In reviewing the science news sites, it was hard to get away from Eric Metaxas’s Wall Street Journal op-ed on fine-tuning and what it says about the likelihood of God, and from the host of responses to it. I don’t have anything to add directly to that conversation; I’ve already discussed the provability of God and my thoughts haven’t shifted much since then.
What did interest me was a comment made by Lawrence Krauss in his response. Krauss claims that “by allowing a Christian apologist to masquerade as a scientist WSJ did a disservice to its readers.” I appreciate that Krauss feels strongly about this matter. Still, I’m not sure anyone was masquerading. The item was clearly an opinion piece in a religion column, and I saw no evidence anyone was claiming the author was a scientist, beyond the fact that he was discussing a scientific topic.
Is the objection then that only scientists should write about science? It can be frustrating for experts to see lay people get something incorrect, and it is a natural impulse to erect “You must be at least this tall to play” checkpoints. Yet I think we should instead be gracious and grateful whenever someone goes out on a limb to describe their understanding of a topic they have not mastered. It requires some courage to risk being wrong, and demonstrates curiosity when disinterest is an available alternative. It also creates opportunities for dialogue; if no one is willing to say what they understand, there is nothing to talk about and no way to know what is actually being communicated.
Who should be allowed to participate in public discourse on technical subjects? How do you respond to visitors from other domains who make mistakes while exploring your field?
About the author:
Andy has worn many hats in his life. He knows this is a dreadfully clichéd notion, but since it is also literally true he uses it anyway. Among his current metaphorical hats: husband of one wife, father of two teenagers, reader of science fiction and science fact, enthusiast of contemporary symphonic music, and chief science officer. Previous metaphorical hats include: comp bio postdoc, molecular biology grad student, InterVarsity chapter president (that one came with a literal hat), music store clerk, house painter, and mosquito trapper. Among his more unique literal hats: British bobby, captain's hats (of varying levels of authenticity) of several specific vessels, a deerstalker from 221B Baker St, and a railroad engineer's cap. His monthly Science in Review is drawn from his weekly Science Corner posts -- Wednesdays, 8am (Eastern) on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog. His book Faith across the Multiverse is available from Hendrickson.