Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Glasshouse Effect

Just a couple of comments on two blog posts I want to make a note of:

Uncommon Descent.
This post on Uncommon Descent made me laugh. I can understand UD’s feeling that it’s one law for them and another for established scientists! The papers the post refers to can be found here and here. What do I file these papers under? Hoax Physics, Crank Physics or just “Edgey”? Whatever; it appears that they have already been classified by their peer group as professional physics.

This looks to be quite a promising departure on Sandwalk. It is a link to Jim Lippard’s blog. Lippard is an atheist, but he seems to be asking those reflexive epistemological questions that we should all be asking: What is science? How do we know things? Why do we believe? Etc. Given that questions over the primary ontology of the cosmos is a highly speculative area,bound up with philosophy and epistemology, it is only natural that people attempting to arrive at preemptive proposals/views in this area will tend to come up with different speculations ranging from theism, simulated universes, multiverses, self organizing principles, postmodern nihilism etc. Where things go wrong, I feel, is when particular proposals become the jealously guarded property of some subcommunity which then, with religious zeal, embarks on the hard oversell of their views.* In particular, I cannot go along with Christians who take the position that atheists must all have bad consciences because they are willfully holding out against some Gnostic or fideist revelation. Atheism, in my view, is just one of a set of plausible constructions given the human predicament. Conversely, I must set against this those atheists who frequently accuse others of irrationality and yet themselves appear to be unself-critical, and lacking in both reflexivity and self-scepticism.

But the good news is that Lippard appears to be asking the right kind of questions, questions that both hardened atheists and religionists need to be asking themselves. A step in the right direction I feel.

Addendum: I notice that Larry Moran of Sandwalk says he hasn't the time to debate Lippard. It may be just me but haven't I noticed before that he's stayed well clear when things start to get edgy? The "fringe" isn't for him and I suppose that we need people like him to keep things anchored. But there is more to scepticism than bread and butter science - and "bah humbug".

* Footnote
To be fair this is probably an effect of communities polarizing against one another; if one community makes signals indicating what they think of as their spiritual/intellectual superiority in comparison with another community, the latter community, tit for tat, will respond in kind.

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