The smugness files

The Telegraph is rubbing its nasty hands in glee (yes I know newspapers don’t actually have hands – they have gills) about yet another scientist saying ew ick about yet another scientist who missed an opportunity to credit god for making something out of nothing.

[Susan Greenfield]  criticised the “smugness” of scientists who claim to “have all the answers”… in a BBC Radio 4 Today programme discussion about [Stephen] Hawking’s views. Last week he angered many religious believers by saying science “can explain the universe without the need for a creator”.

Says the Telegraph, self-righteously and bullyingly – and in fact smugly. The Telegraph smugly assumes that scientists and others are not supposed to “anger religious believers” by attempting to describe the world as it is. The Telegraph smugly reports the putative “anger” of religious believers as if it were important, and deplorable, and someone’s fault. There’s something more than a little Talibanish about that – ironically enough.

Greenfield said: “Science can often suffer from a certain smugness and complacency…What we need to preserve in science is a curiosity and an open-mindedness rather than a complacency and a sort of arrogance where we attack people who come at the big truths and the big questions albeit using different strategies.”

Meaning what? That scientists shouldn’t point out (which is apparently the sort of thing Greenfield means by “attack”) that certain strategies for getting at “the big truths” (as well as the small ones) are bad strategies because they don’t get at any actual truth? That seems to be what she means, but she’s dressed it up in the usual cozy patronizing PR-speak that disguises the frank anti-inquiry purport of claims like that.

Asked whether she was uncomfortable about scientists making comments about God, she said: “Yes I am. Of course they can make whatever comments they like but when they assume, rather in a Taliban-like way, that they have all the answers then I do feel uncomfortable. I think that doesn’t necessarily do science a service.”

Oh yes? Does she have the same sort of concern about popes and priests and mullahs? They generally assume they have all the answers, in a much more Taliban-like way than scientists do, so is that a problem too? If it is, the Telegraph doesn’t report the fact.

[Greenfield] added that his statement that God was not needed was “surprising”.She said: “All science is provisional and therefore to claim to have the definitive answer to anything is a hardline view. It would be very great shame if young people think that to be a scientist you must be an atheist.”

But it isn’t surprising at all, it’s utterly routine, and she must know that perfectly well. It’s also not the case that he claimed “to have the definitive answer,” and she probably knows that too. The whole thing is just yet more of the predictable party line, and it’s as inaccurate as the party line pretty much always is. It’s also as one-sided as it almost always is – telling off scientists for making claims but never telling off clerics for doing so with much less to back the claims up.

Her remarks are likely to be interpreted as a criticism of Professor Richard Dawkins, the prominent atheist and bestselling author of The God Delusion who helped to pay for buses emblazoned with adverts declaring “there’s probably no God”.

Says the Telegraph pruriently, shit-stirring for no obvious reason except that it can.

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