Grandiose notions of great scientists [1]

[ Thu. Jan. 4. 2007 ]

The assigned purpose of the influential Web magazine, Edge, is lofty enough. It’s to seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.

Recently, Edge asked a group of world class scientists and thinkers its 10th Anniversary Question: “What are you optimistic about and why? Among the respondents were leading American philosopher Daniel C Dennet and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins — both pretty rabid proponents of atheism.

Dennet was of the opinion that within 25 years religion will command little of the awe it instils in people today and their fascination for it will disappear. He said the spread of information through the Internet, television and cell phones will generally and irresistibly undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fervour.

Dawkins maintained that once scientists discover the so-called “theory of everything” it would be the end of the road as far as faith was concerned. “This final scientific enlightenment,” he said, “will deal an overdue death blow to religion and other juvenile superstitions.”

What are we to make of these grand pronouncements? Firstly, people had said similar things when radio was invented and later spread rapidly all over the world. Unfortunately for them, evangelists also used the new medium extensively to spread the message of their respective scriptures, much faster and to larger audiences than ever before.

The same thing is now happening within all the newer electronic media too. Secondly, just because there’s more dissemination of information possible doesn’t necessarily mean there’s actually more information available to enable people to decide one way or the other.

Thirdly, the quality of accessible information is heavily contaminated with taint, bias and outright lies; not to mention subversive pornography and mindless violence.

As for the “theory of everything”, most physicists are under the impression it will indeed explain everything. Nothing could be further from the truth, because what it will explain is only all aspects of natural phenomenon in the forms of matter, energy and their various interactions.

It’s not going to explain most biotic, psychological, social and cultural phenomenon. It’s probably not even going to explain how the brain works. Forget “final enlightenment”, it won’t touch on profoundly core areas of humanity that guide its moral dimension. So much for doing away with religion!