravity as described by physicists, but I have no evidence of the altitude and little of the speed (or even presence) of satellites personally. Nothing in my personal experience refutes a simple 9.8 m/s2 downward acceleration model of gravity.

And yet, I believe in squared-distance all-matter gravity. Why? Mostly because I trust people who tell me that they know someone who knows someone who knows someone … who knows someone who actually does have experience. I’ve never actually been told at any time “‍so-and-so experienced gravity firsthand‍”. I’m told in the abstract that “‍engineers at NASA‍” (and other astronautics companies) have, but so far as I know, none of the NASA personnel I have met have worked on interplanetary trajectories or satellite orbits.

Because neither I nor almost anyone I know has any first-hand evidence for squared-distance all-matter gravity, it is clearly a mythology. Sure, there are a few people who believe it fervently and who are willing to testify and preach it with fervour, but there are a few fanatics willing to assert almost anything. And what about Occam’s Razor? Clearly 9.8 m/s2 is simpler than G
and a LOT simpler than Gμν + Λgμν = 
Tμν. We owe it to our own intellectual purity to reject this overly-complicated theory to which only a tiny number of people can actually attest!

But perhaps some of the believers will tell us we can find out for ourselves. All we have to do is build a rocket that goes far enough to pass through the gravity wells of multiple masses and see where it lands. As if we had the time or money to do that! Clearly their “‍experiment‍” is just a gimmick to entice the gullible; no one but a died-in-the-wool true devotee of Needlessly Complicated Gravity would ever invest that much time and money in a fools-errand test like that. And what if it does land where they said it would land? If they are willing to invest all that money on a test of faith, surely they could invest a lot less to move our rocket to where they said it would land. The hoax potential is mind-boggling.

So basically what we have are a couple of prophets who have this magnificent, practically untestable vision of how the universe works and they get millions of people to buy into it and even convince government-run schools to preach their dogma as “‍the truth.‍” And every once in a while one of their flock claims another “‍evidence‍” that their version of Gravity is the One True Gravity, but their evidence is always impossible for any ordinary person to verify.

“‍But it’s not just my word,‍” they say. “‍What about the Moon landing and the Mars landers and interplanetary probes? What about GPS?‍”

“‍9.8 m/s2 gravity allows for satellites and interplanetary travel too,‍” I reply.

“‍But if you try to put a satellite at the altitude and speed predicted by 9.8 m/s2, they don’t orbit. Also, relativity and clocks!‍”

“‍So you say, but I haven’t the time and money needed to try it out. Your fellow devotees put the satellites up there; why would I trust what you say about them?‍”

… and Religion

When I tell people that I have had many personal first-hand experiences with deity they generally either say “‍cool‍” because they already believed in deity or they look at me like I’m somehow broken. The experiments I can suggest generally strike them as too costly and the experiences I can share generally seem to them too easily faked. They cite Occam’s Razor. They ask “‍why haven’t I experienced deity?‍” They observe that most of the things that I say were due to divine intervention could have happened without it, and the rest is outside of what they can verify at a cost they can accept.

“‍It’s not just my word,‍” I say. “‍What about callings? What about missionaries with the gift of tongues and prescient warnings from living prophets and healings and visions?‍” But they have their explanations for some and declaim evidence of the others.

And I think to myself, “‍Self, there is always a doubter. If gravity told people they should do things they’d rather not do, they’d call belief in gravity a religion too.‍”

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