Do You Believe in the Theory of Gravity?


Gravity is just a theory. Sir Issac Newton tried to quantify it. In  Principia, published in 1687, he deduced the application of the inverse square law.

F=G{\frac {m_{1}m_{2}}{r^{2}}}\

Where F is the force, m1 and m2 are the masses of the objects interacting, r is the distance between the centers of the masses and G is the gravitational constant. The theory was only partially successul. It helped predict the existence and orbit of the planet Neptune, based on perturbations of the orbit of the planet Uranus. But Newton’s theory could not account for perturbations in the orbit of the planet Mercury, or the orbits of some of the near-Saturn moons.

Albert Eistein’s Theory of General Relativity solved those discrepancies, but it, too, was just a theory, and as it turns out it is inconsistent with the laws of quantum mechanics. And no one has explained exactly how gravity works; only the observed effects. When NASA uses the gravity of earth and other moons and planets to boost the velocity of manmade satellites, the satellites accelerate more than they should, the flyby anomaly.

All of which underscores that gravity is just a theory. The theory has flaws, we don’t really know how or why it works, it’s inconsistent with other theories, but it is nonetheless accepted as a usable and useful approximation of the real world.

Anthropogenic climate change is also just theory. Except that we understand the mechanisms of climate change a lot better than the mechanisms of gravity. The theory of anthropogenic climate change has its flaws, although they are arguably less egregious than the flaws in the theory of gravity. Like the theory of gravity, the theory of anthropogenic climate change allows scientists to make predictions and then check to see if the predictions can be observed in the field. And they can.

It’s true that world climate is a more complex system than, say, the Three Body Problem in astrophysics. But the thing about the theory of anthropogenic climate change is that it works, like gravity, as an approximation of what is observed in the real world, it’s falsifiable, and it’s predictive.

It’s also true that, like the theory of evolution, the theory of anthropogenic climate change is controversial. Not because the theories are wrong, or incomplete. Rather, because the theories contradict the special interests of non-scientists. Biblical literalists in the case of evolution; those employed by – or politically supported by – the fossil fuel industry in the case of climate change.

Here’s the thing: if you don’t believe in gravity because it doesn’t explain the flyby anomaly, woulld you leap off a fifty foot tower? Would your disbelief in gravity keep you from being killed?

Understand that failing to regulate CO2 emissions and the consumption of fossil fuels because you don’t believe in the theory of anthropogenic climate change is no different than leaping off that tower.

WC understands there are folks who think we live in a post-truth world. That facts no longer matter. WC invites them to prove their claim by leaping off that fifty foot tower. Facts will win in the end. And the collision with reality will be equally violent.

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2 thoughts on “Do You Believe in the Theory of Gravity?

  1. The world would be a better, though certainly a messier, place if all those people would jump off the tower… Personally, I’m a big fan of facts and reality. My husband (a retired physics teacher) and I (my background is biology/natural history) both got a really good laugh from this post. We appreciate your perspective.

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