Daily Archives: May 11, 2009

The Influence of Climate

Bradley Monton is a philosopher at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He has a new book coming out entitled, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design and recently blogged about an interesting private exchange with another atheist philosopher:

Also, the atheist-minded philosophers are unhappy with how some intelligent design opponents seem more focused on emotion and rhetoric than argument — they expect better of people (especially philosophers) who are engaging in this debate. For example, I recently got an email from a philosopher of science at a top philosophy program, which read in part:

“I’m also an atheist who thinks that the arguments for ID are far more interesting than philosophers tend to appreciate. I think it’s lamentable that the climate now is such that you can’t seriously discuss such things without attracting ill will from well-meaning opponents of the religious right. … Writing a book like yours is a brave thing to do and it might make the world a better place.”

What is interesting to me is how sociological pressures can impose a form of self-censorship in Academia, which is supposed to represent the heart and soul of free thinking and inquiry.

I’m reminded of a quote from Paul Davies (in his book, The Fifth Miracle): “Many investigators feel uneasy stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they admit they are baffled.”

So why do such investigators only admit this behind closed doors? Consider the follow-up sentences offered by Davies:

There seem to be two reasons for their unease. First, they feel it opens the door to religious fundamentalists and their god-of-the-gaps pseudo-explanations. Second, they worry that a frank admission of ignorance will undermine funding, especially for the search for life in space.

It’s easy to skip by these statements, but in reality, Davies is making a truly radical claim. He is saying that there is a community of scientists who are not being totally sincere in public about the state of their research for sociological reasons. Can it be that the general public is kept in the dark about things that might open the door to “religious fundamentalists” or undermine the ability to obtain money? I don’t know the answer to that question, but thanks to the internet, there is some recent support for the notion that some researchers are very concerned about opening the door to “god-of-the-gaps pseudo-explanations.”

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