Monday, January 17, 2011

Why cosmologists should avoid being armchair philosophers

Is it just my imagination or a recent development that reviewers of books like Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design are starting to ask some hard questions about materialist science parading as philosophy or theology?
Michael Turner, for Nature,says the authors
offer a brief but thrilling account of some of the boldest ideas in physics—including M-theory and the multiverse—and what these have to say about our existence and the nature of the Universe.” Turner continues: “In searching for the holy grail, Hawking and others pinned their hopes first on super-gravity and then on string theory. Both are now seen as different regimes of a grander mathematical framework called M-theory, where M is yet to be determined—is it master, miracle or mirage?
When they’re riffing off C. S. Lewis’s question about Jesus, “lunatic, liar, or Lord?” you can be sure they’re not taking you seriously.

Plus, The Economist sniffed,
It is hard to evaluate their case against recent philosophy, because the only subsequent mention of it, after the announcement of its death, is, rather oddly, an approving reference to a philosopher’s analysis of the concept of a law of nature, which, they say, “is a more subtle question than one may at first think.” There are actually rather a lot of questions that are more subtle than the authors think. It soon becomes evident that Professor Hawking and Mr Mlodinow regard a philosophical problem as something you knock off over a quick cup of tea after you have run out of Sudoku puzzles.
Yes indeed. One can’t trash philosophy and then expect to score points by employing it.