String Theory and Theology at the AAAS

Someone wrote to me today to tell me that Harvard’s Nima Arkani-Hamed recently gave a lecture in Washington with the title “String Theory — Can We Test It?”. Somehow, I suspect that his lecture didn’t really give an honest answer to the question, since it would be hard to fill up an hour-long talk by just saying “No”.

Looking into this more carefully, it turns out that the talk was part of a “Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion” sponsored by the AAAS. At first I thought it was unusual to see a “Science and Religion” program paid for by anyone but the Templeton Foundation (for more about them, see here and here), but it turns out that they are the first organization listed in the list of those providing financial support for the program. I wouldn’t have guessed that the AAAS was in bed with Templeton and running programs on “Science and Religion”, but this kind of thing doesn’t surprise me anymore.

Arkani-Hamed’s talk was entitled: Naturalness versus the Superstring Landscape, or, Why Does The Universe Appear Finely Tuned? (not sure why it was advertised with the “String Theory — Can We Test It?” title). The organizer and “respondent” was James B. Miller, an ordained Presbyterian minister with a Ph. D. in Theology from Marquette University. From the abstract it appears that the talk involved Arkani-Hamed’s usual claims that split supersymmetry makes “sharp experimental predictions” for what the LHC will see (he seems to have a rather different notion of what an experimental prediction is than most scientists, much less what a “sharp” one is). He also seems to have implied that the superstring landscape scenario predicts split supersymmetry, something that actually isn’t the case, or at least is only true in the sense that the landscape predicts nothing at all, and thus is consistent with anything.

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2 Responses to String Theory and Theology at the AAAS

  1. Chris W. says:

    To place the religious insinuations in context, see this jeremiad by T. M. Moore, former Executive Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (Florida).

    [Thanks to Arun (I think) for tracking this down a few months ago and posting the link in a comment on Preposterous Universe (Sean Carroll’s blog).]

  2. Anonymous says:

    Here is an explanation. NAH is a champion of a branch of (meta)physics that can be summarized as “everything goes”: large extra dimensions, ghosts,
    supersymmetry without supersymmetry,
    you name it. Indeed, in the absence of experimental data, such nonsensical, loophole-filling ideas cannot be disproved.
    But every human being needs structure: thus he turns to God for guidance. I am sure that ksh95 would provide an eloquent description of this supernatural phenomenon.

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