(This is Post 1 in a series of 3).
It’s been a while since I posted about the Michael Reiss affair, but I only just found a response to the controversy in the Guardian by Sir Harold Kroto. He is a Nobel Laureate in chemistry for discovering new kinds of carbon. I’ll respond to Kroto in three posts.
His central argument can be summarised as follows:
- Science is based solely on disinterested examination of the physical world.
- To be a scientist, we must accept nothing whatsoever for which there is no evidence as having any fundamental validity.
- All religious people have sacrificed their intellectual integrity by accepting “irrational unsubstantiated claims [that have] no fundamental validity”.
- Thus, Reiss cannot tackle the “fundamentally unresolvable conflict at the science/religion interface.” He was in the wrong job.
There are a number of points that need to be made in response to this. The most obvious is the accusation that all scientists who are believers are dishonest and irrational. This is an amazing claim. Was Newton dishonest? Boyle? Francis Bacon, one of the fathers of the scientific revolution? Johannes Kepler? Nicolaus Copernicus? Blaise Pascal? Sir William Herschel? Michael Faraday? James Prescott Joule? James Clerk Maxwell? Louis Pasteur? In more modern times, was Arthur Eddington dishonest? Max Planck? Is George Ellis dishonest? John Polkinghorne? Nobel Laureate Arthur Schawlow? Alan Sandage? Don Page? Chris Isham? The computer science legend that is Donald Knuth? Owen Gingerich? Human genone project leader Francis Collins? Neuroscientist Bill Newsome? Geneticist R. J. Berry? Paleontologist Simon Conway Morris?
Now they could all be wrong, and I’m not claiming that believers comprise a majority of scientists. My point is the breathtaking claim that all of these scientists are dishonest, that they have no intellectual integrity.
Surely we would see evidence of this deficiency in their scientific work. If these are the sort of people who would deceitfully harbour unscientific beliefs, then we should see these beliefs creep into their research. Has Kroto discovered fabrications in Polkinghorne’s work with quarks? Are Alan Sandage’s observations to measure the Hubble constant strewn with lies? Is the man who created Tex (Knuth be praised!), “dangerous” and “hell-bent on dragging us back to the dark ages”? Where is Kroto’s evidence for such a claim?
Believers, it seems, are perfectly capable of applying the scientific method.
Ah yes, Kroto would say, but they disqualify themselves by claiming to know anything that cannot be subjected to scientific testing. We’ll look more closely at that claim in my next post.