Archive for November 20th, 2011

November 20, 2011

Is Granville Sewell a mole?

by Neil Rickert

Mathematicians are generally pretty smart people.  So when Granville Sewell originally came out with an argument based on the second law of thermodynamics (see here), I was saddened to see a mathematician come out with an argument that is so foolish, so ignorant, so wrong.  Recently Sewell has repeated his arguments in a post at the Uncommon Descent blog.

My first reaction was to scratch my head, and wonder how a mathematician could come up with such appallingly poor reasoning.  But then it struck me.  Maybe Granville Sewell is a mole.

November 20, 2011

Does science have a central doctrine?

by Neil Rickert

Physicist Alan Lightman apparently thinks that there is a central doctrine to science.

As a both a scientist and a humanist myself, I have struggled to understand different claims to knowledge, and I have eventually come to a formulation of the kind of religious belief that would, in my view, be compatible with science. The first step in this journey is to state what I will call the Central Doctrine of science: All properties and events in the physical universe are governed by laws, and those laws are true at every time and place in the universe. Although scientists do not talk explicitly about this doctrine, and my doctoral thesis advisor never mentioned it once to his graduate students, the Central Doctrine is the invisible oxygen that scientists breathe. We do not, of course, know all the fundamental laws at the present time. But most scientists believe that a complete set of such laws exists and, in principle, is discoverable by human beings, just as 19th-century explorers believed in the North Pole although no one had yet reached it.

First a little context.  Lightman is apparently arguing the view that science itself involves some kind of faith.  That’s a claim that we often hear coming from theists.  However, Lightman is no theist, so it is a bit surprising that he makes this assertion.  John Wilkins argues against the view that science involves faith, and it was John’s post that led me to Lightman’s Salon article.  John criticizes the view that science involves faith, and rightly so.  But he does not directly comment on the question of whether there is a central doctrine.  Dan Dennett criticizes Lightman in a follow up Salon article but Dennett does not comment directly on the central doctrine question.  I will comment on it here.

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