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February 14, 2003

And yet it moves!

On Lew Rockwell, Gene Callahan comes up with a quiz which allegedly shows that religion is not the enemy of scientific progress. That may well be true but did he have to doctor the results to prove it? His first question reads:

1. When Galileo faced the Inquisition, he held that the Earth moved around the Sun, while the Inquisition believed that the Sun moved around the Earth. According to modern science:

a) the Inquisition was correct
b) Galileo was correct
c) neither was more or less correct than the other

His 'answer' is the following quote from Whitehead

c. As Alfred North Whitehead puts it: “Galileo said that the earth moves and that the sun is fixed; the Inquisition said that the earth is fixed and the sun moves; and Newtonian astronomers… said that both the sun and the earth move. But now we say that any one of these three statements is equally true, provided that you have fixed your sense of ‘rest’ and ‘motion’ in the way required by the statement adopted” (1967 [1925]

Umm, the point being? Of course all objects in space move and galaxies revolve too but that is not the point or was not the point at issue - none of the parties involved would have known about revolving galaxies and the Big Crunch and all that. Nor was the dispute over semantics a la Clinton's definition of 'is' - it was over which was the better model for explaining and predicting astronomical phenomena. And for reasons that had little to do with logic and efficaciousness the church was violently opposed to the heliocentric model - that is the point.

And what about Question 6 where he asserts with complete confidence that none of these people were atheists?

a) Aristotle
b) Frances Bacon
c) Galileo
d) Descartes
e) Pascal
f) Newton
g) Robert Boyle
h) Michael Faraday
i) Joseph Clerk Maxwell
j) Gregor Mendel
k) Louis Pasteur
l) Max Planck
m) Albert Einstein

Never mind that some of them lived in an age when to be branded an atheist was to fall into pariahdom. Never mind that Einstein probably used the term 'God' metaphorically.

Posted by jason_s at 10:48 PM

So that whole ban on (ultra-promising) stem-cell research was a figment of my imagination, then?

Gene Callahan, of all people, has little right to speak about religion not interfering with level-headed scientific thinking:

"...if moral ideas are simply an "illusion" fostered on us by our genes then so are all of our other ideas – including the ideas of sociobiology!"

(I guess we can throw him, along with H. Allen Orr and David Stove, in JM Smith's proverbial mixed pot of anti-Darwinists.)

Posted by: Jason Malloy at February 15, 2003 12:05 AM


Posted by: Otto Kerner at February 15, 2003 08:33 AM

Einstein lost his faith as a teenager and his god, he said, was the same as Spinoza's.

Some of the others, like Pascal, Newton, and Faraday could be called religious extremists. But the list doesn't support Official Religion as a backer of science. The three above were heretics and nonconformists.

These creationist lists used to include Darwin, on the basis of some of his statements in his youth and the canard that he converted on his deathbed. So the fact that he's missing on this one can be regarded as progress of a sort.

Posted by: Dick Thompson at February 15, 2003 08:41 AM

Aristotle said that, if there is a god, the one thing that could be said with certainty about him is that he would not take the smallest interest in human affairs. This is not a position in which the modern theist could take much comfort.

Posted by: Aaron Haspel at February 15, 2003 11:17 AM

i thought faraday was an unbeliever-and mendel went into the clergy because of financial reasons-though he was probably a believer....

Posted by: razib at February 15, 2003 12:11 PM

Faraday was a member of the Plymouth Brethren, I believe all of his life. They were an extreme nonconformist Protestant sect, and might today be considered a cult.

Posted by: Dick Thompson at February 15, 2003 01:43 PM

you are right about faraday.

Posted by: razib at February 15, 2003 01:50 PM

By our standards, both Newton and Faraday would be considered religious nut-cases. Newton spent years of his life on occult Bible exegeses that no one can read.

The list seems to exclude scientists and mathemeticians who were Orthodox or Hasidic Jews, a not inconsiderable list, IIRC.

Kurt Godel, IIRC, was also a religous nut-case. Without exaggeration -- he was schizophrenic or something like that.

I personally would call myself an atheist, except that saying that seems to say that atheism fills the functions of religion, which it does not. Atheism just tells you that some of these functions will not be filled.

But I'm not a scientist either.

Posted by: Zizka at February 15, 2003 02:58 PM

Transhumanism can fufill many of the functions of religion without a theistic committment.

Posted by: michaelvassar at February 17, 2003 06:50 PM

hallelujah brother vassar!

Posted by: razib at February 17, 2003 07:13 PM