About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Monday, December 03, 2007
The latest silly stuff from Paul Davies
Davies' extraordinary assertion arises from a series of elementary mistakes: first, scientists do not have “faith” in an orderly universe, as he claims; they reasonably assume that there are explanations for natural phenomena and go about testing that assumption. This is not at all dissimilar from what everyone -- including religious believers -- do under most circumstances in ordinary life. Your car breaks down? You assume a natural explanation and check the gas, the battery, etc.; you don’t pray to god (though you may curse a bit). Got a toothache? You assume a natural explanation and go to the dentist, not the preacher. And so on. This isn’t “faith,” it’s common sense, and it works.
Second, the idea that there are “laws” in the universe is actually very controversial in philosophy of science, not at all the given that Davies thinks it is. Moreover, it is misleading, as the very term suggests some sort of law-maker. In reality, there are simply patterns of regularities that make predictions somewhat possible. Therefore, and contrary to Davies, the best answer to the question of “why is there something instead of nothing?” still is “because that’s the way it is.” Anything beyond that immediately risks begging the question, a common fallacy of so-called religious “explanations.”
Lastly, it is high time that physicists – who are not trained in biology – stop pontificating about our universe being “just right for life.” It is not at all likely that the universe is teeming with life, since most star systems seem to be utterly inhospitable to it. It requires a very large ego indeed to think that billions of lifeless worlds have come into existence so that we could speculate on who did it. Science is not at all like religion: the latter provides no explanation and is based on blind faith, the former is a highly successful human endeavor that keeps delivering the goods. But I suspect that by restating this sort of sensible position I’m not positioning myself for the Templeton Prize. Oh well.