Saturday, December 27, 2003

Another Crichton Speech...

from back in January of 2003, courtesy of Hugh Hewitt, Aliens Cause Global Warming. As with the other Crichton speech I read, there are things I like and things I don't. He takes on the concepts of SETI, Nuclear Winter, Second-hand Smoke, and Global Warming, arguing that, rather than being based on true science, they are based on marketing strategies designed to sell ideas - usually political. As he puts it, "This is not the way science is done, it is the way products are sold." Take, for instance, the Drake Equation that was created to estimate the number of alien civilizations that live in the universe. "N=N*fp ne fl fi fc fL [where N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is the fraction with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable of supporting life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves;..." Crichton correctly points out that certain variables in the equation are merely prejudiced guesses and will ultimately remain so (e.g., one variable was the number of alien civilizations that desire to contact us - who can rightly quantify that?). But Crichton missteps by implying that the entire equation is a guess and, as he states, meaningless. There are values in the equation that can be calculated and tested for (e.g., the number of stars capable of harboring a life support planet - all double-star systems are immediately thrown out of the mix since any planet orbiting such a system would have such an elliptical orbit that advanced life could not exist). If nothing else, the Rare Earth theory, which he refers to as a "so-called theory," is using a derivative of the Drake Equation to potentially throw water on the SETI claims that the universe is teeming with life. Crichton also misapplies the concept of faith. He states, "Faith is defined as the firm belief in something for which there is no proof." This may be his pet definition of faith, but it is not that of the Christian faith. Consider what Christian philosopher Ron Nash said in Faith & Reason, "I have little use for misguided Christians who regard philosophy or science... as somehow incompatible with Christian faith. I have little respect for uninformed Christians who think that reason and logic are threats to the Christian faith and who describe faith as some kind of irrational leap into a dark abyss." Perhaps Crichton's problem is that he truly believes that science has the ability to save humanity. He seems to believe this for rational and logical reasons. Let's take a look again at his words, "I take the hard view that science involves the creation of testable hypotheses. The Drake equation cannot be tested and therefore SETI is not science. SETI is unquestionably a religion. Faith is defined as the firm belief in something for which there is no proof. The belief that the Koran is the word of God is a matter of faith. The belief that God created the universe in seven days is a matter of faith. The belief that there are other life forms in the universe is a matter of faith. There is not a single shred of evidence for any other life forms, and in forty years of searching, none has been discovered. There is absolutely no evidentiary reason to maintain this belief. SETI is a religion." (emphasis added) Do you see the error? He demands evidentiary reason to prove SETI is science... the evidentiary reason is not there, therefore, SETI is not science. Case closed. Except for the problem of proving his claim that evidentiary reason is needed in the first place! In other words, Crichton lives by the rule that evidence must be provided for proof, yet where is the evidence that proves that rule? It's impossible to present because in doing so you would be using the very means you are attempting to prove. THEREFORE, Crichton, and all scientists, exercise a form of the very faith they want to avoid. Now, with those philosophical differences aside, the speech itself is excellent. Crichton does a fine job of exposing sensationalistic mumbo-jumbo disguised as science. Keep it in your back pocket the next time you hear someone like Al Gore claim that the polar ice caps will melt away within 50 years.

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