The international character of science

And so we finally make it to chapter 2 ‘The scope and limits of science’. Kindle informs me that’s only 12% through the book, so the pain ain’t gonna stop anytime soon. Don’t despair though because Chapter 2 is a great chapter; there’s just so much to disagree with. Let’s begin what is meant to be a pretty benign introduction to the current state of science and the boogyman of theism that is hiding under the bed:

It is precisely because of this ideal of an international community, free to get on with its scientific work untrammeled by extraneous and potentially divisive intrusions, that scientists understandably begin to get nervous when metaphysics threatens to rear its head, or worse still when the God question appears. Surely, if there is one area that can (and should) be kept religiously and theologically neutral, it is science? (12)

Is it not too much to ask, or dare to hope, that Lennox has used up his quota of rhetorical questions? Don’t answer that.

Lennox has some naive ideals about Dame Science. I’m guessing he lives on planet Scrooge McDuck where scientist are swimming in moola and so has no idea that here on Earth science, like everything else, costs money. Science is a slave to profit, and so is driven by agendas. Science has not nor has ever been ‘untrammeled by extraneous and potentially divisive intrusions’. And scientists that ‘understandably get nervous’ over a little metaphysical debate probably should get out of the business of science, where one’s ideas are judged by an international circle of peers. But metaphysics that ‘threatens to rear its head’ does sound kind of scary, so maybe scientists are right to get nervous. THREATENS!

And the quotes from scientists who are atheists that Lennox has used in this book are anything but nervous. Quite the opposite I’d venture. They seem pretty sure of themselves and their position. Sure enough that Lennox has written this book to argue against them. Still, never let your facts get in the way of that other point that you’re making. And this short section’s point is to convince the reader that science and metaphysical debate aren’t BFF, so that he can tear that down later. Isn’t it all like that?

8 thoughts on “The international character of science

  1. Nathanael

    So you don’t like Lennox’s rhetorical approach or style. I think we’ve got that clear.

    I’d say his point in this short section is to introduce the way he is going to approach the title of the chapter..

    I agree it’s not the strongest opening to a chapter with the title the scope and limits of science.

    My guess is that Lennox is trying to say succinctly
    1. that science is global in its scope and can cross all sorts of boundaries
    2. so the fewer threats placed on it the better
    3. so should metaphysics have any relationship with science, and if so what?

    Lennox has spent more time among scientists than the four current contributors to the blog’s science combined.

    So Lennox’s claim that scientists get nervous when metaphysics threatens its head must have some basis in reality or it would be pointless to state it.

    Citing personal experience or evidence of scientists getting nervous and offering examples of where and how metaphysics gets raised would strengthen the argument, but I’m prepared to defer to his life experience on that one at this point.

    To claim Lennox’s ideals as naive because he doesn’t mention profit and agendas is to argue from his silence. It would be fairer to say that in your opinion Lennox’s introduction would be stronger if he acknowledged that the international scientific community faces numerous challenges, not least of which are profit and personal agendas.

    Although I think he does address personal agendas a little later in the chapter, so again I’ll put that down to an introduction that is not as good as it potentially could be due to its style.

    I’d be interested in some commentary from the group that reconciles Winston’s claim that science is a slave to profit and is driven by agendas and how in that environment you can expect to be fairly judged by an international circle of peers. Dr.Clam’s got direct experience with that and I’d appreciate hearing from him.

    The same call of naivety could be placed upon your point because you haven’t addressed that issue.

    Surely profit and agendas compromises this integrity of the peer review process?

    My involvement with scientists has been limited to the world where R&D gets commercialised.

    So I’ve seen the world of competing agendas first hand as I’ve worked with R&D departments of the CSIRO, Department of Defence, my employer and clients.

    I can say with confidence that profit and agendas challenges the review process but people do the best they can to make commercial decisions.

    Perhaps given the number of threats science faces that whenever metaphysics is raised the reaction is similar?

    Perhaps he’s mirroring the colourful language of some of the more confident writers?

    So while not the best written introduction, I’m prepared to follow through on the rest of the chapter where more measurable claims are made.

    Your final paragraph I find confusing: “Still, never let your facts..”
    Whose facts? Those Lennox quotes or Lennox’s?
    Which facts specifically?

    Your colourful language:

    boogy man of theism hiding under the bed
    planet scrooge mcduck
    scientists swimming in moola

    While metaphorically clever and superficially entertaining, don’t actually critique claims as you claim your approach to be based on.

    It would be helpful if you could focus on the claims and his references to highlight errors.


    1. winstoninabox Post author

      “To claim Lennox’s ideals as naive because he doesn’t mention profit and agendas is to argue from his silence. It would be fairer to say that in your opinion Lennox’s introduction would be stronger if he acknowledged that the international scientific community faces numerous challenges, not least of which are profit and personal agendas.”

      I’ll take a moment to look at this. In the very paragraph above you say that you’re willing to defer to Lennox’s life experience about the unvalidated claim that scientists get nervous. It is so easy to fix what he wrote you were able to do it in a few minutes. But the very next paragraph I should cut him a break because he doesn’t consider the very obvious, very real world situation of money impinging on science. Lennox, or your opinion of him, can’t have it both ways. Either he’s a professor at a prestigious university who’s lectured all over the world with all the cache that implies, or he’s not.

  2. Nathanael

    So how much should Lennox consider the issue of money relative to all the other issues listed?
    Clearly putting money under the category of “myriad other things that can divide people from one another” wasn’t good enough for you. Your opinion.
    The point is that there are issues, and given the amount of debate that goes on between atheists and non-atheists about the (dis?)integration of faith and science metaphysics must surely be one of them.
    Perhaps in that context where Lennox raised a number of issues he saw the point of metaphysics, with all its immeasurability, being a threat as self evident?
    I can’t answer for Lennox but I’ve already conceded it’s not the best written introduction.
    If you’re going to spend the whole series attacking his style that’s your choice.
    I just don’t think it does your previously stated commitment to focus on claims is well served by that approach nor is it modelling to your almost 60 followers the best approach to analyse claims.
    I’ll leave your attacks on style alone as they range from personal preference to things that I would agree with.
    As I have time when I there’s a clear disagreement with a claim that Lennox has made that deals with the core point of the argument however poor it’s written stylistically.

    1. winstoninabox Post author

      So how much should Lennox consider money relative to the other issues listed?
      Remember Lennox is free to choose any words he likes to explain his position. He chooses ‘untrammeled by extraneous and potentially divisive intrusions’ which is pretty clear. If he were some yahoo writing a day by day blog of his opinions about this I’d cut him a lot more slack. But he’s not. Especially not when he takes poorly chosen words and then builds his case upon them. Throw away asides about a topic are one thing, but arguments based on his perception of what science is must surely be put under the microscope. Like an ant.

  3. Nathanael

    Sorry for the typos – last post should read “when I have time I will respond to your posts when you disagree with a claim that Lennox has made that deals with the core etc etc”.

  4. Nathanael Small

    Then focus on Lennox’s claims of what science is.
    Postulating why he chose one category of influence over another to be named specifically or lumped in with the myriad of others keeps pushing us into personal opinion and interpretation and breaks my new first rule.
    You may not care about that rule but and maintain that it weakens his argument. I maintain that with your limited time focusing on substance over style will increase the ratio and quality of contributions.
    That ant you’re putting under the microscope means we’re zeroing in on the wrong things.
    I think we’re all better served when youfocus on poorly chosen words where they actually claim something that can be measurably assessed and discussed.

    1. winstoninabox Post author

      Again, thanks for your advice on how I should write my blog.
      Again, I’m not trying to construct a coherent alternative to Lennox. And I’m not trying to build a readership of soon-to-be-atheists. I’m not trying to convert anyone. I’m trying to show why his book is not a good book, as I read through the book on a day by day basis. Focusing on badly worded passages that he uses to build arguments is part of that.
      If you find that post like that not to your liking then maybe it’s easier to ignore those posts and comment on ones that focus on claims. Or not.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s