When Smart People Say Stupid Things

I’m always amazed when very intelligent people say very stupid things. But it’s happened again. This time it’s in The Grand Design, the latest book by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge for thirty years, a chair held by no less than Sir Isaac Newton, himself no slouch. Mlodinow has his own pedigree to be proud of. So what did they say?

They write, “Philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics” (p. 5). The galaxy-sized irony, of course, is that every page of their new book drips with philosophy–in particular, the variety of philosophy known as methodological naturalism.

This stupidity is enhanced by the healthy dose of arrogance that is implied. Who needs philosophy–or anything else besides science? Science has solved all our problems or is all we need to solve our problems, right?

To prove the point, I offer the following to show the triumph of science in all of life:

  • Science has finally given us enduring peace in the Middle East.
  • Science has eliminated all nuclear weapons.
  • Science has prevented genocide for the last hundred years.
  • Science has abolished all corruption in the state government of Illinois.
  • Thanks to science, there are now no more traffic jams in Southern California.

We can be forever grateful to science that, in addition to not needing philosophy, we also don’t need art or community or virtues or family or history or love. We must thank science for flattening our lives in this way and removing all that is human and three-dimensional from our existence. Life is so much simpler that way. No more messy ethical questions to deal with. No more symphonies to transport us. No more friends to laugh with or family to cry with. Science is all. All else is dead.

Am I being extreme to make a point? Indeed.

I do not, despite my rant above, think that we need everything else except science. To the contrary, science is valuable, perhaps essential. But it is not the only source of knowledge or wisdom or life. And scientists are not the only experts we need. The truth is, we all need each other.

In the face of the complexity of our world–and especially the failures of humanity over the last century–scientists, like all of us, need humility. Even scientists who sit in the chair of Isaac Newton.

I am off for July. So I’m running some favorite Andy Unedited blasts from the past. This was originally posted December 21, 2010.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.