Scientific Aesthetes

Curtis White observes in The Science Delusion that scientists regularly appeal, without admitting it, to extra-scientific values. Natural selection, Dawkins says, lifts us “to the dizzy heights of complexity, beauty and apparent design that dazzle us today” (quoted p. 16)). Hawking finds the “miracle” of a fit between logic and world “amazing” (17).

Not that White blames them for getting all weepy: “I get weepy-eyed over their discoveries. Who can look at images from the Hubble telescope and not feel something very powerful. . . ?” (22). He does blame the new atheists and the neuroscience reductionists for “their lack of curiosity about what this feeling of aw means.” After all, “Amazement-before-the-cosmos cannot be tested or proved by observation, and it is not predictive of anything other than itself. In the hands of science, beauty is just a tautology, or a dogma” (22).

White finds scientists’ scorn for philosophy “a kind of bigotry” that shows that science “doesn’t know what its own discoveries mean” (25). Yet scientific dogmatists reject non-scientific explanations.Science is left in a double-bind: “science confesses that it doesn’t know how to provide meaning for its own knowledge, but all other forms of meaning are forbidden” (27).

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