Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Bible is a book of war

The Bible is a book about war. Most of its stories are about a nation whose only known way of survival was to take up arms against surrounding nations, and almost every generation knew war.

The New Testament is quite different, of course. Jesus did not lead an army in a rebellion, but rather willingly handed himself over to be crucified. "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." (John 18:36)

War imagery reappears mainly in Revelation, where Jesus is depicted as having a sword coming out of his mouth, destroying Satan, and judging the nations. There are of course many references to judgment throughout the New Testament, but rarely are there explicit images of weapons and violence.

It seems there are many formulas for how to tie all this together. Some say that God is a God of wrath, and that both the Old Testament calls to holy war and the war imagery of Revelation are both consistent with his character. Rather than fret over these images, we need to respect them, fear God, and teach that his terrible wrath is a reality people will have to face unless they repent.

Rather than try to thoroughly critique this position, I will just state briefly why I have problems with it. To be clear, the main difficulty is not that God judges. It is rather the explicit commands in the Old Testament to (for example) kill women and children.
When you draw near to a town to fight against it, offer it terms of peace. If it accepts your terms of peace and surrenders to you, then all the people in it shall serve you at forced labor. If it does not submit to you peacefully, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, livestock, and everything else in the town, all its spoil. You may enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the Lord your God has given you. Thus you shall treat all the towns that are very far from you, which are not towns of the nations here. But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them--the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusite--just as the Lord your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the Lord your God. (Deut. 20:10-18, emphasis mine)
When I take this passage literally, I simply don't know how to square it with the ethical teaching of Jesus to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. And I don't know why Jesus would have suddenly changed the strategy from war to self-sacrifice. We could argue about details all day long, but ultimately I just don't see how to form a coherent view of Scripture out of a literal reading of the Old Testament.

There is another way of reading the Bible which seems to be embedded in everything Jesus himself says. It is a spiritual allegory, a prophecy about him and his ministry, and about the ultimate destiny of those who follow his Way.

Jesus does indeed perform acts of war in the New Testament--against demons!
If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. Or how can one enter the house of a strong man and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. (Matthew 12:26-29)
But spiritual warfare is not physical warfare, and Jesus did not come to lead an armed rebellion against the Romans. How then might we read the Old Testament (and Revelation) in light of his ministry and his character?

I read it spiritually in this way. The people of Israel is the human spirit. Once we were slaves in Egypt. This is a metaphor for our slavery to sin and death. Then God called us out of Egypt with might acts of power, and he gave us a new identity. He gave us his law, so that we might be united. But as everyone who has ever put faith in God knows, it is easy to stumble, right from the very beginning. Even after we are made free in God, we must then wander through the wilderness, just as the Israelites did for forty years.

The final mission is to go into the promised land and conquer. If in the beginning God did all the acts of power himself, liberating us by his own hand, so that we had only to stand back and watch, in the last act we must take up arms ourselves--against the demons of our own hearts. We must utterly annihilate them, wiping out even women and children, which means metaphorically that we must destroy even the possibility of our sins being reborn, thus coming back to haunt us ("so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods"). It is still God who fights for us, but his power is infused into our own efforts.

But why should the word of God come to us as such a long history when it would have sufficed to simply teach us this brief lesson? Well, I don't agree that it would have sufficed. First of all, we should not discount the fact that the Bible's historical books do indeed record events of history, even if it they are presented in a spiritual (and often mysterious) way. There is always value in such records.

Second, there is no end to all of the subtle lessons one can learn by meditating on the details of sacred history. For instance, I am quite fond of the story of the Gibeonites in the book of Joshua. Since they fear defeat by the Israelites, the Gibeonites dress themselves up in rags and pretend to come to the Israelites from a long distance. The Israelites make peace with them before consulting the Lord, and so they disobey God. In the same way, our sins often dress up to us as outsiders; we think that such faults could never come from our own hearts, but must somehow be the influence of our environment. Or they dress up as outsiders, in the sense that they are not a threat to us, and so we make an alliance with them and permit them to go on dwelling in our souls. "Show no pity," God says. If we do not consult him, our sins will remain, and we will not live long in the promised land (that is, spiritual life) as he desires for us.

That is how I read the Bible these days. It is not that I totally discount the literal meaning of texts--indeed, I take the story of Jesus's death and resurrection quite literally. And I don't think my lens of interpretation is out of line with traditional Christian reading. But at some point, I simply can't accept that all of the words of Scripture are literally true, in the sense that the God of the universe would actually order women and children to be killed (or, alternatively, taken as property). My conviction is that Jesus himself teaches us a new way to fight our wars, one that is spiritual and not literal. This does not require less strength, but more.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Between two worlds

One of the fruits of my reflections on Stephen Weinberg's The First Three Minutes is a renewed shock at the way modern people, especially scientists, can walk around knowing how pointless and inhospitable the universe is and simultaneously lead happy and productive lives. It is not so much that I think it surprising that human beings should be so self-absorbed as to ignore anything outside their own minuscule sphere of existence. Rather, I wonder how anyone who has gazed straight at the grandeur of this vast, pitiless universe can afterward return to diligently fulfill his daily responsibilities. Is there a sort of intentional amnesia that happens? Do scientists like Weinberg simply choose to forget how pointless their lives really are? Or do they instead have doubts about the validity of their own assertions? Perhaps there is some source of hope that they missed while they were looking through telescopes and performing calculations.

Christian faith trains the imagination to hold on to two seemingly opposite realities at the same time. Front and center is Jesus Christ, who is said to be both fully human and fully divine. In the same way he is both absent--seated at the right hand of God--and fully present, for the church is his body. It is a theme woven throughout the Bible. God is too big for even heaven and earth to contain him, yet he chose Jerusalem as a dwelling place. When Moses asks God what his name is, he responds, "I Am Who I Am," but then he adds that he is in fact the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is always making a bridge between the utterly unknowable and the known, the transcendent and the imminent, the universal and the particular.

Even if someone were to prove to me that Christianity is not true--if someone could identify the remains of Jesus, or find some other way to wholly discredit the New Testament's witness--I would still find myself compelled to search for this bridge between two worlds, like the God of the Bible. Somehow we humans are caught between the two worlds, scrambling to find ground beneath our feet, hoping against hope that we might live comfortable with one foot on either side. We live to satisfy temporal desires, for good food and entertainment, for success and prosperity, for meaningful accomplishments within our brief lifetimes. But we also gaze up at the stars, and down through the microscope, and wonder about the big picture. We try to measure the age of the universe and guess its ultimate destiny. We try to understand the laws of physics and how to master them. We try to answer questions about life's ultimate purpose, about what is really beautiful, and about what truly lasts forever.

In my daily life I find myself regularly called away from my ordinary tasks to contemplate just how little a difference it makes whether I complete them or not. True, as concerns my own life and the lives of those around me, it can make a tremendous difference. But on a larger scale, it makes practically none. One human life does not change the ultimate fate of humanity, and even if all humanity were to pass away, the earth would keep on turning, and even if the earth itself were destroyed, the sun would continue burning, and even if the sun itself died, the galaxy would keep on spinning, and the universe would go on as it always has...

Yet it is in these very tasks which I perform daily that I become witness to this grand spectacle. I perform calculations, and I write articles for journals of mathematics. Every theorem correctly proven is a small bit of insight into an eternal truth that will never be taken away. There is ground underneath my feet. The human mind is not adrift. There is a bridge, somewhere.

I wish scientists talked about this more, but I suppose that would involve matters of faith rather than rigorous empirical evidence.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Virtue and libertarianism

Reason posted a debate on virtue libertarianism, which is more or less defined in opposition to "libertine libertarianism," an ideology which is "radically indifferent to the choices that people make with their freedom." William Ruger and Jason Sorens define it as follows:
What we call virtue libertarianism is the alternative to libertinism of the stronger and weaker varieties. Virtue libertarians recognize that we have a duty to respect our own moral nature and to promote its development in others in proportion to the responsibility we have for them. Heavy drug use that destroys one's own moral or rational faculties is inconsistent with that duty. Sexual license, gluttony, and the ancient vice of pleonexia—an excessive desire to acquire material and other goods—can overpower the virtue of self-command, which Adam Smith astutely recognized as the key to all the other virtues. To respect others, we must act beneficently and generously toward them, not just refrain from taking their freedom. 
I'm not going to comment on how well Ruger and Sorens did in making their argument for virtue libertarianism. What struck me was how libertarians around the web reacted, particularly at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, a blog I like to follow.

I know this might not be such a charitable summary, but essentially it boils down to this: other libertarians accuse Ruger and Sorens of attacking a straw man, and then immediately proceed to behave exactly like that straw man. To be specific, we have libertarians saying that of course we ought to be virtuous, but who's to say that porn, drugs, and decadent lifestyles are really all that bad?

This is where I get off the bus with libertarians. I have absolutely no interest in debating these things with people who think themselves too enlightened, too sophisticated for traditional morals. If these thinkers wish for evidence that such vices are bad, I can only point to centuries of moral tradition telling us as much. Pornography and drugs are degrading, inasmuch as they treat the human body is nothing more than a pleasure factory, and not as a sacred gift to be appreciated and maintained respectfully.

That doesn't mean libertarian policies are wrong. Just because it is wrong to use cocaine doesn't mean that the government is justified using violence to prevent its use. One can never merely ask the question, "Is it wrong to do X?" in order to derive good policy. One must also ask the subsequent question, "What is the morally appropriate response to X?"

At bottom, I suppose I am really not a libertarian at all, insofar as I do not really believe in self-ownership. I support libertarian policies because I don't believe the government owns me. But as for self-ownership, I belong to God, not to myself. Indeed, I find the very concept of self-ownership incoherent. For if I own something, this means I can dispose of it as I will. Yet if I dispose of myself (i.e. commit suicide) then I have destroyed my ability to make any future decisions. My supposed freedom to do with myself whatever I will negates my freedom. (Yes, this does have policy implications. Unlike, I suppose, the majority of libertarians, I don't support the right to assisted suicide, although end of life issues can be tricky.)

By the way, I believe Christianity is the religion of liberty, but I think that deserves a separate post. What's really essential at this point is that I have no interest in libertine libertarianism. And yes, this is real phenomenon which can easily be found, among other places, at Reason.com. I have no interest in defending a college woman's right to become a porn actress in order to pay for her studies. I have no interest in defending the recreational use of drugs as a fun and therefore good thing. Neither do I have any interest, for that matter, in claiming that Americans ought to own as many guns as they want, or that they should have as much money as they want. All of these things--sex, drugs, weapons, money--very quickly become vices, and I don't think society is better for rejoicing at the abundance of such vices.

Again, I offer no defense of this proposition, because my opponents share none of the foundational assumptions on which it is based. If one approaches moral questions like a rationalist, insisting on scientific evidence that such behaviors really are destructive, then one is never going to be convinced. The only thing I can point out to libertarians is how ironic it is that they should take such an approach, given that one of their intellectual leaders is one such as F. A. Hayek.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Those who increase knowledge increase sorrow

The title of this post comes from Ecclesiastes 1:18. I was reminded of these words as I was finishing Stephen Weinberg's wonderful book, The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe. Most of the book is devoted to scientific arguments (though accessible to a layman) in favor of big bang cosmology. Perhaps not unexpectedly, the epilogue is much more philosophical than the rest. In it, Weinberg lays out the two possibilities for the eventual fate of the universe. Either its density is less than a certain critical number, and therefore it will continue to expand forever and ever, cooling gradually until nothing can live in it; or else it will one day stop expanding, start to contract, and the big bang will be echoed by a symmetric event (a "big crunch").

Either way, the future does not look too promising for living things, least of all human beings. Which leads Weinberg to the following concluding reflection (emphasis mine):
It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes, but that we were somehow built in from the beginning. As I write this I happen to be in an airplane at 30,00 feet, flying over Wyoming en route home from San Francisco to Boston. Below, the earth looks very soft and comfortable--fluffy clouds here and there, snow turning pink as the sun sets, roads stretching straight across the country from one town to another. It is very hard to realize that this all is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a futile extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.
But if there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is at least some consolation in the research itself. Men and women are not content to comfort themselves with tales of gods and giants, or to confine their thoughts to the daily affairs of life; they also build telescopes and satellites and accelerators, and sit at their desks for endless hours working out the meaning of the data they gather. The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.
At least it's a tragedy and not a farce. That is the sole comfort modern science can give us. "Vanity of Vanities, says the Teacher, All is Vanity." (Ecc. 1:2)
I saw that wisdom excels follow as light excels darkness.
The wise have eyes in their head,
but fools walk in darkness.
Yet I perceived that the same fate befalls all of them. (Ecc. 2:13-14)
Before jumping into a critique of Weinberg's point of view, I did want to make it clear that his words are strongly echoed by Scripture. It is not as if believers in God had never noticed how small we are in this vast, pointless universe.

Yet I could never merely accept this view without pursuing further. If our efforts to study the universe reveal that it is pointless, perhaps it is we who are at fault. For one thing, I suspect we are looking for the wrong thing if we search for our own special place, rather than an all-encompassing purpose for everything that exists. But I can't deny that finding our own purpose is equally important. Is it really any less farcical to think that human intelligence has arisen from random processes, only to discover as much and conclude that we really have no purpose, than to go on living like animals? It almost seems like more of a farce--a sick cosmic joke. Except no one is really there to tell it.

What if the problem is this word "comprehensible"? The grand theme of Weinberg's book is that we can understand the beginning and end of the universe because it follows simple mathematical rules. At very high temperatures, everything that exists is governed entirely by the laws of statistical mechanics. There is nothing to look at but averages. Such things as meaning and beauty have no ontological status in this view--only measurable quantities. (I find this terribly ironic, since physicists are attracted to these theories precisely because of their beauty; there is nothing more attractive than symmetry.) Thus "comprehensible" secretly means "quantifiable and predictable," excluding all other forms of understanding.

What if the meaning and beauty we find in the universe, emerging as they do thanks to random processes governed by comprehensible laws, point to a higher reality? What if human beings have access to that reality? (What if other things do, as well? There is no reason to be anthropocentric.) It would not necessarily be a reality governed by mathematical laws. Yet it could intersect with this physical realm, as evidenced by the fact that we catch glimpses of it through concrete experiences of beauty.

The problem for physics is that such a higher realm cannot be understood through mathematical description. Its nature is not susceptible to prediction, and it cannot be discovered through observation and experimentation. It is known only by contemplation, or even by faith. If that is unacceptable for an intellectual of the modern world, I can only say that we are the more impoverished for it.

Not that any of this takes away from the glory of Big Bang cosmology. To think that modern science has revealed to us details about the beginning and end of our physical universe is awe-inspiring. In case I need to clarify, I absolutely love this book, and I think the world is richer for works such as these which make science accessible to general audiences.

It's just that I'm not content to have physics without a soul.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Why proofs of God's existence don't thrill me

The other day one of my Catholic apologist friends (I have many online) posted a link to "An Aristotelian Proof of the Existence of God" given by Edward Feser. My friend claimed that atheists shouldn't start with the Bible, but rather with reason and logic, in order to arrive at belief in God's existence.

Now, I don't think atheists should start with the Bible, either. Most people don't when they come to faith--at least, not the whole Bible. If you try to read the good book cover to cover in search of some sort of proof of God's existence, you will only find it by a miracle (which I would not rule out, but neither would I hold my breath). Ordinarily, such a straightforward reading of Scripture will lead you to many scandalous passages and incomprehensible claims about God, and to stories whose meaning is rather obscure without some additional cultural context. Certainly the story of Jesus himself is provocative enough to sell itself, but even in the gospels one is as often perplexed as not.

But I'm not sure the classical "proofs" of God's existence hold much water. Professor Feser is certainly a brilliant man, and his exposition of the argument is solid, but I've just never been impressed with Aristotelian/Thomist arguments that The Unmoved Mover/Uncaused Causer/Purely Actual Being/whatever exists. The same holds for Anselm's Ontological Argument, and any similar methods of proof.

It's not that I wouldn't want to have such a proof. It's not even that I don't like entertaining the arguments. On the contrary, such abstract lines of reasoning are fun for me (which is why I chose mathematics as a profession).

The problem is, I just don't think abstract reasoning reveals God. As much as I love my profession, I don't think its tools are appropriate for theology. In fact, I think of mathematics as the simplest and humblest of all the sciences, whereas theology is the loftiest and most difficult. But I'll get to that.

The word "abstract" literally means "to draw away." It is well known that logical arguments in philosophy or mathematics lead us farther away from our direct experience. This makes them considerably less attractive as aids to knowing God, whose presence is everywhere and is therefore constantly part of our everyday experience.

Not that things which are omnipresent can't be the subject of abstract arguments. Atoms are everywhere, but we need theoretical physics to understand and know them. Yet the problem with atoms is that they are small, not that they are difficult to understand. In many ways, atoms are like numbers. They are highly predictable, following precise patterns expounded by the laws of physics.

Anyone reading this might find remarkable that I say an atom is not hard to understand. But I stand by that claim, and I say that math is even simpler. I appeal to a wonderful quote from the great John von Neumann: "If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is." Mathematics and physics have made such incredible progress by concentrating on things which are simple, meaning predictable, utterly bound by rules. Thanks to this form of simplicity, our abstract arguments are applicable no matter how "drawn away" they become from direct experience.

Neumann hit the nail on the head: how complicated life is! How amazingly different it is from proving a theorem! Living things are not utterly rule bound. Human beings make choices, act spontaneously, and often actively resist the rules which are supposed to apply. How, then, do we seem so comfortable with other humans, and how do we know them so well?

The question would really be a mystery if abstract reasoning were our primal way of knowing, but that is not the case. There is nothing more natural in the world than getting to know other human beings, and it is not because we know what they will do at any given moment. It is rather because we have a built-in desire to be with others. More is gained through the direct experience of their company than through being able to predict their behavior. Only marketers are interested in understanding human beings the way physicists understand atoms. The rest of us just want to be loved.

Which brings me to proofs of the existence of God. No son has ever asked himself, "How do I know my mother exists? What are the properties she should have? From what starting principles might I argue toward the existence of such a being?" A son knows his mother because she is there--to feed him, clothe him, clean him, comfort him--and she always has been. Before a boy can do any abstract reasoning whatsoever, he must learn words, most likely from his parents. The primal form of knowledge is the direct experience of someone. Their presence alone is the start of every other kind of knowledge we could possibly have.

It is true that a son whose mother has long been absent must reason abstractly, saying, "All humans are born to a mother and father, therefore I too must have a mother whom I don't know." This is, at best, the type of theological knowledge which Aristotelian/Thomist/Anselmian/etc. arguments can give us. It is a theology of orphans. It is only useful or necessary if God is absent, and has been for a long time.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." If I understand the Christian faith correctly, I would say that the only thing separating us from God is our sin. God's constant presence ought to be perfectly clear to us, but we are blind. Christ does not offer theorems but rather a way to see again.

I catch glimpses of God from time to time. If I really began to fully repent, perhaps I would see him all the time in everything. But "surely there is no one on earth so righteous as to do good without ever sinning." (Ecc. 7:20) I only know it is that direct experience which sustains me.

I don't want to say that "existence proofs" are a total waste of time. God does often feel very absent, and perhaps we need these arguments to give us a hint of his presence. But I think it's very telling that in Scripture, to know God is to do justice, more than anything else. Christianity's great intellectual tradition notwithstanding, I say it is more a religion of doing than of reasoning.

And I think our theology ought to be done accordingly...

Friday, June 10, 2016

Libertarianism's surprising virtue

There is a virtue which I have found--to my surprise--to be far more deeply cultivated among libertarians, as a political movement, than either progressives or conservatives. That virtue is gratitude.

I say I am surprised by this because before I started reading a certain collection of libertarian media, I associated libertarianism with a certain angry crowd who complained endlessly about the government and the downfall of freedom. Now, there is certainly room to complain endlessly about the government. But what I have found is that between Reason Magazine's regular coverage of technological and social innovation, or the quietly optimistic tone of blogs such as Marginal Revolution ("small steps toward a much better world"), or especially the Cato Institute's new project humanprogress.org, there seems to be a trend among libertarians of a more intellectual variety to emphasize the positive.

More deeply, libertarians start with the premise that for us modern humans, especially Westerners, our entire way of life is nothing short of a miracle. They then form a political philosophy based on the study of how that way of life came into being, combined with intuitive moral reasoning (which, it is often acknowledged, is itself a product of our way of life). They conclude that a maximal amount of individual freedom and a government firmly restrained by the rule of law is not only how we got here, but also the way we continue to advance in leaps and bounds.

There is a certain cheerfulness in the whole story. Although most of humankind in all times and places struggled to get by, today we are blessed to have received the right kind of institutions which allow both freedom and prosperity to flourish. If we can but use that freedom, in part to defend those institutions but mostly to pursue whatever good ideas we are fortunate to stumble upon, then the potential for future progress is practically infinite.

Now contrast this story with progressivism. Especially when speaking about poverty, progressives tend to assume that if something is wrong in the world, it must be our fault, or more particularly the fault of big bad rich people. Never mind how any of those riches got there in the first place. The conversation most certainly does not start (or end) with gratitude, but rather with a demand. The poor are entitled to progress, and if we don't give it to them we are thieves and bandits.

Conservatives, too, suffer from a lack of gratitude, but for a different reason. While conservatives wholeheartedly agree that we ought to be thankful for having inherited the right kind of institutions, their gratefulness is soured by a pessimistic view of future progress. It seems that conservatives have very little faith in the very institutions for which they are so thankful. Especially when speaking about immigration, they bemoan any major cultural change as an existential threat to our way of life.

I don't deny that both progressive and conservative impulses are necessary. At times progress must be demanded, and at other times it must be critiqued. But I think both sides ultimately propose policies that are built on a distortion of reality, and society pays for that. Whether it is the ever expanding welfare state proposed by progressives or the ever more authoritarian federal law enforcement agencies bolstered by conservatives, the cost and burden of government continues to grow. This is truly a cause for concern.

Yet despite the continual errors of conservatives and progressives in government, I deeply appreciate how libertarians have not lost their spark of optimism. We indeed have so much to be thankful for, and we have so much at our disposal to make the world a better place. As technological progress outpaces government regulation, experimentation will lead to better ways of doing things before our leaders get their hands on the brakes. Cultural change is nothing to be afraid of, so long as we succeed in transmitting the fundamental ideas which have served us so well until now. The institutions which make freedom possible are not fragile; they are alive and well.

As a Christian, I think the very first step to a happy life is thanksgiving. We did absolutely nothing to cause our own existence. We owe every molecule in our body to inheritance. What we do with that wonderful inheritance--and in our day it is more wonderful than our ancestors could have ever imagined!--is up to us, but we will most likely do better if we start by recognizing how good it is.

So I think it is fitting that our politics should start with gratitude, as well. Let no discussion of any of society's problems begin without first acknowledging what we have to be thankful for. And once we study and determine where all these good things came from, then let's decide how we can do even better.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Steven Weinberg on scientific progress

I'm a big fan of this passage from The First Three Minutes, Chapter V (emphasis added):
In following this account of the first three minutes [of the universe], the reader may feel that he can detect a note of scientific overconfidence. He might be right. However, I do not believe that scientific progress is always best advanced by keeping an altogether open mind. It is often necessary to forget one's doubts and to follow the consequences of one's assumptions wherever they may lead--the great thing is not to be free of theortical prejudices, but to have the right theoretical prejudices. And always, the test of any theoretical preconception is in where it leads. The standard model of the early universe has scored some successes, and it provides a coherent theoretical framework for future experimental programs. This does not mean that it is true, but it does mean that it deserves to be taken seriously.
It certainly begs the question which prejudices are the right ones!