To Brooklyn or by bus?

When I was a teenager, whenever I would ask my dad a foolish question, he would reply: “Do you want to go to Brooklyn, or by bus?” Essentially, of course, he was telling me that I was assuming a false dichotomy, and so my question made no sense.

I think that’s what’s been going on with a few of the comments on yesterday’s post. “Science versus religion” is a false dichotomy. That’s what I was trying to say in the original post (and apparently saying badly). Science doesn’t speak to metaphysics, and science doesn’t speak to moral teachings – the two great subjects of religion.

Yes, Einstein was a great man, but his pacifism and spiritual beliefs did not come from his discovery of E=MC2 or quantum explanation for the photoelectric effect. It simply happens that a great physicist had other interesting dimensions as well. There have been plenty of great physicists who have not had such outsized political or spiritual dimensions.

We did not ask of Frank Sinatra that he answer questions about religion simply because he was a great singer of torch songs. We do not look to Meryl Streep for spiritual guidance, no matter how many Oscars she takes home for her acting.

Why do we try to misconstrue science as some sort of opposition force to religion? It seems to me that this is a misunderstanding of what science is.

Yes, I agree that we may ponder deep philosophical questions about hypothetical beings who have fundamentally greater intelligence than ourselves. These are great questions, but they are, quite literally (and specifically), outside of the bounds of scientific inquiry. That’s why they are called metaphysical questions.

Yes, feel free to explore these exciting and unanswerable mysteries. But please don’t claim that what you are talking about has anything to do with science. Or acting. Or singing torch songs.

2 thoughts on “To Brooklyn or by bus?”

  1. Thanks Lisa, that was a hoot!

    I think the BBC should do a series: Ask plumbers what they think about God, then ask waitresses, then ask singers, then ask actors, then ask hairdressers.

    Asking physicists about God is a little like asking TV celebrities about politics. The interesting question here is why people try so hard to pretend that physics has something to do with metaphysics.

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