Uncertain Realities

a version of this letter appeared in New Scientist, 25 September 2004

Dear editor,

re: Get it right! — interview with Jamie Whyte, New Scientist, 4 September 2004.

I enjoyed the interview with Jamie Whyte, and agree with much of what he has to say. However, his annoyance at those who are neither atheists nor Christians seems to be what he might call a polarization fallacy. He argues for a scientific approach, which must accept equivocation, and try to circumvent the paralysing nature of accepted paradigms. Until we can comprehend the origin of the universe, it is premature to presume or deny a causative agent — a ‘prime mover unmoved’. Whyte throws out nontheistic views, such as fundamental Buddhism, without even a nod. He would surely have been exasperated by Bohr, Schrodinger, Fermi and Einstein, who all ‘believed in something’ other than the Christian (or indeed any other) God.

What would Jamie Whyte make of this infuriating statement of Einstein’s? ‘As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.’ The logician’s lust for certainty expressed in language is itself emotional rather than rational. The enquiring mind is not chock full of rigid preconceptions, but of hypotheses that demand testing. And in science the weird has at times proved truer than the common-sensical.


jon atack

September 2004