Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Krauss on science and religion

Lawrence Krauss has an essay in Tuesday's New York Times in which he argues that theoretical physics, as long as it's not just a telephone directory summarizing the experiments that have already been done, is more or less on par with religion and Intelligent Design.

What do I think about these comparisons?

See Mark Trodden's text for his viewpoint.

Science and religion have definitely common roots. The ancient people used to be scared by many natural phenomena they did not understand and they started to produce various "theories" how the world works and what you have to do to save your life and protect yourself and your community from various threats. Some of these "theories" were rather complex. This complexity is what distinguished the early believers and the early scientists from average people who only cared about their Tuesday lunch.

The ancient protosciences and protoreligions made the people focus on certain questions that transcended their lives. They helped us to transform ourselves (i.e. monkeys) into humans. They taught us to spend a certain amount of time with activities that were not immediately necessary for our survival. They taught us to make big conjectures. Even Newton has constructed his mechanics in order to support a more far-reaching concept - namely the holy spirit that fills the space. Religion and science have co-existed for millenia.

Once again, scientists and believers have always shared certain characteristics and millions of words have been written about these relationships. Moreover, in the ancient era, it was often difficult to distinguish which activity was science and which activity was religion or unjustifiable superstition. If Lawrence Krauss wrote his "essay" 30,000 years ago or maybe even 500 years ago, it would have been almost correct.

But surprising as it may sound, it is 2005 right now and Lawrence Krauss is no longer right. Religion and sciences have been separated several centuries ago. Science has claimed certain questions to belong under its umbrella and it has pretty well-defined procedures that are used to decide whether a conjecture is correct or at least convincing or not.

Whether or not warped geometry or a Calabi-Yau manifold reminds Dr. Krauss of Moses is completely irrelevant for science. Science works independently of these beliefs and only rationally justifiable arguments have the power to influence where science goes. The apparent mathematical inconsistency of all purely four-dimensional theories of gravity is a powerful scientific argument; Krauss' religious or anti-religious feelings and vague articles in the newspapers are not.

Lawrence Krauss clearly misunderstands and understimates (and maybe even misunderestimates) how serious the UV problems of gravity or the hierarchy problem, among many other examples, are. He may choose not to solve these questions because they may be uninteresting for him. Billions of people in the world do not care about science unless it may directly improve their life today. But these people are not expected to be those who determine the direction of the scientific research.

Krauss is quite clearly unhappy that physics has become counterintuitive after the 20th century revolutions. It is no longer transparent for most peasants. What a sad development! However, most of us are quite satisfied or even excited because exactly this feature measures the depth of the scientific progress: how many deeply counter-intuitive insights can we establish. Be sure that this process will never be reverted. Science simply is more complex than it used to be 600 years ago.

Science and religion share fascination by unseen things. But they differ in their method how to decide whether the unseen things exist or not.

1 comment:

  1. There is no doubt the institutuions are very concrete in terms of religious doctrine. How much history is involved?

    I believe there is room regardless of your "religious tendencies," atheistic, Catholic, or Buddhist.

    Shall we asign ID classifcation to all these religions and make enemies of such institutions?

    Penetrating the counter productive "scientific views" does not need to discrimminate a man because he might believe in something quite apart from what can be validated?

    There is always room, even with woman/man who hold science and its validations methods above all. Use it, to what ever religious belief they have in regards to that science. The science has to be indisputable does it not, so it takes acare of itself. While the religious woman/man has to choose?