The Unfailing Import of Airy’s Failure

If this were all that can be said regarding the observable outcome of the world’s developmental history from the at the moment theoretically fashionable Big Bang until the emergence of the biosphere on our planet among planets, then debates about the origin of life as well as about the structure of the cosmos are doomed to remain forever rationally undecided. And the present essay, I am fully aware of that, will be at best a voice crying in the wilderness, only convincing the already convinced. For theoretical thinking and concluding are not self-sufficient. When – as it has happened! – a prominent astronomer tells us that scientifically the Tychonian system of the world cannot be disproven, but that philosophically it is unacceptable, then he bares thereby the pre-rational foundation of all human thought to be the starting point of his convictions. And that starting point determines his approach to his scientific labours, whether he is fully aware of it or not. For his theoretical thinking does not lead him to his philosophical judgment, but his faith in human thinking’s self-sufficiency misleads him into believing that this thinking can provide him with an unassailable truth. Which is an inference manifestly too feeble to build a world view on. “For” – to quote the Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd – “if all philosophical currents that claim to choose their standpoint in theoretical thought alone, actually had no deeper presuppositions, it would be possible to convince an opponent of his error in a purely theoretical way But as a matter of fact, a Thomist has never succeeded by purely theoretical arguments in convincing a Kantian or a positivist of the tenability of a theoretical metaphysics”.(55) Only castles in the air need no foundation. Everything else has to start from and to build on something, on a belief beyond reason taken to be self-evident “because…”. At bottom the clash is not between scientific theories, but between pseudocertainties conceived in mortal minds and – those minds will claim – trumped-up stories about ghosts in the world machine. On the one side we have a faith shored up by deductions drawn from dumb data, which data during the sciences’ development have often been manhandled to fit the Procrustus bed of a ruling paradigm. Confronting that faith is any believer’s firm conviction that mortal man cannot by his own bootstraps hoist himself above time and space, but needs for origins, and for all knowledge, an Originator, Whose self-authenticating information he has to accept on trust and is unable to verify. That the Bible, and not Hesiod’s Theogony, Mahomat’s Koran, the Vedanta, the Eddas, or any other revelation from Above, provides us with such axiomatic “gnosis” is hence a statement beyond any rational argument, but a case of “believe it or not”.

And nobody can do more than decide what to believe – whatever the wind or the whim prompting him or her. To prevent an opponent from attacking a straw man of his own making, and to make assurance doubly sure: in no way do I want to demean the Bible by using it as a scientific textbook. As history trustworthy, yes. However Joshua’s “Sun, stand thou still!” and suchlike utterances I do not come out with. I might as well “prove” relativity with the statement in the story of St. Paul’s shipwreck that the sailors supposed some land “coming near to them”. If this were all that could be said…but it is not! For Einstein, I hold, is wrong. Neither the special, nor the general theory of relativity are sound sublunary and on that account sound sober-scientific constructs. With an appropriate apology I quote for a third time the New Scientist’s characterization of Sir Fred Hoyle’s trespass into the realm of metaphysics: Einstein has “betrayed the very standards on which the scientific community has been built”.(l1) And a question “of the most extreme simplicity”, on which a backslidden true believer in relativity, the late Herbert Dingle, not even after thirteen years of asking it got a straightforward answer, demonstrates that effectively with regard to the special theory.

“According to the theory, if you have two exactly similar clocks, A and B, and one is moving with respect to the other, they must work at different rates, i.e. one works more slowly than the other. But the theory also requires that you cannot distinguish which clock is the ‘moving’ one; it is equally true to say that A rests while B moves and that B rests while A moves. The question therefore arises: how does one determine consistently with the theory, which clock works more slowly? Unless this question is answerable, the theory unavoidably requires that A works more slowly than B and B more slowly than A – which it requires no super-intelligence to see is impossible. Now, clearly, a theory that requires an impossibility cannot be true, and scientific integrity requires, therefore, either that the question just posed shall be answered, or else that the theory shall be acknowledged to be false. But, as I have said, more than thirteen years of continuous effort have failed to produce either response. The question is left by the experimenters to the mathematical specialists, who either ignore it or shroud it in various obscurities, while experiments involving enormous physical risk go on being performed.

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that this question is exactly what it appears to be, with every word and phrase bearing its ordinary, generally understood, meaning; it is not a profoundly complicated question, artificially simplified to bring it within the scope of the non-scientific reader’s intelligence. It is presented here in its full scientific reality, and the ordinary reader is as fully competent to understand whether a proffered answer is in fact an answer or an evasion as is the most learned physicist or mathematician”.( 56)

I submit that there is a very basic reason why on this question no straight answers have been forthcoming: the “riddle” simply cannot be solved on the scientific plane. And I sometimes ask myself whether maybe the sharp minds to which Dingle addressed his query were not instinctively aware of this and therefore, evading the issue, have been confining themselves to circumlocutions missing the mark. He who takes the Armstrong Alert and Russell’s Reminder to heart will realize this possibility. An observer “here below”, supposedly with no hold on the void around his home in the Heavens, is on that account at a loss. He may see the distance between the two clocks increasing, but try as he might he cannot measure the motion or rest of either of them absolutely. Poincare’s “principle of relativity” denies the possibility of doing this.