Onegoodmove hipped me to this debate between Dan Dennett and Dinesh D'Souza: "Is God a human invention?"
Notwithstanding D'Souza's routinely shrill, frequently mocking tone, he does manage to score rhetorical points for his team here and there, but only mostly because Dennett's rebuttal isn't as sharp as it should been.
For example, in this segment (starting at 8:08), D'Souza's argues that modern "Big Bang" theory lends support to the idea that God exists:
Everything that has a beginning has a cause. The universe has a
beginning. [Therefore, the] universe has a cause. That cause I call "God."
Now, this argument is really hackneyed. But it is intuitively appealing to "swing voters," and any philosopher with Dennett's skill should have a refutation handy -- something along the lines of:
But talk about "causes" doesn't make any sense outside the framework of time. And on the very theory Dinesh appeals to, time did not exist until the universe began. Therefore, the universe could not have been "caused" in any relevant sense. A fortiori, God could not have caused the universe.
More could be said, of course -- but Dennett didn't even say that much (his rebuttal starts here at 3:30), allowing D'Souza's intuitively appealing argument to go entirely unchallenged. This sort of thing happened way too often.
Don't get me wrong. D'Souza's arguments were generally embarrassingly weak on substance. But you'd need to know something about the substance to know just how weak, and he seemed substantially more focussed than Dennett when it came to rebuttal.
A judicial opinion from the Queen's Bench [n.1] declares that An Inconvenient Truth
is "broadly accurate," and that it's central theses about anthropogenic global warming are "supported by a vast quantity of research published in peer-reviewed
journals worldwide and by the great majority of the world's climate
scientists"; but that it
contains errors of fact that render the film "partisan" within the meaning of the relevant statutory provision, such that it cannot be shown to students absent the presentation of other viewpoints.
The Volokh Conspiracy's David Kopel mentions only one of these two findings. Guess which?
I pointed this convenient elision out to him in a comment about almost a week ago (and I'm not the only one who did so), but so far no update or clarification in his post. I can only assume he wants to provide a comfortable echo chamber for denialists. If so, Mission Accomplished.
Depressingly, if not surprisingly, Kopel's brand of journalistic malfeasance is notpeculiar to the blogs.
NOTES 1. "United Kingdom's High Court of Justice, Queen's Bench Division" sounds very grand, indeed. But in civil matters, the Queen's Bench is roughly analogous in its authority to a district court. So we're not talking about an opinion by the Supreme Court, here. Besides which, it's, you know, in England.
The menu of writings penned by critics of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion offers a diet unusually high in saturated fatuity. But this fawning review of John Cornwell's Darwin's Angel (a book that attempts to rebut Dawkins' The God Delusion), by one Salley Vickers, might just take the cake.
Since Vickers' dish contains far too much pudding to digest in a single sitting, I'll simply quote her final
Those who think that not knowing is safer and
more attractive than its opposite should treat themselves to this elegant
Should Marcus Ross have been awarded a Ph.D. in paleontology if he believes that the earth was created 10,000 years ago? The consensus among science bloggers seems to be "no." P.Z. puts it so:
[Y]ou cannot legitimately earn an advanced degree in geology and at the
same time hold a belief contrary to all the evidence, and that the only
way you can accomplish it is by basically lying to yourself and your
committee throughout the process...."
However, P.Z.'s argument is contravened by the evidence: The article makes it clear that Ross' faculty were completely aware of his heterodox views.
And while perhaps Ross is deceiving himself, existential bad faith seems an extraordinarily flimsy, fuzzy charge to ground the grave punishment of academic disqualification.
So let's be pragmatic. If we want to cultivate science, we should want to invite as many potentially qualified students to the party as possible. Students like Ross--who can preserve their belief in the absurd through the completion of a legitimate Ph.D. program--are extremely rare. (Why else do you think his story made the New York Times?) Far more typical in a case like his would be a gradual evolution from creationist to agnostic to apostate. However, if we make it clear that wannabe creationist revolutionaries have no hope of gaining a Ph.D., they simply won't come. We thereby lose converts, my brothers and sisters.
In sum, science stands far more to gain if Ph.D. committees look not to the content of a candidate's beliefs but to the quality of his work.
Side note: Nothing in my argument precludes severe punishment for substantive academic fraud, even if it occurs after the Ph.D. is granted. For instance, if Ross accepts a position at a university and uses his position (and his credential) to teach that there is a "scientific controversy" about the status of evolution as a unifying theory in biology, Rhode Island would arguably have grounds to revoke his doctorate.
Gregg Easterbrook, on why Lee Smolin's "natural selection" cosmology hasn't taken hold in the physics community: "Smolin's cosmic natural selection...implies direction," whereas "[i]n recent decades it has become essential at the top of academia to posit utter meaninglessness to all aspects of physics."
In his recent column for Scientific American, Michael Shermer relates the following tale:
Thirteen years after the legendary confrontation over the theory of evolution between Bishop Samuel Wilberforce ("Soapy Sam") and Thomas Henry Huxley ("Darwin's bulldog"), Wilberforce died in 1873 in an equestrian fall. Huxley quipped to physicist John Tyndall, "For once, reality and his brain came into contact and the result was fatal."