Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Three Values of Science

Ross Pomeroy November 26, 2013
Once in Hawaii, I was taken to see a Buddhist temple. In the temple, a man said, "I am going to tell you something that you will never forget." And then he said "To every man is given the key to Heaven. The same key opens the gates of Hell." And so it is with science.--Richard Feynman
Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winning American theoretical physicist, celebrated thinker, and architect of the atomic bomb, has long been known as one of science's greatest supporters. But it was he who spoke those forthright words in 1963 at a lecture at the University of Washington.
Years earlier, in the wake of watching his powerful, atom-splitting creations wreak unspeakable havoc and end thousands of lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the affable and cheery Feynman grew melancholic, grappling with a painful nuclear reality -- one he was instrumental in establishing -- as well as uncertainty over the shape of things to come.  "I didn't know what the future was going to look like, and I certainly wasn't anywhere near sure that we would last until now," he recalled in 1987. "Therefore one question was: is there some evil involved in science?"  Feynman was struggling with an existential crisis only a member of the Manhattan Project could truly experience…..To Read More…..

My Take – I know I’m treading on sacred ground when it comes to Feynman, but I have to tell you I don’t have a lot of sympathy for these Manhattan Project people who later lamented and vented their deepest emotions to the world for the part they played in the production of the atom bomb, later acting as if they felt this was just some exciting and grand experiment with no practical application, and were shocked when all those people were killed. What did they think they were going to do with it? Bombs are meant to kill people and destroy a lot of real estate, and they do a cracker jack job of it.

Many years ago a friend of mine, Dr. Bill Goffman, a mathematician at Case Western Reserve University, said something about atomic energy I never forgot. “Atomic energy was designed to kill people, and it does a cracker jack job of it.” So when these guys start venting their alleged regrets - I really don’t want to hear it - especially since those two bombs – as horrible as they were – saved millions of civilian lives by ending the war. I also find it interesting when atheists start spouting off about 'evil'.  How can anything be evil if there is no ultimate moral arbiter?  If there is no ultimate arbiter of good and evil, then nothing is good and nothing is evil except how we view reality in our own eyes, making all values arbitrary, and potentially temporary!

Can it be that these atheists are having conscience problems?  Nah….that would imply values that would be natural to all humans….like stealing, rape, murder, etc  Ooops….it just dawned on me.  Those are universal moral values shared by every race and every society, advanced and primitive, in the world all through human history.  Can it be – is it possible – dare I say it – is there really is an ultimate moral arbiter?   

Well, Feynman’s third value is; ""The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think."  So, we can assume a real scientist bashing believers is doubtful about all these absolute statements about atheism?  Sure doesn’t sound like it to me, but what do I know….since my personal motto is De Omnibus Dubitandum – question everything!  And I must tell you I have questioned the character of professional scientists for many years.

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