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Ah, this is fun.  My American Scientist review of Sokal’s book has gotten a comment from Steve Fuller.  He claims that I am “confused” about his testimony in Dover.

Michael Bérubé is confused about my appeal to the contexts of discovery and justification in the Dover trial. (I was the one who happened to raise the distinction.) There are two points about the distinction as it applied to the trial: (1) The plaintiffs’ witnesses were claiming that scientific inquiry required a commitment to ‘methdological naturalism’, something lacking in intelligent design theorists and creationists. This struck me as a false claim about the context of justification that smuggled in claims about the context of discovery: i.e. if you’re not a naturalist, you can’t do science right. (2) The trial itself was about what to teach high school students. Here it is completely appropriate to introduce the context of discovery as part of the pedagogy that motivates students to do science, and so it matters that important science has been done by people operating from religious beliefs not so different from the ones that are legally barred as ‘intelligent design’.

The confusion arises from those who think that science education is exclusively about teaching science’s context of justification. That is tantamount to indoctrination.

OK, so here’s my reply:

Steve Fuller is indeed a confusing fellow. In my essay, I remarked that Fuller testified in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District on behalf of the religious fundamentalists who had sought to introduce Intelligent Design into the Dover science curriculum. I briefly summarized Fuller’s argument as “intelligent design is worth pursuing partly because great scientists of the past—such as Newton—believed in God.” Fuller now replies that “it matters that important science has been done by people operating from religious beliefs not so different from the ones that are legally barred as ‘intelligent design.’” I thank Professor Fuller for taking the time to confirm my characterization of his testimony.

Yet I confess that I remain confused about Fuller’s argument. If it really is “tantamount to indoctrination” to appeal to the context of justification in order to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate science, then Fuller might as well go the full distance, and argue for teaching high school students alchemy and phrenology. One wonders why he has chosen to shill only for Intelligent Design.

Dang that American Scientist website for not respecting my carefully-crafted and intelligently-designed paragraph breaks.

And then Fuller replies to this in turn:

Michael Bérubé says something unwittingly accurate and inaccurate in his response. Alchemy and phrenology are indeed part of the backstory of modern science, and had they enough practitioners or believers today, they would be worth trying to incorporate in the science curriculum to illustrate the context of discovery. It’s interesting that Bérubé, who often strikes the pose of a pragmatist, fails to see the merit of this point himself.

The inaccurate part of his response is an inference that could be drawn by his use of ‘shill’ to describe my advocacy of intelligent design, which often suggests that the person has gained financially from the advocacy. It is true that I was instructed by defence counsel at the Dover trial to specify a notional expert witness fee. However, since the plaintiffs’ won, and the civil rights nature of the case meant that the defence was ordered to pay legal fees, which in turn bankrupted the school board, I was never paid a cent for my participation in the trial above expenses. Moreover, my subsequent ID-related activities have not appreciably increased my income.

To which I have to say, wittingly:

By “shill” I meant only that Fuller does not practice the “science” of Intelligent Design himself; he merely works as an enthusiastic bystander, urging others to do so. My remark was meant not to suggest that Fuller has “gained financially” from his advocacy of intelligent design, but to suggest that the entire enterprise of ID is fraudulent. 

Fuller seems to think that something counts as a science if sufficient numbers of people are “practitioners” of it; another aspect of his testimony in Dover, to which I did not refer in my essay, involved arguing that ID will be a legitimate science once Darwinists loosen their grip on the field and allow for a critical mass of “practitioners” of ID to develop a viable research program.  This argument neatly ignores the fact that ID has no research program, and no method of determining when in fact one has discovered the Designer.

Good pragmatists like myself don’t buy the “had they enough practitioners” argument.  Instead, we want to know why, precisely, alchemy and phrenology didn’t pan out pragmatically as sciences—and whether, by Fuller’s logic, astrology (whose “practitioners” certainly outnumber evolutionary theorists today) deserves a place alongside ID in the science curriculum.


You know, I really hope this puts to rest the truly bizarre notion that, back in the day, I “bent over backwards to defend Steve Fuller from the Dover ID trial.” I find versions of this claim floating around the Internets from time to time

Berube goes way too far and he is dipping his toes into “We can’t insult the rubes because they will get angry and that is the worst thing evah!” territory.

He did this occasionally during the “intelligent design” muckamuck a few years ago, refusing to deal with the lying scumbags as lying scumbags.

--and you know how I hate it when someone on the Internets is wrong. Especially when they’re very very wrong about me deep in some obscure blog’s comment thread.

Sure, I didn’t say anything about “lying scumbags” three years ago—that’s really not my style.  But I did quote (and then repeat!  enthusiastically!!) the passage in the decision where Judge Jones wrote that the fundamentalists on the Dover school board “lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.” And just in case anyone still remained uncertain about where my sympathies lay, I singlehandedly created a line of dancing badgers to underscore the point.  Merciful Moloch, you’d think the badgers would have sufficed.

Posted by on 12/23 at 11:08 AM
  1. I dunno about Fuller’s point. Why is it *only* Newton’s religious beliefs that count in the context of discovery? Remember Nietzsche’s gibe about German philosophy being a product of a diet of beer and sauerkraut? Why isn’t it the combination of Newton’s religious beliefs and his politics, diet and exercise regime and ... and ... that need to be studied?

    The “and ... and ...” is the important point: what determines the “context of discovery”? Why not the rhythms he resonated with in church music? Knowing what we now know about neuroplasticity and rhythmic entrainment, why not them too? Why not the frequency and pace of his daily walks? Why just his “religious beliefs”? Methinks there’s a bit of undiagnosed idealism here.

    Captcha: “dark” as in “precursor.”

    Posted by John Protevi  on  12/23  at  12:53 PM
  2. Gedanken Experiment for consideration.

    Consider two scientists A and B doing the same experiment. Each follows a rigorously objective scientific approach and in all manner of behavior during their work for all practical purposes are mirror images of one another. With one exception: Scientist A is an atheist and Scientist B, a devout Catholic, says a silent prayer for the outcome to reflect the will of God. They (not surprisingly) come up with identical results.

    Does this scenario capture the essence of the issue at hand?

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  01:02 PM
  3. Hi Elliot, your though experiment seems to be about replication of results. I was talking about what leads to intuitions: what to study, how to study it, how to formulate hypotheses, etc.

    Captcha: “record” as in “for the.”

    Posted by John Protevi  on  12/23  at  01:14 PM
  4. I think that scenario is precisely the essence of the very nub of my gist, Elliot—despite fardels bear’s (justified) complaints about the fuzziness of the concepts “context of discovery” and “context of justification.” But to that silent prayer, I would like to add a side of sauerkraut and beer, as John suggests above.

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  01:15 PM
  5. Ah, I see that John is all over the sauerkraut-and-intuitions issue.  Thanks!

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  01:16 PM
  6. I STILL am trying to figure out what Fuller is saying.  And I’m still failing.

    Darwin, for example, was trained in a British tradition of Natural Theology.  In this tradition, one could learn the nature of God through the study of His Words (revealed theology) or the study of his works (natural theology).  The study of nature (what we would call science) was a method of growing closer to God in this tradition. 

    Fuller seems to think that such a historical fact is of vital importance to contemporary high school science education and I can’t figure out why it should be.  And he seems to think that the ID charlatans, who use God’s hand to EXPLAIN natural phenomenon (which Darwin did not) are involved in the same sort of enterprise as Darwin’s.  If only I were as clever as Fuller, I could understand,

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  01:32 PM
  7. What Fuller’s saying is:

    1.  You do not need to be a methodological naturalist in order to do science right (his point 1, first para).

    2.  It is appropriate to introduce the context of discovery as part of the pedagogy that motivates students to do science (his point 2, first para).

    3.  Treating science education as being exclusively about the context of justification is tantamount to indoctrination (second para).

    I wanted to re-write this more clearly because then I think it’s apparent that Fuller has discovered new, untapped wells of nonsense, going well beyond what he expressed at the Dover trial.

    By the way, as a future scientist I always hated the stuff that grade school and high school teachers did as part of Fuller’s point 2.  It was all little potted histories and biographies of famous scientists, intended to give them human interest, and mostly functioned to conceal the fact that the teacher had no training in science and didn’t know what they were doing.  The ones who did know what they were doing actually taught science.

    Posted by Rich Puchalsky  on  12/23  at  01:50 PM
  8. Not enough badgers!

    Fuller’s indoctrination bit is nuts. 

    I’m as fascinated as anyone by what goes into hypothesis-making, but (a) the “motivates students to do science” bit is at best assertion and at worst propagation of the myth that successful science is just a matter of inspiration and (b) in my humble experience as a social science educator, what students need/lack is experience with measurement, units, data, and linking theory to the refractory real world, which seems to fall squarely into “context of justification.” What I hope science ed will do more broadly is give people some ability to distinguish plausible statements from bullshit, but apparently that’s the opposite of Fuller’s project.

    FWIW what motivated me to do science as a kid was that I spent a lot of time around dirt and water and bugs and I liked dropping things out of windows and science spoke directly to that interest in trying things out and learning and getting messy.  Context of discovery was not the problem.

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  03:03 PM
  9. Wielding again the forceps of MacArthur’s rules of scientific method (honest observations + accurate logic), the whole point of the adjective in “methodological naturalism” is that it doesn’t matter in the least what you believe in your heart of hearts about the Ultimate Cause of Not Nothing--if you’re doing science you’re limited to logical conclusions from empirical observations. Newton, Mendel, whoever--when they did their sciencey stuff they were naturalists in method, full stop.
    What would the abandonment of methodological naturalism in science look like? We’re still going to be criticizing the logic by which conclusions are drawn from observations; that part won’t change. I guess we’d just append a paragraph to the end of every article that said something like “Alternatively, our data could be explained as the result of some sort of ineffable miracle. Or something. Possibly the God of Abraham Himself [captcha].”

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  03:50 PM
  10. Good science is expressed in terms of humility and uncertainty because the reality it seeks to describe is complex, emergent, and all-too- stochastic. Unfortunately, good science is distorted easily in political and legal discourses. Good scientific talk about global warming, for example, becomes the “even scientists aren’t sure if global warming is occurring” line of the Bush Administration. They then find bad scientists (Lomburg) to offer certitudes that global warming is fiction. This is where the elusive Fuller fits in. Evolutionary theory is replete with provisional elements and guesses, he notes with accuracy. But this leads to thislogical lea: These areas of uncertainty are openings for reenchanting nature with metaphysics and divinity. If scientists can’t agree on evolution, then the supernaturalism of Intelligent Design is as good a guess as any. This distorted view of the place of evolutionary theory, and of theory itself, in the community of scientists was the gist of Fuller’s testimony in the Dover trial.

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  04:17 PM
  11. Why do i think Fuller would protest (badger like perhaps) should the scientists in question prefer to believe passionately in Hinduism???? It must be the power of Siva that enables the uranium atom to be torn asunder by bolts of particles. 

    And of course there is a certain hysterical irony in the support ID gets from that fountain of intellectual rigor, Islamic fundamentalists (the wackiest of that bunch suggest that ID is a Satanic deception because Allah doesn’t need any design for creating all possible worlds). 

    Personally, i can’t wait until January 26, 2009 when we all move directly (captcha) into the year of the Yin Earth Ox (26/60).

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  05:25 PM
  12. Does Steve Fuller even hear the words that he’s speaking, other that the lilting and mellifluous tones emanating from his person?

    Answer:  No.  No one can here you emanate in outer space.

    Posted by Pinko Punko  on  12/23  at  06:15 PM
  13. I renounce the internet and its fascist homonyms.

    Posted by Pinko Punko  on  12/23  at  07:29 PM
  14. Can I suggest that the next time an intteligent design argument comes up, people get referred to Dara O Briain’s thoughts on the topic: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=LHqOG8p0Lkc

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  08:24 PM
  15. If not for Newton’s apple we’d have no gravity. Sans Eve’s we’d have no knowledge.

    Captcha: girl. Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me.

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  08:43 PM
  16. I hear that there are Muslim clerics who are eyeing ID. Adding stoning to the debate will help to clarify the strange ways in which the Lord works.

    Posted by Bob In Pacifca  on  12/23  at  10:10 PM
  17. If it weren’t for Apple’s Newton we’d have no Dylan.

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  10:27 PM
  18. Jesus this is getting past its use-by date.  I pray for a decent admissibility challenge the next time Fuller takes the stand - not just on his knowledge of the science, but his expertise in STS.

    That’s the only way I can see us being spared this circus.

    Posted by dk.au  on  12/23  at  10:44 PM
  19. I am inspired by sunsets; we need more discussion of Ra in science class.

    Posted by Michael Drake  on  12/24  at  12:16 PM
  20. Bob #16- one of the craziest creationists around is a muslim, Harun Yahya.  His people in Turkey have managed to severely damage science teaching.

    As for Fuller, he’s nuts, as far as I can understand, his comments are never actually relevant to the issue at hand, which at Dover was the teaching of a religiously motivated non-science in science classrooms.

    Posted by  on  12/24  at  04:34 PM
  21. Actually, guthrie, it’s worse than that:  Fuller’s comments were relevant to the issue at hand, and he explicitly favored the teaching of religiously motivated non-science in science classrooms.

    I do love me some Ra, though.  Gotta get some Ra into that curriculum. . . .

    Posted by Michael  on  12/24  at  07:39 PM
  22. Well, yes I suppose they were relevant in that way, but I could never work out how he could justify his stance with some reference (I’m going by my rather poor memory here and praphrasing a rather opaque argument to boot) to the dominant paradigm requiring challenge and equal time in teaching.

    Posted by  on  12/25  at  05:25 PM
  23. ... and whether, by Fuller’s logic, astrology (whose “practitioners” certainly outnumber evolutionary theorists today) deserves a place alongside ID in the science curriculum.

    Actually, that was Michael Behe.

    Go irreducibly complex badgers!

    Posted by jre  on  12/25  at  09:20 PM
  24. OK; I take it back.  It is Steve Fuller after all.

    [W]hile one might like the people touted as the leading ID scientists to do more original research, one wonders how that would be possible, given the institutional barriers to their getting the funds, students, etc. one needs to produce such research. The other deviant sciences died pretty much the same way, not because of some knockout argument or result but simply an inability to reproduce the perspective in institutionally fertile ground.

    K-riminey!  Is it possible even to imagine something so silly-assed that Steve Fuller will not say it?  I fear for the future of mockery.

    Moloch bless us, every one!

    Posted by jre  on  12/25  at  09:38 PM
  25. Yes IDT should be kept out of high school biology courses, yet IDT and Behe-like speculations should not just be marked Verboten and dismissed: as with that old chestnut the Watchmaker, at least having students refute the assumptions may have some heuristic value, as y’all say, and Design of course needn’t be read as ju-xtian. For that mattter, Design was one of the classical arguments for G*d--advanced by the likes of Leibniz, so also has some historical interest.

    Behe may be a demogogue, yet obviously quite competent in biochemistry (at least as competent as say Dawkins), and does not dispute the old earth, or most of Darwinian theory. It was the fundie protestant sorts who seized on IDT to offer support for their absurd pterodactyl and Moses scenarios. Behe’s central error was taking sides with the fundies.

    Posted by 8  on  01/06  at  03:43 PM
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