(Continuing from Incoherence of the Supernatural)

In science, you can never make an observation, then conclude that “God did it.”

It’s not even necessary to say that God doesn’t exist; you can’t invoke God because it closes doors. It doesn’t matter if God actually did or not: you have to assume that he didn’t, even if you believe in God. If you operate under that assumption, you’ll make much more scientific progress than you would otherwise, because you’ll study things that appear to be “magical” (even when the problem seems hard or impossible) until it finally doesn’t seem so magical anymore because you understand the mechanism behind it.

Precession of Perihelion

Way back in the paleolithic era, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, cave men astride [citation needed], Sir Isaac Newton came up with all these laws of motion. They were a major breakthrough in understanding how physical objects, like planets, behaved and interacted.

They were good, too. They worked. They still work.

People used to say that God made apples fall from trees, and Newton came along and said: “Yeah whatever, in any case, he’s making them fall with an acceleration of 9.8 meters per second squared.” He knew his math was right because it explained all the stuff he saw. Then he figured out, using his math, other stuff that he should expect to see, like how far the moon is away from the earth. Once he figured that all out, he actually measured, using a different method, and the numbers matched. His equations are definitely right.

Then, after all these neat things had been done with Newton’s correct formulae, there was a problem with the precession of perihelion of Mercury.

Basically, the planet Mercury wasn’t orbiting the Sun the way Newton’s equations said it should.

In a world where scientists are allowed to invoke God, this is an easy problem: for some mysterious reason, outside the realm of possible human understanding, God has deemed that Mercury shall behave slightly differently than other objects in the universe. Mercury is different because God said so. God invoked, Problem solved.

Einstein didn’t think that was good enough. He came up with this thing called General Relativity. General Relativity is used to describe a lot of the same things Newton’s laws are. He invented all these new formulae that took into account more things than Newton did, and he noticed that they were right. They could describe, just like Newton did, the motion of a falling apple. Another thing they could account for, was the weird orbit of Mercury.

The trick is that Newton’s laws totally work for a lot of things that we see day to day, like falling apples near the surface of the earth. They aren’t so great for situations where you’re dealing with very high speeds, or enormously massive objects like Rush Limbaugh.

Newton’s equations aren’t wrong per se, they are just incomplete approximations, so that in certain circumstances they aren’t precise enough to fully describe the physics.

God is Silent on this Matter

The lesson here is that when something is unexplained by our best science, it’s because we’re unaware of some other factors or facets of what we’re looking at. That means our current understanding, while good enough to create microprocessors and send frickin’ rocket ships into outer space (it’s true, look it up), isn’t good enough to be really sure why light goes as fast as it’s possible to go, or why the galaxy seems to have a bunch more matter in it than we can see. God doesn’t do that, it’s just something we don’t quite grasp the full physical picture of yet.