June 30th, 2009
And he’s right, writing in the Wall Street Journal, of all places.
Lawrence Krauss, of The Physics of Star Trek fame, and a serious and accomplished scientist in his own right, starts with this famous quote:
My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.
— J.B.S. Haldane
“Fact and Faith” (1934)
This is the “faith” of a scientist, that physical laws repeatedly operate in the same way for everyone everywhere, and that systematic experiment can let us learn how they work. Science has a great track record, and images of Jesus or the Virigin Mary do not seem to regularly appear in vacuum chambers or on powerful lasers and draw thousands of pilgrims.
If the experiment came out differently every time, I don’t think science as we know it would exist. And neither would we or an ordered world of any sort.
In the sense that traditional religious people see things, Einstein was an atheist. As Einstein saw things, this ordered pattern of laws underlying the universe was itself miraculous and what he meant when he used the word “God.” (Which I wish he hadn’t, because too many lack the understanding to appreciate this.) This is pretty far from religion, which posits unprovable things beyond this order that scientists study, but I guess you could call it spirituality.
The religious scientists all set aside their religious mode of thinking and use the same methodology when conducting experiments, because the two modes are not compatible. This is Krauss’s point, and he carries it to the next level, suggesting that the scientific mode works well under controlled conditions and should be the default for interfacing with reality more generally.
I find it impossible to take issue with Krauss or Haldane when this was another story this week (with video goodness):
Oklahoma’s News 9 has done a segment on Rep. Sally Kern’s Proclamation for Morality in which she blames the nation’s current economic and other problems on gays, abortion, divorce, and all around lack of Christian faith.
This is from an elected official. People hear this, find it good, and vote for her. She probably has a birthmark that looks like Jesus on her left buttock…
Or did you know that nearly 1 in 5 Italians trusts sorcerers?
I can always go pick on the Creationists, Anti-Vaccination folks, or any of literally thousands of individuals or groups that believe irrational things and harm comes from those beliefs. And many of those individuals or groups are well respected people in the public eye who rarely face serious criticism, and cry foul if there’s even a whiff of it around them.
This sort of stupid nonsense is not my America or my world and it sure has nothing to do with science, reality, or anything good and decent at all.