Monday, March 26, 2012

Something rather than nothing

David Albert (professor of philosophy at Columbia) writes a NY Times book review:
Lawrence M. Krauss, a well-known cosmologist and prolific popular-science writer, apparently means to announce to the world, in this new book, that the laws of quantum mechanics have in them the makings of a thoroughly scientific and adamantly secular explanation of why there is something rather than nothing. Period. Case closed. End of story. I kid you not. Look at the subtitle. Look at how Richard Dawkins sums it up in his afterword: “Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?,’ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If ‘On the Origin of Species’ was biology’s deadliest blow to super­naturalism, we may come to see ‘A Universe From Nothing’ as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is devastating.” ...
Really? Dawkins compares Krauss to Darwin because their books are both deadly blows to religion?

Dawkins is probably the world's most famous spokesman for science, and he considers this book a "thoroughly scientific" explanation of why the universe exists?

No, there is no such scientific explanation. Dawkins hates religion, and he will call anything scientific if it is anti-religious. I don't mind Dawkins aggressively pushing his atheist beliefs, but I do object when he takes a mixture of pseudo-science and bad philosophy, and tries to pass it off as some great scientific work that somehow proves his atheist beliefs.

Albert is not so impressed with the book.
And I guess it ought to be mentioned, quite apart from the question of whether anything Krauss says turns out to be true or false, that the whole business of approaching the struggle with religion as if it were a card game, or a horse race, or some kind of battle of wits, just feels all wrong — or it does, at any rate, to me. When I was growing up, where I was growing up, there was a critique of religion according to which religion was cruel, and a lie, and a mechanism of enslavement, and something full of loathing and contempt for every­thing essentially human. Maybe that was true and maybe it wasn’t, but it had to do with important things — it had to do, that is, with history, and with suffering, and with the hope of a better world — and it seems like a pity, and more than a pity, and worse than a pity, with all that in the back of one’s head, to think that all that gets offered to us now, by guys like these, in books like this, is the pale, small, silly, nerdy accusation that religion is, I don’t know, dumb.
Peter Shor says:
Couldn’t we agree that the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” is outside the purview of science? Physicists who start trying to answer it are only going to end up making fools of themselves and giving the creationists and other religious extremists more ammunition.
Dawkins is making a fool of himself also. Dawkins was just on MSNBC attacking the Tennessee proposal to "encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues". Now he encourages fellow atheists to ridicule those who claim to be religious. I am not a creationist, and I do not favor teaching religion in the public schools. But it seems to me that Dawkins spends much of his time promoting questionable and unscientific ideas, and I don't think that those should be promoted in the public schools either.

No comments:

Post a Comment