Originally Posted by Nashita
Very interesting discussion.
I would like to challenge your statement that scientists are interested in "proofs." While it is true that scientists use experiments and observation to substantiate old theories or form new ones, I do not think that their aim is ever to discover any kind of absolute truths. On the contrary, the main goal of science is to disprove existing theories.
This is because humans will never achieve omniscience (knowing everything). The universe is vast, and we are but a very small part of it. As another poster pointed out, all we can do is formulate theories to explain the limited amount of data that we have. As we gain more data, these theories must be modified or replaced.
For example, the ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy devised a theory of the universe in which the Earth was at the center, and the stars and planets revolved around it. Given the observable data available at that point in history, his theory worked extremely well. It did a good job of predicting the seasons and the motions of planetary bodies. It worked so well that it continued to be the dominant theory of astronomy for hundreds and hundreds of years.
After the invention of the telescope, mankind was blessed with a huge influx of new data. It became clear that Ptolemy's theory was no longer sufficient to explain what we saw. Due to the brilliant work of men like Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler, a new theory of astronomy was devised -- one that placed the Sun at the center of the universe. Sir Isaac Newton later created a mathematical theory of gravity which even better explained the observable data.
For hundreds of years, Newton's laws of gravity continued to serve as the best model for our understanding of the universe. But it would be a mistake to hold that his laws were "proofs" or absolute truths. In fact, new data was discovered in the 19th century that contradicted Newton's laws. For example, if you apply them to the revolutionary orbit of the planet Mercury, you get the wrong answer. (We now know that Newton's laws always give the wrong answer if you look closely enough.) A new theory had to be devised. Enter Einstein.
Einstein's theory of relativity is now the standard for how we look at the observable universe on a grand scale. So far, his theory gives the right answer for what we see. But again, I think it would be a huge mistake to think that relativity is any kind of absolute truth. It is only a human approximation that does the best job (so far) of explaining the world as we see it.
As science and technology continue to progress, the aim of scientists is not to continue to "prove" that Einstein was right. Instead, ever more complex experiments are continually devised to try to find instances where his theory gives the wrong answer. And the scientific world fully expects that this will happen. It's only a question of when and how.
The way I look at it, it would be unfair to say that Ptolemy's theory was false from the beginning. Given the data available at the time, his model of the universe was the best available. The same goes for Newton, Einstein, and whoever comes next. Even when their theories are disproven, this does not imply that they are false. They are true given a certain context of knowledge. But our context of knowledge is continually expanding by way of new experiments and observations.
The same holds true for the big bang theory. For right now, it is the best explanation for what we see. But consider that this theory is not even a hundred years old yet. It is entirely possible that tomorrow a new discovery will be made that forces us to throw the big bang theory out the window and come up with something different. This will always be the case for any scientific theory.
I am very passionate about this topic because it serves as a continual reminder to stay humble. Whenever I start to feel that I am wise, I must remind myself of how small are the contents of my brain when compared to the vastness of the universe. I must accept that I will never know the "absolute truth" about anything.
This may sound like a cynical view, but I like to think of it in a positive way. To me, it means that the joy of learning new things will continue for my entire life. I try to appreciate it when someone proves me wrong about something that I believe -- it means that I have learned something new. Learning is a beautiful thing.
Thanks for reading.