Sir Harold Kroto responds on Michael Reiss affair and creationism

Sir Harold Kroto has responded to my blog on Michael Reiss, and his comment I include below:

The Reiss Affair – a Matter of Intellectual Integrity

Sir Harold (Harry) Walter Kroto, Nobel Laureate

Sir Harold (Harry) Walter Kroto, Nobel Laureate

Various letters, such as that from the Bishop of Lincoln (Guardian) etc, contain a significant amount of self-righteous criticism of the Royal Society with regard to the Rev Michael Reiss’s position as Director of Science Education. It is clear that there is almost total ignorance about the real issues involved and a truly pathetic understanding of Science – the culture that created the modern world – from anaesthetics and penicillin to jet engines and the Internet. Of course “The Origin of the Universe and Living Organisms” is a perfectly respectable question for the Science lesson (perhaps the most exciting and fundamental one) – as long as someone with Intellectual Integrity is there to answer it! There is a major problem however for the religious person, scientist or otherwise, in answering this question and it involves, first and foremost, Intellectual Integrity.

Let me clarify the fundamental philosophical issue – The Scientific Mindset: Science is based solely on doubt-based, disinterested, examination of the natural and physical world. It is entirely independent of personal belief. There is a very important, fundamental concomitant – that is to accept absolutely NOTHING whatsoever, for which there is no evidence, as having any FUNDAMENTAL validity. A lemma: One can of course have an infinite number of questions but only those questions that can be formulated in such a way that they can be subjected to detailed disinterested examination, and when so subjected reveal unequivocally and ubiquitously accepted data, may be significant.

The plethora of more-or-less incompatible religious concepts that mankind has invented from Creationism and Intelligent Design to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Scientology, Hinduism, Shinto, Shamanism etc., etc., etc., are all basically indistinguishable, from the Freethinker’s perspective. It really does not matter whether someone believes a mystical entity created the Universe five thousand or ten thousand million years ago – both are equally irrational unsubstantiated claims of no fundamental validity. Unfortunately Michael Reiss who is, according to reports, a nice guy, was just in the wrong job. He, together with all religious people – whether they like it or not, whether they accept it or not – fall at the first hurdle of the main requirement for honest philosophical scientific discussion because they accept unfound dogma as having fundamental significance. Note that I did not say value (positive or negative!). In the Jeffersonian sense Church and State (including education especially on Sundays) must be separated – otherwise our democratic freedoms are undermined. A secular socio-political framework is an absolutely necessary (though unfortunately not always sufficient) condition to guarantee freedom of religion – as well as freedom of non-religion.

I do not have a particularly big problem with scientists who may have some personal mystical beliefs – for all I know the President of the Royal Society may be religious. However I, and many Royal Society colleagues, do have a problem with an ordained minister as Director of Science Education – this is a totally different issue. An ordained minister must have accepted that there is a creator (presumably more intelligent than he is?) and thus many of us (maybe 90% of FRSs) cannot see how such a person can pontificate on how to tackle this fundamentally unresolvable conflict at the science/religion interface. Reiss cannot have his religious cake in church on Sunday and eat the scientific one in the classroom on weekdays. This is where the Intellectual Integrity issue arises – and it is the crucial issue in the Reiss Affair.

I suggest that the Rev Reiss, the Bishop of Lincoln and any others who presume the authority to dictate how religious issues should be handled in the science classroom read from Sam Harris’s book “Letter to a Christian Nation” at their Sunday sermons. Then perhaps some of their flock may understand what Intellectual Integrity and true humanity actually involve. Furthermore I suggest that this wonderful little book be a set text for young people at Sunday School, so they recognise that the really dangerous people can include the religious who are hell-bent on dragging us back into the Dark Ages, rather than the Freethinking Humanists who are struggling to save the democratic freedoms of “The Enlightenment” for our grandchildren.

Sir Harold Kroto FRS NL
Florida State University

Reposted from comments here.

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3 Comments

Filed under Michael Reiss

3 responses to “Sir Harold Kroto responds on Michael Reiss affair and creationism

  1. Derek Iverson

    Harold Kroto’s rant is error filled and incongruous. First his fundamental axiom is self-refuting. There is no empirical test that can be used to prove the truth of the all sufficiency of empiricism and so the principle falls by its own weight.
    Second, the world view he proposes implies that the universe is irrational and meaningless, so attempting to provide a rational argument for why his view is correct is an admission his world view is wrong. As Professor Provine of Cornell said, “Let me summarise my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear and I must say that these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods. No purposive forces of any kind. No life after death. When I die I am absolutely certain that I’m going to be completely dead. That’s just all-that’s going to be the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans either.” Or similarly Richard Dawkins, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” This is the viewpoint that destroys science (and people for that manner). A world view based on creation by a rational, good source outside of raw matter does none of the things he claims.
    And his understanding of the history of scientific achievement is woefully inadequate. Many of the founding members of various scientific disciplines were creationists, such as Pasteur (germ theory); Newton (calculus, gravity, & optics); Faraday ( electrical generators); Maxwell (the unification of electromagnetics); Steno (geologic stratigraphy); Mendel ( genetics). There is nothing associated with a world view of purposeless, random existence that has contributed to the engineering of modern drugs, airplanes or the internet–all of which were designed with a purpose in mind, using the rational properties of the world around us.

    The real question of intellectual integrity should be directed to Sir Kroto himself, who hides his own positivist religion and self-proclaimed god-head under a smoke screen of moral rectitude and protection of science and society. This proclamation of his is an example of evolutionary ‘morality’, where might makes right and all means are used to stifle free speech, especially speech that would expose the bankruptcy of evolution.

    • The problem was that Reiss’ appointment was seen as sending out a mixed message in the battle to keep religion out of the science classroom. That is not limiting free speech.

      Rational inquiry does not lead to dispair or lack of moral fibre. I would be concerned on anyone that relied on fantasy, no matter that it depended on personal faith, and no independent means of reason that could prove the truth of it. The wonder of the rainbow is not dimmed by knowing how it cones about. The answer of why that the bible gives pales in comparison.

      A universe that is not at the mercy of other celestial beings’ tempers is one I find preferable. Maybe you find a being you can be on good terms with better. The freedom to debate these things and argue is one that will I hope continue. One that historically, has not favoured the infidel.

      On a side note Reiss is speaking at my local secular hall in Februray.

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