It was early in the seventeenth century that, analyzing data provided by Tycho Brahe, Kepler was able to work out laws describing the motions of planets in the solar system. It was a big step forward which set in motion the seventeenth-century scientific revolution. Since then, it has been a ‘fast-forward’ movement for science.
Within 300 years, science has reached its outward limits. Its pace has now slowed, as it faces huge hurdles in its efforts to move forward. Much can be done with what has been discovered, by way of newest technological advancement and newest applications; but science itself, pure science, is stumbling.
If we ignore sciences of the Muslim era, then we can say that, in the West, originally, science was pushed forward by curiosity: to unwrap nature’s mysteries, to know, as they said, how God’s hands work. Following that, it became the desire to gain material benefits: as a utilitarian contraption and contrivance. In our own times, it is to know how nature works in order to control it. One of the scientists said,
“Give me a place to stand in space, and I can lift the world.”
Some baby-astronomers were saying,
“When the Sun is at the end of its life-span and starts to bulge, we shall move the earth to another orbit, or perhaps to another star’s planetary system.”
A biologist professor boasted in a class:
“Give me a handful of dust and I will create a man.”
By now, unfulfilled is the desire to control and govern the world. Gone is the boast, and gone is the arrogance that Einstein thought was a rightful characteristic of a successful scientist. Nature has humbled them, and taught them, after painful and frustrating decades of researches by the best minds, that further advancement is as sure as the behavior of the sub-atomic particles which are unpredictable. It is to be in agreement with the Qur’anic statement:
“Of knowledge, you haven’t been given but a little.” (17: 85)
The allusion here appears to be to spiritual and ‘other-worldly’ knowledge, but the expression could be borrowed to apply to the physical and ‘this-worldly’ knowledge also.
The statement that ‘humans seem to have arrived at a wall they cannot penetrate,’ is now a scientific statement. Way back in 1996, John Horgan (and a few others) gave the scientists a stinging blow by publishing a book entitled: “The End of Science.” The public doesn’t read books. So no worry. The intellectual class, which lent its attention to it, straightaway discredited it. The scientific community wouldn’t agree with it, but would not disagree with it either. (Some left-over of arrogance and release of funds by the governments was at stake).
For most so-called educated Muslims, if they knew of such a publication, Horgan must have been a fanatic. Science is their true god, and scientists are their saints. They are first-grade materialists of our times. They would hang Horgan like the Jews used to hang their prophets – and then do normal business by the evening; in the manner, of our-time Pharaohs who hanged eight awliya’in 1966 and by evening were doing normal business. Scientific works are the Bible for the educated Muslims of our times –in the true sense, that is, in the sense, the Christians treat the Bible: never to read it, but to believe in it.
The scientific community has not decreased in numbers. Year by year, their number increases. But where are their findings that would advance the understanding of nature? (God has been kept out of the question). Science, as a scientist has said, does not invent truths; it discovers them. True to this description, scientists have discovered plenty of truths in every discipline. But, has it advanced their understanding of the world? Hardly any. Consider physics. Researches employing multi-billion dollar atom smashers, particle accelerators, large hadron colliders, (30,000 of them),super-fast computers, humming over the ground as well as underground, has helped the physicists to discover more than a hundred sub-atomic particles. The physical characteristics of these particles need thousands of pages to describe in a language understood by the PhDs.
What next? They divided the resultant particles into families and classes to say: these are baryons, hadrons, bosons, quarks, alphas and betas, and so on. Then they add: leptons are those particles which experience no strong interactions; baryons are strongly interacting particles. Did you understand? No. OK. They would add: Some of them, rather most of them have masses, but some have no mass. Any clearer? Not yet. Alright, to tell you more, some have spin 1/2, others 1/3, or maybe 2. While some have a long half-life others have short. A proton is the only one which never decays. A neutrino has such a small mass that it can pass through the earth so that in their effort to detect a few of them, scientists had to consider those arriving from space, as well as those coming from below, that is, those that were arriving from the other side of the earth. Of quarks, there are kinds that are called, up-quark, down-quark, the strange quark, etc. A photon has zero mass, zero energy. The most mysterious is a hypothetical particle called graviton representing the gravitational force. A graviton has never been observed, although it is omnipresent. Like the photon, the graviton has no mass, no energy and no place in Einstein’s theorems. (The reason why the general theory of relativity fails, rather contradicts, the big-bang theory. If one is correct, the other is wrong).
At all events, the descriptions of particles go on, and on, altogether hundreds of them, with no end in sight; and all within an atom invisible to the eye?
They started with a rock. It was discovered to be made of molecules. The molecule was chipped out and broken up to yield atoms. They smashed the atom and lo, a plethora of particles flew out. They wished to penetrate the particles to find what they are constituted of. Alas, to the power of eternity (Alasenternity); there is no way to do that. From the time they started with rocks, it has taken 300 years and hundreds of thousands of best minds to arrive at this forest of bizarre particles. Some of them tease their observers by showing up for a mere 6×10-24 second, and disappear before anyone could say ‘Hi there.’ And their companions cannot be ignored: their anti-particle.
Now, where do the enquirers and discoverers go next? Should the best minds be now reduced to drawing tables of particles and classifying them, or to engage in Wall Street businesses – as some have begun to do?
Many questions have remained unanswered from the time atom was discovered. Why is a proton heavier than an electron by 1,800 times? Why not any other figure? Why does it, and it alone among the entire list, does not decay, although it itself is made of decaying particles? Why the heaviest of the quarks are tens of thousands of times heavier than the lightest one of them?
Discovery of fundamental particles, has given the scientists no hopes of answers to fundamental questions about themselves: Who are we? Has life any meaning? Why 300 years of labor does not tell us anything about consciousness? The inability to move forward, and get answers to dozens of questions, is truly frustrating, especially to those whose PhDs are biting them, as much as the particles are teasing them. Their sorry figures remind us of the Qur’anic description:
“Say, ‘Shall we tell you about those who lost most in respect to their efforts? Those whose efforts were misguided in the life of the world, while they thought they were doing well in performance. They disbelieved in the revelations of their Lord and the encounter with Him.’ So their efforts have failed. We shall not assign any weight to them on the Day of Judgment.”
Why is it that science, in general, and physical science, in particular, fail to move forward? Why questions remain, but answers are elusive? So far, immense knowledge has been stockpiled. Some technological benefits have been secured, and more are awaiting inventions. If not for the untiring efforts of the mass of scientists, lasting 300 years, humans would, perhaps, be living physically a primitive life. But why does the field not yield a crop now?
The reasons are several. Unknown billions have been spent on scattering, capturing and analyzing of atoms. They led to the discovery of hundreds of particles. These particles are assigned properties: mass, energy, spin, half-life, and so on. But they are not yet known in every detail, let alone describe their respective fields. We do not know their specific roles within the atom. We do not even know whether they are the final things, or composed of still smaller particles. Is the quark, for instance, pregnant with smaller particles? Can we force it to reveal its womb? Further research needs to be undertaken. Science must move forward. But what has frozen it? There are several reasons. One reason is finance. Particle physics will require larger particle colliders, larger than the 27-kilometer French-Swiss Large Hadron Collider now lying 180 meters beneath the surface of the earth. One, modestly larger than the LDC, was planned in the USA. Work had begun, but funding by the government was called off and the project was scrapped.
The doubt that now has a secure seat in the brains of the funding authorities is: research work so far has not yielded the elusive ‘truth’ – the Unified Theory. To many scientists, String Theory holds the promise. But of this theory, there are 10500 versions, of which only one is likely to be correct. Scientists are not discouraged by astronomical figures. But are their supporters ready to fund them for a few more decades for the results?
Another difficulty is, as the String Theory experts assure, that if the truly unified theory is discovered, it might not be possible to empirically test it. That will require a particle accelerator 1000 light-years long!
Another factor is social. Mankind has the penchant to fight. A nation will declare war, bomb, destroy infrastructure, remove millions of souls, send in soldiers to loot, rape, and murder, and then claim: “Is there any greater than we?” Such ventures cost some money. For example, the USA’s military budget for the year 2019 is about $750 billion, and its obligation to protect the Children of God costs it another $38 billion. Are there funds left for scientific adventures?
Apart from the financing problem, reasons, why progress is hamstrung, are many. But, to take a few steps forward, financial backing is the most important element. The $8 billion bills for the supercollider was thought too high. Can any release of funds be expected? (At this moment, the USA’s debt is in the order of 22 trillion, with the prediction of its climbing higher in coming years). Another reason is, what they call as ‘diminishing returns.’ That is, scientists, research institutes and funding authorities feel that the amount of funding does not promise proportionate returns. You spend billions upon billions, but is it worth to work for decades to split, for instance, the Tau particle, when, the discovery of the Tau particle itself has not been of any benefit?
Horgan himself reported:
“The irony was that (the Nobel-prize winner) Weinberg himself, in (his book) Dreams of a Final Theory, offered little, or no, the argument as to why society should support further research in particle physics. He was careful to acknowledge that neither the superconducting supercollider nor any other earthly accelerator could provide direct confirmation of a final theory …” (p. 72, 73)
We shall, Allah willing, deal with the wall biological and astronomical sciences are encountering in coming issues. At the moment, enough of a shock – for many of the progressives –that a deity has fallen.