Sunday, January 07, 2007

Castle-builders and bricklayers

Since I've pounced when the New York Times Book Review has gone astray, I should probably now praise it since it's done right. (NB: I usually like the NYTBR, but I think it needs the occasional spanking.) Not only do they place a hilarious, scathing review of Michael Crichton's new anti-science novel next to a positive, thoughtful review of Freeman Dyson's new collection of essays, The Scientist as Rebel, but George Johnson's review of Dyson also implies what's wrong with religious attacks on science as dogmatic and anti-god:
  • "It's jarring at first to hear the Scientist as Rebel describing himself as a conservative. But that's Dyson: as resistant to categorization as the universe his colleagues are trying to mathematicize. 'In the history of science,' he [Dyson] writes, 'there is always a tension between revolutionaries and conservatives, between those who build grand castles in the air and those who prefer to lay one brick at a time on solid ground.'"
Dyson's description of the history of science may seem oversimplified as it's quoted (NB2: Note Harder: I haven't read the piece Johnson quotes), but it does acknowledge that scientific fields are fraught with debate and modes of thought that conflict. Why does that matter? Because there's such scientific concurrence about evolution and global warming. And lest some claim that Dyson, a long-time teacher at Princeton, is simply a brainwashed and brainwashing academic, note that he never received a Ph.D., yet worked closely with Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomonaga as they developed the work that would earn them the Nobel Prize in 1965, and has been a lucid, articulate, thoughtful writer on science throughout his life.

Also, and more importantly, Dyson believes in god (here I disagree with him), and his faith is thoughtful. In a lecture, Dyson said, "Both as a scientist and as a religious person, I am accustomed to living with uncertainty." I wish more policy-makers and fervent believers would come to understand Dyson's uncertainty and his intelligence about science and religion.

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