IVP - Andy Unedited - When Smart People Say Stupid Things

December 21, 2010

When Smart People Say Stupid Things

I'm always amazed when very intelligent people say very stupid things. But it's happened again. This time it's in The Grand Design, the latest book by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge for thirty years, a chair held by no less than Sir Isaac Newton, himself no slouch. Mlodinow has his own pedigree to be proud of. So what did they say?

They write, "Philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics" (p. 5). The galaxy-sized irony, of course, is that every page of their new book drips with philosophy--in particular, the variety of philosophy known as methodological naturalism.

This stupidity is enhanced by the healthy dose of arrogance that is implied. Who needs philosophy--or anything else besides science? Science has solved all our problems or is all we need to solve our problems, right?

To prove the point, I offer the following to show the triumph of science in all of life:

  • Science has finally given us enduring peace in the Middle East.
  • Science has eliminated all nuclear weapons.
  • Science has prevented genocide for the last hundred years.
  • Science has abolished all corruption in the state government of Illinois.
  • Thanks to science, there are now no more traffic jams in Southern California.

We can be forever grateful to science that, in addition to not needing philosophy, we also don't need art or community or virtues or family or history or love. We must thank science for flattening our lives in this way and removing all that is human and three-dimensional from our existence. Life is so much simpler that way. No more messy ethical questions to deal with. No more symphonies to transport us. No more friends to laugh with or family to cry with. Science is all. All else is dead.

Am I being extreme to make a point? Indeed.

I do not, despite my rant above, think that we need everything else except science. To the contrary, science is valuable, perhaps essential. But it is not the only source of knowledge or wisdom or life. And scientists are not the only experts we need. The truth is, we all need each other.

In the face of the complexity of our world--and especially the failures of humanity over the last century--scientists, like all of us, need humility. Even scientists who sit in the chair of Isaac Newton.

Posted by Andy Le Peau at December 21, 2010 7:58 AM Bookmark and Share


All science uses methodological naturalism - it becomes philosophical naturalism when the say things about science, particularly that only what it can deal with is reality.

Comment by: AndrewFinden at December 22, 2010 8:55 AM

To your list of "triumphs", I suspect Dawkins and Mlodinow would simply answer: "give us[science] a little more time." I believe that is basically what he was saying in his debate in Mexico against William Lane Craig.

Comment by: St├ęphane (France) at December 22, 2010 9:41 AM

I'll give science a couple more million years, but if they haven't provided a scientific calculation to my life's fulfillment, I swear I'm turning to God!

Comment by: Keith at December 22, 2010 2:20 PM

To someone with the hammer of science, every problem looks like a nail. Sometimes we just need different tools for different jobs.

Comment by: Andy Le Peau at December 22, 2010 3:44 PM

Actually, not all science uses methodological naturalism. Some scientists study from the point of Intelligent Design. Some might argue "well then its not truly science!" But that argument would simply prove the point; that each scientist begins with his own philosophy of what science is, even before he begins to practice in the field.

It may be that methodological naturalism is the philosophy that most scientists practice but this does not attest to its veractiy. They have not placed that philosophy in a lab and obtained results that would attest to its validity, they simply start with that philosophy without any scientific proof that it is in fact the correct philosophy to use, thus their "science" is philosophically directed from the outset. (and one quicly sees that their "science" is not science at all, it is instead a deadly blend of philosophical pseudo-science.

Comment by: Louis at December 22, 2010 8:16 PM

I believe Cornelis Van Til taught us that there are no such thing as "brute" facts. We all have a set of assumptions we presuppose and never question. No one can get away from this.

The real irony is that naturalism of any sort is more than a philosophy, it is a theology. By excluding the supernatural (God as He has revealed Himself) from the outset, such scientists are making a theological statement. They draw conclusions about the purpose of life, how we got here, where we are heading, and often morality.

Comment by: Jake Vierzen at December 22, 2010 9:12 PM

I hate to say that a smart naturalist is going to pin at least 4 of the 5 "unsolved" problems on "backward" religion in some way shape or form, either blaming religious extremists or blaming the American Religious Right/Republican political influence in some way, shape, or form.

Comment by: J Klein at December 23, 2010 4:35 AM

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