lawrence_m_krauss

Some scientists have a deep understanding of science, but many do not. Being able to apply mathematical equations, conduct experiments, write research papers, or apply for funding does not automatically mean that one understands the fundamental nature of science. Similarly, a philosopher may bring clarity to an issue in science, such as what even counts as a scientific theory, and yet the same philosopher may have no aptitude for conducting experiments. Or an electrician may not be able to provide a clear explanation of the nature of electrons, and yet still do a better job than a physics professor at fixing the wiring in your home. After all, everyone has different abilities and limitations. The problem here is that certain scientists who do not really understand the discipline end up most boisterously pretending that they do, thereby distorting the image of science and confusing the public, other scientists, and themselves.

Lawrence Krauss, author of A Universe from Nothing, is a very bright physicist who does not have a very deep understanding of the foundations of physics. He may hope that I have no idea what I am talking about here, but, unfortunately for him, I most certainly do.

Krauss claims that ‘the ultimate arbiter of truth is experiment’, which is merely to hold the philosophical position known as empiricism (or, in this case, the even narrower position of scientific empiricism). Empiricism basically says that all knowledge comes only through our senses, which may seem to be simple common sense, until we look more closely at the assumptions and implications involved.

Do your senses alone tell you that the earth moves? No, they don’t. Do they tell you anything about electrons or protons? No, they don’t. Do they even tell you that you exist? No, they don’t. Do our senses often deceive us? They certainly do. So, how can anyone possibly hope to lay all of scientific knowledge upon such an untrustworthy foundation as our sensory data? Given the logical impossibility of fully verifying the supposed veracity of any knowledge claim rooted in the foundation of pure sensory experience, empiricists such as Krauss must have immovable faith in the miracle of the knowledge they claim to possess.

Physics would be impossible without mathematics. Mathematics is essentially a variety of expressions of relations using numbers. Numbers, such as 1 and 0, have no physicality and, therefore, they are impossible for us to know through our physical senses. There is no experiment that could prove whether or not numbers themselves are real, and so, according to Krauss’ own empiricism, there can be no truth about numbers. Therefore, there can be no mathematical truths, and also no truths about the laws of physics, which depend upon mathematics. Consequently, there can be no truth about any scientific claims, which puts Krauss in a rather awkward position, since he wants to say that only science can tell us what is true.

How does Krauss escape such a disastrous and rationally inevitable position, one that denies the very thing he claims to worship? Well, it’s quite easy if you (intellectually) bully your way to utterly incompatible conclusions, then proclaim that all who disagree with you, solely by virtue of their disagreement, are thereby necessarily irrational.

Those who have already decided to despise religion may find psychological comfort in Krauss. Those who have already decided that their particular religion is infallible can easily dismiss him with a wave of a miraculous hand. However, those who are truly committed to discovering ever deeper and wider aspects of reality are the new (ancient) pioneers, the ones upon whom humanity will come to depend (and actually have been depending upon) for our very survival and continual evolution. A literal interpretation of the Garden of Eden is in all likelihood not correct, but I am even more certain that Krauss’ anti-philosophy philosophy being marketed as the saviour of truth is definitively wrong.

2 Comments

  • John Wong says:

    As a pure scientist, Krauss is brilliant. However, as a human being, his worldview is materialistic, mechanistic, reductionistic, narrow focussed, all of which leads to scientism on a grand scale.

    • John H Spencer says:

      Scientism is, indeed, a false representation of the inherent beauty and power of science, and it has unfortunate consequences in our everyday lives.

Leave a Reply