Tipler, Part Two
In yesterday's post I showed how Frank Tipler distorted the ideas of Lynn Margulis and Ernst Mayr to make it appear they were offering criticisms of orthodox Darwinism comparable to those of ID proponents. In today's post I will examine three other instances of Tipler distorting what other people have said.
Consider the following anecdote:
The California Skeptics Society founder, Michael Shermer, informs me that a proposal to the NSF to fund publication of all of Isaac Newton's to-date unpublished work on theology was rejected even though the proposal was made by one of the world's leading Newton scholars. The reason given, according to Shermer, was that it would be bad for science if it became generally known that the greatest scientist of all time actually believed in God. Clearly, the scientific community is not open to any evidence or any theory that might even hint that God really exists and might actually act in the physical universe. (P. 125)
Does that sound suspicious to you? Is there a scientist on the planet who is not aware that Newton was not only a theist, but also spent a lot of time writing about theology?
On the theory that you should always be suspicious of the “perfect anecdote” I wrote to Michael Shermer and asked him about this incident. I showed him what Tipler had said. Here, reprinted with Shermer's permission, is what he told me in reply:
The scholar in question was Richard Westfall, who wrote a biography of Newton, Never at Rest. He told me that after his bio he tried to get NSF (and other sources) money for publishing all of Newton's theological works. He was turned down numerous times. He was never given a reason, but he speculated it was because science grantors could not see the importance of Newton's theological ramblings. It was definitely not simply because Newton believed in God, since virtually everyone did, scientists included. It was that he spent so much time on what was largely theological speculations of no scientific import.
Exactly. Why would the NSF want to fund the publication of a large body of work that is not likely to be of interest to scientists?
So Tipler took a speculation about the NSF not seeing the importance of Newton's theological work and turned it into evidence for the antipathy of the scientific community, as represented by the NSF, towards religion. Lovely.
Before considering the next example, let me mention that Tipler is well-known for his book The Physics of Immortality, in which he argued that modern physics effectively proves the Judeo-Christian worldview. For example, the first sentence of his book is:
This book is a description of the Omega Point Theory, which is a testable physical theory for an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipotent God who will one day in the far future resurrect every single one of us to live forever in an abode which is in all essentials the Judeo-Christian Heaven.
Needless to say, Tipler's more fanicful conclusions have not found support from very many scientists.
Now consider the opening paragraph of Tipler's essay in Uncommon Dissent:
I first became aware of the importance that many non-elite scientists place on “peer-reviewed” journals when Howard Van Till, a theistic evolutionist, said my book The Physics of Immortality was not worth taking seriously because the ideas it presented had never appeared in refereed journals. Actually, the ideas in that book had already appeared in refereed journals. The papers and the refereed journals wherein they appeared were listed at the beginning of my book. My key predictions of the top quark mass (conifrmed) and the Higgs boson mass (still unknown) even appeared in the pages of Nature, the most prestigious refereed science journal in the world. But suppose Van Till had been correct and my ideas had never been published in referreed journals. Would he have been correct in saying that, in this case, the ideas need not be taken seriously? (P. 116)
It is not clear to me why Tipler chose to identify Van Till as a theistic evolutionist, when it surely is more relevant that he is a physicist and an astronomer. We should also point out that Tipler's implication that Van Till is a non-elite scientist (and that Tipler is himself an elite scientist) is a typical example of the arrogance and condescension Tipler exhibits throughout his essay.
Also odd is Tipler's assertion about listing relevant papers at the start of his book. The preface makes no mention of any such papers. In a seventeen page introduction Tipler makes reference to just a single one of his papers, and that one was published in Zygon. This is a journal about science and religion, not a physics journal. Tipler lists eight of his publications in the bibliography of his book. None of the ones dealing specifically with the Omega Point Theory appeared in physics journals.
The book's introduction does contain two nuggets, one major and one minor, that we ought to mention. The minor one is the description of JBS Haldane as a physicist. Actually, he was a genetecist. The major one is this interesting statement about modern evolutionary theory:
The consensus opinion returned to Darwinism in the 1930's and 1940's with the development of the Modern Synthesis, which invokes nonpurposive mechanisms - natural selection, random genetic drift, mutation, migration, and geographic isolation - to acount for evolution. Organisms are created by blind deterministic mechanisms combined with others that are effectively random. (Here, I might add, is another example of science returning to a previously rejected theory. A return for which I am glad, since the Omega Point Theory presupposes the truth of the Modern Synthesis; indeed its truth is essential for the free will model developed in Chapter V). (P. 9)
If Behe and Dembski is right, then Tipler's prized theory is false. Has Tipler not realized this?
Moving on, did Howard Van Till really say that Tipler's arguments were not worth taking seriously because they hadn't been peer-reviewed? Tipler provides no reference as to where, exactly, Van Till said this. However, Van Till did write a short review of Tipler's book for the magazine National Review in which he does mention that Tipler's arguments had not been peer-reviewed. Here is Van Till's review, in its entirety:
IF YOU call a cat's tail a leg, how many legs does a cat have? Five, you say? No, only four. Just calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one. Even cats know that. With all of the hubris of unbridled scientism, cosmologist Frank Tipler asserts the reduction of all reality to whatever physics is able to compute. In the course of playing his unrefereed game of cosmological speculation, Mr. Tipler labels the hypothetical final state of a closed universe with the Teilhardian moniker “Omega Point,” and then renames it “God.” By another sleight of labeling, the word “resurrection” becomes the name for a conjectured emulation of all humans by a future megacomputer. Readers who respect natural science will be offended by Mr. Tipler's disregard of its categorical limitations. Readers who respect theology will be offended by his abuse of the theological vocabulary. Those of us who respect both will be offended twice. Even Mr. Tipler finds his own conjectures incredible, and rightly so.
Now, I will leave open the possibility that Van Till commented further on Tipler's book elsewhere. These were the only published comments I could find in which Van Till discussed Tipler's work, however.
But if this is the review Tipler is talking about, then it is clear that he was not being truthful in his characterization of Van Till's sentiments. Nowhere does Van Till say that Tipler's arguments are not worth taking seriously. He merely points out, quite correctly in my view, that Tipler is abusing language when he uses theological terminology to describe scientific concepts.
The reference to Tipler's arguments being unreferreed is both correct and appropriate. Van Till was writing a short review in a non-technical publication. In that context, it was perfectly correct to inform the magazine's readers that the fanicful speculations Tipler presents had not won the support of other physicists.
Let me close with one final example, trivial in itself but indicative of Tipler's inability to be straight with his readers. In describing the somewhat chilly reaction of many physicists to his theory, Tipler writes:
My scientific colleagues, atheists to a man, were outraged. Even though the theory of the final state of the universe involved only known physics, my fellow physicists refused even to discuss the theory. If the known laws of physics imply that God exists, then, in their opinion, this can only mean that the laws of physics have to be wrong. This past September, at a confernce held at Windsor Castle, I asked the well-known cosmologist Paul Davies what he thought of my theory. He replied that he could find nothing wrong with it mathematically, but he asked what justified my assumption that the known laws of physics were correect. At the same conference, the famous physicist Freeman Dyson refsed to discuss my theory - period. I would not encounter such refusals if I had not chosen to point out my theory's theological implications. (P. 125)
If Tipler was trying to convince us that the community of physicists is populated by a bunch of rabid atheists, then Paul Davies and Freeman Dyson are two of the worst examples he could have chosen. Both gentlemen have won the Templeton Prize for uniting science and religion. Both gentlemen believe the anthropic principle strongly suggests an ultimate purpose to the universe. Davies has written several books decrying the tendency of scientists to be overly reductionistic in their analyses. And Dyson, in this essay for the New York Review of Books makes it quite clear that he believes some paranormal phenomena are real. Neither one of these gentlemen would reject a theory merely because it has religious overtones.
But, since most of the readers of Dembski's anthology already believe that the scientific community is morbidly anti-religion, who cares if the evidence presented is accurate?