Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Few Science and Theology Links

In the interest of fairness, here's a link that defends string theory against the charges leveled by Easterbrook in the Slate.com article. Rosenhouse argues the Easterbrook has mischaracterized both the objectives and methods of string theory. For instance, he says that "string theory is not an explanation for the existence of the universe. Rather, it is an attempt to explain the properties of the known subatomic particles by viewing them as the results of interactions of more fundamental objects, namely strings." He also claims that, while there's no evidence for the existence of extra dimensions, such speculation is not outrageous because three dimensions are known to exist. Thus, "physicists are hypothesizing more of the same, not anything fundamentally new." For me, this is not a convincing argument because it suggests that the number of dimensions is an arbitrary variable that can be changed at will, while physics has historically viewed it as an intrinsic property of the universe. Given the lack of experimental evidence, I see no reason why that time-tested assumption should be cast aside.

Rosenhouse goes on to say that, in contrast to dimensions, the "plane of the spirit" that Easterbrook mentions is "something that is hypothesized for no reason at all, beyond the fact that some people find it comforting to think it exists." Ah, yes, the old charge that religion only serves as an emotional crutch. Perhaps Easterbrook is not the only one guilty of "snarky" and "incoherent" characterizations of his subject matter. With respect to religious faith, Rosenhouse would do well to follow his own advice: "just confess ignorance and concede that he's not really in a position to assess the merits of the subject."

I've also been meaning to write a post on E.O. Wilson's well-intentioned, but frustrating, "letter to a Southern Baptist pastor" in The New Republic. Wilson argues that Christians and environmentalists should make common cause in protecting our fragile environment - something I agree with completely. However, Wilson exhibits such condescension towards his letter's recipient that it's hard to tell if he really wants the help of Christians after all. For one, his descriptions of religious belief are arrogant and crude in the extreme. Here's an example:
"I see no way to avoid the fundamental differences in our worldviews. You are a strict interpreter of Christian Holy Scripture; I am a secular humanist. You believe that each person's soul is immortal, making this planet a waystation to a second, eternal life; I think heaven and hell are what we create for ourselves, on this planet. For you, the belief in God made flesh to save mankind; for me, the belief in Promethean fire seized to set men free. You have found your final truth; I am still searching."

The smugness is just dripping of the page. I'm particularly struck by the last line: "You have found your final truth; I am still searching" (how brave!!). But is it true? Certainly not!! Wilson has found his final truth - it's called scientism, the belief that science represents the only legitimate way to think about the universe. Make no mistake about it, Wilson's core principles are not up for debate either, and he's just as close-minded and dogmatic as any Christian fundamentalist.

Like I said, I was going to write a full post about Wilson's letter. But Scott Carson at An Examined Life has already beat me to it. Since I couldn't hope to surpass his remarks, I'll simply provide the link and stop here.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Thus, "physicists are hypothesizing more of the same, not anything fundamentally new."

This would be a much more convincing argument if one of the known dimensions were tightly curled in on itself.