Physics, Earth & Space Icon Physics, Earth & Space

Science as Oracle — “Where It Gets Weird”

David Klinghoffer
Image: Consulting the Oracle, by John William Waterhouse, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Our biophysicist colleague Cornelius Hunter joined in today in responding to denials of free will, and insistences on the absolute truth of determinism, from atheists Sabine Hossenfelder and Jerry Coyne. In a video here, Dr. Hunter makes an incisive point:

Coyne, like Hossenfelder, takes as the premise of his views that “physics is in command of everything,” as Hunter summarizes, “and that’s just a given for them. And this is where it gets weird.” Why weird? Because Coyne “doesn’t seem to understand he needs to defend that statement. He doesn’t get that.” As Hunter points out, this is a classic illustration of scientism. “When you are going around, making claims that science ‘says this,’ ‘proves that,’ ‘requires this,’ without giving any explanation or any justification, just making claims in the name of science, that’s scientism.” He adds, “If it were just one person or a couple of people, you could write it off. It’s a lot of people.” That is, a lot of scientists practicing a kind of scientific divination.

The ancients had their oracles, people claiming to speak in the name of the gods — that is, by divination. There was no evidence backing up the statements of the oracles. It is indeed weird that smart people like Hossenfelder and Coyne, and many others, who are themselves scientists, would treat science in this oracular fashion.