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What are the limits of science? When does science become useless for answering our questions? When do other fields become necessary?

As I watched Sean Carroll speak in this talk, I found it amazing that the stated purpose of this talk is to find WHAT made the universe like it is, and he didn't even once think to mention a creator, even though he states quite emphatically that the universe "was not chosen randomly" and that "something made it that way." If "something made it," then that something is by definition a "creator," commonly called "God."

Even more amazing was that while he would not open up the possibility of a God, he does propose some sort of "universal chicken" that brings forth universes. It may be a metaphor, but the metaphor is telling. He thinks bringing up a Cosmic Chicken that creates universes is more appropriate in a scientific talk than mentioning a God.

The problem here is that he is having a scientific discussion about a subject that ceases to be science and becomes only speculation. Because the proper sphere of science is exhausted, his scientific talk about things that can't be seen, tested, or measured (like other universes) tends to be nonsense. It is much better to have a religious or philosophical debate at this point and only bring in science when it has something useful to add.

Now, speculation isn't bad, it just needs to be done in the right manner. Speculation in science is called "making a hypothesis," but that hypothesis must be tested if it is to remain "science." Speculation and argumentation as a field has traditionally been called "the dialectic."

I believe Sean Carroll should have dropped the field of science and jumped to the dialectic. By only sticking to science, he cheapens his points. He should move to better disciplines like religion or philosophy to address his questions and add science when it becomes relevant.

It seems like he is either afraid or unaware that science, theology, and philosophy have the ability to coexist.

So, did Sean Carroll go too far in his speculation? I think he did. Say what you think.


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  • May 18 2011: "The problem here is that he is having a scientific discussion about a subject that ceases to be science and becomes only speculation. Because the proper sphere of science is exhausted, his scientific talk about things that can't be seen, tested, or measured (like other universes) tends to be nonsense."

    So did Einstein.

    The difference is Sean wants to find the evidence for his ideas. Religions and philosophy do not.
    • May 18 2011: Addison,

      Sean wants to find EMPIRICAL evidence for what made the universe, something he can perceive and measure, and he currently has none. That's not a bad thing, it's just an honest admission that he makes in his talk. But despite him having no empirical evidence, he still has ideas. The most evident idea to me was his refusal to acknowledge any sort of God, going so far as to bring up some sort of "universal chicken that brings forth universes" before he would even use the more appropriate term of "God" or "creator." That's a pretty strong idea, based on assumptions, not evidence.

      You're a little right and a lot wrong in your last statement. Religions and philosophy DO want evidence for their ideas, but religions and philosophy do not see empirical evidence as the ONLY way to gain knowledge. They do see it as valuable, though. For instance, Christianity takes the empirical (see, hear, and feel) claim that Jesus is not dead but alive as crucial to their belief, going so far as to say that if that claim was DISPROVED, then the whole Christianity game is bunk (see 1 Corinthians 15:14 as an example). But there are other ways of gaining knowledge, other "proofs." For instance, now that Jesus is no longer around, we don't have empirical evidence, we take the evidence of reliable witnesses. That's not scientific or empirical, but it's still a reliable way to gain information.
      • May 18 2011: That is not a reliable way to gain information. How do you know the witnesses were reliable? The only way to tell is if they have a history of telling other reliable tales that were (empirically) proven to be true. This in itself is a form of empirical evidence, though not of the most reliable type.

        Explain to me what kind of "proof" does not include countable, measurable, indepentently verifiable data, and how you can know it to be true.

        In every other facet of life, everywhere you go, whenever there has been an opportunity to replace eyewitness accounts with scientific measurement, that opportunity has been taken. We used to not have much in the way of forensics for criminal cases, and relied only on people swearing on the holy Bible. But witnesses can be paid, or threatened, to a degree higher than that to which they hold the Bible. So when criminal forensics were introduced, the justice system adopted it. That's because empirical evidence has been shown to be much more efficient at actually getting to the truth. But for some reason, despite improvements in other areas, when it comes to religion, well, empirical evidence isn't the be-all end-all.
        • May 18 2011: Steve,

          I'm sure you know that the earth moves around the sun. However, I doubt you have collected any countable, measurable, independently verifiable data to prove it to be the case. I bet the data you could report off the top of your head would be just as useful to Ptolemy as it would be to Kepler.

          However, you still KNOW it. How? Well, you trust the people who told you. That may sound like a bad way to get information, but it's really how you know most of the stuff you know. You probably haven't grabbed the third rail of a subway, but you still KNOW it's a bad idea. Even if you're looking at the research of someone else's scientific experiment, you must decide if you trust that they are giving you accurate information.

          Even in your courtroom example, no one says "Oh, gosh. He's a scientist. We did believe these eye-witnesses over here, but he's a scientist. He trumps all." No. With every person in a courtroom, and with every case, you must decide who to believe and who not to believe. Sure you can lie with your hand on the Bible, but you can also lie in peer-reviewed journals. There's no magically pure field of knowledge.

          There are other things that you just KNOW. For instance. People KNOW that it is wrong to harm other people. Even if no one explicitly taught it to them, they know it. They might come up with excuses that would allow them to hurt another person when they want, but the existence of their excuses proves they KNOW it to be wrong, and they're just trying to get around it. How do they know it? Well, this is an example of the morality that is ingrained into the nature of human beings. That's why it has traditionally been called "Natural Law." That's another way to know things without countable, measurable data.

          And I'd need an example of your religion critique for me to respond to it. I don't know what you're talking about.

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