Peter Higgs, the Man who Predicted the Boson, may be a crack physicist, but he’s a rank amateur when it comes to the issue of science and faith.
According to yesterday’s Guardian, Higgs is using his new burst of fame to diss—who else?—fellow scientist Richard Dawkins.
Higgs has chosen to cap his remarkable 2012 with another bang by criticising the “fundamentalist” approach taken by Dawkins in dealing with religious believers.
“What Dawkins does too often is to concentrate his attack on fundamentalists. But there are many believers who are just not fundamentalists,” Higgs said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. “Fundamentalism is another problem. I mean, Dawkins in a way is almost a fundamentalist himself, of another kind.”
And exactly what kind of “fundamentalism” is that? Can you really equate blind adherence to ancient, man-made texts with doubt that those texts prove anything about a divine being? Why is it “fundamentalist” to ask for evidence, and decry those who adhere to dogma in the face of evidence? Why is it “fundamentalist” to have a scientific, evidence-based attitude toward the claims of religion, but not to the claims of ancient goatherds?
The sad thing is that Higgs has proclaimed himself an atheist. He pays lip service to religion’s inimical effects (“unfortunate consequences,” he calls them, as if the faith itself and not believers were involved), but aims most of his opprobrium at atheists:
He agreed with some of Dawkins’ thoughts on the unfortunate consequences that have resulted from religious belief, but he was unhappy with the evolutionary biologist’s approach to dealing with believers and said he agreed with those who found Dawkins’ approach “embarrassing”.
So tell us, Dr. Higgs, what is “embarrassing”, exactly? I bet I can tell you: it’s “embarrassing” to have a prominent scientist questioning a ubiquitous delusion. We must by all means never exhibit disrepect for the odious claims of faith.
The Guardian continues:
In the El Mundo interview, Higgs argued that although he was not a believer, he thought science and religion were not incompatible. “The growth of our understanding of the world through science weakens some of the motivation which makes people believers. But that’s not the same thing as saying they’re incompatible. It’s just that I think some of the traditional reasons for belief, going back thousands of years, are rather undermined.
“But that doesn’t end the whole thing. Anybody who is a convinced but not a dogmatic believer can continue to hold his belief. It means I think you have to be rather more careful about the whole debate between science and religion than some people have been in the past.”
He said a lot of scientists in his field were religious believers. “I don’t happen to be one myself, but maybe that’s just more a matter of my family background than that there’s any fundamental difficulty about reconciling the two.”
It’s not just some of the traditional reasons for belief that are undermined by science—it’s all of them. Bit by bit, as we understand more about our universe, we find no room for—no evidence of—a God. What reasons for belief remain? Only wish-thinking, revelation, and tutelage—which are reasons, but not good ones. And if Higgs imputes his atheism to “family background” rather than rationality, he’s making the same mistake that those fundamentalists do: going along with what you were taught instead of thinking for yourself.
I’m calling out Higgs as an intellectually dishonest man. He is a great physicist, and yes, deserves his Nobel Prize, but he doesn’t know squat about accommodationism. He is going along to get along, knowing that it’s always safer in the eyes of a religious world to coddle the godly.
And here’s another bit of evidence for intellectual dishonesty:
Many scientist believe that the discovery means that Higgs is odds on for a future Nobel prize. He was relieved, however, that the Nobel committee had skipped over the discovery for the physics award this year. “I was relieved, simply because since the beginning of July I’ve been so busy dealing with requests to do this and that, that I was glad not to have that on my schedule as well, so I have described it as a reprieve.”
Now you tell me, what scientist is glad that he didn’t get the Nobel Prize this year? Come off it, Dr. Higgs!