Short excerpts from a long essay by Kenneth Brower in the December issue of Atlantic Monthly. The title is “The Danger of Cosmic Genius.”
“His principal contribution has been to the theory of quantum electrodynamics, but he has done stellar work, too, in pure mathematics, particle physics, statistical mechanics, and matter in the solid state. He writes with a grace and clarity that is rare, even freakish, in a scientist….”
“Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion,” Dyson complains in his 2008 New York Review of Books essay on global warming. “All the books that I have seen about the science and economics of global warming, including the two books under review, miss the main point. The main point is religious rather than scientific. There is a worldwide secular religion, which we may call environmentalism, holding that we are stewards of the earth.”
Brower’s essay begins as follows:
“One starry night 35 years ago, I drove the physicist Freeman Dyson through the British Columbia rain forest toward a reunion with his estranged son, George. The son, then 22, was a long-haired, sun-darkened, barefoot dropout with an uncanny resemblance to Thoreau. He had emigrated to Canada during the Vietnam War, and he lived 95 feet up a Douglas fir outside Vancouver. His passion was the aboriginal North American skin boat. In a workshop near his tree house, he had resurrected the baidarka, the kayak of the Aleutian Islands – a watertight second skin, lightweight and nimble, in which the Aleut hunter originally, and young George himself eventually, became a kind of sea centaur, half man and half canoe.
“The ride through the rain forest was the first step towards a reconciliation between father and son. The son became a historian of science and the author of three books: Baidarka the Kayak, 1986, Darwin Among the Machines and Project Orion: The Atomic Spaceship 1957–1965.”
On the subject of Freeman Dyson’s position on climate change, Kenneth Brower concludes:
“‘The main point is religious rather than scientific,’ Dyson writes, yet never acknowledges that this proposition cuts both ways, never seems to recognize the extent to which his own arguments proceed from faith. Environmentalism worships the wisdom of Nature. Dysonism worships the indomitable ingenuity of Man. Dyson often suggests that science is on his side, but lately little of his popular exposition on planetary matters has anything to do with science. His futurism is solidly in the tradition of Jules Verne, as it has been since he was 8…. On the question of global warming, the world’s climatologists and scientific institutions are almost unanimously arrayed against him.”