This week’s volume of Nature has two interesting pieces, each relating to issues near and dear to me.
First, Sam Harris has written a letter to the editor, in which Sam lays into the world’s foremost scientific journal for its “obscurantism” surrounding a previous article in which the author, Ziauddin Sardar, claims that Islam “constitutes an ‘intrinsically rational world view'”.
Sam takes Nature to task for allowing such nonsense to infiltrate its pages. With his usual mix of razor-sharp wit and absolute intellectual honesty, Sam writes,
“Under the basic teachings of Islam, the Koran cannot be challenged or contradicted, being the perfect word of the creator of the Universe. To speak of the compatibility of science and Islam in 2007 is rather like speaking of the compatibility of science and Christianity in the year 1633, just as Galileo was being forced, under threat of death, to recant his understanding of the Earth’s motion.”
Sam’s critique is not limited to this article, however. He sees it as a more deep-seated issue at Nature, who had previously praised ‘The Language of God’, written by brain-compartmentalizer extraordinaire Dr. Francis Collins, for “[engaging] with people of faith to explore how science — both in its mode of thought and its results — is consistent with their religious beliefs.”
Hogwash. No matter what Francis Collins has done to further our understanding of the nature of our genome (using real, honest-to-goodness science), this is no excuse for thinking that ‘The Language of God’ has anything to do with science whatsoever. It may represent Collins’ honest attempt to rationalize his delusion with his rationality, but that doesn’t mean that Nature has to eat it up with a spoon. Where is the honest editorial saying, “Francis, you may honestly believe these things, but how do you know that they are true?” Until Francis Collins (and apparently some of the editors at Nature) see the difference between what we feel based on the vague notion of ‘faith’ and what we know based on the concrete concept of ‘evidence’, we will find ourselves constantly battling against this type of pandering.
I’ll let Sam have the last word on this, since he is capable of putting it far better than I ever could:
“At a time when Muslim doctors and engineers stand accused of attempting atrocities in the expectation of supernatural reward, when the Catholic Church still preaches the sinfulness of condom use in villages devastated by AIDS, when the president of the United States repeatedly vetoes the most promising medical research for religious reasons, much depends on the scientific community presenting a united front against the forces of unreason.
There are bridges and there are gangplanks, and it is the business of journals such as Nature to know the difference.”
The second issue raised in this week’s Nature has to do with funding of research trainees, and their access to tenured and tenure-track positions at universities. I’ve covered this in part two.