Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Useful Idiots Publisher's Weekly has posted this article about the recent glut of books arguing for a reconciliation between science and religion. The article begins by discussing a recent book from Princeton University Press discussing the history of science, in which it is argued that monotheistic religion was essential in the early development of science. (No doubt it was, seeing as how it was the church that controlled the purse strings during science's formative years. I have not read this particular book yet, but I'd be curious to know how the author finesses the obvious point that once science started discovering things that contradicted Biblical teachings, the relationship between science and religion got considerably more chilly. )

Anyway, from that reasonable beginning the article goes on to list a slew of other books addressing similar themes. The trouble is, many books from ID proponents are included in this list, right alongside more responsible work of serious authors. ID is presented like totally mainstream science, and there is a clear implication that ID is something scientists are embracing. This is simply false.

Of course, these ID books are not published by reputable university presses. They are generally published by smaller houses specializing in religious publications; houses that have minimal, if any, sort of peer review. Such houses are far more interested in pushing their agendas than they are in producing actual scholarship. When a book is published by a university press, you can be sure that some expert in the field signed off on it. Bad books are published by such houses all the time, but you do at least have some minimal quality control.

On top of that, many of the books mentioned in the article are clearly the work of cranks. One example is the book "The Probability of God: A Simple Calculation that Proves the Ultimate Truth" to be published by Crown Forum, a publisher specializing in right-wing titles. In a better world, a book with such a title would be laughed off the stage. As a mathematician I am rather fond of probability theory, but I'm afraid it is not up to the task of telling us whether God exists.

It is shameful that the writer of the aritcle, David Klinghoffer, would not do enough homework to distinguish the entirely reasonable books (such as the Princeton book mentioned at the start of this post) from the works of cranks. Even more shameful is that the article quotes uber-creationist William Dembski as an authority on ID, without presenting the far more mainstream view that ID is a lot of poppycock.

Unfortunatly, this is the sort of ignorant drivel defenders of science have to put with nowadays.


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