When I was young, arrogant, foolish, and studying philosophy at a pompous university, I coined the term, “running dog lackeys of the empiricist scourge” to express my derision for the narrow minded approach to analysis that gripped the Anglo-American philosophical scene. It seems I may have to update my epithet to the title of this post. Why, you ask? This morning, I heard an interview on NPR with Dr. Townes, the Nobel-Prize winning physicist known for his work on LASER and MASER technology. He has also written a ‘famous’ essay (I ain’t hoid of it!) on why science and religion must converge. One of the arrows in his quiver is the obvious fact that scientists have revelations.
Science makes no claim as to how its ideas orginate. They can pop into peoples’ minds when they’re on the toilet, making love, picking their noses, or deeply engaged in experimental work. Difference is, when a prophet has a revelation, he starts a cult and maybe tries to conquer the world, order his followers to commit mass suicide, or maybe, we hope, something more benign. A scientist will publish his results, and if nobody can replicate them, his great revelation finds itself in the dustbin along with other wonderful and not so wonderful ideas. It’s an important point, and one which I am sure Dr. Townes understands fully.
More to my point was the part of the interview in which Townes ‘clarified’ the notion of intelligent design for his interviewer who defined it as the idea that the universe is so complicated that somebody had to design it. No, it’s not just that: It’s that if things had been “just a little bit different,” we wouldn’t be here to mumble on about it. Well, big deal! That’s the counter-factualist scourge in all its glory!
If things had been different…If I had wings, I could fly…if Mommy hadn’t met Daddy, I wouldn’t be here. Well, if things had been different, perhaps something else would be here wondering what would have been if things had been different. Or, if things had been diffferent, maybe nothing would be different now, except that some things had been different. It’s just as probable as what Townes is saying. Perhaps if some important things had not been the case, other things would have been the case, and it would have all evened out. How can we know? How can we even speculate about it without getting into sci-fi, fairy tale nonsense? It all seems so necessary and determined after the fact, as I have outlined in my earlier post on free will where I put forth Lichanos’ Iron Law of Historical Causation: Everything happened as it did because that’s what happened. I don’t like to quote Wittgenstein, but as he said in the Tractatus, “The universe is everything that is the case.” Doesn’t say squat about what is not the case. Or what would be the case if other things had not been the case. There is only what is now, which is the result of what was, in other words, karma.
We are so self-centered, we insist on seeing the universe as a machine or a process that has been bent, all along, on producing us. This severely distorts our thinking.