How Others See Our Arguments

Over at Evolution Blog, Jason Rosenhouse looks at the String Theory argument through the New Yorker‘s article about Woit and Smolin, and draws a parallel with his own field:

As an outsider looking in, I would want to know how physicists respond to these charges. After all, creationists level precisely the same charges against university biology departments (that they are ruled by dogmatic Darwinists yada yada). And in that context I know the charge is bogus. I suspect the same is true here. Physicists are not receiving professorships at prestigious institutions merely for expressing their support for string theory. They are receiving them because they have made significant contributions to our understanding of important open questions.

It’s an interesting parallel, and one of the reasons I’m not entirely comfortable supporting Woit and Smolin (I’m a few chapters into the latetr’s book, but got derailed by my allergies and a John M. Ford tribute re-read– I’ll pick it up again this weekend). I don’t think the parallel is entirely accurate– Darwinian evolution has a huge and overwhelming base of observational and experimental evidence supporting it, while the experimental support for string theory is, um, less overwhelming. String theory has a dominant position because nobody has any definitively better ideas on how to unify gravity with the other fundamental forces, but it’s nowhere near as well-tested as Darwin’s theory.

The ironic thing is that within physics, the analogy to creationism is usually made in the other direction– some string-theory detractors deride the current vogue for the “Anthropic Principle” as basically analogous to the creationist approach to science. It’s sort of funny to see the analogy turned around.

Jason notes that “Smolin in particular has been receiving a lot of uncritical press attention lately. I wish we would see more in the way of replies from string theory supporters.” Obviously, he doesn’t read the same blogs I do. But I’ll help him out by posting this where string theory supporters are more likely to see it, and invite them to go over to Jason’s blog and help him out.

Comments

  1. #1 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 29, 2006

    Interesting post. One small correction though: My field is mathematics, not biology. But I feel I’ve talked to enough biologists and read enough about biology to know that the creationist charge about dogmatic Darwinists running biology departments is bogus.

  2. #2 Chad Orzel
    September 29, 2006

    Sorry about that. It does say that in the profile box in the sidebar– I just got taken in by the blog title…

  3. #3 island
    September 29, 2006

    But the problem is that there is a third and valid scientific interpretation that get’s convoluted with creationists’ arguments that causes people to automatically kneejerk react to arguments like Davies without giving them their due unbiased review:

    http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/2006/09/goldilocks-enigma.html

    And just an FYI, but it was Lynn Margulis, one of the most respected members of the evolutionary biology community that pointed out the kind of resulting dogma that she herself commonly faces, calling them “neodarwinan bullies”, as the honered guest speaker at the last evolution conference.

    Hers is in similar fashion, no ordinary dissagreement among peers, either, sorry… and I know this to be completely accurate from arguing for Davies viewpoint.

    It’s all very reactionary on the CrEvo end of it, but false perceptions about “geocentric arrogance” don’t help honest scientific evaluations of physical evidence either.

    The first most obvious implication of evidence isn’t *automatically* the last place you look:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropic_principle#Observational_Evidence

    –The observed structure of the universe occurs in dramatic contrast to the modeled expectation… so many fixed balance points that are commonly or “coincidentally” pointing directly toward carbon-based life indicate that there is some good physical reason for it that is somehow “specially” related to the existence of carbon-based life–

    Most people don’t REALLY know what all that entails before they form their opinion from popularized accounts of the physics.

    Necessity itself is the mother of invention, so all you need is a plausible physical need for intelligent life to arise to satisfy that need.

    Some scientists, like; James Kay, Eric Schneider, Dorion Sagan, and Scott Sampson think that this is to satisfy sharp energy gradients per the second law of thermodynamics, but the magnitude of the anthropic physics indicates that this effect would have to be universally affective, so there has to be something else that we do that makes this true, if the hypothesis is correct.

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