Saturday, 12 September 2015

The fanatical physicist - Kevin Williamson on Lawrence Krauss

The flip-side to the crusading YEC is the militant atheist. Both see their views as the only possible positions one can take on the relationship between science and religion. Both are intolerant of alternative views. Both dismiss each other's positions in part because of their belief that the creation narratives must be taken literally, with the former rejecting evolution because it contradicts that reading, the latter rejecting the Bible because evolution falsifies the literal reading which the they see as the only possible way to read Genesis. 

While Kevin Williamson's claim that Christian fundamentalists ranks relatively low on the fanatic scale when compared to militant atheists is one that I would question, Williamson is dead right to open his National Review article on the militant atheist Lawrence Krauss with Winston Churchill's quote; "[a] fanatic is one who can't change is mind and won't change the subject" as such obsessiveness appears to be one of the defining traits of the New Atheists.  It's been around ten years since Sam Harris's "The End of Faith" triggered the rush of New Atheist books, and as Jerry Coyne's recently-published "Faith versus Fact" shows, it appears that writing yet another book tackling the low-hanging fruit of fundamentalist Christianity appears to be a rite of passage for every militant atheistic scientist. One would imagine that dead horse has been flogged enough.

Being a tedious bore is one thing, but as Williamson notes, blundering out of your narrow area of competence and making a fool of yourself does little for your credibility, particularly when you make sweeping statements on the relationship between science and religion:
It is not the case that statements beyond formal scientific evaluation are trivialities and chimera, teapots floating in space and “flying spaghetti monsters” and the like. “This is a beautiful painting,” “I love my brother,” and “We shouldn’t allow poor people to starve to death in the streets,” all are meaningful declarations not subject to scientific review. If the standards of scientific evidence are to be our only meaningful standards, then we must not have an ethics at all.  
“It’s ironic, really, that so many people are fixated on the relationship between science and religion: basically, there isn’t one.” These are the sole words of wisdom in his entire illiterate argument; what’s ironic — and here, unlike Professor Krauss, I’m using the word “ironic” to mean “ironic” — is that he fails to appreciate the one bit of truth he manages to communicate. Science and religion really are separate fields of endeavor — “non-overlapping magisteria,” in Stephen Jay Gould’s famous phrase. The relationship between metaphysical propositions and empirical evaluation has been meditated on by better minds than Professor Krauss’s — Wittgenstein’s, famously. And if Professor Krauss desires to cease embarrassing himself in public, he should follow that philosopher’s sage advice: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”
Full article here.