How can we justify science?: Sokal and Lynch debate epistemology

Why Evolution Is True

I’m not a philosopher, though I’ve read a fair amount of philosophy and took courses in it in college.  And I respect the discipline, at least insofar as it helps clarify our thinking—especially about ethical problems. But sometimes philosophical lucubrations seem pretty useless, and that’s the case in a recent exchange between Michael P. Lynch and Alan Sokal in The New York Times.

Lynch is a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, while Sokal is a professor of mathematics at University College London and of physics at New York University. Sokal is also, as you know, the author of the most famous satire of postmodernism, a phony but convincing-sounding paper paper on “postmodern physics” published in Social Text in 1996.

Their debate, “Defending science: an exchange,” is based on an earlier essay by Lynch in the NYT, “Reasons for reason.”  In…

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