Monday, November 26, 2007

Peter Lipton

Peter Lipton, the head of the History and Philosophy of Science Department at Cambridge, where I am a graduate student, died suddenly at the weekend. He was simply the best lecturer I've ever come across. A few years ago, a course on the logic of induction that he taught was booked into a seminar room because of its specialised nature. But not just his students and those taking the relevant course turned up. I was among those who packed the room to the rafters (and it was not a small room) simply because he was doing the lecturing. Mercifully, next week we were moved into a full scale lecture theatre and everyone could get a seat.

He took religion very seriously and had many interesting things to say about its relationship with science, even if I did not agree with many of them. A debate he took part in at the London School of Economics still sticks in the mind of my wife whom I had dragged along. Reflecting on the same debate, when I had one of my all-too-few chats with him in the department, Professor Lipton delivered an important dictum of his own subject of logical inference: "Just because Peter Atkins thinks a statement is nonsense is no evidence that it is." Although an atheist, Professor Lipton took his family to synagogue on Saturdays and was fully engaged with his religious culture. He represented the honest doubter whom we can all hope has a place in heaven.

Click here to read the first chapter of God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science absolutely free.

No comments: