Sunday, December 04, 2005

String theory vs. intelligent design

What's the most controversial scientific theory today?

Quite possibly it's superstring theory. What about the theory of evolution? Or global warming? Nope. They are hardly controversial at all scientifically, and only controversial outside of science because of their political or philosophical ramifications.

While there are still many open questions and details yet to be worked out in evolution and global warming, the scientific evidence for both is now very strong, and growing stronger all the time.

The evidence for superstring theory, on the other hand, is non-existent, and that is generally accepted, even by supporters of the theory. Why, then, does it even have supporters? Because of its elegance and its potential to answer the deepest questions of physics, especially: What is the relation between quantum theory and general relativity?

One of the original developers of string theory, Leonard Susskind, has a new book coming out: The Cosmic Landscape : String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design. Ironically (perhaps), as the title suggests, there are interesting parallels between string theory and the totally unscientific nonsense known as "intelligent design". These parallels involve closely related and controversial topics, including the "anthropic principle" and Susskind's notion of "the landscape".

Here is one nontechnical overview of some of these topics: String Theory Versus Intelligent Design by Kenneth Silber (via LuboŇ° Motl's reference frame).

There's a heck of a lot more material to present on these topics... This is an ongoing story that probably isn't going to lead to a conclusion anytime soon.

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References:

Superstringtheory.com - the "official" string theory Web site

Superstring theory - a history and overview

Is string theory even wrong? - a critical view

Leonard Susskind on "the landscape" - article at Edge

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