Rebel with a Cause: The Optimistic Scientist
By Benny Peiser, TCS Daily, 10 Apr 2007
Editor’s note: Freeman Dyson is professor emeritus of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the Royal Society of London. In 2000 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for progress in Religion. He is the author of a new book, “The Scientist as Rebel.” Benny Peiser of Liverpool John Moores University recently interviewed Dyson about his views on science, hope and the future.
A great, respected, accomplished scientist. But we all knew that already, right?
Freeman Dyson: My optimism about the long-term survival of life comes mainly from imagining what will happen when life escapes from this planet and becomes adapted to living in vacuum. There is then no real barrier to stop life from spreading through the universe. Hopping from one world to another will be about as easy as hopping from one island in the Pacific to another. And then life will diversify to fill the infinite variety of ecological niches in the universe, as it has done already on this planet.
I agree here and have blogged on this before in response to Eric Pianka’s question asking what makes man more important than lizards here. My question for Freeman would be why presume we’re the first link in the island hopping chain. May that not be precisely how life arrived on the earth – not original to this world but rather transplanted here? Francis Crick certainly thought so.
Freeman Dyson: I am always happy to be in the minority. Concerning the climate models, I know enough of the details to be sure that they are unreliable. They are full of fudge factors that are fitted to the existing climate, so the models more or less agree with the observed data. But there is no reason to believe that the same fudge factors would give the right behavior in a world with different chemistry, for example in a world with increased CO2 in the atmosphere.
Tell it like it is, Freeman. You’re awesome. ‘Nuff said there.
Freeman Dyson: I do not agree with your assessment of religion in Britain and the USA. The extremes of religious dogmatism in the USA and of atheistic dogmatism in Britain are greatly exaggerated by the media. In both countries, the average atheist and the average Christian are not dogmatic or unreasonable. So far as I can see, there is about the same variety of beliefs on both sides of the ocean. Certainly we do not need any accurate navigation to find a middle way between the two extremes. Probably ninety percent of the population are somewhere in the middle.
It is also interesting in this connection to observe the similarity, in optimistic mood and rapid material progress, between China and India. Although China is traditionally non-religious and India is traditionally permeated with religion, this does not seem to make much difference. In both countries, rapidly growing wealth and technological progress create a mood of optimism, with or without religion.
What’s this? Disputing the chance worshipper’s dogma about religion being such a threat to science? Freeman, you are truly a rebel!
Read the whole interview here.