Steve Fuller Replies
Over the weekend, Steve Fuller himself stopped by this humble blog to reply to Friday’s post. I thought his reply was too substantial and important to leave in blog comments (particularly since the comment thread had been taken—how shall I say this—in such very strange directions before Steve showed up in comments 51-52), so I wrote to ask him if I could move it on up here as its very own ad hoc guest post. Graciously, he agreed.
Without further ado, then, here’s Steve Fuller in his own words:
A friend drew my attention to your blog. Your perplexity over my position in the Dover trial is only matched by my own perplexity, since in other contexts academic humanists appear to be quite sophisticated in teasing out, and often justifying, seemingly paradoxical positions. One thing I can say though is that for people who seem to worry about whether ID or I make any sense, you don’t try very hard to check out what you’re saying.
First of all, the fact that I am reported in MSNBC does not mean that I actually spoke to them (there was a reasonably decent Associated Press piece on the day of my testimony, and it got sliced, diced and spliced—e.g. remarks about Behe I never made but make for good boilerplate in summarising ID—across the rest of the media). Moreover, the fact that The Panda’s Thumb thinks I’m a postmodernist doesn’t mean I’m one—at least I’m not one that real postmodernists would normally associate themselves with! I’m sorry if this sounds patronising but I’d hate you to think you’ve been having a serious discussion worthy of people who claim ‘criticism’ as a profession. You guys simply take at face value what the media presents and then back it up with whatever you can dredge up. Haven’t you people heard of cultural studies? (It was also touching that one of you thought the New Yorker piece was harsh on me—you must lead a sheltered life, if you think that’s harsh!]
It is true that I do believe we live in ‘the postmodern condition’ in roughly the way Lyotard described it. But normatively speaking, I’m committed to retrieving the Enlightenment project under these unfortunate circumstances. I have always been very consistent on this point from Social Epistemology (1988) onward. (Some of you may have read about the debate I had in Hong Kong with Bruno Latour a couple of years ago that was published in the journal, History of the Human Sciences.) What may confuse people is that to retrieve the spirit of the Enlightenment today, you may need to do something radically different from the 18th century, when the authority of natural science was still somewhat counter-cultural. In particular, I am a little disturbed by the ease with which humanists and social scientists justify deference to scientific expertise, almost in a ‘good fences make good neighbours’ vain (Stanley Fish comes to mind in criticism, but analytic philosophy and sociology of science have their own versions of this argument). In this respect, ‘our’ side pulled its punches in the Science Wars when it refused to come out and say that the scientific establishment may not be the final word on what science is, let alone what it ought to be. I guess we just never got over the embarrassment of the Sokal Affair.
By the way, none of this stuff about postmodernism came up in the trial. This labelling is the product of various spin-doctors trying to get a fix on where I might be coming from. They note that I cite postmodernists, deal with their ideas seriously and am even not averse to their rhetorical flourishes. Ergo, I’m a postmodernist? So much for depth hermeneutics! You might want to read what I actually say—in print, in the trial, and in the written expert report I submitted before the trial. (All easily available. Have you heard of Google?) But of course, some things I said were not a million miles from what is reported. And frankly, if in the year 2005 you’re branded a ‘postmodernist’ just because you say that the scientific establishment is systematically biased against certain ideas like ID—and that this state-of-affairs isn’t about the change out of its own accord very soon—then I suggest a refresher course in the sociology of science. (By the way, I’m no malcontent outside the peer review system: I peer review for just about every field and publisher you can imagine. I’m often positioned as a cross between the ultimate general reader and attorney for the damned—i.e. the person who might see something good in an otherwise god-awful text. My scepticism of peer review comes from deep involvement in it.)
Someone here mentioned some affinity between my view and Feyerabend’s ‘anything goes’. Actually I don’t believe ‘anything goes’. I’m making a specific case about ID. ID deserves space less for what it’s done recently than as a representative of the main counter-tradition in the history of science to the one represented nowadays by Neo-Darwinism. This counter-tradition’s standard bearer is not Paley, of watch-on-the-beach fame, but Isaac Newton who believed he had gotten inside of God’s mind. One cannot underestimate the heuristic value of this belief in the history of science, not only in physics but also in computer science and of course genetics (sometimes with disastrous consequences). (By the way, this was the bulk of what I said in the trial.) So, the fact that contemporary ID is not well-supported by research matters much less to me than its potential for inspiring new directions in the scientific imagination. The US Constitution notwithstanding, it is historically false and pedagogically destructive to think that good science requires leaving your religion at the door. I say this as someone who hasn’t been to church since I graduated from Regis High School in NYC. (I was in the year before Michael.)
I’m not going to deny that there are lots of different things going on in this trial. But the key thing to keep in mind is that the legal issue—for better or worse—is NOT whether ID is good science, let alone as good as Darwin. It is whether ID is religion trying to pass itself off as science. If so, then it’s prohibited. However, the Constitution does not prohibit the teaching of bad or weird science, if public school boards say so.
I should say that my status as an expert in the trial had nothing to do with the textbooks under scrutiny. In fact, I was deliberately kept away from them—though others took them apart. No one denies that an earlier edition of the proposed ID textbook, ‘Pandas and People’, was based on creationism. However, I testified about the status of the ID researchers, and they are radically different from the old creationists of 25 years ago when this latest round of anti-evolution trials got started. There scientifically trained. To be sure, they don’t have all their arguments worked out yet, but they are trying to do science of a radically different sort that does have precedent in the history of science.
Frankly, I think the public disposition of the Dover case is over-influenced by hatred of Bush and especially fear of the role of fundamentalist Christians in shaping the Bush agenda. (I have in mind here the propaganda campaign being waged on webpages associated with the ACLU: Don’t they have more important civil rights violations in the US to worry about?) I’m certainly no fan of Bush, and have never even voted for a Republican, but I don’t think that this trial is the right place to ‘send a message’ to Bush. Why not work instead toward getting an electable Democrat—perhaps even one that can relate to the vast numbers of religious folks in the US, as the liberal evangelist Jim Wallis (‘God’s Politics’) suggests?
I’ll have a reply to this later in the week, as I try to dig myself out from under a workload that feels like a couple of feet of snow (and some of which involves writing about the Sokal Affair—yet again, sigh). In the meantime, the formidable Jonathan Goodwin has picked up the thread over at The Valve, writing, “Some of the discussion I’ve seen about Fuller’s testimony has been very quick to invoke various Sokal-induced chimeras and don’t seem to have paid much attention to what he actually is arguing.” Perhaps some of you might want to head over there and chip in with comments and questions, not least because Fuller is once again being accused of something called “Post Modernism” and the comment thread so far consists largely of Sokal-induced chimeras.
Well, my own Sokal-induced chimera over there was to say that Fuller seemed indifferent to the fact, which is pretty decisive to me, that none of the ID people are biologists who have done any work in biology, except on the ID issue itself.
This squares with Fuller’s own stated belief that scientists often don’t understand what they’re doing, but can have it explained to them by historians, sociologists, or philosophers of science. This can be true in many cases, but it seems unlikely to me that an armchair philosopher will be able to set biology straight, if there are essentially no working biologists agreeing with him or doing work on the topic.
I’ve never understood how ID can be non-theistic. Who would that designer be then? People using the old “found watch” argument had a definite idea who the watchmaker was—it was God.
The ACLU has Fuller’s testimont up, and I read some 40 pages of it before I came to any conclusions about him personally.Posted by John Emerson on 12/05 at 01:05 PM
He starts well:
“I’m not going to deny that there are lots of different things going on in this trial. But the key thing to keep in mind is that the legal issue—for better or worse—is NOT whether ID is good science, let alone as good as Darwin. It is whether ID is religion trying to pass itself off as science.”
(Though, of course, it’s not going up against Darwin. It’s going up against modern understandings of evolution, which is Darwin plus 146 years of concentrated thought, criticism, observation and experimentation by a huge number of very intelligent people. The use of words like “Darwinist” is a creationist trope, intending to imply that we are blindly following a Sacred Book written by an old guy with a big beard, just like them.)
Anyway, what does our man conclude?
“I testified about the status of the ID researchers, and they are radically different from the old creationists of 25 years ago when this latest round of anti-evolution trials got started. They’re scientifically trained. To be sure, they don’t have all their arguments worked out yet, but they are trying to do science of a radically different sort that does have precedent in the history of science.”
In other words “they can’t possibly be creationists. They’ve got science degrees! So what they do must be science!”
I wish someone had called him as a witness at the Crippen trial. “But Hawley Crippen can’t possibly be a murderer. He’s a doctor! So what he does must be medicine! To be sure, he hasn’t got his treatment protocols worked out yet, but what he did to his wife was medicine of a radically different sort that does have precedent in the history of medicine.”
Questions he should have considered before rising to his hind legs:
Are almost all of the ID supporters devout Christians? Why, yes. What a coincidence.
Are they overwhelmingly members of denominations that espouse creationism and oppose evolution? Why, yes. What a coincidence.
Who funds ID publicity? Creationists. What a coincidence.
Have there been lots of embarrassing revelations of ID being used by some of its proponents as a scrim for getting creationism onto the syllabus? Indeed there have. How interesting.
So tell me, do you suspect that there might, maybe, possibly, be a link between creationism and ID?
Well, let me think. No, actually, I reckon they’re just bona fide scientists trying to inspire science to new and radical approaches to the history of life.Posted by on 12/05 at 01:09 PM
Well, my own Sokal-induced chimera over there was to say that Fuller seemed indifferent to the fact, which is pretty decisive to me, that none of the ID people are biologists who have done any work in biology, except on the ID issue itself.
John, yours is the best comment in that thread so far. I also just happen to agree with it. Hence my hedge about how the thread consists largely of Sokal-induced chimeras. I’m kind of hoping that future commenters will take the discussion back to the level at which you started it.Posted by on 12/05 at 01:15 PM
I wish I could add something substantial, but I just popped in late to the two-post party to say: did *everyone* go to St. Regis?! Weird!
And also: the comment thread had been taken—how shall I say this—in such very strange directions
I’ll say! If you mention him, he will come.Posted by Dr. Virago on 12/05 at 02:14 PM
Many of Newton’s breakthroughs were true scientific breakthroughs, achieved scientifically, regardless of his view of them as entering the mind of God. ID is created out of whole cloth, solely for the purpose arguing against evolution. Itself, it is a flimsy straw man that can only be torn down. I find the argument above to be wholly unconvincing. The whole point of determining whether ID is science or not requires some scientific knowledge, not games with words and false logic and flase analogies.Posted by Pinko Punko on 12/05 at 02:22 PM
Never mind worrying over “Sokal-induced chimeras”—it’s difficult to refrain from making entirely libellous inferences about the contents of Mr. Fuller’s bloodstream after reading the above. Since I am not personally possessed of the time or spare cash to litigate such things, I will instead merely point out that if one replaces “evolution” with “combustion” and “ID” with “phlogiston” in Mr. Fuller’s comment, its meaning and usefulness would not seem to be substantially changed.Posted by Doctor Memory on 12/05 at 02:34 PM
I’ll say! If you mention him, he will come.
That’ll teach me to link to Rumplestiltskin on someone else’s blog.Posted by Chris Clarke on 12/05 at 02:43 PM
The idea that the ID folks are simply honest scholars working in some lost Newtonian tradition of religiously-informed scientific inquiry is mind-snappingly disingenuous. People like Newton and Einstein spoke about God’s thoughts as if they had glimpsed them, but only in the context of approaching the natural world with an open mind and a rigorous scalpel—and the world they saw operated on unfailingly naturalistic principles. The ID folks are trying awkwardly to fit a predetermined conclusion onto a recalcitrant universe, and anyone who claims otherwise is either dishonest or not paying attention.Posted by Sean on 12/05 at 02:58 PM
On *The National Review*’s website, there’s a crazy piece of rhetorical blackmail by Mustafa Akyol:
Akyol discusses how “Sadly, it was secularist Europe — and especially, theophobic France — rather than the religious United States that the Islamic world encountered as ‘the West.’ No wonder, then, that the West eventually became synonymous with godlessness.”
That’s right! So go terrorize France, you terrorists, because America is *really* a theocratic state in disguise. Islamists, we’re—just like you!
And how can we prove it to fundamentalist Muslims that we’re on their side? By supporting Intelligent Design! Take it way, Akyol:
“By its bold challenge to Darwinian evolution — a concept that claims it is possible to be an ‘intellectually fulfilled atheist’ — ID is indeed a wedge that can split the foundations of scientific materialism. ID presents a new perspective on science, one that is based solely on scientific evidence yet is fully compatible with faith in God. That’s why William Dembski, one of its leading theorists, defines ID as a bridge between science and theology.
“As the history of the cultural conflict between the modern West and Islam shows, ID can also be a bridge between these two civilizations. The first bricks of that bridge are now being laid in the Islamic world. In Turkey, the current debate over ID has attracted much attention in the Islamic media.”
So: the clash of civilizations can be eased, if only the US would become more religious. The war on terrorism will end once everyone is a fundamentalist. I’m just glad that the crew on *The National Review* are finally admitting that the Bushies and the Islamists are—wait for it—on the same side! As Akyol argues, the real problem is that the terrorists who hate materialism have targetted the wrong country because they think the America of TV and Hollywood is the real America. Actually, it’s *Europe* that’s to blame, so go bomb them. (And let’s all forget that Bush’s advice to get the country back in the saddle after 9/11 was to all go shopping. That’s just a case of materialism serving as the bitch of theocracy, I guess. )
The NR’s publication of Akyol’s essay gives the lie to the denial that ID is trying to bring theology in through the back door. Theology is coming right in through the front door, in fact, even if it feels, through all of this, that we’re all taking it in the rear.Posted by on 12/05 at 03:19 PM
What Luther said.
Also what everyone else has said, too. Though I want to point out to Dr. V. that it’s “Regis,” not “St. Regis,” and no, not everyone went there. We were very selective, and would never have admitted Rumplestiltskin (for example). Or women.
Also, I think Mustafa Akyol’s postmodernist moral relativism must be condemned.Posted by Michael on 12/05 at 03:32 PM
Others have said, far better than I could, why ID is *not* proper science. But few have called it for what it *is*.
When Fuller says it does not matter to him that “...contemporary ID is not well-supported by research” he may not realize he is acknowledging that contemporary ID consists of nothing but rhetoric--however pretty and scientific-esque that rhetoric may be.
What matters to Fuller is that ID inspires “new directions in the scientific imagination.” Alas, if that is any measure of it’s worth I assert it has failed even as a rhetorical device. It is, at best, scientificesque.
If ID need not contain any substance and is worthy of presentation in academia as pure inspirational rhetorical entertainment then what, pray tell, separates it from Sokal?
Alas, then, Fuller has also fallen for a hoax. For the purpose of ID’s rhetoric isn’t just some refreshing overdue slap in the face to Science. It is much less noble than that, and the Dover incident is a telling example.
The roadmap for the ID movement, the “Wedge” Document laying out plans for the insinuation of ID into culture, is so named because ID is essentially a political tool--a wedge issue, quite specifically--that is wielded to cleave gullible voters of little education or means from their natural home in the Democratic Party. Like other wedge issues--gay marriage, the ‘death’ tax, etc.--the intent is to split such voters off from their best economic and educational interests and swing their votes to the conservative side for percieved cultural reasons. ID exists as a political wedge and nothing more, inspiring not new scientific thought but reactionary political behavior. The reason the Discovery Institute discourages the school districts from pushing for the presentation of ID at this time is ostensibly because their theories are, um, not quite ‘ready’; but when the ID movement is correctly understood as a political wedge issue the real reason for the lack of support from the DI, its principle backer, becomes clear: Were ID to be accepted in schools, its power as a political wedge would be blunted or broken.
Dover is a clear example of this; the board was taken over by those using ID (as a faith proxy) as a wedge; once they were able to insert it, any political leverage was spent and they were driven, wholesale, from office.
So I for one do not expect to see any development in ID that will solidify the DI’s ID orthodoxy to the point where it can be taught; lack of scientific footing aside, ID is not meant for the classroom; it is designed for the voting booth.
- MFAPosted by on 12/05 at 03:54 PM
“Sadly, it was secularist Europe — and especially, theophobic France — rather than the religious United States that the Islamic world encountered as ‘the West.’ No wonder, then, that the West eventually became synonymous with godlessness.”
In addition to everything else wrong with Akyol’s National Review piece, this claim is ridiculous. Sayyid Qutb, who is as responsible as anyone for inventing what’s usually called “Islamism,” formulated his political and religious views in response to spending time in Greeley, Colorado the late 1940s. Hard to imagine a less theophobic (or French) place.
In addition to promoting religious fanaticism, Akyol seems to miss the crucial point that religious fanatics from different faith traditions are as likely—if not more likely—to try to slaughter each other as they are to make common cause based on the isomorphism of their beliefs.Posted by on 12/05 at 04:13 PM
Though I want to point out to Dr. V. that it’s “Regis,” not “St. Regis”
What? You mean you didn’t go to high school in a Beaux Arts landmark NYC hotel???Posted by Dr. Virago on 12/05 at 04:36 PM
I think it’s fair to say that Steve Fuller is less worried about ID as a creationist wedge than he is about the political consequences of thinking of science as a politically autonomous realm, a realm in which only elite experts can determine what counts as science and how to use the resources that they are given by foundations and government agencies. I happen to think he has his priorities wrong in this case, but I can understand his point.
But Fuller seems to err in presuming that proponents of ID are “trying to do science of a radically different sort” than modern evolutionary biology. Insofar as their work has any scientific content, it is aimed at identifying weaknesses or anomalies in evolutionary biology: e.g., “irreducible complexity” (Behe) or “specified complexity” (Dembski), both of which are attempts to identify phenomena that evolutionary biology cannot explain, within the framework of molecular biology and information theory. Evolutionary biologists and information theorists have patiently, or impatiently, pointed out the flaws in this sort of argument. (See, for instance, the Dover trial testimony of Ken Miller and the expert report by Jeffrey Shallit, both available at www2.ncseweb.org/kvd.) The supposed weaknesses or anomalies aren’t there. The real weaknesses, anomalies, or lacunae in modern evolutionary biology are in areas like development, where lots of exciting research is being done, but it’s not research that supports ID. Meanwhile, ID proponents have yet to propose a positive research program.
Since Fuller brought up Newton, the contrast is worth bringing out. Book II of Newton’s Principia is devoted to showing how Descartes’s theory of vortices fails to account for the phenomena. But Newton also offered his own theory of celestial motion in books I and III. ID has offered a not especially convincing critique of evolutionary biology and has not offered any scientific alternative. It’s not “radically different” science, it’s not (yet) science at all, theologically motivated or otherwise.Posted by Brian Ogilvie on 12/05 at 05:14 PM
"I think it’s fair to say that Steve Fuller is less worried about ID ... than he is about the political consequences of thinking of science as a politically autonomous realm, a realm in which only elite experts can determine what counts as science ... I happen to think he has his priorities wrong in this case, but I can understand his point.”
I know of no one advocating that any realm of knowledge be ruled by a cadre of elite experts; those who argue that science must contain empirical evidence and replicable experiments and whatnot do so for practical reasons, not guilded ones. If that is indeed Fuller’s point, he is arguing in a void.
And again, the ID wedge is not intended to split the science of biology, but to shave away voters. Any discussion of ID that focuses on the politics of science rather than on electoral politics is, I think, buying into the illusion.
- MFAPosted by on 12/05 at 05:28 PM
”...is NOT whether ID is good science, let alone as good as Darwin.”
“...but they are trying to do science of a radically different sort...”
Sorry if my post is redundant, but...umm...they (IDers) don’t do science! There is no science there! I hope this is touched on in your critique, Michael. (And I’d truly love to see PZ Myers have a go at this.)Posted by on 12/05 at 05:31 PM
Fuller says it matters less to him that ID is “not well-supported by research” than that it can inspire new directions in research. This is less than candid: ID isn’t supported by research at all.
Fuller also argues that “the key thing to keep in mind is that the legal issue—for better or worse—is NOT whether ID is good science, let alone as good as Darwin. It is whether ID is religion trying to pass itself off as science. If so, then it’s prohibited. However, the Constitution does not prohibit the teaching of bad or weird science, if public school boards say so.” But if ID isn’t religion, why add that “it is historically false and pedagogically destructive to think that good science requires leaving your religion at the door”?
We might also ask about the scholarly ethics of testifying on behalf of a school that dictates the teaching of “bad or weird science.” If they mandated the teaching of racist pseudoscience--untainted by religion--would Fuller defend that as a stimulus to “new directions in research” presently closed off by “scientific expertise”? There is still at least one serious flat-earther around (he becomes evasive when eclipses are mentioned); if the Dover school board appoints him to teach astronomy, will Fuller stand up for him, as long as he checks his religion at the door?Posted by rootlesscosmo on 12/05 at 06:01 PM
PART ONE OF TWO
Dear me, what a load of … responses!
First, on a rhetorical note, many – though not all—of you guys seem to think I bear the burden of proof of showing that your preconceived ideas about ID are wrong. If I don’t refute something you already believe about it, then I must be wrong. Well, things might be a bit more complicated than that. I’ll take these in some kind of order:
1.‘ID people aren’t biologists’. Michael Behe is a biochemist, Scott Minnich (one of the defence’s expert witnesses) is a microbiologist. These fields are normally seen as part of biology, at least when evolutionists practice it. Of course, not all ID people are biologists, but then neither are all defenders of evolution—especially the philosophers. One non-biologically trained philosopher stands out in this context: Michael Ruse, who established the benchmark that was used in the 1982 Arkansas to kick Creationism out of the classroom.
2.‘ID people are mostly Christian’. So are most scientists of the modern era. In fact, the scientists these days who most loudly flaunt their anti-Christian, atheist colours can’t escape smuggling some kind of theistically inspired thought, including James Watson’s desires to play God, Steven Weinberg’s peculiar fascination with the aesthetic quality of simplicity and the anthropic principle (both of which have Newtonian provenance), Dawkins’ compulsive resort to design-based metaphors and nonsense talk about ‘design without a designer’ without much literal to replace it with. At the end of the day, the main argument for design is an attenuated version of Kant’s view that we need to presuppose a purposeful unity in science in order for science to be possible – at least at the scale and intensity in which Newton did it. The question to ask here is what value, if any, does atheism contribute to good science?
3.‘Modern evolution theory is about more than just Darwin’. Yes, of course it is. But even evolution’s staunchest defenders have remarked on the strong iconic role that Darwin continues to play in this field, which is quite unusual in the natural sciences. An important reason is the politically correct lesson that his life teaches: the idea that science causes you to lose your faith. Newton, unfortunately, thought his theory confirmed his reading of the Bible. Not very politically correct.
... TO BE CONTINUEDPosted by Steve Fuller on 12/05 at 07:05 PM
PART TWO OF TWO
4.‘ID is the new phlogiston’. Maybe so. But that does not phlogiston was a scientific concept dealt with by scientific means. Being true and being scientific are quite different things. One thing that ID does share with phlogiston is that it’s part of a conceptual system that is incommensurable to that of the respective dominant position: i.e. ID is cutting reality at different joints from Darwinism. In particular, ID is primarily as theory not of life, but of design, which is a concept indifferent to the life/non-life distinction. God creates the universe like we create artefacts. The revival of this analogy, which was the basis of the mechanical world-view that launched the Scientific Revolution, is one of the most exciting features of ID. Here Dembski’s work on trying to define design as a distinct explanatory category is quite interesting and worth pursuing, though not yet successful. He’s the one who’s pursued a research agenda that is least parasitic on weaknesses in evolution, which I agree is not an ideal way to run a would-be science.
5.‘ID is just a front for the notorious Wedge document that would re-Christianise America’. So what? We don’t throw Darwin off the curriculum because many of his followers supported eugenics and even Nazism, and have been generally opposed to elaborate state-based welfare policies. If judged scientific theories by what we think of what motivates them, then we wouldn’t have much science left. This is why it’s important to distinguish the contexts of discovery and justification: ID can be as religiously motivated as you like. What matters is whether it can be developed, criticised and tested without having the motives. And the answer is yes.
6. ‘Newton and Einstein were “religious” in a good sense because they were open-minded guys who did real science. ID people are “religious” in a bad sense because they’re closed-minded guys who are really doing religion’. I slightly caricature here the dumbest comment made so far. As so often happens, people tend to read history – especially history of science – already knowing what happened in the end and then projecting that back into the original situation. How do you suppose Newton appeared before he became canonical – or for that matter any of those nonconformist Christians who started the Scientific Revolution? Many went underground with their beliefs, and when those beliefs were either persecuted or regarded as somewhat loopy. Some things never change…
I’m sure I left out some truly incisive criticisms. If so, I’m sure one of you will remind me of it.
ENDPosted by Steve Fuller on 12/05 at 07:06 PM
The point that I made briefly in the post that Michael linked to is that theistic scientific motivation is distinguishable from setting out to undermine a scientific theory perceived to be atheistic. And these things are distinct here.
Re #6, does the Discovery Institute, for instance, seem to have much in common, historically speaking, with say the Levellers?Posted by Jonathan on 12/05 at 07:48 PM
1. Very few ID people are biologists, and the few that are are breathtaking in their lack of comprehension of evolution. Behe is just fine at the technical details of histone biochemistry...but his book is embarrassingly shallow. You can find a small number of crackpots in any discipline, and trotting those same paltry few out over and over again as representative is pathetic.
2. Most competent scientists may be Christian in their private lives, but do not allow their religious beliefs to color their interpretation of their data. The complaint against IDists isn’t that they are Christian, but that they are trying to twist evidence to fit a predetermined ideological conclusion. A “purposeful unity” is vague enough that atheists can live with it (it does not presuppose a deity, you know), and theistic evolutionists will embrace it. As for what atheism brings to science...it brings an absence of absurdities.
3. Misrepresentation of Darwin to serve ideological ends is deplorable, no matter who does it. Darwin is an icon, but one that is treated rather irreverently--I spend a week and a half in my genetics course dismantling Darwin’s poor ideas about inheritance to contrast them with Mendel’s discoveries, for instance. I don’t see atheists using Darwin as a goad to people to abandon religion, perhaps because we’re more aware of the complexities of that story (he was not an atheist, but a reluctant agnostic, and it wasn’t science that brought him to that point, but family tragedy.) I do see fundies still preaching the phony Lady Hope story of a deathbed conversion, though.Posted by PZ Myers on 12/05 at 07:49 PM
Well, maybe they’re not incisive, but I did make a couple of points on the other thread that aren’t answered above. Since a lot of clever people are getting at the Newton point I won’t belabor it, except to say that there seems to be quite a large leap from the religious and indeed magical aspects of Newton’s thought to the current ID debate. It seems to me very easy to set up criteria for Newton’s work that ID has yet to even begin measuring up to, and surely Newton was influential not because of his religious views, but because he was a stunningly successful natural scientist.
Second, there is still *no response to* the query that Michael raised originally, and that I repeated, which is: Why is the line so bright with regard to the Hindu Science that Meera Nanda attacks? I took it that the question was not so much about Steve Fuller’s ID position itself, as how it squares with the position that blurbed Nanda’s book by saying
“This first detailed examination of postmodernism’s politically reactionary consequences should serve as a wake-up call for all conscientious leftists.”
And despite some wording in the first reply about paradoxical positions, I would really appreciate, as a simple-minded fellow, a direct comment on Nanda’s work, and on *why the arguments made in favor of ID cannot also be made for Hindu Science*.Posted by on 12/05 at 08:04 PM
4. ID is incommensurable with the evidence—it’s not just an argument about equally valid ways of interpreting data. ID is built on a foundation of ignorance (some willful, some merely unfortunate) about the depth of information available that supports evolutionary theory. And please, to cite Dembski...the man is a dilettante who relies on speaking math to those who know a little biology and biology to those who know a little math. His ideas are useless.
5. Nazis and eugenicists have mangled and misapplied evolutionary ideas, it is true, and that is not grounds for dismissing it. I’d also say that Christians have used biology to contrive new apologetics for their religion, and that is not grounds for rejecting either Christianity or evolution. Any idea will have followers who abuse it. However, we’re not talking about some wayward acolytes who have twisted a body of theory and observation; we’re talking about the founders of a so-called scientific hypothesis. The gang at the Discovery Institute are the same people who are claiming that IDism is a science, in the absence of a body of empirical support, so of course their motives are legitimate to call into question. If the founders have nothing but faith to back up their claims, this is not science.
6. I don’t think that was a dumb comment at all, and it gets to the root of what you seem to be missing in your argument. It doesn’t matter whether someone is a Catholic, an atheist, a Muslim, a Rastafarian--the point of scientific methods is that they are a set of principles that allow disparate people to converge on similar answers by testing them empirically against the real world, rather than against personal biases or dogma. Newton’s ideas won out no matter how loopy he might have seemed because he documented how they were derived, and others could replicate them. The current body of evolutionary theories win out, no matter how counter-intuitive, harsh, or difficult they seem because they have been tested, tested, tested. ID’s ideas have not been tested. The IDists do not have a research program to test them. They do not make any predictions to challenge our understanding of how the world works. They make assertions, nothing more, and the only thing holding them up are tissue-thin pretenses and a poorly hidden religious contraption.Posted by PZ Myers on 12/05 at 08:07 PM
Colin Danby: “Why is the line so bright with regard to the Hindu Science that Meera Nanda attacks?”
After reading the unsubtle rhetoric from Steve Fuller above, such as “In fact, the scientists these days who most loudly flaunt their anti-Christian, atheist colours [...]”, I think that I can answer that question: the problem with Hindu Science is that it is Hindu. ID on the other hand, is Christian.
There’s one Gordian knot cut through.Posted by on 12/05 at 09:45 PM
as someone who hasn’t been to church since I graduated from Regis High School in NYC. (I was in the year before Michael.)
I’d like to point out, not that anyone is going to believe me, that the phrase “jesuitical” had already crossed my mind before I got to this point in the argument.Posted by julia on 12/05 at 10:30 PM
With all due respect to Mr. Fuller for providing a more gracious response to my comment than its tone (intentionally chosen, but regardless) warranted… I’m afraid you rather missed the point of my suggesting the substitution of “phlogiston” into your schema—a misinterpretation highlighted by your appending the adjective “new” to it, a construction that I very intentionally did not use. “ID” is not a new theory, it is an old and entirely debunked theory, no matter that it has been given a focus-group-tested name and plumage: plumping for it in 2005 is no more defensible in terms of the “enlightenment project” than suggesting that scientists should treat the thermodynamics of oxygen as an unsettled question and revisit the possibility of phlogiston.
That you have managed to construct an argument in which providing aid and rhetorical cover to the worst sort of theocratically-minded autocrats currently in a position of actual political power in this country in the name of fending off a rather airily defined notion of overweening scientific self-regard (or an even more airily conceived idea of a possible future paradigm shift) speaks of either shocking solipsism or complete dishonesty, and I’m not sure which is more depressing.Posted by Doctor Memory on 12/05 at 10:48 PM
Steve Fuller asked, in comment #19: “How do you suppose Newton appeared before he became canonical – or for that matter any of those nonconformist Christians who started the Scientific Revolution?” Well, Newton appeared as a mathematical genius (in contemporaries’ eyes) who was working on problems that were of broad interest. In 1667, twenty years before the Principia were published, he was elected a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, admittedly no particular distinction, but in 1669 he succeeded Isaac Barrow as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, certainly a mark of esteem. Several of his contemporaries were working on the inverse square law of attraction; with Edmund Halley’s encouragement, Newton wrote the Principia, which were published at Halley’s expense because the Royal Society had just spent its publications budget on Ray and Willughby’s Historia piscium. The Principia were well received, despite the critique that they proposed action at a distance, supposedly anathema to the mechanical world view of the scientific revolution.
As for other “nonconformist Christians” in the scientific revolution: Copernicus and Galileo were good Catholics; Descartes too, though Galileo’s fate convinced him not to publish “Le Monde, ou Traité de la lumière” in his lifetime. Their ideas were certainly controversial, but they met with wide acceptance among contemporaries from the beginning, regardless of confessional affiliation; the Lutheran Kepler was one of Galileo’s staunchest supporters. (Copernicus is a more complicated case: most early readers, as Owen Gingerich and Robert Westman have shown, were more interested in using his work to calculate planetary positions than they were in whether the sun was really the center of the world.) Blaise Pascal, too, a was good Catholic, though he ultimately decided that science was a form of idolatry.
One quality that distinguishes these thinkers was their conviction that whatever truths about the world they discovered through the light of reason would be compatible with revelation. That was Galileo’s position in his letter to Castelli, the one that would become the famous letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, in which Galileo presumed to tell Cardinal Bellarmine how to read the Bible. They rejected the scholastic notion of “double truth.” So, too, do defenders of Intelligent Design, but my hypothesis is that they place revelation before reason: hence they emphasize on the shortcomings of contemporary natural science rather than focusing their energies on developing a competing empirical research program. I will repeat that this is a hypothesis, one in keeping with my preliminary investigations (and with William Dembski’s admission on “The Late Show,” for what it’s worth), but one in need of further empirical research.
On a side note: Professor Fuller is right to note that most western scientists are Christians, but that is not much more helpful than noting that they are scientists. One can no more reify “Christianity” into a uniform category than one can reify “science” outside of its historically contingent, communal instantiations.Posted by Brian Ogilvie on 12/05 at 11:06 PM
Fuller, in 18, begins by dismissing all criticism as crap and ends in 19 by attempting to handwave away all subsequent response as mere carping. I’d hoped for more.
In 19.5 he makes a valiant attempt to mischaracterize my argument about the main thrust of the ID ‘movement’, which is (however disappointing it may be for those who wish to amuse themselves by treating it as a trifle), again, neither scientific nor religious; it is purely political--in the popular sense and not in the social one. ID is not “a front for the notorious Wedge document that would re-Christianise America”, and I did not make that argument.
Instead, the effort to re-Christianize America (har har) is itself a front for the forces that would reshape the political landscape--and the actual lives of real people, rather than academic constructs--to serve the economic system of those who fund organizations like the DI. Religion is to them a necessary tool for control, as even a passing familiarity with Kristol makes plain.
The sincere Christians who serve DI, others like Fuller who provide the apologetics that seek to make ID palatable at an academic level and (almost certainly) the vast majority of uninformed supporters of ID may be quite unaware of their usefulness to those ends; until they recognize and address the use of the ‘wedge’ as a pure political instrument, refuting their second-level arguments is as uselsess as teaching a pig to sing.
But I like to annoy pigs, so:
“We don’t throw Darwin off the curriculum because many of his followers supported eugenics and even Nazism, and have been generally opposed to elaborate state-based welfare policies.”
Of course not. We keep him on the curriculum because his theory is applicable--it is useful for investigating and understanding the real world--or what passes for ‘real’ in most homes. ID is not useful in that sense.
“If [sic] judged scientific theories by what we think of what motivates them, then we wouldn’t have much science left.”
And if we didn’t judge scientific theories by applying the scientific method, we’d have oodles and oodles of bad, quasi, and pseudo-science, most of it like ID largely rhetorical and perhaps even entertaining but not of any real value.
“This is why it’s important to distinguish the contexts of discovery and justification: ID can be as religiously motivated as you like. What matters is whether it can be developed, criticised and tested without having the motives. And the answer is yes.”
The burden of proof may not be on Fuller to disabuse others of the preconceptions about ID he presumes they hold; but if his apologetics are to be taken seriously, he does shoulder the burden of making a rational arguement. And in this last point he fails. Any rhetoric can to some extent or other be ‘developed’ and ‘criticized’. (In careless hands even gibberish can pass that muster, as Sokal demonstrated.) But one thing ID is not structured to do is to pass any empirical test.
If it were to develop that capability, it might crawl out of the ooze, free itself from its political masters, slither into respectable research programs and one day walk upright into the curriculum.
Until then it will remains a pure political tool and the plaything of lesser contrarian thinkers.
- MFAPosted by on 12/05 at 11:06 PM
Sorry, I inadvertently left out the last sentence of my post in comment #27, which should end: The question is, what kind of Christians are most scientists, and how does their Christianity affect their epistemological commitments?Posted by Brian Ogilvie on 12/05 at 11:08 PM
Comments 18 and 19 are pretty persuasive evidence that, as I suggested in the earlier post, this Steve Fuller is the ex-quarterback. Darwin’s status as an “icon” sets him apart from other scientists? People who actually study science are constantly having the names of great scientists of the past thrown at them: Laws, Principles, and even units of measurement are commonly named to honor their work. And to suggest Newton as a counter-example? Until Einstein, Newton *was* physics.
But I’m not here to feather his ruffle,
I’m just here to do the Super Bowl Shuffle.Posted by Dr. Drang on 12/06 at 12:37 AM
Colin asks: Why was the line drawn so firmly in that case?
Fuller notes in his Dover testimony (Day 15 morning transcript):
“See, one of the problems that I argue about in the book is that there’s a sense in which, if we’re going to understand the nature of science, we have so sort of study it naturalistically. One of the consequences of that may be that we find out things about the nature of science that we didn’t quite realize were true.
And one conclusion that I think is very relevant to this case is that, ironically perhaps, from a naturalistic standpoint, if you study how you actually come about to a culture or a society that thinks seriously about scientific questions and the way that we’re used to, you may have had to start off with something like a monotheistic standpoint that, that may, in fact, be a natural fact about the way science develops. And that is a point that I first raise in that book and then subsequently develop.”
Thus, I think, that we see here is that the connection is drawn sociologically from the (Christian?)-monotheistic tradition to the tradition of modern Science – thus a postmodernism understood to be about _cultural_ relativism (how come it is only epistemic relativism when it is about how ‘we’ think, and suddenly _ethical_ relativism when it is about ‘them’?) draws a line in the sand for a Hindu (non-monotheistic) science, but not for ID or others that, due to their origins in not merely a theistic, but monotheistic context, have the capacity for eventual absorption into a naturalist tradition that stuff originating from polytheistic social orders do not.
Again, if I am wrong, then am hoping Dr. Fuller provides his own explanation of why the two cases – ID and BJP/Christian v. Hindu science – are different for him.
PS. I agree that both ID and BJP-‘Hindu’ agendas need to be taken on. However, I don’t quite agree with Meera Nanda in equating ‘post’ thought with ‘Hindu’ science: Amardeep Singh, in his blog, made the following point about Nanda’s equation between postmodernism and Hindu Science: “And while I don’t think one can ‘blame’ postmodernism for what has happened, I do think that postmodern theory offers a very weak defense of the modernist position. I also think that what the Hindu right is doing is an example of hybridity in action—what one might call reactionary hybridity (or anti-modern hybridity). I read an article making a similar point by *Bruno Latour *in a recent issue of Critical Inquiry. Perhaps what is needed is a concept of postmodernism that recognizes the importance of modernist concepts of science and rationality. Or is that even postmodernism at all?” Which brings us back to the original Colin question: is postmodernism actually any ‘thing’ or a simple bogey-all-purpose epithet, and what ‘post’ (do we mean poststructuralism? If so, derivative of Foucault, Derrida, Barthes, Said, Spivak, *which* of these?) is it that has the affinities to Hindu Science that Nanda is bemoaning (Nanda, for example, seems to place Partha Chatterjee and Ashish Nandy in the same camp, while I think they are quite distinct, and the differences between them matter)?Posted by on 12/06 at 12:42 AM
The fellow on the beach who picked up the watch already knew about the existence of people, and he knew that making little machines is just the sort of thing that people do. It was reasonable of him to assume that a person made the watch.
Equivalently, if you already know about God, and you know that making planets full of people is just the sort of thing that God does, then the conclusion that God made the world is perfectly reasonable.
Most scientists are Christians, but perhaps their God isn’t the sort who goes around making people. Their God must be the sort who goes in for “emanations” and “ultimate concerns” and “foundations of being” and such.
I have read that the modern creationist movement was a reaction against social darwinism (a la William Jennings Bryan). I think more particularly it springs from resentment against the denigration of the special position of the human animal.
Now I wonder if it is partly a reaction against the modern do-nothing God. Does ID appeal to intellectual Christians who aren’t fundamentalists but who nevertheless want their God to do something?
As an example, my uncle is smart, scientific, and religious. (He’s a successful pediatric neurologist, curing cretinism in China and getting honorary degrees and that sort of thing.) He argues for ID, and he complains that religion is tolerated only so long as it makes no difference to anything of substance.
God is getting squeezed out. Stripped of all his concrete responsibilities, he’s become too abstract to be interesting. That’s my version of the Enlightenment project - the gaps God is called upon to fill gradually disappear until finally we have no need of that hypothesis.
Instead, we are getting a growth of fundamentalism, which restores responsibilities to God at the expense of contradicting reality.Posted by Mark Gilbert on 12/06 at 01:51 AM
Fuller says, in his original response, that “the legal issue—for better or worse—is NOT whether ID is good science, let alone as good as Darwin.”
That’s literally true, but it doesn’t mean the issue of whether ID is good or bad science is irrelevant to the trial. If it’s bad science, but good religion, that’s strong evidence that it’s primarily religion, not science.
Take Gene Ray. He is a militant atheist, who blames his opponents’ errors on their belief in God. His perspective on science is fresh but in line with a great tradition in physics of radically rethinking spacetime. It’s also utter gibberish (I highly recommend reading through the link, if you never have). Teaching it in school could accomplish no pedagogical objective with respect to science, but would further an atheist agenda (assuming falsely that his religious views are coherent - which is only fair, to analogize him to ID advocates). So it has no bona fide secular purpose, but has the primary effect of advancing a religious view - it fails the Lemon test, and is an unconstitutional establishment of religion.
Back to Newton. If all his ideas had had going for them was in the area of theology, if his physics was no better than his alchemy, would we still consider him a scientist?Posted by on 12/06 at 02:01 AM
“the legal issue—for better or worse—is NOT whether ID is good science, let alone as good as Darwin.”
As far as I know, the legal issue is whether ID should be taught as part of high school curriculums. If it’s OK to teach bad science, aren’t there an awful lot of contenders ahead of ID in the queue that are more clearly science, and only excluded by virtue of being bad. Phlogiston has already been mentioned, but what about cold fusion, or the steady state theory of the universe (apparently this appealed to Hoyle because he disliked the creationist flavour of the Big Bang).
It’s surely hard enough to fit in the important good science, without making room for the bad stuff.Posted by John Quiggin on 12/06 at 03:14 AM
Just to take one point and go through it in detail:
2.‘ID people are mostly Christian’. So are most scientists of the modern era.
Unlikely. How many science graduates are there in India? How many scientists are there in China? I doubt that even a majority of modern scientists are Christian.
In fact, the scientists these days who most loudly flaunt their anti-Christian, atheist colours can’t escape smuggling some kind of theistically inspired thought,
- another bizarrely mixed metaphor, but let it pass -
including James Watson’s desires to play God, Steven Weinberg’s peculiar fascination with the aesthetic quality of simplicity and the anthropic principle (both of which have Newtonian provenance), Dawkins’ compulsive resort to design-based metaphors and nonsense talk about ‘design without a designer’ without much literal to replace it with.
Set of loose allegations with no probative value. Ignore it.
At the end of the day, the main argument for design is an attenuated version of Kant’s view that we need to presuppose a purposeful unity in science in order for science to be possible – at least at the scale and intensity in which Newton did it. The question to ask here is what value, if any, does atheism contribute to good science?
Purpose is not essential for science: only the universality of natural laws. Unsupported assertion about Newton. Irrelevant question about atheism. No one is trying to enforce atheism, only to oppose ID, the minority belief of certain relatively small sects of Christianity. (Before you point out that most Americans believe it, please remind yourself that USA != world.)
“We don’t throw Darwin off the curriculum because many of his followers supported eugenics and even Nazism, and have been generally opposed to elaborate state-based welfare policies.”
Attempt to smear evolution by association with Social Darwinism. Classy.
One thing that ID does share with phlogiston is that it’s part of a conceptual system that is incommensurable to that of the respective dominant position: i.e. ID is cutting reality at different joints from Darwinism.
This is really bad writing, and makes me suspect that the next sentence will be outstandingly silly.
In particular, ID is primarily as theory not of life, but of design, which is a concept indifferent to the life/non-life distinction.
Yes! Ten points to me! As you know, Bob, the theory of evolution by natural selection has nothing to do with the origin of life, on which subject it is silent. And ID is, of course, a theory of life. No one even pretends to apply it to ‘apparently-designed’ non-living objects like, say, a rainbow, or a snowflake, or the value of G.
If I found my brain starting to think this way I’d have to take it outside and drown it in the water butt.Posted by on 12/06 at 06:37 AM
PART ONE OF THREE
You guys are getting better! The level of debate has been definitely raised on these matters. But there are still problems…
1.‘[Newton’s] theistic scientific motivation is distinguishable from [ID’s] setting out to undermine a scientific theory perceived to be atheistic’. So what? Are people – even religious ones – not allowed to try to undermine scientific theories – even well-confirmed ones – for whatever reason they feel like it? In the end, what matters is whether those who don’t share those motives accept the theory. ID has clearly not won over the minds of many yet, but it’s trying, and that’s what matters here.
2.‘Most competent scientists may be Christian in their private lives, but do not allow their religious beliefs to color their interpretation of their data’. It’s statements like this that make me appreciate the value of the Protestant Reformation. In the next century, historians will marvel at the ease with which we assume that it’s psychologically credible to think that religious and scientific views can be so neatly separated from each other. This is just our old Catholic friend, the double truth doctrine, dressed up in political correctness. The author of the leading high school textbook in biology, Kenneth Miller, professed mightily at the trial that kept his Catholicism and his evolutionism firmly in opposite sides of his brain. There is no sensible psychology to back this up, though nobody probed the claim out of —what? – politeness? Either your religious influences your science (as well as everything else in your life) or you’re just not religious. This is why the integrity of science doesn’t like in your beliefs (which may be religious or not in all sorts of senses) but in how you would have them tested. To think otherwise, as the double-truth doctors would have us (with the approval of the US Constitution) is simply self-censoring hypocrisy.
3.‘I don’t see atheists using Darwin as a goad to people to abandon religion, perhaps because we’re more aware of the complexities of that story (he was not an atheist, but a reluctant agnostic, and it wasn’t science that brought him to that point, but family tragedy.)’ First, you should give Darwin a little credit for the evidence, as well as his family tragedy, swaying him. But more seriously, I must confess I have never run into atheists – and I mean the sort who see agnosticism as a position for wimps— who deal with science and religion is a very sophisticated way, especially in terms of their understanding of the history of science AND/OR religion. They also seem to spend more time defending science as an all-purpose secular ideology than actually doing any science. But in my circles people don’t talk much about their religious beliefs, so I just go on my reading and intermittent outbursts of others. I do wonder what might be the motivation for atheists to do science in the grand unifying sense: Why do they believe there’s sufficient order in the universe to merit the systematic efforts at inquiry?
TO BE CONTINUEDPosted by Steve Fuller on 12/06 at 07:06 AM
PART TWO OF THREE
4.‘It seems to me very easy to set up criteria for Newton’s work that ID has yet to even begin measuring up to, and surely Newton was influential not because of his religious views, but because he was a stunningly successful natural scientist.’ Again, please look over a sentence like this and marvel at the conflation of temporal perspectives. It’s true that ID hasn’t produced a work comparable to Principia Mathematica, but you need to compare research programmes at comparable points in their careers. In any case, Newton was helped – and even helped to mastermind – the PR that gave his theory legs even among those who couldn’t understand the mathematics. And many of those people were indeed theologians who normalized Newton for Church of England types in the Sunday sermons. Of course, as time went on, Newtonian mechanics met many of its scientific objections and had striking empirical success in new domains – and was thus excused for very deep conceptual problems (e.g. absolute space and time) which eventually served to undermine it in the 20th century.
5.I would really appreciate, as a simple-minded fellow, a direct comment on Nanda’s work, and on *why the arguments made in favor of ID cannot also be made for Hindu Science*. Some of the later posts actually get at this one quite well. It seems that people think that just because we talk about Hindu, Muslim and Christian ‘fundamentalism’, there must be some ‘fundamentalist’ essence they share. So-called Hindu fundamentalism strikes me, having read Nanda, as simply an Indian nationalist movement whose modus operandi isn’t so different from the nationalist movements that, say, Benedict Anderson talks about in ‘Imagined Communities’. Its use of history is basically a pastiche of rather different strands that project a mythical Indian past. Christian and Muslim fundamentalism, in contrast, are attempts to revive and update religious traditions that have actually motivated good science in the past, and the latter have to do with the postulation of a monotheistic God as being the source of the order we perceive in the universe. In this respect, it’s quite significant that Darwin was trying – and of course failed – to discover design in nature. Why try in the first place, if you didn’t think some order was put there? Basically ID is the disinherited sibling of the history of our own science. It isn’t some ‘alternative science’ that starts from radically different cultural assumptions – real or imagined.
6.‘And please, to cite Dembski...the man is a dilettante who relies on speaking math to those who know a little biology and biology to those who know a little math. His ideas are useless.’ Well, his ideas may be wrong, but they are not useless. In any case, the man’s not finished yet – and (unlike Newton) he’s exposing his ideas for public inspection and critique, rather than going underground for 10-20 years to work all the bugs out. (Perhaps you’d prefer that approach.) Here you’ve got to take seriously what it means for ID to be primarily a science of ‘design’: God and humans design in exactly the same way (so says the theory), so the more we learn about detecting human-led design (e.g. Dembski has come up with scientific fraud detectors used by the NIH and NSF – I can already see students of Irony 101 raising their hands), the more we get (hopefully testable) ideas about how the universe might be designed. ID basically turns biology into divine technology. This is not a million miles from Herbert Simon in ‘Sciences of the Artificial’, in which he imagines (among other things) natural selection as a watchmaker who gets interrupted a lot and periodically needs to regroup from where he left off.
7.‘Nazis and eugenicists have mangled and misapplied evolutionary ideas, it is true, and that is not grounds for dismissing it.’ Again, watch your history! Eugenicists – and especially Nazis – were just as competent in the relevant biological theories as their opponents in their day. They simply took biology in a different direction, and history went against them decisively. ‘Misapplied’ here can be understood only in ethical, not epistemological, terms. You may think I’m being a relativist here, but I’m really only trying to ensure that we don’t get the idea that if do ‘really good’ science, you’ll avoid totalitarian excesses and war crimes. What passes for good science is very much (of course not exclusively) dependent on the political regime in which it’s allowed and encouraged to develop. One of the founders of ‘racial hygiene’ – a medical science that predates Hitler but flourished under him – Alfred Ploetz was nominated for the 1936 Nobel Prize. The committee wasn’t stacked with Nazis.
TO BE CONTINUEDPosted by Steve Fuller on 12/06 at 07:08 AM
PART THREE OF THREE
8.‘Plumping for [ID] in 2005 is no more defensible in terms of the “enlightenment project” than suggesting that scientists should treat the thermodynamics of oxygen as an unsettled question and revisit the possibility of phlogiston.’ Sorry, actually it is defensible. Scientific revolutions typically involve the updating and reinvention of defunct ideas – intellectual history’s Undead that never quite got put down. These often appear as ‘conceptual problems’ that don’t go away but get excused because the dominant theory is so empirically successful. Darwinism has a real problem deciding whether design really exists or not in nature, but that problem doesn’t matter for most things the research programme does. But it does matter in the long run, and ID is counting on that. My own guess is that some design-based paradigm will overtake Darwinism in about 100 years, but only once it loses its theistic connotations and a new generation of philosophers and scientists arrive who aren’t afraid of pursuing the ideas seriously. In the original Enlightenment, defunct ideas were also used to promote the project, to wit, a positively re-spun history of pagan Greco-Roman culture, the legacy of which we continue to promote in our liberal arts curricula.
9.‘As for other “nonconformist Christians” in the scientific revolution: Copernicus and Galileo were good Catholics; [and Newton’s book was accepted as soon as it came out…etc.].’ This is more political correctness, I’m afraid. All these ‘good Catholics’ – and the Protestants – lived in fear of persecution – and not just from the Catholic Church, I must add. This explains the massive load of hidden theological writings and the crafty rhetoric these guys typically engaged in. Remember that the 16th and 17th centuries were always on the verge or middle of religious warfare. To avoid being caught in the crossfire, one went underground or fled one’s country. In any case, when historians put their scientific and religious views together, it’s clear that they didn’t want people to realize that their weird religious views might have brought them to their scientific conclusions. They could be killed for that. In this respect, the scientific method provided a peaceful way of settling otherwise unresolvable metaphysical differences – and was promoted as such by the likes of Bacon and Descartes.
10.‘[Galileo, Newton, etc.] rejected the scholastic notion of “double truth.” So, too, do defenders of Intelligent Design, but my hypothesis is that they place revelation before reason: hence they emphasize on the shortcomings of contemporary natural science rather than focusing their energies on developing a competing empirical research program.’ Yes, but no. It’s not clear – at least not to me – that there is some psychologically credible line to be drawn between ‘revelation’ and ‘reason’. This distinction exists, if at all, at the public level of how you would have your ideas tested: By calculations? By experiments? By the Bible? And ID is actually having its ideas tested by rational scientific means – which is how it manages to get torn apart so easily. That ID’s proponents then continue to develop the ideas after such criticism is itself hardly an intellectual weakness, unless they subsequently avoid submitting the revised version of their ideas to competent non-believers.
11.‘God is getting squeezed out. Stripped of all his concrete responsibilities, he’s become too abstract to be interesting. That’s my version of the Enlightenment project - the gaps God is called upon to fill gradually disappear until finally we have no need of that hypothesis.’ Actually, the Enlightenment project is more about humans supplanting God in the role of the Ultimate Mechanic. It doesn’t refute the argument from design, but turns it on its head: hence, Comte, Hegel, Marx, etc. Social engineering is a secularization of ID-based thinking. Postmodernism is about rejecting all that. That’s why I’m a hyper-modernist.
Again, my apologies if your brilliant ripostes failed to move me. Try harder!
ENDPosted by Steve Fuller on 12/06 at 07:10 AM
"You guys are getting better! The level of debate has been definitely raised on these matters. But there are still problems…”
I find it interesting that, for someone who opens his argument by denying the authority of those who would guide our judgements on what is and is not valid debate in science, Fuller has no problem assuming that role himself with respect to this forum.
“Again, my apologies if your brilliant ripostes failed to move me. Try harder!”
Fuller’s transparent rationalization for avoiding addressing key weaknesses in his arguments fails to convince me. He’ll have to try harder if he wants to retain credibility.
- MFAPosted by on 12/06 at 09:17 AM
When I wrote above that the motivating difference, to Fuller, between his dislike of Hindu Science and his support of ID was that one was Hindu and the other Christian, I didn’t expect him to agree with me. I think that Michael’s original question about this inconsistency his been answered, and the answer is simple—religious bigotry. His statement equates to monotheism good, polytheism bad, “those people” never did any good science anyway, and how could you doubt the connection between science and good old Christianity.
There’s nothing to analyze here, people.Posted by on 12/06 at 09:26 AM
It’s really quite funny to see someone fail so spectacularly to addresss a single of the many objections raised here, and then have the guts to tell people to try a little harder!
Sir, the burden of proof is on you and you have failed. Badly.Posted by Idelber on 12/06 at 09:34 AM
Well, the guy seems pretty well set up to be an armchair philosopher and polemicist of science. He’s got his angles down—the real post-modernists are the opponents of intelligent design, did everyone get that? I expect him to do OK on the lecture / expert witness circuit.
If you make the history and philosophy and sociology of science an autonomous enterprise, separated from any actual scientific activity ever, and then inject it into the polemical political scene, this is what you get.
In any case, the man’s not finished yet – and (unlike Newton) he’s exposing his ideas for public inspection and critique, rather than going underground for 10-20 years to work all the bugs out. (Perhaps you’d prefer that approach.)
Yes, I think that that’s the normal scientific approach—is Fuller being ironic about it? Before you go public with your work, you first put it into a form which is at least minimally presentable to working scientists. (This passage is an example of Fuller’s willful “bracketing out” of actual scientific work).
My own guess is that some design-based paradigm will overtake Darwinism in about 100 years, but only once it loses its theistic connotations and a new generation of philosophers and scientists arrive who aren’t afraid of pursuing the ideas seriously.
He’s got the philosophers in there ahead of the scientists.
Now he’s talking about futurological “trends”. Anything new in science comes when scientific work comes up with something new, and this is unpredictable. At the time that Linus Pauling gambled that the genetic material would be a protein, he knew that it was a gamble and that experimental work would decide it. Fuller talks of scientific change as a kind of opinion-poll swing—bracketing out the actual scientific work swing.Posted by John Emerson on 12/06 at 09:50 AM
I noticed that too, John. Pretty gutsy for a “movement” that has absolutely NO research agenda and is largely made up of PR guys, lawyers, and semi-scientists who actually don’t PERFORM ID research.
I was especially tickled to see that the Templeton Foundation (a major funder of “conservative friendly” research--to be politically correct, of course) offer a grant for anyone who wanted to do actual research on ID. From the NY Times Article:
The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research.
“They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned.
So, if we just inject this “hyper-modernist” (again, to be potically correct) non-research based perspective into the minds of Kansas kids, maybe THEY will come up with the niggling details of a research agenda, evidence, coherent-yet-not-tautological-worldview, etc.
I especially love the fact that the unmasker of this “PR” (thanks for the term Steve) is the Templeton foundation. They just gave several million smacker to several conservative scholars at my institution who want to establish just how super great religion is for families. A group that funds this kind of “rah rah” research is an incredibly honest broker at revealing how little “reality” ID is trying to “cut differently.”Posted by DocMara on 12/06 at 10:21 AM
Certainly if one rejects any “scientific” reason as being a contributory factor in deciding a scientific controversy, then Fuller’s argument makes perfect sense. That is, if scientific progress (or “evolution”, if you prefer) is to be explained purely in sociological terms and if empirical support, consistency, explanatory power and so forth are deemed irrelevant in this sense, then what you have left is something like Fuller’s argument.
(Of course, this means that being able to decide what is or is not good science requires not a jot of scientific expertise, nor any engagement whatsoever with the actual science.)
The thing with this position is that it is largely impervious to argument. One could try to point out that changes of course in science need to be supported by *something* other than shifts in allegiance, but since such shifts must also occur one could insist that the correlation is really a causation. The actual success (*not* popularity) of scientific programmes remains an untouchable mystery, of course, but then one suspects that the purveyors of such theories have no interest in such questions.
In fact, by its nature, this point of view cannot contribute to science and serves to undermine it - the success of science is based on the hubris that empirical, replicable, hypothesis generating, falsifiable theories are of value, even though such things cannot be absolutely defended or defined. That is, more or less, why almost all scientists oppose ID.Posted by on 12/06 at 11:05 AM
Scott Adams the Dilbert person also bracketed out actual scientists from the decision-making process, because they’re biased by conflict of interest. He was more blatant than Fuller, but both of them seemed to deal with the ID/evolution controversy as a conflict between groups to be mediated, rather than an internal scientific conflict to be decided.Posted by John Emerson on 12/06 at 11:10 AM
SENTENCE ONE OF THREE
Dear. Mr. Fuller: Please provide a link to a peer-reviewed article documenting research the results of which lend support to the Intellligent Design notion.
SENTENCE TWO OF THREE
Failing that, please provide a link to, or citation of, a discussion of a scientific research strategy that would test the notion of Intelligent Design.
SENTENCE THREE OF THREE
Thank you in advance.
ENDPosted by Chris Clarke on 12/06 at 11:31 AM
I think that saying that many scientists are christians is fine and dandy, and no doubt true, but what does it mean in terms of their work?
Being christian can easily change your motivations. Your feelings about what you discover. Your interpretations of the meaning of what you discover. And there is no problem with that.
What it must not change, though, is your use of scientific methods of discovery. A scientist who is a christian whose method of discovering truth about their research topic, be it biology or physics or chemistry or what have you, is to pray about it and wait for a relevation; or to look carefully at the bible looking for clues as to what the answers might be and then taking those percieved answers as scientific answers; or to hold a conference of religious leaders and see what their consensus declaration is after theological debate...is not doing good science.
It is fine to look at the bible and let it guide you in some direction. It is fine to pray and let it guide you in some direction. But ultimately, if you want to claim that you are doing science, you need to form a testable hypothesis, you need to make observations and do experiments, and you need to process your results to improve your understanding of how things are actually working in the real and observable and observed world.
I am not sure ID is actually doing that. If they are doing that, then their religious motivation is irrelevant. If they are not doing that, then they can make no claim to science, despite using scientific language. So let me ask you....ID has the hypothesis that the Universe is designed by some purposeful intelligence. What experiments do they propose to test that hypothesis?Posted by Zenji on 12/06 at 11:31 AM
"You guys are getting better! The level of debate has been definitely raised on these matters. But there are still problems...”
Mr Fuller: Many of the people on this thread (myself excluded) are as intelligent, or more intelligent, than you. Please try not to be so patronising towards them.
And please explain why there is no conflict between your two statements below:
 ‘[Newton’s] theistic scientific motivation is distinguishable from [ID’s] setting out to undermine a scientific theory perceived to be atheistic’. So what? Are people – even religious ones – not allowed to try to undermine scientific theories – even well-confirmed ones – for whatever reason they feel like it?
 But the key thing to keep in mind is that the legal issue—for better or worse—is NOT whether ID is good science, let alone as good as Darwin. It is whether ID is religion trying to pass itself off as science. If so, then it’s prohibited.
I ask because I interpret  as saying “the motives of the proponents of ID are irrelevant” and  as saying “the motives of the proponents of ID are crucial”.Posted by on 12/06 at 12:06 PM
I just wanted to add - in a way that will do my postion few favours - that there is something more to the debate. That is, I think you can make a reasonable case that ID is being shut out and denied credibility on political grounds. Certainly, I’ve had arguments with people about the philosphy of science whose positions didn’t seem that far from Fuller’s, yet were appalled when I asked them if they supported ID.
I think one should bear in mind few people are prepared to make a defence of science on anything like the realist grounds I would favour (no matter how qualified and aware of the pitfalls) and fewer still have the expertise to do so with a convincing supply of scientific knowledge. So the contest for many really does come down to two indistinguishable claims to authority. ID is largely opposed (in the general population, that is, rather than among scientists) because it is seen as a reactionary movement with a clear political agenda. But even if one accepts that, it says little about whether ID should be taught in schools.
Once one views the debate as a political one (and there is certainly some justification for doing so) a committed democrat would favour the right of people to choose their own politics.
I am very curious to see Michael’s take on all this, to see how and if he engages with the philosophy of science aspect to the debate.Posted by on 12/06 at 12:21 PM
Fuller has propensity for argumentation and debate, and I can see him becoming a public intellectual on this topic and doing quite well.
Reading his between legal conventions (e.g. swearing in the witness), ideological argumentation (which partially formed Fuller’s presentation), and meta science (history, philosophy, and sociology of science). Science itself was the least element.Posted by John Emerson on 12/06 at 12:24 PM
Yes, he does, but he isn’t awfully good at it and he uses jargon and drops names when he isn’t quite sure what to say.
‘Talking head’ rather than ‘public intellectual’, I reckon,Posted by on 12/06 at 12:27 PM
"Reading his testimony, the interactions between legal conventions....”Posted by John Emerson on 12/06 at 12:37 PM
A couple notes about this exchange, in no particular order.
1) Much of Fuller’s discussion relies on using the word “Christian” in loose and inexact ways. As we all know, the adjective can be applied to a wide variety of religious traditions. In fact, ID’s supporters overwhelmingly come from a very particular religious tradition. They’re overwhelmingly fundamentalist evangelicals. This is a modern movement (however much they might want to claim to be reviving an older tradition....read Jonathan Edwards or John Cotton sometime. They sound pretty different from James Dobson.) And it’s not a religious tradition that has any strong positive relationship to producing science, good, bad or otherwise (though in fact I think this is irrelevant...the issue is the scientific value of ID, not whether or not its supporters, in other circumstances, might produce science).
2) Fuller argues (Post 19, Comment 5) that it simply doesn’t matter that ID’s supporters are arguing in bad faith. This is perhaps the fundamental problem with Fuller’s analysis. Even bad science, I would think, would have to be the product of a sincere effort to understand nature (and unlike Fuller, I don’t even want my children to be taught bad science). But ID isn’t science. And the way in which its creators came up with it is one of the ways we know it isn’t. ID is the product of a political attempt to force a dogmatic, non-scientific view of the development of life into science classes. There is no ID research agenda, nor could there be. For someone who bases much of his argument on the history of science, Fuller’s declaration that, at this crucial point, history just doesn’t matter is telling.
3) Given his denial of the relevance of the goals of ID’s supporters, Fuller’s position on Nazi eugenicism in Post 37, Comment 2 is particularly interesting: ‘Nazis and eugenicists have mangled and misapplied evolutionary ideas, it is true, and that is not grounds for dismissing it.’ Again, watch your history! Eugenicists – and especially Nazis – were just as competent in the relevant biological theories as their opponents in their day. They simply took biology in a different direction, and history went against them decisively. ‘Misapplied’ here can be understood only in ethical, not epistemological, terms. You may think I’m being a relativist here, but I’m really only trying to ensure that we don’t get the idea that if do ‘really good’ science, you’ll avoid totalitarian excesses and war crimes.
Let’s for the sake of argument grant that ID is science, and that any science—even bad science—belongs in the classroom (I take it this is Fuller’s point of view). Now look what he says about Nazism. Nazi science wasn’t unscientific, it may not even have been bad science. It just had ethically unacceptable consequences.
Now tell me again why we should ignore the actual social goals of the ID movement and the ethical consequences of our letting the Wedge into our science classrooms? (Maybe I’m not taking Fuller seriously enough on this point. Perhaps if a large, neo-Nazi movement proposed putting Nazi racial science into our school curricula, he’d also be arguing for that, on the grounds that the only issue is whether or not it’s science.)
4) Again, my apologies if your brilliant ripostes failed to move me. Try harder!
Honestly, if I ever was concerned with changing Fuller’s mind, I’ve long since given up that hope. I am concerned with trying to make fewer people take his arguments seriously. I’m feeling pretty confident that fairminded people reading this thread will do so. Thanks for all the comments (and thanks for playing along, Prof. Fuller). Michael really has a great bunch of commentators!Posted by on 12/06 at 12:39 PM
Part of Fuller’s argument at Dover was that teaching ID would provide a way of getting ID into the scientific mainstream. Why does he feel this is necessary in the case of ID, when heretical ideas such as a bacterial cause for ulcers and the prion cause of mad cow disease both reached Nobel Prize status in under 15 years. These situations argue that a heretical idea backed by scientifically compelling data can become part of the scientific mainstream. These cases also argue that, if ID has failed to do so, it’s because it has been unable to marshall any compelling scientific evidence to support it.
Why should ID merit receiving such a benefit, when other controversial avenues of study have succeeded without it?Posted by John Timmer on 12/06 at 12:41 PM
Professor Fuller, I have a very simple question. If ID inpires “new directions in the scientific imagination”, why don’t its supporters do any research? They’ve got the money. They’ve got tenure. Where are the papers?
The truth is that ID doesn’t inspire new directions, quite the opposite. It closes down inquiry, by its very nature.Posted by on 12/06 at 12:55 PM
It is charged that ID is religion masquerading as science. Fuller says that a smoking gun for this charge such as the Wedge Document is irrelevant.
He says rather that it only matters whether it is science. How is it science? Some of the people behind ID have actual Pee Aitch Dees, and a couple of them are even biologists.
They haven’t produced any actual science; no peer-reviewed papers filled with new evidence. They have no plans to do any actual research. (Technically, it would be very tough to find positive evidence for an argument for ignorance anyway).
Where’s the beef? If there’s no science in their science, but there is clear evidence of a religious plot, then the charge that ID is religion masquerading as science cannot be dismissed, no matter how carefully you craft your rhetoric.Posted by on 12/06 at 01:17 PM
John Timmer wrote “Part of Fuller’s argument at Dover was that teaching ID would provide a way of getting ID into the scientific mainstream.”
That’s actually quite consistent with William Dembski’s views. In a web board discussion of reasons he now believes ID should be taught in secondary school, Dembski wrote “3) Why should ID supporters allow the Darwinian establishment to indoctrinate students at the high school level, only to divert some of the brightest to becoming supporters of a mechanistic account of evolution, when by presenting ID at the high school level some of these same students would go on to careers trying to develop ID as a positive research program? If ID is going to succeed as a research program, it will need workers, and these are best recruited at a young age. The Darwinists undestand (sic) this. So do the ID proponents. There is a sociological dimension to science and to the prospering of scientific theories, and this cannot be ignored if ID is going to become a thriving research program.” (http://tinyurl.com/dpeej)
In other words, since the alleged ‘scientists’ of the ID movement demonstrably can’t build an ID research program themselves, they have to recruit high school students to try to do so. Seems to me that says something relevant about the fruitfulness of the contemporary ‘science’ of ID.Posted by on 12/06 at 01:48 PM
from Post 36 --
Are people – even religious ones – not allowed to try to undermine scientific theories – even well-confirmed ones – for whatever reason they feel like it? In the end, what matters is whether those who don’t share those motives accept the theory. ID has clearly not won over the minds of many yet, but it’s trying, and that’s what matters here.
If your fitness function is driven by acceptance then the *process* of science is a poor choice for investing scarce resources. The *blessing* of science is convincing (and acceptance generating) precisely because it is indifferent to lobbying by the hidden and unobserved.
Newton’s state of mind is irrelevant to the scientific value of the phenomena marked by s = ½gt², as is mine. I find the notion that Sir Isaac was reading the mind of God quite compelling, but in ways that register on no meters and should not be forced on Dover PA public schools.
ID isn’t barred from science, it just isn’t science. When it mints observable fact it will find the doors of science open. “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”Posted by on 12/06 at 01:54 PM
PART ONE OF TWO
Maybe I spoke too soon – at least about everyone’s willingness to raise the level of discussion! I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d like to know who ‘Squeakyrat’ is who claims to know me and that I’m a ‘posturing idiot’. More generally, of course, it’s difficult to give everyone the respect they think they deserve because of the anonymous nature of the postings. I find the periodic claims to superior intelligence (not ID, mind you!) on the part of some of the posters truly touching. Rather than reminding me how smart you are, you should try to demonstrate it in what you say. Of course, anonymity provides scope for considerable license, which is generally to be welcomed. But it has its costs…
1.‘As you know, Bob, the theory of evolution by natural selection has nothing to do with the origin of life, on which subject it is silent.’ More political correctness. Actually if you’re a Darwinist ‘all the way down’, you should say that life began as some random collocation of micro-units of matter that happened to stabilize long enough to reproduce and then mutate: i.e. the self-bootstrapping theory of life. However, Darwinists don’t want to commit to this because it’s not empirically provable – which means it allows room for more feint-hearted Darwinists to believe that God kicked off the whole process. To be honest, I find that particular way of reconciling God and Darwin especially dumb – that is, unless one manages to do a ‘Charles Babbage’ and say the universe was programmed with some stochastic variables that allowed even the programme itself be changed over time. Maybe Stuart Kaufmann will demonstrate this point to someone’s satisfaction in the near future. ID should be claiming him already. He certain has the right mix of technical prowess and gratuitous spirituality.
2.‘I think that Michael’s original question about this inconsistency his been answered, and the answer [to why I oppose ‘Hindu science’ but not ID] is simple—religious bigotry.’ I’m sorry to have offended you. But when you say ‘science’, what’s your benchmark? Is it someone like Leonardo da Vinci, jack-of-all-trades but not someone you’d expect to come up with a systematic world-view that provides the basis for further empirical and rational elaboration? If that’s your benchmark, then of course the East matches the West. What the East lacks is what Leonardo lacked. And I’m sorry if sounds politically incorrect, but the East’s tendency has been to become to reach for mystery (‘holism’) as it aspires to higher levels of synthesis. The West’s trick was to become more unified AND more precise: synthetic and analytic at the same time. Why? Well, because silly old Westerners – not just Christians but Jews and Muslims too – believed that some One Big Guy designed the universe and our job as humans created in his image and likeness is to figure it out and perhaps even complete it. I know this is a multicultural obscenity – but what can I say? I believe that it’s true as an empirical fact. If you think something like the Scientific Revolution would have ‘eventually’ happened outside a monotheistic culture, then I’d love to see the counterfactual historical argument: e.g. try to reinvent Newton using only the resources of the Indian or Chinese intellectual tradition. Of course, if you simply think that the Scientific Revolution was a mistake, then that’s a different matter. But then maybe you’re just anti-science. I’m not.
... to be continuedPosted by Steve Fuller on 12/06 at 02:16 PM
PART TWO OF TWO
3.‘Anything new in science comes when scientific work comes up with something new, and this is unpredictable. At the time that Linus Pauling gambled that the genetic material would be a protein, he knew that it was a gamble and that experimental work would decide it.’ But your own example shows that Pauling DID predict correctly, and there’s nothing mysterious about that, since he made an educated guess about where the relevant science was going. So the future of science is something that could be given over to betting parlors, and would be in fact a great way to get the public interested in the scientific developments on a regular basis. Sneer as you will, I’ve actually supported such an idea in print.
4.‘So let me ask you....ID has the hypothesis that the Universe is designed by some purposeful intelligence. What experiments do they propose to test that hypothesis?’ Well, I suppose you mean what experiments does ID propose that distinguishes intelligent design from other possible hypotheses. ID is at a somewhat earlier stage. First, ID needs to retrieve its own history by defining itself as an autonomous research programme not parasitic on Darwinism’s failures. Part of this involves reinterpreting already existing research, which typically prepares the way for a scientific revolution: People need to be taught to see old phenomena in new ways. Michael Behe tries to do that in ‘Darwin’s Black Box’. Some of the Darwinists’ objections to his re-interpretations hit the mark, others don’t. Much of the debate surrounding his work is marred by his claiming that evolutionists can’t possible explain, say, the bacterial flagella, to which then evolutionists produce a dozen possible explanations: Behe is proved wrong without evolutionists being proved right. Not very satisfactory all around. William Dembski is trying to come up with a mathematically precise definition of design that doesn’t reduce to necessity, chance or some combination of the two. His basic inspiration comes from information theory and the general failure to provide a foolproof random number generator. Again, he’s got lots of objectors, especially among philosophers of science and some statisticians. However, he’s doing what needs to be done – namely, to establish that there is some conceptually coherent domain of ‘design’ in reality. I don’t deny ID’s currently unsatisfactory epistemic situation, but it’s constantly raising its game. It’s worth keeping mind that evolution by natural selection remained on shaky ground within biology until the 1930s, when Mendelian genetics was placed firmly in the driver’s seat as the principal Neo-Darwinian causal mechanism. By then the theory had already been around for seventy years.
5.‘Please explain why there is no conflict between your two statements below:… I ask because I interpret  as saying “the motives of the proponents of ID are irrelevant” and  as saying “the motives of the proponents of ID are crucial”.’ The short answer is  is my own view, which takes seriously the distinction between the contexts of discovery and justification in science. , however, reflects the way the US legal system sees matters at the moment, whereby religious motivation ipso facto can disqualify a knowledge claim as scientific. I would like to replace , which was set as a precedent by the Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguilard (1987), with .
Believe it or not, I’m currently at a Ford Foundation workshop on the future of higher education at Cornell, and I’ve got to resume discussing this scary topic now. I’ll resume with number 50 on the hit parade.
ENDPosted by Steve Fuller on 12/06 at 02:17 PM
Plate tectonics in geology is another example of a field revolutionized by a new theory. It took 50 years, but the slow acceptance was somewhat justified because the early form of the theory ("continental drift” ~ 1914) had big holes in it from the geologist’s point of view. A solution to these problems was proposed around 1928, and gradually empirical studies produced evidence supporting the solution, and finally around 1960 the new theory was proposed.
It’s hardly the story of old-school resistance to progress that Fuller would claim. Looking at what I’ve seen, it seems possible that the new theory might have been proposed and accepted 10 or 20 years earlier, but what actually happened was not at all bad.Posted by John Emerson on 12/06 at 02:20 PM
Pauling gambled wrongly. DNA is not a protein. That was where Watson and Crick beat him.
More fluent argumentation.Posted by John Emerson on 12/06 at 02:23 PM
Fuller: “Why? Well, because silly old Westerners – not just Christians but Jews and Muslims too – believed that some One Big Guy designed the universe and our job as humans created in his image and likeness is to figure it out and perhaps even complete it. I know this is a multicultural obscenity – but what can I say? I believe that it’s true as an empirical fact.”
Here we go. Version n+1 of “why everything in my culture just so happens to be not only best, but absolutely required”. Do you have any evidence for this so-called empirical fact? Given that science happened to emerge indirectly from the tradition of Greek thought, and that the Greeks were polytheists, I think that your belief is unsupported, unscientific bigotry.
“Of course, if you simply think that the Scientific Revolution was a mistake, then that’s a different matter. But then maybe you’re just anti-science. I’m not.”
I have an M.S. in Astrophysics and have published once in a peer-reviewed astrophysics journal, which is about as little science as one can do and still be said to have done science. However, I suspect that this still may be more actual science than you’ve done in your career of obscurantism posing as philosophy of science posing as sociology.
This whole thread has been one huge distraction. It’s like unwrapping skien after skien of verbiage and finding underneath nothing more than remnants of some unconsidered high school indoctrination.Posted by on 12/06 at 03:17 PM
Fuller writes some ridiculous things, but this provides the biggest laugh:
“Newton was helped – and even helped to mastermind – the PR that gave his theory legs even among those who couldn’t understand the mathematics.”
This pomo quacking is why Fuller is labeled a pomo.
In the real world of science, theories don’t get “legs” from PR. They get legs from data, lots of data. Fuller doesn’t even seem to understand the definition of “theory” in this context, par for the course for ID pseudoscientists. As the other posters have pointed out (and Fuller completely fails to address), there’s no new data being produced from ID hypotheses. Absolutely no data.
In fact, embracing ID has an incredibly negative correlation with scientific productivity. Look at Behe: zero production of actual data, and the only thing he’s published in the primary literature is a pathetic, ill-conceived, computer-simulated attack on evolution. I say ill-conceived because 1) he conveniently excluded the most rapid mechanisms of mutation from his simulation, and 2) even more hilariously, he was forced--under oath--to admit that even his stacked-deck simulation still easily allowed for new, “irreducibly complex” protein functions to evolve in natural populations:
Scroll down to the final third of the page.Posted by on 12/06 at 03:24 PM
Quoth Fuller, post 60 point 4:
“I don’t deny ID’s currently unsatisfactory epistemic situation, but it’s constantly raising its game.”
Exactly what has been done to improve ID in the ten years or so? I’m not aware of anything. If it were “raising its game”, it would be responding to objections and improving its models. Instead, Behe’s shrunk the “irreducible complexity” of blood clotting from 11 proteins to 4 in response to the scientific discoveries of the last 10 years, and Dembski hasn’t altered any of his claims in response to valid external criticism. Nobody else is even proposing anything, as far as i can tell.Posted by John Timmer on 12/06 at 03:44 PM
It’s worth keeping mind that evolution by natural selection remained on shaky ground within biology until the 1930s, when Mendelian genetics was placed firmly in the driver’s seat as the principal Neo-Darwinian causal mechanism. By then the theory had already been around for seventy years.
but during that 70 years, was it being taught in the high schools as co-equal to the standard and commonly accepted theories of its day? Or did it have to go through 70 years of actual scientific work and experimentation and discovery before it could prove itself worthy of assuming the title?
In essence, ID supporters are asking to be taken on their word that they are right, without having done any of the necessary work. Even if i grant you that ID has the potential to be science, even if i am willing to agree that some people are authentically trying to do science around the idea of design, the fact remains that they have barely begun to do so, and so i think it a bit hasty to start teaching them in the high schools as an alternative to mainstream scientific thought. In fact, i think it a bit hasty to start teaching them in college, for that matter. Let them amass some results, let them compile some evidence, let them earn their place alongside everyone else who has done so. IF they are right, then the evidence will be there to prove them so, and no one will be able to deny them. But for now, they are fringe science at best, and pseudo-science at worst. It is hard enough to teach core science in high school at all, without bringing in the fringes and the pseudo. I do think weird science has a place in the world, but bad science and pseudo science i can certainly live without. If ID turns out to be the one and not the other, then it will be time to teach them, as such, in the appropriate places. And if they turn out to be demonstrably correct, then it will be the time to recognize them as such.
ID proponents may claim they only want a chance, but they have a chance. No one is stopping them from pursuing research along their lines of thought. But what they really want is to cut to the front of the line, and be brought in the front door without having earned their stripes, and that is just wrong. Especially wrong for people who can at least arguably be accused of not even doing science at all.Posted by Zenji on 12/06 at 03:47 PM
So the future of science is something that could be given over to betting parlors, and would be in fact a great way to get the public interested in the scientific developments on a regular basis. Sneer as you will, I’ve actually supported such an idea in print.
You read it her first: Steve Fuller proposed venture capitalism! I promise I won’t sneer.
First, ID needs to retrieve its own history by defining itself as an autonomous research programme not parasitic on Darwinism’s failures.
I simply can’t understand why anyone would accuse Fuller of pomo.
I don’t deny ID’s currently unsatisfactory epistemic situation, but it’s constantly raising its game.
Asserted but not established. Again, where’s the beef? Where’s the science? Where’s the evidence? Where’s the logical basis on which to build evidence? Less rhetoric, more evidence please.
From the NY Times (Laurie Goodstein, 4 Dec 2005, Intelligent Design Might be Meeting Its maker):
The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research.
“They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned.
Apparently no one is actually doing ID research, nor even seeking grants for that purpose. It seems a very difficult way to raise one’s game.Posted by on 12/06 at 04:03 PM
“But the key thing to keep in mind is that the legal issue—for better or worse—is NOT whether ID is good science, let alone as good as Darwin. It is whether ID is religion trying to pass itself off as science.”
And someone wrote that this is absolutely right.
That’s a mistake. It’s absolutely wrong.
Here’s why: if “ID theory” was a scientific theory (instead of the vacuous nonsense it actually is), it wouldn’t matter if it was promoted by fungelicals or if it accorded 100% with someone’s religious beliefs.
It would be constitutional to teach it in science class. No problems. No questions asked.
So let’s be clear: the key issue to keep in mind is that “ID theory” has never been articulated in a way that doesn’t boil down to an argument from ignorance for a deity (or aliens with a similar skill set, as Jon Stewart famously said) and, as such, ID is worthless—especially when compared to evolutionary theory.
Where religion comes in is that it really is the only reasonable explanation as to WHY any group of people would try so desperately to promote such obviously bogus pseudoscientific garbage in public schools. Not only is it a reasonable explanation, it accords with every fact we know about the Discovery Institute, its ID peddling program, and the history of creationism peddling in this country.
But the issue really is whether “ID” has any scientific utility whatsoever.
And it doesn’t. It’s not even close. Never has been. Never will be.
And people who think that ID has any scientific merit are (drum roll) clueless idiots, script-reciting stooges, professional obfusctors/opportunists, or professional liars for Jesus.
““I don’t deny ID’s currently unsatisfactory epistemic situation, but it’s constantly raising its game.”
If you say so, Fuller. From where I stand it’s the same stupid garbage it always was. You are a professional obfuscator/opportunist.
How much did you get paid to testify in Dover?Posted by on 12/06 at 04:08 PM
Re Comment 36 #1
You write that ”Are people – even religious ones – not allowed to try to undermine scientific theories – even well-confirmed ones – for whatever reason they feel like it? In the end, what matters is whether those who don’t share those motives accept the theory. ID has clearly not won over the minds of many yet, but it’s trying, and that’s what matters here.”
Allowance is not the question. Unlike theistic motivation, there are no examples of science being produced by a research program motivated by theory-specific anti-materialism or atheism, so this makes the context of discovery question relevant and importantly different than the frequently invoked Newton example. There is good reason to believe that such a program will not, a priori, lead to any scientifically accepted theory.
I see some of the “immense and unyielding cynicism” that Pickering identified in his review of your book Science in the American Journal of Sociology in your position here. Some of your critics in this thread and elsewhere seem to lack sufficient familiarity with the methodological questions at stake or are allowing their very understandable anger at the “wedge” strategy exhibited in Dover and elsewhere to cloud their judgment. As a rhetorical strategy, however, I don’t think much is to be gained by encouraging social criticism of science through this particular instrument.Posted by Jonathan on 12/06 at 04:15 PM
"This whole thread has been one huge distraction. It’s like unwrapping skien after skien of verbiage and finding underneath nothing more than remnants of some unconsidered high school indoctrination.”
But interesting to discover that Fuller’s support for the scientific credentials of ID depends upon its roots in a monotheistic tradition, no? A position one might reasonably expect a little further evidence for (over and above the contingent fact that Western science did develop in a monotheistic tradition) given its a priori implausability.
“William Dembski is trying to come up with a mathematically precise definition of design that doesn’t reduce to necessity, chance or some combination of the two”
So the entire basis of ID as a science, rather than as simply a rejection of evolution by natural selection motivated by religious faith, is that (a) it comes from a monotheistic tradition, and (b) has someone trying to come up with some kind of definition of something. Are we not setting our standards for constitutes science just a little low? What distinguishes ID from any of the myriad crackpot theories incorporating the terms of information theory that litter the internet?
“It’s worth keeping mind that evolution by natural selection remained on shaky ground within biology until the 1930s”
In what way is this comparable with a field that makes one fairly metaphysical claim, no testable empirical claims, and has as its best example some guy attempting to make a coherent mathematical definition of something that may well not have such a definition?Posted by on 12/06 at 04:18 PM
““the motives of the proponents of ID are crucial”.... reflects the way the US legal system sees matters at the moment, whereby religious motivation ipso facto can disqualify a knowledge claim as scientific.”
That’s not true. That’s not the way the legal system sees matters, Mr. Fuller. The legal system understands that beliefs like “this invisible dude in this invisible called heaven will use his invisible powers to send your invisible soul to this invisible place called hell after you die” are RELIGIOUS beliefs. They are not “knowledge” any more than my belief that you are a robot programmed by John West is “knowledge.”
Get it, Fuller? In the US legal system, there are these things called “facts” which represent “evidence” that is considered by judges. Judges in the US legal system are not allowed to say, “Well, the facts show this but I prayed last night to Orbaboingboing and he said you’re guilty. Case closed.”
So when the ID peddlers say “ID is science and should be taught in science class” and the judge says “where’s the evidence” and the ID peddler says “just look around, you atheist idiot,” guess what happens? The judge takes a big dump on ID.
Too bad you chose to stand in the toilet bowl with Michael Behe, Fuller.Posted by on 12/06 at 04:20 PM
For many of the Christian scientists Fuller named (e.g. Newton), science research was a primary form of Christian devotion. For them, the “book of nature” was like the Bible, and revealed the mind of God. So they worked very diligently at scientific research of all kinds.
Anti-evolutionists and Christian ID people are science skeptics for whom science is not, in and of itself, a form of Christian devotion. For them science is usually an adversary of religion, and religion is to be favored.
If there were Christian ID people deeply involved in biological research of many different kinds, we still might have a problem if they were smuggling Biblical principles into their work (though we also might not).
But the fact is, we don’t even have that. There is no body of ID biological research.Posted by John Emerson on 12/06 at 04:28 PM
““It’s worth keeping mind that evolution by natural selection remained on shaky ground within biology until the 1930s”
Every theory that now represents a consensus explanation of a phenomenon for the vast majority of the world’s scientists was on “shaky ground” when it was first proposed.
Here’s what worth keeping in mind, Fuller: certain types of religious fanatics have been flipping out over scientific discoveries FOREVER because it erodes the fear of the unknown and powerful “almighty” that those types of fanatics use to propogate their religion.
That’s incontrovertible. It’s human nature, and deep down every clitoris-cutting witch doctor and every flap-mouthed preacher on earth knows the deal.
And creationists are just another data point.
Also worth keeping in mind is doing the past century of incessant creationist apoplexy over evolutionary biology, they have provided ZILCHO evidence to support their theory of alien intervention. Meanwhile, scientists have assembled mountains of evidence consistent with evolutionary explanations for the diversity of life on earth.
Feel free to rebut anything I say, Mr. Fuller, with objective facts showing that I’m wrong about any of this.
I’d welcome that. It’d be a good way for you to practice for the next time the creationists need an “expert” witness.Posted by on 12/06 at 04:31 PM
This is most instructive. Does Meera Nanda realize that she was blurbed by the Steve Fuller of #59 above? Perhaps *she* thought she was getting the endorsement of the Chicago Bears quarterback.
I am not among those using the term “fundamentalism,” which is as much a conversational snare as “postmodernism,” used to put people beyond the pale without explaining what’s the matter with them. On India, two points. One is that the difference between “a pastiche of rather different strands that project a mythical […] past” and an “attempts to revive and update religious traditions” may be hard to sustain. Certainly Hindu nationalists talk in terms of revival, and revivalists of all stripes have mythical pasts. Second, I have run into any number of Hindu mathematicians and scientists, not all of them conservatives, who claim serious links between their academic and religious thinking. How far beyond Nanda’s book do Fuller’s investigations of Hinduism extend?
Fuller’s monotheism-rules claim depends on there being something called “good science.” (I.e. not just cleverly-marketed science.) Fuller elsewhere uses the phrase “striking empirical success.” This suggests that he does accept that there are narrow and robust grounds for assessing the results of work in natural science that are distinct from the supernatural commitments or ideas that may have inspired the search for those results. And that was my claim about the reception of Newton. E.g. what impresses Adam Smith in his _History of Astronomy_ is that Newton succeeded where others had failed, that he showed *how* the parts are linked.
The business about “comparable points in [the] careers” of research programs is an evasion. Everyone is willing to wait while natural scientists inspired by ID (all three of them?) get on with doing “good science” that achieves “striking empirical success.” But the original question was what subset of natural science is appropriate to be taught in high schools. ... And is Fuller really the witness I want to call to demonstrate that ID is distinct from religion?
It’s also most interesting that Fuller’s ID claims require us to believe that while monotheism is responsible for what’s good in science, natural science somehow frittered away its Christian inheritance and now requires a new infusion via ID ... or something like that. Science must be both Christian enough for some of Fuller’s claims, but not Christian enough for others.
I agree with Ben Alpers’ comment that “Much of Fuller’s discussion relies on using the word “Christian” in loose and inexact ways.” (It certainly suggests an interestingly perverse reading of the Enlightenment.) And the larger comment in #59 breathes the musty air of 19th-century social science and history, with its assumptions of a discrete “West” and “East,” each a whole unto itself with a united, integrated, set of characteristics that determine, in some general but essential way, the mentality of people operating within each sphere.Posted by on 12/06 at 04:38 PM
“you need to make observations and do experiments, and you need to process your results to improve your understanding of how things are actually working in the real and observable and observed world.
I am not sure ID is actually doing that.”
Of course they aren’t doing that. Behe admitted at the Dover trial that he has CONCLUDED that the intelligent designer is HIS PERSONAL DEITY.
What experiment can he possibly do which will prove that HIS PERSONAL DEITY—not my deity, not the deity of Hindus, not the deities of Religion X, Y and/or Z—actually is One True Deity that really, as a matter of scientific fact, created the universe and so, as a matter of scientific fact, all the rest of you are going to hell for all eternity, thank you very much?
What experiment can the ID peddler do?
Notice I haven’t brought up the bacterial flagella. Do you know why? Because it’s irrelevant to understanding that Michael Behe is a professional liar and Mr. Fuller is a professional obfusctator.Posted by on 12/06 at 04:41 PM
"Much of Fuller’s discussion relies on using the word “Christian” in loose and inexact ways.”
Um, hate to burst anyone’s bubble here but much of all philosophical “debate” relies on using words in loose and inexact ways.
That’s why professional scientists generally don’t give a rip about the garbage that philosophers say about them.
At the end of the day, it’s the reproducibility of the results and the utility of the hypotheses which flow from the results that matter.
It’s sort of like how we all live our lives every day. You know, in “reality.”Posted by on 12/06 at 04:46 PM
‘Anything new in science comes when scientific work comes up with something new, and this is unpredictable. At the time that Linus Pauling gambled that the genetic material would be a protein, he knew that it was a gamble and that experimental work would decide it.’ But your own example shows that Pauling DID predict correctly…
(Steve Fuller, comment 60)
As has been pointed out already, Pauling bet wrong. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a nucleic acid. Proteins are polypeptides. The two are very different kinds of chemical. That is really very basic biology - high school level, in fact. (I suspect that Bob Weimann would be somewhat disappointed in you for forgetting that.)
The Pauling situation illustrates a number of the problems both with teaching intelligent design and with Steve’s participation in this issue.
To begin with, let’s look at what the Intelligent Design people are demanding. They are not demanding equal funding for empirical research. They are not demanding access to the scientific literature. They are not demanding to be allowed to participate in the scientific process. They are demanding to be allowed to bypass research and publication and to place their material in the high school classroom. In the Pauling example, it would be like immediately demanding, prior to the expected experimental confirmation, to teach that protein is the genetic material.
When it comes to moving new research into the classroom, science moves very slowly and very, very conservatively. This is done for good reason. The sciences are very complex fields. Conducting and critically evaluating new research requires an enormous knowledge base - if it is to be done competently. Putting brand new, controversial material into the classroom might sound like a good way to stimulate critical inquiry in the students, but critical inquiry in this case requires a knowledge base that students simply don’t have at that level.
It’s also a knowledge base that Steve apparently doesn’t have. He speculates in comment 38 that “some design-based paradigm will overtake evolution in about 100 years,” but he doesn’t appear to have the basic knowledge of biology to actually make that an educated guess. He might be basing his opinion on the way that other major scientific revolutions have progressed, but that’s hardly a safe (or particularly relevant) basis for speculating on the outcome of specific cases.
Carl Sagan summed that up well, I think:
But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.
By Steve’s own admission, ID has not progressed to the point of formulating or testing hypotheses. How, then, do we know that they aren’t Bozo. If it is possible that they are, why put them in the schools?
RHS ‘93Posted by Mike Dunford on 12/06 at 04:47 PM
Apparently no one is actually doing ID research, nor even seeking grants for that purpose. It seems a very difficult way to raise one’s game.
I came up with a better sound bite. What i should have said is:
It is difficult to raise one’s game if one is not even in the game.Posted by on 12/06 at 04:50 PM
My goodness, what a thread. We may even surpass the sheer volume of The Terrible Derrida Discussion of this past July.
But speaking of volume, Mr. Sober, could you take it down a couple of notches? Thanks.
And Steve, if you’re still reading this far—you needn’t feel obliged to reply again, unless you really want to. You’ve been very generous with your time already, and for that, I thank you.Posted by on 12/06 at 05:00 PM
“It is difficult to raise one’s game if one is not even in the game.”
Here’s John West coaching his team at halftime.
JW: “Okay, the scientists are kicking our butts 500 to zero. Preacher, got any test tubes?”
Preacher: “Uh, no but I got a Bible. And some rosary beads.”
JW: “Great! Okay wave those around at the fans. They’ll eat it up. Philosopher what do you got?”
Philosopher: “I got some fancy philosophy words and some examples where scientists made a mistake.”
JW: “Awesome! Okay wave those around at the fans. They’ll eat it up. Let’s see. Who else? Oh yeah, you, the .. uh… so-called scientist. You have the test tubes, right?”
So-called scientist: “No, but I have some fancy scientific words.”
JW: “No test tubes?”
So-called scientists: “No.”
JW: “Well, okay then. Just wave those fancy words around and the fans will get confused and pay attention to the preacher and the philosopher.”
So-called scientist: “But coach, how are we going to beat the scientists at their own game?”
JW: “Here’s the deal. I know we’ve been beaten badly so far. You guys just do your thing like I told you. I’m going to defecate in this bucket and smear it all over those bastards. It’ll be awesome.”
All: “PRAISE THE LORD!!!!!!”Posted by on 12/06 at 05:08 PM
Fuller said, and I love this,
“Some of the Darwinists’ objections to his re-interpretations hit the mark, others don’t. Much of the debate surrounding his work is marred by his claiming that evolutionists can’t possible explain, say, the bacterial flagella, to which then evolutionists produce a dozen possible explanations: Behe is proved wrong without evolutionists being proved right. Not very satisfactory all around. William Dembski is trying to come up with a mathematically precise definition of design that doesn’t reduce to necessity, chance or some combination of the two.”
Dembski failed in his assertion that “It could not have happened this way.” Scientists were successful in their assertion that “It could have happened these ways.” And yet you’re not satisfied, because the scientist’s case is not ‘proven.’
How sad for you.
There is no answer they could ever give, I think, that would be satisfactory. Not until they admit GodDidIt is the ultimate proof, right?Posted by on 12/06 at 05:09 PM
“But speaking of volume, Mr. Sober, could you take it down a couple of notches? Thanks.”
Sure. I just wanted to make sure the issues were presented in a way that the average high school student would understand them.
A lot of time is wasted in these discussions playing word games with people who really aren’t interested in facts but who just enjoy stroking their beards (and occastionally the beards of others) and pontificating.Posted by on 12/06 at 05:11 PM
Excuse me, I meant Behe in reference to Mr. Fuller’s quote in the preivious post, not Dembski.Posted by on 12/06 at 05:15 PM
Professor Fuller: I too have work to do, on seventeenth-century studies of insects, so I will pose only one question: why is it “politically correct” to claim that Newton’s Principia were favorably received and accepted quickly? I’d like to know, because no one has ever accused me of political correctness before. Sam Westfall, who knew more about Newton than I ever will, wrote that the Principia swiftly became the orthodoxy in England and gained respect even among continental natural philosophers like Leibniz and Huygens who disagreed with Newton’s central concept. Anyone familiar with Margaret Jacob’s and John Gascoigne’s work on Newtonianism (just to drop a couple more names) knows that there were politico-religious factors involved for many of those who accepted Newton’s ideas without really understanding them, and for others who did. But the fact that Newtonianism was useful to latitudinarians does not explain why Huygens and Leibniz took Newton’s ideas seriously, from the beginning.Posted by on 12/06 at 05:57 PM
Well, Fuller has proved that he is no dupe of the creationists. Unfortunately, it appears that Fuller is the one doing the duping. So sad.Posted by on 12/06 at 06:12 PM
A suggestion to others: just as hacks like Fuller refuse to call “evolution” by its generally recognized name (preferring to use the rhetorically-loaded “Darwin” or “Darwinism"), it is not sensible to use the their preferred-term, “Itelligent Design.” They are “creationists” pushing “creationism.” It is not helpful to call a wolf in sheep’s clothing a “sheep.”Posted by on 12/06 at 06:16 PM
I tend to use the term “Intelligent Design creationists” because it distinguishes them from other creationist ‘kinds’, such as Young Earth, Old Earth, Day-Age, etc.
The Creation/Evolution Continuum by Eugenie Scott
Testimony in the Kansas Board of Education hearings reveals that many of the “expert” witnesses called to testify in favor of IDC a) believe the Earth is less than 10000 years old b) do not accept common ancestry of life on Earth c) especially in the case of humans and other apes. In short, they are Young Earth Creationists.Posted by on 12/06 at 06:25 PM
“If you think something like the Scientific Revolution would have ‘eventually’ happened outside a monotheistic culture, then I’d love to see the counterfactual historical argument: e.g. try to reinvent Newton using only the resources of the Indian or Chinese intellectual tradition.”
This is just bigotry at worst, empty-headed arrogance at best, wrapped up in a tweed sweater and drowning in cheap cologne.
Sadly, we can smell Fuller’s breakfast.
How much did they pay you in Dover exactly for your “expert” testimony, Mr. Fuller?
I’d ask Fuller to recite for us all of the “resources” of the Indian or Chinese “intellectual tradition” as understood through the eyes of an apologist for ID peddling, except I’m afraid that he might actually attempt to do so.
I know for a fact that Fuller won’t address the points I raised directly and articulately so that we can all understand what the evidence is for his position. Why? Because he can’t. He might as well argue that “gravity” is materialist propaganda.
As Rich Puchalsky pointed out so wonderfully:
“This whole thread has been one huge distraction. It’s like unwrapping skien after skien of verbiage and finding underneath nothing more than remnants of some unconsidered high school indoctrination.”
The fantastic irony is that an “unconsidered high school indoctrination” is the IDEAL sought by the ID peddlers.Posted by on 12/06 at 07:17 PM
PART ONE OF FOUR
All good things must come to an end. And as often happens during these public inquisitions, the best and worst probings tend to be clumped together – the more insulting mixed with the more incisive, not in the very same comment but in rough succession. I’ve been responding to your e-mails pretty much during breaks of a conference where I’m an active participant. I apologise if I don’t fully explain my answers or resort to conceptual shorthand (a.k.a. jargon). I’ll only deal here with what I regard as the more substantive points, but then I’m ending this thread.
However, I recommend that those of you who have something substantive to say about the role of science studies people as expert witnesses on the nature of science should consider writing a 2000 word piece for the journal, Social Studies of Science. The editorial in the latest issue of the journal (Dec 2005) provides details.
1.“Maybe I’m not taking Fuller seriously enough on this point. Perhaps if a large, neo-Nazi movement proposed putting Nazi racial science into our school curricula, he’d also be arguing for that, on the grounds that the only issue is whether or not it’s science.” If this hypothetical Neo-Nazi stuff is science, then even those opposed to the Nazi motivations of its promoters can test its knowledge claims, and can agree or disagree with the Nazis on purely scientific grounds. This is not a trivial condition. Moreover, it’s an important one to enforce since so much of intellectual history has been less than honorably motivated. In principle, we must be willing to kill the messenger yet preserve what’s valuable in the message.
2.“Here we go. Version n+1 of “why everything in my culture just so happens to be not only best, but absolutely required”. Do you have any evidence for this so-called empirical fact? Given that science happened to emerge indirectly from the tradition of Greek thought, and that the Greeks were polytheists, I think that your belief is unsupported, unscientific bigotry.” I’m sorry you feel this way, but while you may be an excellent astrophysicist, you lack a historical imagination, which is what required in this matter. The Greeks did not become THE GREEKS, our great scientific ancestors, by themselves. You are right that most of the Greek thinkers were polytheists (though this is not so clear in the cases of Plato and Aristotle) but it actually took the Muslims to organize and re-brand the collective body of their work to give the impression that they were providing insight to Allah’s divine plan. By the 13th century, the Christians had bought the idea and, to cut a long story short, the rest is the history of science. For homework, read Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change (Harvard: 1998).
... TO BE CONTINUEDPosted by Steve Fuller on 12/06 at 07:36 PM
PART TWO OF FOUR
3.“The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research.” Not a good sign, to be sure. But the Templeton Foundation could be a bit more imaginative about the way it gives away its money. In particular, they could run a competition to come up with a blueprint for an ID research program, including anticipated re-interpretations and new theorizing of existing data, as well new experiments and even modes of empirical inquiry. The competition could be open to both supporters and opponents of ID, and the prize committee would consist of supporters and opponents as well. Put a 12-18 month and 25,000 word limit, and also promise to publish all the better ones, even though the prize money only goes to the best. That’s how Templeton could help raise ID’s game: Turn it into a game!
4.“Does Meera Nanda realize that she was blurbed by the Steve Fuller of #59 above?” Yes, she knows. I’m a friend of hers, but I don’t agree with her tendency to lump all fundamentalisms together, for reasons rehearsed here. However, I really do believe her book has got the postmodern Hindu nationalists by the cajones.
5.“And the larger comment in #59 breathes the musty air of 19th-century social science and history, with its assumptions of a discrete “West” and “East,” each a whole unto itself with a united, integrated, set of characteristics that determine, in some general but essential way, the mentality of people operating within each sphere.” Well, I try not to be an essentialist about mindsets, but I do think you only get anything like modern science if you start from what I call in my new book, The New Sociological Imagination (Sage 2006), the ‘anthropic’ world-view, which covers the cultural trajectory of the Abrahamic religions. Of course, as an earlier poster noted, so-called Western science has spread throughout the world and now there are more Chinese and Indian scientists than in all of Europe and America combined. But that’s the legacy of Western economic and cultural domination, for better or worse. Left to their own devices, India and China may have produced a much nicer, especially ecologically sounder world but it wouldn’t have modern science. Again I apologize if this frays tender political sensibilities.
...TO BE CONTINUEDPosted by Steve Fuller on 12/06 at 07:37 PM
PART THREE OF FOUR
6.“The Pauling situation illustrates a number of the problems both with teaching intelligent design and with Steve’s participation in this issue.” Thus begins a rather super-serious post. First of all, I admit to the charge of failing to tell the difference between nucleic acids and polypeptides! But before launching into non-sequitur claims of my incompetence, I was originally prompted to comment on Pauling’s prediction that ‘genetic material is a protein’. Now Pauling knew about DNA but thought it had a protein structure. He basically made my error. However, my error was informed by a hazy memory that Pauling had several years earlier articulated a principle that Watson-Crick (but not Pauling himself) used to figure out the structure of DNA. So I’m not being quite as stupid as the poster suggests. But I admit error. (But the original point about whether scientists can predict future science is unaffected: Even Pauling made some correct predictions about productive avenues of research.) Unfortunately, the poster seems to think that knowledge of the structure of DNA is somehow germane to whether Darwinism or ID provides a better basis for biological explanation. In fact, there is no difference between Darwinism and ID on the structure of DNA, which pertains to a lower level of abstraction than the one where Darwinism vs. ID is pitched. This raises an important: You can have a perfectly decent argument about the merits of these two theories and most of current biology would remain untouched. My inclination is to regard both Darwinism and ID as what the logical positivists and Popper called ‘metaphysical research programmes’, i.e. frameworks to inspire lines of research but ultimately not testable in any direct way – only testable through the disciplines and theory for which they provide an ultimate explanation.
7.“Why is it “politically correct” to claim that Newton’s Principia were favorably received and accepted quickly? I’d like to know, because no one has ever accused me of political correctness before.” I think you’re taking what I said out of context. I was responding to accounts of the Scientific Revolution that make the relationship between science and religion appear more harmonious than it really was: e.g. nonconformist Newton’s quick reception is somehow a testimony to religious tolerance. No, it’s a testimony to his having produced knowledge that passed muster by those – like Huygens and Leibniz – who had no need for his religious beliefs, one way or the other. That’s not religious tolerance. Rather that’s the exorcism of religion from science.
TO BE CONTINUEDPosted by Steve Fuller on 12/06 at 07:38 PM
PART FOUR OF FOUR
8.“Hacks like Fuller refuse to call “evolution” by its generally recognized name (preferring to use the rhetorically-loaded “Darwin” or “Darwinism").” Well, I can’t speak for all the other hacks you know, but “evolution” is a little too polysemous for my liking. It lets you card-carrying Darwinists to get away with ideas and explanations that appeal to mechanisms other than natural selection. If we had more time, I could use this point as a “wedge” to show how the Neo-Darwinian synthesis is the biggest “big tent” theory ever concocted in the history of science – and a damn fine one it is. We can all learn from its example! For homework: Read Leah Ceccarelli, Shaping Science with Rhetoric (Chicago: 2001).
One person wanted to know how much I was paid as an expert witness: I’ll let you know once it happens! Finally, I apologise to all the egos bruised. I hold no grudges, especially since I haven’t a clue who most of you are!
PS: A UK book of mine, The Intellectual, will be published in the US (Icon books) in early 2006. It’s kind of a manual, loosely modelled on Machiavelli’s The Prince.
ENDPosted by Steve Fuller on 12/06 at 07:39 PM
“But the Templeton Foundation could be a bit more imaginative about the way it gives away its money.”
Maybe the Templeton Foundation is waiting for the Samoans to come and help them. You know, like the Muslims helped the Greeks.
Seriously, Fuller, you’re a dissembling bag of hot air. At least that fact is a better documented now than it was before this thread.Posted by on 12/06 at 08:23 PM
Steve Fuller in #89:If this hypothetical Neo-Nazi stuff is science, then even those opposed to the Nazi motivations of its promoters can test its knowledge claims, and can agree or disagree with the Nazis on purely scientific grounds.
Aha! A point of agreement. We should judge whether or not something is science—and whether or not it’s good science—by asking whether its knowledge claims can be tested (if they can, it’s science), and whether, when tested, they prove true (in which case, it’s good science).
Unfortunately, in Fuller’s analysis, these tests don’t seem to apply to Intelligent Design. If they did, then we’d fail ID at step one in about thirty seconds. Is ID falsifiable? No. Does it have any testible consequences? No. Is anyone pursuing a serious ID research program? No. Have the unserious, pseudo-research programs of the tiny handful of scientists who are also ID creationists borne any fruit? No. Applying the Nazi-science rule to ID would save Fuller all the trouble of going to Dover and responding to our no-doubt annoying objections.
But, in fact, Fuller’s analysis of ID involves more than the boring old job of testing its knowledge claims. It involves speculating on the possibility that in the future, in some inscrutible way, ID might generate knowledge claims that are testable. And because we can speculate that it might generate future testible knowledge claims, we must ignore its current lack of such claims and teach it as science in high school classes.
And while we should bracket out both the Nazi motivation of our 1930s German eugenecists and their hypothetical contemporary followers, and the fundamentalist evangelical motivations of ID creationists, we should apparently give the latter group extra bonus points for being monotheists. Why the Nazis, many of whom were also monotheists (and were unquestionably the product of a Western way of thinking), don’t get these bonus points is unclear to me. It’s also worth noting that while the Nazis were putting science in the service of a monstrous ideology, the ID creationists are using scientific rhetoric in bad faith to oppose science (or rather the “naturalism” that is entailed by most accepted views of science).
I’d say that makes the ID creationists motivations’ actually more damning than the Nazis, but I’d be happy to live with bracketing out the motivations (and the religious/ideological beliefs...including magical monotheism) of the proponents in question in favor of asking the more narrow question of the testability of the knowledge claims in question. If that question is answered honestly, it renders most of this conversation unnecessary.Posted by on 12/06 at 08:36 PM
“the poster seems to think that knowledge of the structure of DNA is somehow germane to whether Darwinism or ID provides a better basis for biological explanation”
“I’m not being quite as stupid as the poster suggests.”
Actually, you’re just as stupid but even less ethical than I thought.
And if I may paraphrase Francis Crick and Jim Watson, it has not escaped my attention that you failed to address the points I raised Mr. Fuller.
Instead, you simply repeated your script except for the one instance where you were busted point blank pretending to know an elementary fact about biology.
“so much of intellectual history has been less than honorably motivated.”
Apparently admitting that you might have played a part in that dishonest history is less important to you than, say, plugging your upcoming book.
So sad, Mr. Fuller. So sad.Posted by on 12/06 at 08:40 PM
Sorry about the spelling ("testible") and grammatical ("creationists motivations’") errors. I have to put dinner on the table and was thus slovenly in the proofreading of my previous post.Posted by on 12/06 at 08:40 PM
“Why the Nazis, many of whom were also monotheists (and were unquestionably the product of a Western way of thinking), don’t get these bonus points is unclear to me.”
One of the “answers” from the creationist script is that Hitler persecuted Christians, a fact that is kept hidden from schoolchildren to this day. Didn’t you know that, Ben?
Of course, none of this historical baloney changes the fact that ID is pure unadulterated anti-science garbage, as demonstrated plainly numerous times in this thread—a circumstnace that Mr. Fuller finds himself strangely unable to address.Posted by on 12/06 at 08:47 PM
One other side point re: Nazi science.
Above in #94, I granted that the question of whether or not something is science should be decided entirely in terms of the testability of its knowledge claims.
As far as whether or not that science belongs in high school classrooms (or in a democratic society more generally), however, this condition is necessary but not sufficient.
We can all think of legitimate scientific hypotheses that are testable only through unethical means (e.g. coerced medical experiments). I think it’s entirely reasonable to put ethical constraints on science. Such constraints would affect, I’d hope, our analysis of at least some Nazi science. They don’t have much to do with ID, as ID isn’t even unethically testable.Posted by on 12/06 at 08:53 PM
“If we had more time, I could use this point as a “wedge” to show how the Neo-Darwinian synthesis is the biggest “big tent” theory ever concocted in the history of science – and a damn fine one it is..”
Oooh, how lucky we are that Mr. Fuller doesn’t have time to drop another big bag of doo-doo on us!
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a “big tent” and Mr. Fuller knows that.
Mr. Fuller is pretending to forget that the Discovery Institute’s “big tent” is criticized because the Discovery Institute includes groups of self-identifying “scientists” whose viewpoints on the most fundamental issues relating to evolution (e.g., the age of the earth) differ profoundly such that the differences can’t be chalked up to folks having merely different (but equally rational theories) but must be attributed instead to varying degrees of religious fundamentalism and/or mental pathologies of one sort or another.
The world’s molecular biologists do not think that the world’s geneticists are off their rockers or completely deluded. Or vice versa. That is because neither group denies basic facts about chemistry or the primary source of phenotypic differences between species and between animals within species.
Again it must be repeated: when people like Mr. Fuller—who claim to be “educated”—engage in the sort of game playing Mr. Fuller engages in here, they are engaging in pure deception.
Mr. Fuller, like other ID peddlers, seems to enjoy pretending that he is Johnny Cochran, ID is OJ, and the jury is the American public.
What Mr. Fuller forgets is that the jury in OJ’s criminal trial wasn’t allowed to consider all the evidence.Posted by on 12/06 at 09:19 PM
"This is most instructive. Does Meera Nanda realize that she was blurbed by the Steve Fuller of #59 above? Perhaps *she* thought she was getting the endorsement of the Chicago Bears quarterback.”
Yes. I told her a couple of days ago, but she already knew. She too found it surprising. (She didn’t mention being friends with Fuller.)Posted by Ophelia Benson on 12/06 at 09:40 PM
My point about Pauling and DNA was that before a certain point, it was anyone’s guess what the nuclear material would turn out to be, but before DNA was actually discovered, none of those guesses really were worth much. They were shots in the dark, and Pauling knew this and took his chances.
Nobody, as far as I know, was looking for a polypeptide. Once DNA was found, everything was clear, but before the experimental work was done, guesses and hunches were only guides to experimental work. Since Fuller’s speculation about the future of evolution isn’t likely to be used to guide research, it’s really just hot air.Posted by John Emerson on 12/06 at 09:52 PM
No worry, Ben. I expect you still know the difference beween cajones and cojones.
The hard thing for M. Nanda’s work is that a favorite move for the more sectarian types she critiques is to portray criticism of them as religiously motivated.
This has all been most clarifying and I thank Fuller for his participation. I do hope, though, that people will not jump to the conclusion that Fuller is representative or typical of Science Studies. The sad thing is when a controversy like this leads to indiscriminate anathemas against whole fields of study.Posted by on 12/06 at 10:04 PM
While I dont’ know of any biological traits that require the hypothesis of an intelligent desinger for its explanation, I do take very seriously the notion that there must be limits to the generative capacity of natural selection. Proponents of “irreducible complexity” may be jumping the gun, but there is a scientifically respectable question behind their speculations.
In the rush to prevent contamination of science by infantile fantasies, we risk throwing out the infant with the fantasy.
BTW, Steve Fuller deserves none of the abuse that is being heaped on him.Posted by on 12/06 at 10:14 PM
“Now Pauling knew about DNA but thought it had a protein structure. He basically made my error.”
I don’t think so. Why don’t you tell us more, just for laughs?Posted by on 12/06 at 10:28 PM
“BTW, Steve Fuller deserves none of the abuse that is being heaped on him.”
Yes he does. He’s arrogant, dismissive, misinformed and he doesn’t really care what any of us think. He cares about how many books he’s going to sell. That’s why he loves this “controversy.”
“ Proponents of “irreducible complexity” may be jumping the gun, but there is a scientifically respectable question behind their speculations.”
What speculations would those be exactly? I’ve never heard them articulated in a way that was scientifically “respectable.” All I’ve heard is variations on the following: “Just look at that thing stuck to that bacteria!!!! It’s like an outboard motor!!! You’re telling me that thing evolved??? I can’t believe that.”
That’s not scientifically respectable.
The scientifically “respectable” questions about the “limits” of evolution are being addressed by scientists. Right now. As we type. All over the world. Even in China and India (of course, the best scientists in those countries are likely “monotheists,” if we can believe Steve Fuller).
And no, scientists aren’t addressing questions about the “limits” of evolution because the Discovery Institute is forcing scientists to “defend their theory.” Scientists were addressing those questions for a long long time.
“In the rush to prevent contamination of science by infantile fantasies, we risk throwing out the infant with the fantasy.”
News flash: there is no shortage of infants.
Scientists will study whatever interests them, as long as someone is willing to pay them to do so—yet another incontrovertible fact that shows how worthless and stupid “ID” and its peddlers are. Does anyone think Christians don’t do “ID research” because Christians are too poor to afford it? Geebus, I hope not.Posted by on 12/06 at 10:34 PM
Lawrence Sober -
It should be obvious that the speculations to which I referred concern an intelligent designer. But I didn’t say those speculations were scientifically respectable. What I did say is that there’s a scientifically repsectable question behind those speculations. (to wit: Are there functional heritable traits that could not have been generated by natural selection?)
Perhaps arrogance and a dismissive attitude led you to not really care to take care in reading what I wrote. There seems to be a lot of that going around.Posted by on 12/06 at 11:11 PM
From comment #36:
“Are people – even religious ones – not allowed to try to undermine scientific theories – even well-confirmed ones – for whatever reason they feel like it? In the end, what matters is whether those who don’t share those motives accept the theory. ID has clearly not won over the minds of many yet, but it’s trying, and that’s what matters here.”
I think this is a key point. It’s not the fact that they are trying that is what matters, it’s *how* they are trying that matters.
I don’t like to say “ID is this” or “ID is that” because ID has become a focal point for a lot of different agendas, so I’ll say this: ID *includes* a strong movement to establish ID as a scientific conclusion by means of political/indoctrinational methods, without engaging in the scientific elaboration and verification necessary to properly support such a status as a legitimate conclusion. Moreover, ID includes a strong movement to establish ID as a reasonable scientific view by default, through the expedient of undermining support for competing views (i.e. evolution) via political/indoctrinational methods, including misinformation, slander, mud-slinging, and other manipulative psychosocial practices.
There may also be a potential within ID for an actual scientific inquiry into questions related to intelligent design; however this potential for scientific exploration is not only largely unexploited, there is little to no interest in exploiting it. Its chief use currently is as bait for a fallacy of equivocation: because the potential exists, ID technically *includes* the possibility of being scientific, therefore ID as a whole is (mis)labelled as scientific by those who desire that label for their efforts to undermine evolution and put ID on the fast track to acceptance as a “proven” conclusion of science.
What has been happening in Dover and Kansas is not science, nor is it in any sense an attempt to add to scientific knowledge, but rather to hamstring it so that it can no longer threaten a dogmatic worldview. Look closely at what’s being done there and you’ll see not challenging of the status quo, but simple censorship and anti-competitive practices. They accuse evolution of being a monopoly, but what they’re really doing is attempting to eliminate the competition that evolution makes for creationism, thus establishing a de facto monopoly for creationism. Science is not what ID is, it’s only what it could be if the ID folks would stick to science and leave politics out of it.Posted by Mark Nutter on 12/06 at 11:24 PM
8.“Hacks like Fuller refuse to call “evolution” by its generally recognized name (preferring to use the rhetorically-loaded “Darwin” or “Darwinism").” Well, I can’t speak for all the other hacks you know, but “evolution” is a little too polysemous for my liking. It lets you card-carrying Darwinists to get away with ideas and explanations that appeal to mechanisms other than natural selection. If we had more time, I could use this point as a “wedge” to show how the Neo-Darwinian synthesis is the biggest “big tent” theory ever concocted in the history of science – and a damn fine one it is.
How strange. So the way to argue against modern evolutionary theory is to insist that it wear a late 19th/ early 20th century straightjacket? Ignore everything since Fisher and Wright, including much of population genetics, all of molecular biology, molecular genetics, and developmental biology? And why shouldn’t biologists be allowed to include mechanisms other than natural selection? Our goal is to describe biology, not to shoehorn everything into some limited theoretical contrivance of your design.Posted by PZ Myers on 12/06 at 11:46 PM
“Perhaps arrogance and a dismissive attitude led you to not really care to take care in reading what I wrote.”
I took great care in reading what you wrote.
Here’s what you wrote and I’ve highlighted the key term:
“Proponents of “irreducible complexity” may be jumping the gun, but there is a scientifically respectable question behind their speculations.”
Some more facts. The term “irreducible complexity” has NEVER been defined in a way that allows biological structures to be categorized as “irreducibly complex” or not. Its proponents are not “jumping the gun.” Its proponents are (how many times do I have to remind people) professional liars and/or obfuscators. They are PAID to shovel garbage to rubes and they take the money and they shovel the garbage because it promotes their religion, sells books, etc.
The claim that “behind” “irreducible complexity” lies the question “Are there functional heritable traits that could not have been generated by natural selection” grants far too much to Michael Behe and his fellow peddlers.
Remember that Michael Behe ADMITTED that he has CONCLUDED that the designer is HIS PERSONAL GOD. He isn’t interested in discovering whether some other natural process could be responsible for protein evolution (or any other kind of evolution). All he wants to do is throw feces at scientists and their “materialist methodology.”
That’s why I said that Behe et al bring nothing—ZILCHO—to the scientific table that wasn’t there before. Scientists have already answered the question whether other processes besides natural selection can account for variation in species: the answer is yes. And now scientists are studying those processes.
And scientists will come up with more hypotheses and test those too. If there is a baby in the bathwater, the scientists will find it (if they haven’t already). That’s guaranteed.
This is true regardless of how harshly ID peddlers are treated. I would argue that the more harshly ID peddlers are treated and the more clearly the ID peddlers are shown to be con artists, the better chance we have at relegating the ID peddlers to the status of Sasquatch hunters and holocaust deniers.
And that’s a good thing for scientists because a lot of valuable time and money is WASTED trying to clear the air of the flatulence of ID peddlers.
Bottom line: the real risk is in not taking the ID peddlers seriously when it comes to their ability to propagandize and obfuscate. They should not be given the benefit of any doubt because sowing doubt and fear is ALL THEY EXCEL AT.Posted by on 12/06 at 11:54 PM
A couple of things:
First, Steve Fuller responds to my earlier comment:
Unfortunately, the poster seems to think that knowledge of the structure of DNA is somehow germane to whether Darwinism or ID provides a better basis for biological explanation.
That was not at all what I was saying. My point was simply that an understanding of basic biology is an absolute necessity if you want to judge Intelligent Design on its own merits. If you do not have a personal knowledge base to draw from, then you will be forced to depend on what other people tell you about the scientific merits of the case.
Relying entirely on secondary sources is sloppy scholarship in the best of circumstances, and it’s completely unacceptable here. The claim made by the ID folks is that there is a real scientific controversy in play. The claim made by the overwhelming majority of working biologists is that there is no scientific controversy. How can you possibly hope to formulate an informed, independent opinion if you don’t know the underying science?
To put it bluntly, trying to study the scientific status of Intelligent Design when you don’t understand biology is like trying to study the Roman Empire when you don’t know Latin. And that seems to be exactly what Steve Fuller is doing.
Fuller also said:
It lets you card-carrying Darwinists to get away with ideas and explanations that appeal to mechanisms other than natural selection.
This fits well with a couple of things that Bob Koepp said:
I do take very seriously the notion that there must be limits to the generative capacity of natural selection. (Comment 103)
What I did say is that there’s a scientifically repsectable question behind those speculations. (to wit: Are there functional heritable traits that could not have been generated by natural selection?)(Comment 106).
Here again, in both cases, I think we are looking at a fundamental misunderstanding about the status of modern biology. Evolutionary theory did not spring fully-formed from Darwin’s head. Darwin’s work provided the start, but both the theoretical and experimental basis of the science have advanced over the past 150 or so years.
Natural selection is an important evolutionary mechanism, but it is not the only one. Sexual selection can be important. The founder effect can be important. Ham Carson’s founder-flush hypothesis is somewhat controversial, but I think it’s probably been a factor in some cases. There’s hybridization, introgression, polyploidy, and a host of other mechanisms. Evolution is as complex as any other part of biology.
This just goes to further illustrate the point that I was making: if you don’t understand the science, how can you possibly hope to come up with an informed (much less expert) opinion on the topic?Posted by Mike Dunford on 12/07 at 12:22 AM
Excellent post, Mr. Dunford.
“How can you possibly hope to formulate an informed, independent opinion if you don’t know the underying science?”
really gets to the nub of the issue and also illustrates the difference between scientists and whatever profession Mr. Fuller claims to belong to. And I’m reminded of Francis Beckwith, an ID peddling self-identifying Christian and “legal expert,” admitting out of one side of his mouth that his “views on ID weren’t fully formed” while he argued out of the other that it must be constitutional to teach it in public schools!!!
You don’t need to have a Ph.D. in philosophy to understand that ID is a bunch of worthless baloney as far as science is concerned. And some philosophers really seem to hate this fact.
On the other hand, you do need to be highly educated to understand many of the details of organismal and population biology that have been very thoroughly explored to date.
So what’s a rube to do? Experience would tell us: consult the experts.
That should be the end of the discussion but for one plain fact: it is possible in today’s Grey Age to plant and sow ideas throughout the consciousness of a substantial part of the US population simply by telling a pleasing story and spending a decent chunk of change to get that story told often and told in the right places.
Joe Schmoe—who for some strange reason is often a mechanical or computer engineer but barely ever a biologist—has no clue about the depth of our understanding of biology in 2005. But he’s really keen on conspiracy theories and ideas that aren’t “politically incorrect” as long as they don’t involve criticism of Christianity. So Joe Schmoe reads all this garbage scripted by the Discovery Institute and sees all his favorite blowhard scientifically illiterate pundits trashing scientists for not being “open minded” and he thinks there just MIGHT be “something to it.” And so the virus spreads.
And our great media loves the story about the David and Goliath controversy and so it plays right along, burying the facts and rational analysis in editorials but putting the “he said, she said” “controversy” right on the front page of the NYT where even the Dobsonites will peek for a closer look.
Make no mistake. In 2005 you don’t have to look too hard for someone who will admit that Saddam was behind 9/11 or was building a nuclear bomb, or that Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet, even when these pleasing myths have been debunked a million times over and the truth is a mouse-click away.Posted by on 12/07 at 01:12 AM
If you had read with “great care,” you would have noticed that I said nothing about scientifically respectable speculations. Be that as it may, I agree that nobody has articulated a notion of “irreducible complexity” that can be used to address the question of the generative capacity of natural selection. Proponents of this idea who claim to be able to apply it to real biological cases have been demonstrably unsuccessful in their attempts. That is the sense in whcih I take them to be “jumping the gun.” Their motives, however, are irrelevant to the question of whether or not they are successful.
Still, the question about the generative capacity of natural selection remains. And just to be clear, this concerns the origins of functional heritable traits, not simply variation in species. If you know of a natural, non-selective process that can generate and/or maintain heritable functional traits, I encourage you to publish it.
As for political posturing, a pox on both houses.Posted by on 12/07 at 01:16 AM
Mr. Dunford -
You presume too much. I’m well aware of the variety of mechanisms and processes implicated in biological evolution. It’s functional traits, adaptations that are at issue. And so far as we know, the only natural processes that can generate these are selective processes. Since there are many ways in which selective processes can be instantiated, it is quite common to refer to all of them under the heading of ‘natural selection.’Posted by on 12/07 at 01:32 AM
Fuller writes: ”Some of the Darwinists’ objections to his re-interpretations hit the mark, others don’t. Much of the debate surrounding his work is marred by his claiming that evolutionists can’t possible explain, say, the bacterial flagella, to which then evolutionists produce a dozen possible explanations: Behe is proved wrong without evolutionists being proved right. Not very satisfactory all around.”
Worse still, Dr. Behe consistently fails to present the simplest and most recently emerged IC systems that he can find. Why is this important? Because it’s the best way to evaluate the possibility of whether IC systems can evolve. Biochemical research has had some of its best successes by studying the simplest models which display the phenomena of interest. It’s a matter of experimental tractability. If the goal is to examine the possible evolutionary development of IC systems, the most tractable system would be one that is simple (fewest number of components to be classified as IC), is recently acquired, and is found in species with a broad range of surviving “cousins”. The last two characteristics help increase the likelihood of recovering any possible “phylogenetic signal” that may remain.
Research in bacteria and viruses is what lead to the initial understanding of the role of DNA in life. The organisms were also used to much of the basic biology and biochemical pathways of the cell. The mechanisms of enzymes were primarily studied in isolation from the cell. Why start small? Because these models provided scientists with the easiest systems to study that provided the most definitive answers. So why does ID focus on the flagellum? It’s a highly adapted and complicated system that is billions of years old and distributed across most of the bacteria. As such, it is a system with a very low experimental tractability with regard to evolutionary reconstruction. It’s no wonder that most biologists are not impressed with Dr. Behe’s approach. He has had biochemical training and should know better about the crucial importance of choosing definitive systems for research.Posted by on 12/07 at 01:40 AM
A common response to ID is that it isn’t science and shouldn’t be taught in science class - implying that it could be taught in some other class.
I think it would be great to have a comparative religion class in high school. (Based on something like Huston Smith’s book on world religions.) This is fairly non-controversial, presenting religions mostly as they would like to be seen.
The class could have a section on relgious conflict and one on contemporary religious controversies, including evolution/creationism. I think this would let us talk about the belief in creation in a respectful way without teaching it as fact. Billions of people say that their religion is important to them and fundamental to their way of life. Isn’t that worth studying?
Do any high schools have such a class? Such a survey would be too basic for a college class, wouldn’t it?
Perhaps this exposure to other religions would be too threatening to religous parents?Posted by Mark Gilbert on 12/07 at 01:41 AM
1. Selection acts upon variation, but selection does not generate variation. Mutation is not a selective process. Selection acts upon the traits and adaptations that are produced by the various types of mutation. You might not think much of the distinction, but it is real and important.
2. You might refer to any sort of selective process as falling under the heading of “natural selection,” but I assure you that scientists who study the process of speciation do not lump them together like that.Posted by Mike Dunford on 12/07 at 01:48 AM
“If you know of a natural, non-selective process that can generate and/or maintain heritable functional traits”
A natural process that generate heritable functional traits is mutation by ionizing radiation and DNA repair (happens to bacteria every day).
A natural process that can maintain heritable functional traits is reproduction by cellular fission (bacteria do this every day).
Perhaps you wanted to ask a different question.
Perhaps you wanted to ask something like “Is there anything that contemporary theories of the mechanism of organismal evolution can’t do if given an infinite amount of time?”
The answer is yes. Evolution can’t make eyes that see into the future.
Where can I get this exciting information published?Posted by on 12/07 at 01:56 AM
Something that makes me laugh is when ID peddlers claim that scientists don’t want to debate them.
I love to debate ID peddlers. In particular I like to debate them about the vacuity and uselessness of their theory, about their habitual dishonesty, about the Wedge document, about where the Discovery Institute gets its money, about their strange strategy for getting their “scientific theories” accepted by the public, and about what a bizarre coincidence it is that all the ID peddlers belong to the same religion.
But they never seem to want to talk about that stuff.
All they want to talk about is the bacterial flagella and how amazing it is.
Have you ever seen a bacteria “propel” itself up a sugar gradient? Not so impressive, really.
Some fish can walk better than bacteria swim.Posted by on 12/07 at 02:12 AM
I’m well aware of the distinction between selection between variants and the the generation of variants. What’s your point? Are you claiming that there are functional biological traits that have evolved absent selective pressures?
And your assurances notwithstanding, most evolutionary biologists of my acquaintance distinguish between types of selective processes only when the context requires it. When speaking of evolutionary theory generally, they tend to use the umbrella term ‘natural selection’ to distinguish selective forces from things like mutation, recombination, drift, etc.
Sigh. Your “examples” are drawn from functional biology, so they don’t demonstrate generation and/or maintenance over evolutionary time scales. That’s called a red-herring. I recommend that you read Ernst Mayr if you don’t understand this.Posted by on 12/07 at 02:37 AM
“Your “examples” are drawn from functional biology, so they don’t demonstrate generation and/or maintenance over evolutionary time scales. That’s called a red-herring. I recommend that you read Ernst Mayr if you don’t understand this.”
Dude, there is a classic saying among modern geneticists and molecular biologists who design various “screens” to select for a desired recombinant molecule (e.g., growing host cells in an environment that will kill cells which don’t carry a vector with the desired sequence).
The saying is: “You get what you select for.”
And the point is that sometimes you don’t realize what you were really selecting for until after you see the results of your screen.
You asked a question. I answered it.
I don’t need to read Ernst Mayr. You need to read Strunk and White.Posted by on 12/07 at 04:13 AM
My goodness, what a thread. We may even surpass the sheer volume of The Terrible Derrida Discussion of this past July.
We’ve done it, Michael.
That thread was only 111 posts long.
Derrida, you’re so pwn3d!!!!Posted by on 12/07 at 04:43 AM
Yes, indeed, “You get what you select for.” You make my point very nicely. Do you have a clue?
I don’t know what relevance “The Elements of Style” has to this exchange, but I do know that Ernts Mayr’s “Cause and Effect in Biology” is precisely to the point.Posted by on 12/07 at 08:54 AM
In which Steve Fuller acknowledges that IDC has no game:
Not a good sign, to be sure. But the Templeton Foundation could be a bit more imaginative about the way it gives away its money. In particular, they could run a competition to come up with a blueprint for an ID research program, including anticipated re-interpretations and new theorizing of existing data, as well new experiments and even modes of empirical inquiry. The competition could be open to both supporters and opponents of ID, and the prize committee would consist of supporters and opponents as well. Put a 12-18 month and 25,000 word limit, and also promise to publish all the better ones, even though the prize money only goes to the best. That’s how Templeton could help raise ID’s game: Turn it into a game!
So there is no blueprint for an ID research program. It’s unfortunate that one must dig through so much rhetoric to come up with so little substance.
The Wedge Document and other ‘smoking gun’ quality evidence is plentiful that IDC, which coincidentally became a popular term just after the Aguillard v. Edwards decision, is a deliberate plan of deception to sneak religious creationism back into the schools.
Fuller says motivation doesn’t matter, so long as its science.
Fuller admits that it’s not really science now, but he hopes that it will be some day, as proponents are ‘elevating their game’.
Fuller almost admits that ‘sitting on the bench’ is not a good way to elevate one’s game, but turns it into criticism of the Moneybags Templeton Foundation for not being helpful enough in giving away their money.
Back to the first point: since the claims that IDC has a scientific basis evaporate upon examination, the very much evidence-based claims that IDC is a sham for promotion of religion at the expense of the constitution stand.Posted by on 12/07 at 10:49 AM
” How can you possibly hope to formulate an informed, independent opinion if you don’t know the underying science?”
as a “rube” who couldn’t come to an “independent” position on ID (being ignorant re the “underlying science"), I followed mr lawrence’s advice: “consult the experts.”
by reading a ton of stuff on the internet (tnx prof myers, et al) I think I have reached the “informed” position that ID isn’t even up to the standards of junk science. unfortunately, as also suggested by mr lawrence, even that modest level of “informedness” isn’t available to most of the public due to lack of time, lack of intellectual ability, or adherence to the anti-elitism rampant in the society (an “elite” here being anyone who actually has recognized standing in the relevant community). hence, they adopt their position based on the highly suspect sources noted in mr lawrence’s post (111). to help counter that, IMO any non-expert should always demand the credentials or sources of anyone purporting to offer an opinion in this debate. so, as entertaining as many of the comments on threads like this often are, that filter renders most of them worthless (to rubes, at least) since they are for the most part effectively anonymous.
of course, by only listening to experts I may occasionally miss a gem in the rough, but most likely I’ll just avoid fool’s gold.Posted by on 12/07 at 01:37 PM
I read through this whole post - painful, to say the least. However, as a reasonably literate non-scientist, here’s my synthesis.
Mr Fuller thinks ID should be taught in High School science classes, but acknowledges that there is no scientific evidence for it. That’s my interpretation since he didn’t produce any (and also since this controversy would immediately go away if there was some evidence). None has been produced.
Mr Fuller understands that as a scientific proposition, ID is in its infancy. No argument there. But then he argues that ID should be allowed to bypass the normal scientific process of hypothesis, experiment, testing, peer review, publishing, and go straight to being taught in High School science class.
Mr Fuller believes that the way to kick start the scientific exploration of ID is to teach it in High School so that maybe a groundswell of budding young scientists will atudy it enough to come up with some scientific data that will prove it belongs in science class.
It’s all too sad for words.
Cheers, Neil.Posted by on 12/07 at 03:31 PM
to help counter that, IMO any non-expert should always demand the credentials or sources of anyone purporting to offer an opinion in this debate. so, as entertaining as many of the comments on threads like this often are, that filter renders most of them worthless (to rubes, at least) since they are for the most part effectively anonymous.
I may be fictional, but I cite my references.Posted by on 12/07 at 03:33 PM
It lets you card-carrying Darwinists to get away with ideas and explanations that appeal to mechanisms other than natural selection.
I see PZ’s dispatched this already, so I’ll merely comment on the bad planning that causes an idea’s advocate to advance arguments such as this one, which can be trivially and roundly refuted by a layperson like me.Posted by Chris Clarke on 12/07 at 04:16 PM
On point 8, Mr. Fuller said:
Scientific revolutions typically involve the updating and reinvention of defunct ideas – intellectual history’s Undead that never quite got put down. These often appear as ‘conceptual problems’ that don’t go away but get excused because the dominant theory is so empirically successful. Darwinism has a real problem deciding whether design really exists or not in nature, but that problem doesn’t matter for most things the research programme does. But it does matter in the long run, and ID is counting on that. My own guess is that some design-based paradigm will overtake Darwinism in about 100 years, but only once it loses its theistic connotations and a new generation of philosophers and scientists arrive who aren’t afraid of pursuing the ideas seriously. In the original Enlightenment, defunct ideas were also used to promote the project, to wit, a positively re-spun history of pagan Greco-Roman culture, the legacy of which we continue to promote in our liberal arts curricula.
But—alas!—the current ID movement has not reinvented anything, let alone provided an update. ID isn’t dangerous as an idea, it’s dangerous as rot of intellectual exercise. The ideas in intelligent design are easily dealt with or accommodated by modern science—the notions that scientists inherently are heathens, unethical, petty and wrong, brutalize real thinking. Those are the notions ID promotes. New ideas would be appreciated, instead. But ID strangles all ideas it can, especially the new, infant ones.
Evolution has no problem determining whether “design” exists. As Darwin noted—have you read Darwin?—the question is, how do things get to the point that they appear designe?. “Darwinism” answers broadly, “I don’t know how it got that way—let’s go see if we can find out.” Intelligent design accuses that curiosity of being evil, and presumptuous.
The search for the “how” of design has produced great benefits to humans, such as new, working pharmaceuticals and much better crops and livestock. Intelligent design mocks these advances, the things that keep us alive and occasionally happy, and offers no gains of its own. On a purely economic basis, intelligent design would be rejected as destructive. New foods, new drugs, and new understanding of the human condition are not evil. (If there is some pure form of ID which does not carry this philosophical baggage, let us pray it shows up somewhere soon. We’re dealing with what ID really is, not what it could be in the best of all possible worlds.)
The Enlightenment “respun” Greek and Roman culture? George Washington’s use of Cincinnatus as a model involved little spin, and did a lot of good. You make the classic error of intelligent designists everywhere: You assume that scientists never act nobly, just as George III assumed Washington never could. Philosophers should not ignore the reality of action, the lessons of history.
We who love science abhor “intelligent design” because it is a threat to thinking, and because it is, as practiced, inherently ignoble and dishonoring. We who have faith abhor it for those reasons, and that it poses God as a small entity threatened by thinking and noble action.
Nothing Mr. Fuller said makes a case for presenting ID to otherwise innocent high school kids. If ID wishes to compete in the market place of ideas, let it stop taking hostage the children of those now working in the market place, and let it come to the market place to compete. Fair is fair. ID is not.Posted by on 12/08 at 04:28 AM
Well done, Ed. Do you mind if I roll the corpse over one more time?
“My own guess is that some design-based paradigm will overtake Darwinism in about 100 years”
Don’t tell the Discovery Institute. They’re already falling behind the agenda they outlined in the Wedge document.
Thankfully, if our country does turn into pure shite in 100 years because of folks like you, I won’t be alive to see it.
Behe and the rest of the ID peddlers who take checks from the notorious ultrabigot Rushdoony’s favorite bootlicker, i.e., Howie Ahmansen, won’t be around then either. It’s mildly entertaining to wonder if they’ll be rotting in their “Hell” for violating the commandment about bearing false witness.
Of course, the “evidence” for “Hell” is precisely the same as the “evidence” that all the life that ever lived on earth was “designed” by mysterious alien beings with mysterious powers and mysterious motives.Posted by on 12/08 at 05:23 AM
”’ ... any non-expert should always demand the credentials or sources ... of anyone ... offer[ing] an opinion in this debate.’
I may be fictional, but I cite my references.”
it admittedly wasn’t clear, but my comment was intended to apply to scientific opinions (which yours aren’t - I checked). what I meant to suggest is that it isn’t useful for non-scientists (in the relevant fields) to read supposedly scientific posts by other non-scientists since we have no basis for assessing them. on the other hand, it is useful for scientists to do so (as painful as it may be for them - again, tnx prof myers et al), if only so that they can expose technical errors to us rubes.
as for non-scientific opinions, they are by now mostly worthless if only because given the extensive coverage of this issue in the blog world, they have become redundant and predictable. and to be clear, this applies to mr fuller no less than to those by lesser mortals.Posted by on 12/08 at 01:34 PM
since we have no basis for assessing them.
I’m a non-scientist, and I damn well have the same set of tools for evaluating (for example) Fuller’s statements as does any scientist. There is a difference in the precision of evaluation, to be sure.
That’s the thing about science. Its tools are available to anyone. All you need is a little instruction and the willingness to learn. Positing that non-degreed people are “non-scientists” and arbitrarily disregarding their often educated input is short-sighted.Posted by Chris Clarke on 12/08 at 03:17 PM
ctw’s suggestion that we always check credentials has its limits, since what passes for “education” these days often doesn’t equip working scientists (often, not even PhDs) to think critically about the concepts and methods that shape their fields. (I say ‘fields’ instead of ‘disciplines’ for rhetorical purposes.)Posted by on 12/08 at 03:20 PM
I’ve been looking over this whole thread with a philosopher’s eye and I’ve got to say that Fuller has really managed to get your collective goat! Maybe it’s because he doesn’t take seriously something almost everyone else on this thread takes for granted: that knowledge of a science is necessary for being able to distinguish science from non-science. Fuller seems to think, by contrast, that one really needs to know the history, philosophy and sociology of science. This is not a strange view in my circles. It captures what the search for ‘the scientific method’ has mainly focused on. However, it’s rare to find somebody going public about it, especially in a courtroom – mainly because philosophers (and historians and sociologists) think of themselves as less authoritative in the general public.
But not only is Fuller willing to go public with ‘the philosopher’s prerogative’. He goes to the opposite extreme: Sometimes he acts as if it were silly even to think that knowledge of a science could enable one to distinguish science from non-science. I don’t know if he really believes such an outlandish thing, but many of you seem quite offended that he just might. He’s certainly dismissive of (to the point of ignoring) those who regale the blog with endless – and factually accurate! – accounts of bits and bobs from the modern evolutionary synthesis.
But Fuller has also got a point. It struck me when Mike Dunford asked what he must have thought was a rhetorical question: How can one understand the Roman Empire without first learning Latin? Well, for writing the more interesting histories, knowing about the histories of other empires, as loci for comparison, is more valuable than learning Latin. And that’s what the business of distinguishing science from non-science is more like.
While it’s always rhetorically impressive to have that factual knowledge at one’s fingertips, especially when you can catch out those who don’t, it isn’t very interesting epistemologically. At most, you’re reporting the current state of play in a field or set of fields. What people here rarely do is to talk about the logical relations amongst these facts and the theories that purport to explain them.
I bet if we took the loudest and (apparently) most biologically informed people on this blog and asked them to write 200 words outlining the theoretical structure of the modern synthesis, you’d get quite different answers, depending on the branch of biology they know best. You probably would get different answers even to the question: What is Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory ABOUT? Is it about actual speciation on earth? Possible speciation? Some abstract process, one instantiation of which is speciation on earth? And so on.
What all this suggests is that the epistemological status of evolutionary theory is hard to pin down. In the history of the philosophy of science, the theory was originally envisaged as an empirically fruitful metaphysical position. (Fuller seems to still like that one.) Nowadays philosophers think evolutionary theory is a set of models for understanding biological phenomena at different levels, based on a common set of concepts like natural selection. By ‘classical’ (Newtonian) standards of what a theory is, that’s pretty loose, and so it’s genuinely difficult to imagine what it would be like to ‘falsify’, or even ‘test’ in some strong sense, a central tenet of the theory. After all, in every failed attempt to demonstrate ‘adaptation’, one immediately finds evidence for ‘exaptation’. So Fuller may have a point with his sneering.Posted by on 12/08 at 03:31 PM
Hans, why don’t you try your experiment? I wager you’d get five or six different, categorizable answers from the 200 “most informed” biologists about evolution, that each of the answers would explain natural selection well, and that none of the differences would open theory to intelligent design.
On the flip side, I’ve tried for years to get ID advocates to explain evolution theory, and I haven’t found one who can give a straight up answer that rings true with what the textbooks carry.
Does Fuller have my goat? Good for him. That doesn’t change the facts: Intelligent design was once considered science, but was falsified, and there is no body of data that suggests we should revisit the issue of whether it remains falsified.
I have difficulty with philosophers who argue that intelligent design, “philosophically,” is worth considering in high school, or any classroom, before it has even a hypothesis or a single backing experiment. Francis Beckwith is fond of arguing that, “philosophically,” ID should be Constitutional to teach, since science isn’t religion. Beckwith begs the question, and so does Fuller. ID isn’t established as scientific hypothesis yet, let alone theory.
Philosophically, if pigs could fly, the Federal Aviation Administration would be empowered under current law to regulate pig farms, since flying pigs would pose hazards to aviation, especially pig farms around airports. Beckwith, and it seems to me, Fuller, now argue that we should expand the budget of the FAA to inspect pig farms, philosophically. The difficulty with their argument is that pigs don’t fly.
Were the FAA to visit a pig farmer and ask to investigate his pig sties and speak to him about the steps he’s taken to prevent pigs from wandering into airlanes, the farmer would be justified in telling them to get off his property, and to go get his shotgun.
Pigs don’t fly. Intelligent design is not science, nor even honest academic inquiry.
Philosophically, I would also be justified in getting my shotgun for anyone who proposes to teach my kids that pigs fly, or that intelligent design is good science. So much for philosophic arguments.Posted by on 12/08 at 03:50 PM
Hans, why don’t you try your experiment? I wager you’d get five or six different, categorizable answers from the 200 “most informed” biologists about evolution, that each of the answers would explain natural selection well, and that none of the differences would open theory to intelligent design.
You could streamline that. Ask evoluitionary biologists this question: “what evidence would be required to overturn evolutionary theory?” Record the answers. You will get some, despite the likelihood of astonished stares.
Then ask guys like Behe the same about ID.Posted by Chris Clarke on 12/08 at 03:59 PM
Actually my interest was in having the people here participate in the experiment to see how deeply you’ve thought about the logical structure of the theory you claim to believe. I am happy to grant that intelligent design researchers are unlikely to try to falsify their basic commitment to a godlike intelligent designer. The question is whether you can imagine an evolutionist trying to falsify their basic commitment to, say, natural selection.
My guess is no—because ‘natural selection’ really functions as metaphysics rather than as an empirically testable scientific hypothesis. At most, empirical research in biology delimits the scope of natural selection but never aims to refute it. If that’s the case, then evolutionists and intelligent designers can argue until the cows (or pigs!) come home. Nothing could decide the issue between them.
This is the sort example that originally led the logical positivists to sharply distinguish science from metaphysics. Most of the discussion here, though it appeals to scientific facts and doctrines, is conducted at the level of metaphysics and so it will just go on and on and on…Posted by on 12/08 at 04:11 PM
The question is whether you can imagine an evolutionist trying to falsify their basic commitment to, say, natural selection.
Well, that would be about like falsifying gravity. But scientists constantly work to falsify natural selection as an engine in creating specific traits in specific organisms. A cursory literature search will provide numerous examples, the ironically canonical one being the peppered moth.Posted by Chris Clarke on 12/08 at 04:24 PM
Sure some folks on this thread (inevitably, I’d say) have used this discussion to launch a general attack on the history, philosophy, and sociology of science and/or science studies. But I think these people are in the minority.
Speaking only for myself (I’m an intellectual and cultural historian, fwiw), I’m a big fan of science studies, the history of science, and the rest.
Most of the disagreement with Fuller in this discussion concerns his assessment of ID, not his assessment of the history or sociology of evolutionary biology. And the bottom line is, how we assess evolutionary biology cannot, in and of itself, get us even a step closer to validating ID. ID cannot earn a place in the science classroom solely on the basis of even dramatic failings in evolutionary theory (and, indeed, the dramatic failings ID creationists’ endlessly cite are mythical, at any rate).
ID would need to earn a place based on an assessment of its own claims. And no matter how you slice it, ID is just not making any scientifically testable claims, nor do active proponents have any real interest in generating such claims.
Most of this otherwise interesting conversation is, in my opinion, thus largely irrelevant to the question of determining the value of ID as science. That’s easy. It has none.Posted by on 12/08 at 04:28 PM
“The question is whether you can imagine an evolutionist trying to falsify their basic commitment to, say, natural selection.”
How about you visit a geology blog and ask them if they can imagine a geolgist trying to falsify her basic commitment to, say, erosion?
If you knew how stupid you sound making these kinds of statements, Hans, you’d be blushing.
“Most of the discussion here, though it appeals to scientific facts and doctrines, is conducted at the level of metaphysics”
Really, Hans? Have I been appealing to metaphysics? Show me where.
“Nowadays philosophers think evolutionary theory is a set of models for understanding biological phenomena at different levels, based on a common set of concepts like natural selection.”
That’s nice. Of course, this is has nothing to do with the consensus opininion (and when I say consensus, I mean effectively universal) of professional scientists that evolution does a fantastic job of explaining the data and “ID theory” is worthless religious propaganda that is peddled to demean science get religious beliefs taught in public schools as fact.
I never cease to be amazed by how easily people keep straying from the facts. I wonder if some of the folks here have ever seen a card trick before. Based on some of the arguments, I would expect them to walk away from the magician thinking, “Wow—that guy might be a real psychic. Maybe Dionne Warwick has some important points to make.”
There’s a denial of human nature at work here. You know, Steve Fuller may in fact be a lying opportunist who would say pretty much anything if he thought he could create some controversy and make it a buck.
I haven’t seen a single thing come out of the guy’s mouth that would convince me otherwise, yet all this attention is paid to trying to “understand” his stinking sophistry.Posted by on 12/08 at 04:51 PM
"I’m a non-scientist, and I damn well have the same set of tools for evaluating (for example) Fuller’s statements as does any scientist. \”
again, I was addressing scientific opinions, which his apparently aren’t. and he may be the “gem in the rough” to which I alluded, but I have no way of knowing other than reading responses from those who at least appear to be experts, ie, have not only credentials but also ...
“ctw’s suggestion that we always check credentials has its limits ...”
credentials are a first order filter. obviously before believing even a credentialed person you need a finer filter. but with topics that generate 130+ comments you need some initial filter even if coarse.Posted by on 12/08 at 05:05 PM
Hans I don’t buy it (but I can’t claim to have a “philosopher’s eye,” now can I?) The “at most” below is mistaken.
“While it’s always rhetorically impressive to have that factual knowledge at one’s fingertips, especially when you can catch out those who don’t, it isn’t very interesting epistemologically. At most, you’re reporting the current state of play in a field or set of fields. What people here rarely do is to talk about the logical relations amongst these facts and the theories that purport to explain them.”
*Your* rhetorical move here is a downgrading of an understanding of natural science to mere “factual knowledge,” and then the use of “interesting epistemologically” in a way that gives you the last word on what’s “interesting.” And the initial “while” sets up a false inference: sure, people have been known to use a mastery of the arcane for rhetorical advantage, but it doesn’t follow that an understanding of natural science is somehow not relevant to doing its history. It *certainly* does not follow that such knowledge leads “at most” to what you dismissively term “reporting the state of play.” Such knowledge can and should lead to asking better questions and achieving sharper insight.
Sure, “bird’s eye” histories that are not immersed in specifics can achieve insights. But there is a reason why historians learn languages and read archives.
More generally the last thing we need is to retreat into disciplinary silos, with mutual sneering. I would really like to persuade more natural scientists to take Science Studies seriously. But then they run into people like you and Fuller.Posted by on 12/08 at 06:06 PM
A couple of things:
First, your 200 word challenge looks interesting, and I’m not sure what exactly the results would be. I’m willing to give it a try, but it will have to wait until some time next week. I’m working on a couple of term papers right now, and defining something like evolutionary theory clearly in 200 words isn’t going to be as trivial an excercise for me as it probably should be.
I can give you short answers to a couple of your questions about it, though. In terms of it’s function as a unifying theme in modern biology, evolution is about the common descent of living organisms from a common ancestor or ancestors. The mechanisms that drive common descent are much less important to the biological sciences as a whole.
Common descent is not actively being tested right now, but that’s not because it is untestable; it is because it has been repeatedly tested and has repeatedly passed.
If/when new lines of evidence are developed, common descent is tested some more. For example, if the triplet genetic code were radically different in organisms that were thought to be very similar, that would have been a major problem for common descent. If the next Archaeopteryx fossil is found lying on top of the fossilized remains of a human carrying a spear, that would be a huge problem. If you find the remains of a whale in a Devonian limestone, that would pretty much kill things.
In terms of your remarks about natural selection, I think you would be hard pressed to find an evolutionary biologist today who thinks that natural selection is always the mechanism for evolutionary change. The actual mechanisms vary from case to case, and depend in large part on the historical, ecological, and environmental circumstances in play in the particular case being investigated. Specific cases of speciation and evolutionary divergence are investigated in the lab and field, and specific mechanisms can be, and are, tested in different cases. For a good recent overview, see Coyne & Orr’s book Speciation.
Finally, I think you have done a fine job of illustrating just how relevant my Roman Empire analogy actually is.
Let me be clear here: I have no problem with the field of science studies as a whole. In fact, I think that it is good to have people looking at science from the outside, since it is far too easy to get locked into a narrow focus when you are working in the area. There are some areas of study within science studies that do not require a detailed knowledge of any particular field. There are other questions, however, which do require a knowledge base.
One of these is the question of whether or not a particular argument is a scientific controversy. If you want to evaluate the question on your own, without having to depend on experts biased toward one side or the other, you need to know some of the science involved. If you want to make predictions about whether a particular new field of study will become dominant within 100 years, as Fuller did, it would help if you know something about the science. If you want to make declarations about whether a particular theory is used within a field empirically or metaphysically, as you did, it would help if you knew how the theory was in fact used within the field.Posted by Mike Dunford on 12/08 at 06:35 PM
Once again, you address the role of natural selection in terms of evolutionary change in general. But that’s not what’s at issue. The issue is the evolution of adaptive traits, traits to which biologists assign functional significance. And again, the only natural processes we know about that can underwrite the evolution of such traits are selective processes. That non-selective forces also play a role in evolution is relevant to the range of variants on which selection can act, but within the framework of evolutionary theory you need to have selection in order to get adaptation. Since it’s the origin of adaptive traits that the IDers are hyped about, when we translate their “worries” into biological terms, they are questioning the power of natural selection to produce adaptations.
It is very uncharitable to presume that commentators are ignorant about the resources of contemporary evolutionary theory—especially when there seem to be significant gaps in your own understanding of how the pieces fit together.Posted by on 12/08 at 07:38 PM
Hans, biologists don’t need epistemology—they have fossils. Philosophers haven’t yet agreed on the epistemological status of fossils, or even on the epistemological status of other rocks that have no particular shape. But, to answer the interesting questions of biology, you don’t need the epistemology, just the fossils.
That’s because humans and other animals have the same epistemological status as rocks, to wit, the status of philosophically poorly understood physical objects on the surface of the planet Earth.
Now that I’ve won the award for using the word “epistemology” the most times in four sentences, let me address your “loose theory” theory.
Hans said, “Nowadays philosophers think evolutionary theory is a set of models for understanding biological phenomena at different levels, based on a common set of concepts like natural selection. By ‘classical’ (Newtonian) standards of what a theory is, that’s pretty loose, and so it’s genuinely difficult to imagine what it would be like to ‘falsify’, or even ‘test’ in some strong sense, a central tenet of the theory.”
The problem with this is that it’s not the “models for understanding biological phenomena” that are loose. It’s the artificial “concepts” that philosophers create to try to tie the models into an overarching “theory”. Scientists aren’t interested in trying to ‘falsify’ or even ‘test’ a broad theory of the sort you are suggesting when you ask, “Is it about actual speciation on earth? Possible speciation? Some abstract process, one instantiation of which is speciation on earth? And so on.”
That would be a Theory with a capital ‘T’. The kind that has a life of its own, independent of the data that suggested it. Science doesn’t work that way. For example—a scientist collects stastical data on the modification of a single species through mutation, models that data, and says, “wouldn’t it be interesting if this model could predict modification in other species? Let’s look and see.” Is that a theory? Sure. But, it’s not a capital-T Theory.
This is true of other sciences, even sciences that propound laws, as does physics. The Newtonian law of gravitation suggests one model (inverse square law) for the behavior of one thing (mass). It happens that every thing we know of has mass, so the theory appears universal or even transcendant, but it’s not - it’s just one observation about one thing.
“Evolutionary theory” is not a thing-in-itself that can be tested or falsified. It is just shorthand language for the set of models.
Mike, when you say a theory can be used metaphysically, all that can possibly mean to me is that it can be used to stimulate scientific intuition, the way C. H. Hinton used wooden blocks to develop an intuitive understand of four dimensional space.Posted by Mark Gilbert on 12/08 at 08:03 PM
“they are questioning the power of natural selection to produce adaptations”
Not really, but since you insist on promulgating vague claims I’ll happily continue to point out your errors.
Even ID peddlers agree that when a population of bacteria is exposed to antibiotics for a given period of time, antibiotic resistant bacteria will be selected for. They don’t deny that this is natural selection (one of the few examples of admission on their part).
So your claim above is erroneous, Bob. Are you keeping score?
What the IDers claim is that certain aspects of life on earth are too “complex” to have evolved without the intervention of mysterious alien beings (for some reason, they always assume seem to imagine that a single designer was responsible, although that means that the single designer has been busy designing for several billion years --- sorta like their alleged deity, huh?).
Of course, the ID peddlers are unable to articulate any aspect of their claim in a way that can be used to test living organisms.
I won’t belabor the point. All this information is available in the public record at http://www.talkorigins.org, in the Dover trial record, and many other places.
My message to you, Bob, is simple: kick up the accuracy a notch. Look at what you write and ask yourself: “Is that really accurate? Is it clear? Am I possible conveying something favorable about ID peddlers? Could I rephrase what I’m typing in a way that makes it clear how utterly vacuous ID theory is?
If you are unwilling to do this then, well, reap the whirlwind.Posted by on 12/08 at 09:19 PM
““Evolutionary theory” is not a thing-in-itself that can be tested or falsified. It is just shorthand language for the set of models.”
...each of which can be tested or falsified in its numerous aspects and, in fact, have been for the last 100 years with many hypotheses falling by the wayside. All thanks to scientists doing their jobs, no thanks to creationist on the sidelines throwing feces on the field.Posted by on 12/08 at 09:22 PM
Whomever the person going, by the name “Lawrence Sober” is, I will point out for the final time the way you carelessly (or is it maliciously?) interpret statements and attack strawmen.
There is no inconsistency in “questioning the power of natural selection to produce adaptations” and acknowledging particular instances where it does produce adaptations. Error. Please do keep score.
Since you have stated that having your errors pointed out to you is embarassing, I would have preferred not to expose your elementary error of reasoning on this blog. I would have preferred to email you so it could have taken place out of blog’s eye. But that could not be, since your email address is as phony as your name as ...Posted by on 12/08 at 09:47 PM
“There is no inconsistency in “questioning the power of natural selection to produce adaptations” and acknowledging particular instances where it does produce adaptations.”
Uh, yes there is an inconsistency.
You can pretend there is not, e.g., by imagining that the word “some” appears before the use of the term “adaptations” in your sentence.
But why pretend to type words when it’s so easy to do so. Look: s o m e
That was easy. Now you try, Bobby.Posted by on 12/08 at 11:05 PM
OK, Lawrence. I was wrong. You’ve just demonstrated that you’re too ignorant to make errors. Sorry people. I couldn’t resist.Posted by on 12/08 at 11:24 PM
Falsification—Darwin himself posed several ways to falsify evolution. One of my favorites: Darwin noted that were we to find a species somewhere which had a feature that benefited a second species exclusively, and which offered no evolutionary path by which it might have benefited the host species, that would falsify the theory. I like it partly because it’s very close to Behe’s claims of irreducible complexity.
The difficulty for creationists, of course, is that there are no species which fit the falsification test, either by Darwin’s definition or by Behe’s.
There are any number of others. For example, were we to find clusters of mammalian fossils in original fossil form in Cambrian rock, that would throw a huge wrench in the common descent theory as well as geology.
Were someone to start getting cats out of dogs, that would falsify the theory on the common descent and common ancestor points. Were we to find a slime mold whose each and every cell had imprinted on a chromosome, “Copyright 6000 B.C. by God,” that would do it.
It’s not hard to find falsification tests for real theory and real hypotheses. The claim from creationists is such a common canard that it even has a numbered response over at TalkOrigins (start here: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA202.html; from there move on to claims CA210, CA211, and CA211.1, for starters). Were we to find mermaids, or centaurs, or other true chimeras; were we to find a mechanism that actually formed a barrier to future mutations in a species; were we to find a static fossil record; were we to find the Intelligent Designer’s workshop and observe complex organisms being created; were we to find a cluster of humans, uncloned, who shared exactly the same genetic material and who were not related as identical twins, all of these things would falsify Darwinian theories in whole or in large part.
Darwin spent nearly 20 years of hard research trying to disprove evolution. There are a lot of parts of it that would pose serious problems, such as the then-usually understood phenomenon that seeds could not survive a trip in salt water (Darwin found most seeds could survive long trips, and some would survive incredible long journeys, and still be viable). The work of Darwin alone in that 20 year period to disprove evolution is greater than all the work of all the intelligent design advocates in the world in the past 20 years.
Darwin’s work can be replicated (and often has been). No IDist has even proposed an experiment.
Philosophy should make room for the idea that false ideas have less value than ideas that are tested and found true. ID can’t survive such a test, which is why, it seems to me, that ID supporters turn to philosophers for support instead of going into their own labs.
Yes, evolution could be falsified. But in every such test over the past 168 years, evolution has failed to be falsified.Posted by on 12/08 at 11:29 PM
First, thanks to Mike Dunford for his clarification. But I’m still not sure about the exact structure of your argument. Part of the problem is that your intervention began once somebody else got Fuller to commit an error about Linus Pauling’s failure to predict the structure of DNA. You used that as a pretext for arguing that only people informed about the state of biological research can pronounce on what’s going to happen in the field in 100 years. It’s the connection between these two moments in the argument that elude me.
It almost sounds as if you’re endorsing an ‘inductivist’ view of knowledge growth, whereby the future emerges from the accumulated weight of past research, so that if you don’t know the latter, you certainly can’t know the former. But then how do you explain the ability of people to predict stock market futures? Admittedly, they are not infallible but their predictions are not based on exhaustive knowledge of what goes on in everyday business. One normally looks to general trends across many different fields to draw conclusions. ‘Insider knowledge’, such as it is, is usually quite idiosyncratic. Generally speaking, good stock speculators rarely share the same knowledge, let alone turn of mind, of people in the businesses they speculate about.
This is not surprising either, since the future of a business is rarely determined exclusively by what the people running the business do. External factors – you’re your own and other governments do, what other businesses do, etc. – play vital, sometimes more important, roles. Do this not apply also in science? In that case, the fact that Fuller missteps on what you take to be an elementary point of modern biology is not obviously relevant for the kind of point he wants to make. But then again, he never actually justified his 100-year prediction of intelligent design’s ascendancy. He made the remark in passing.Posted by on 12/09 at 12:44 AM
‘Insider knowledge’, such as it is, is usually quite idiosyncratic. Generally speaking, good stock speculators rarely share the same knowledge, let alone turn of mind, of people in the businesses they speculate about.
AS IF, Hans.Posted by Jonathan on 12/09 at 12:49 AM
But then how do you explain the ability of people to predict stock market futures?
Uh, which people?
Generally speaking, good stock speculators
Stock speculators are not good or bad. They are either luck or unlucky. Mostly unlucky.Posted by on 12/09 at 01:18 AM
This master baloney purveyer posts his schtick and within moments his banal arguments are destroyed by commenters working from all angles. So what does Hans do?
Pretend it never happened.
Reminds me of ... yeah, Steve Fuller. Coincidence? No. Philosophophirizing is a gentlemen’s sport. No one dies in Olympic style fencing matches. Yet people continue to watch them.
“Part of the problem is that your intervention began once somebody else got Fuller to commit an error about Linus Pauling’s failure to predict the structure of DNA.”
Someone “got” Fuller to commit an error?
Hahahahahaaha!!!!! That’s rich, Hans. Are we getting you to commit errors to? Or are all your errors committed on your own?
“You used that as a pretext for arguing that only people informed about the state of biological research can pronounce on what’s going to happen in the field in 100 years.”
That wasn’t the argument. The argument was that when people who are utterly clueless about a subject make bold predictions about the long-term future of that subject, their predictions are worthless.
Does that seem counterintuitive to you, Hans?
And let’s not forget another important fact. Not only was Fuller utterly clueless but he was so arrogant that he didn’t bother to take the five seconds it would take to get the right answer from Google. He just typed and typed and typed his horse hockey.
And am I remembering correctly or did he actually assign numbers to each pile of doo-doo he dropped here?
Seems hard to believe. I don’t want to scroll up and revisit the horrorshow to find out if that actually happened.Posted by on 12/09 at 03:31 AM
"Fuller seems to think, by contrast, that one really needs to know the history, philosophy and sociology of science. This is not a strange view in my circles. It captures what the search for ‘the scientific method’ has mainly focused on.”
Surely when evaluated from the standpoint of the history, philosophy, and sociology of science ID does even worse than when we judge it by science’s own internal standards? A religiously motivated proposition whose main proponents seem to be lawyers, without any active research. Apart from Fuller’s idiosyncratic monotheism = science gambit, I can’t see what criteria you’re going to find that justify ID as science even if you take this viewpoint.
“The question is whether you can imagine an evolutionist trying to falsify their basic commitment to, say, natural selection...My guess is no—because ‘natural selection’ really functions as metaphysics rather than as an empirically testable scientific hypothesis. At most, empirical research in biology delimits the scope of natural selection but never aims to refute it.”
Many others have made the same point, but…
Hans, this is a rather silly claim, and quite often trotted out, the reason it is so silly is because ‘natural selection’ is universally accepted, like gravity or the periodic table. There comes a point in science where you stop trying to falsify or test something directly and move on to develop the theory, or apply it in various different situations. Your objection that ‘natural selection’ functions as metaphysics because we no longer try and falsify it would apply equally to any well established and well tested theory (why oh why are these physicists not trying to disprove gravity?). There are plenty of things that would refute ‘natural selection’, but none of them have been found to be the case, nor does it seem likely that they will turn out to be the case. It would have been a real blow had sequencing the genomes of various species revealed that there was no evidence of common descent. But that didn’t happen, you can’t try and undermine a theory because of its own success.
“how do you explain the ability of people to predict stock market futures?”
Surely stock market futures are largely a form of gambling. Therefore, just because one person turns out to be right, someone else has probably turned out to be wrong. It’s like that scam where you mail people racing tips, there will always be one person you’ve mailed all the winners to, and they’ll think you’re a genius - but they haven’t realised about the hundreds of people you mailed the wrong horses to.Posted by on 12/09 at 03:38 AM
Hans in his own way is right concerning the falsifiability of evolution. It is such a powerful theory that the theory is adapted and fine-tuned to fit new data. So in this sense, I do believe that it is essentially impossible to falsify, or very very difficult. Should the theory be a victim of its own success in explaining the natural world? In Hans’ view it should be degraded to metaphysics because of its sheer facility. So be it. To be purely pragmatic, it should be believed because it is a successful framework for viewing the natural world, to the exclusion of all other views, if based on data and logic.Posted by Pinko Punko on 12/09 at 03:44 AM
OK, let’s take on board that modern evolutionary theory is beyond the point that anyone takes its falsification seriously. Can each of you tell me roughly when—and what—conferred that status on the theory?Posted by on 12/09 at 03:52 AM
"Can each of you tell me roughly when—and what—conferred that status on the theory?”
You’d like us to give you a short history of all research involving evolutionary theory and the resultant psychological effects on its adherents and practitioners? I’m afraid I’m going to decline.Posted by on 12/09 at 04:03 AM
I’m sorry if I haven’t been clear enough.
I don’t think that it is always necessary for someone working in science studies to understand the science. Addressing the question of how cultural differences affect the way scientists work does not. Nor does most of the work done in the area of the philosophy of science.
There are times, however, when it is absolutely necessary to have a good understanding of the science involved. This is certainly the case if someone operating from a science studies perspective is going to be taking a particular side in a dispute involving a specific science.
In cases where someone from the field of science studies is taking a side, there are only two options: uncritically choose to accept the account of the situation being presented by one side, or critically evaluate the sides, form an informed opinion, and then choose. Uncritically accepting an account given by one side is poor scholarship. Critically evaluating a debate that involves a specific scientific issue requires a basic understanding of the science involved.
Let’s take two specific examples from Fuller’s testimony in the Dover case.
(Qs are questions from the defence lawyer; As are Fuller’s answers.)
Q. ...Do you regard the...failure of intelligent design at this point in time to produce experiments along those lines to disqualify it from science?
Q. Why is that?
A. Well, I mean, it’s too young basically at this point.....
I disagree with the answer, but I don’t think that is a case where an understanding of biology would help.
Q. Well, you’ve mentioned this accumulated set of problems for Newtonian physics. Let me ask you, looking at this state of affairs today with respect to evolutionary theory, do you, in your opinion, think there’s reason to believe that there are an accumulating set of problems that may be a pre-cursor to a similar development in biology?
A. Well, there are certainly some longstanding conceptual issues that just don’t seem to go away. ...and some of them reflect kind of the fault lines of the neo-Darwinian synthesis. As I mentioned earlier, right, it has to do with the relationship between genetics and natural history being brought together.
But these two disciplines are really quite fundamentally different in how they think about life. So, for example, one way, one area where this is coming to a head has to do with exactly how one defines the idea of common descent; that is to say, the idea that there are common ancestors for all organisms, which is very much a key, a corner stone of the evolutionary synthesis.
Traditionally, common descent was identified morphologically, which is to say, you sort of, as it were, give the precedence the natural historians looking at the way the animals, how they appear to you in the field, what their physiologies are like, and so forth, what they’re shaped like, all that kind of thing.
But with the advent of genetics, one then comes up with a kind of alternative way of doing this, right, which actually looks at genetic similarity between organisms, and then one comes up with a somewhat different tree of life, as it were....
I think that exchange did call for an understanding of the biology involved. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much evidence for that in Fuller’s answer. I have used both molecular and morphological methods of evolutionary analysis in my own research. My understanding of the similarities and differences between the methods is nothing like Fuller’s.
Morphological and molecular characters are just different ways of determining evolutionary relationships. The goals are the same, and the methods of analysis used to determine the relationships are the same. There are different advantages and disadvantages to each of the methods, which is one reason that an increasing number of studies actually use both.
This is not to say that there haven’t been differences of opinion over the issue. Fuller’s mistake is in thinking that they involve different methods for determining evolutionary relationships. They don’t. They’re about what is the most reliable source of data, that’s all. Even there, the issue has very little to do with the groups coming from different backgrounds within biology. It had much more to do with some technical arguments about things like convergent evolution.
To put it bluntly, it seems to me that Fuller has learned enough of the vocabulary to fake it, but that’s all. If you want me to elaborate more on this, let me know - I’ll be more than happy to. Right now, though, this reply has run more than long enough, so I’ll end here.Posted by Mike Dunford on 12/09 at 04:07 AM
"Hans in his own way is right concerning the falsifiability of evolution. It is such a powerful theory that the theory is adapted and fine-tuned to fit new data. So in this sense, I do believe that it is essentially impossible to falsify, or very very difficult.”
I think you’re falling into the same trap as Hans here. You’re mistaking the contingent fact that it hasn’t been falsified with the question of whether it ever could have been falsified. It is quite true that evolutionary theory is fine tuned and adapated to fit new questions, but fundamentally there are, and were, a number of observations that could have falsified it outright (I mentioned one, others have mentioned more - note that creationists and IDers sometimes make false factual claims, that if they actually were true, would be evidence against evolution, which is why they make those claims). That these things never happened don’t mean that they could not have done. What I’m saying is that while I agree it is essentially impossible to falsify evolution, that is because it is so very unlikely to be false, not because the theory is unfalsifiable. And think about the underhand rhetorical trick at play here, an attempt to get ID, which is unfalsifiable in the sense that it doesn’t predict anything, on a par with evolutionary theory, which is unfalsifiable in the sense that it makes true predictions.Posted by on 12/09 at 04:13 AM
I don’t like the term “falsification” because it seems to confer the sense that a mathematical or logical notion of proof can be applied to empirical studies where the underlying causes are not known. I understand the historical context of the term, but still…
However, what could have led most scientists to reject common descent as a likely explanation for the data:
1) A very young Earth.
2) Highly disparate forms of life.
3) No inheritance of acquired traits.
4) Only blending inheritance.
5) Auxiliary evidence (past or present) of high-level, non-human intelligences, such as rocket landing pad scorch marks or monoliths buried on the moon and strong indications that they specifically engineered life (a detailed record of added components would be nice).
6) No fossil record.
Of course, one could invoke some unknown, uncharacterized force to “rescue” common descent from any of the above but are we talking about the rigidly dogmatic or someone who could potentially be swayed by additional data? If it is the former, then why bother having a discussion?
Now, by way of comparison, how do we “falsify” intelligent design?
How do we “falsify” the notion that some “active intelligence” created fossils and that these artifacts really aren’t formed from things that once lived?
Back to an even earlier question: What would cause most scientists to reject a possible role for selection in the evolution of life? Nothing at this point because the effects of selection have been demonstrated and the mechanisms of heredity are sufficiently well understood such that we know of no organism that could escape selective influences.
The question is not “whether” selection had a role but “to what extent”.
On a related note:
Despite the many common practices and approaches to the study of physical phenomena, I have yet to see a “one size fits all” definition of science. I have noted a tendency in articles about the philosophy of science that those who know the actual workings of the branch of science they comment upon tend to make more astute and informed observations. For example, those who come from mathematical or physics background tend to do better discussing the philosophical interest of those areas and do less well understanding the slightly different aspects of many of the integrative, biological sciences. There are simply many nuances related to different scientific disciplines that I find are often glossed over. While there are many similarities, each subject comes with its own unique combinations of conditions that affect experimental techniques and methods of obtaining results. Consequently, one sees people like Fuller making more gaffes and possibly misunderstanding the implications of biological results than say, someone like Elliott Sober, who has devoted most of his professional life trying to understanding biological theories and has actually contributed to our scientific understanding about the nature of selection.Posted by on 12/09 at 11:57 AM
“Can each of you tell me roughly when—and what—conferred that status on the theory?”
Whatever, Hans. On planet earth, scientists are part of a community and do not issue binding proclamations as to the status of theories, including intelligent design.
When and what conferred the exalted status of erosion theory or glaciation theory?
On the day when some extremely ancient race of mysterious alien beings show up on earth show us how they design new species of animals with their psychic powers, you can bet your life that scientists will take ID seriously. Of course, they’ll likely be more interested in the spaceship that the aliens use to fly around the universe. I’ll want to know whether they designed Jesus.
The discovery of the chemical properties of DNA and the mechanism of its replication and the comparison of sequences of different organisms with each other were, in my opinion, the last nails in the coffin of creationism because those experiments provided and confirmed the chemical aspects of mutation inheritance.
Everything since then is just more dirt piled on the tomb. And I’m talking about a mountain of dirt. Tens of thousands of research papers, none of which show that “evolution couldn’t have happened” and none of which propose an alternative that doesn’t include the fundamental aspects of evolutionary biology that are taught to high school students in GOOD public schools.
The ID peddlers are like Dr. Sardonicus in William Castle’s movie who want to dig up the coffin so they can grab the lottery ticket in the suit pocket of the buried corpse. Remember what happened to Dr. Sardonicus?Posted by on 12/09 at 01:28 PM
The argument about securities speculation in #151 is simply wrong. There is ample examination of speculation in the economics and finance literatures, though the author apparently believes that philosophers don’t need to read other literatures.
Nor is it terribly clear how this applies to natural science. So yet another weird effort to try and defend an indefensible doctrine of separate realms of knowledge.Posted by on 12/09 at 01:32 PM
I agree with you, falsification of evolution could have been possible but has not been, because the theory has passed many, many tests. My point (as a biologist) is that in discussing with my colleagues about if we could even imagine scenarios or tests that could turn evolution on its head, we could not. Thus, there is the possibility that the theory appears robust enough that it seems impossible to test in anyway that would outright contradict the theory. For many hypotheses can be be tested with a thought experiment, that while beyond the scope of current techniques, the thought experiments represent a valid test of the proposal (like EPR type experiments in Physics that have come to fruition). My point was I do not know of any valid thought experiments that could turn evolution on its head. Thus, I feel it has entered the range of unfalsifiability, even though there have been limitless experiments done previously that could have falsified it. Does that make sense?Posted by Pinko Punko on 12/09 at 02:19 PM
One more point, RS, I completely agree that the two unfalsifiabilities are absolutely different. The point I wanted to make to Hans was that even if evolution fit his criteria for unfalsifiability (or scientists behaving as it were), the utilitarian view would suggest that ID was pointless while evolution would be hands down the only useful way at looking at the natural world. Based on our understanding of the world, ID serves no purpose AND is untestable in its entirety, whereas evolution serves a useful and highly predictive purpose and has been massively tested in the past and fine points will be tested in the future, however I cannot comprehend any hypothesis that would falsify evolution based on existing observed reality. Creationist contrary to fact arguments do not apply.Posted by Pinko Punko on 12/09 at 02:27 PM
"I cannot comprehend any hypothesis that would falsify evolution based on existing observed reality.”
Well if we want to be silly, and why not, how about we discover intelligent alien life, and they provide us with overwhelming documentary evidence that they manufactured the Earth 4000 years ago as some kind of simulacrum of their own planet?
Now that wouldn’t disprove evolution per se (since you’d need some serious reality bending event to make us believe that things can’t evolve by natural selection), but it’d disprove the hypothesis that all this complex stuff the creationists think is too complex to evolve (e.g. us), actually, as it happens, didn’t (or didn’t much I guess, since I’ve given us 4000 years).Posted by on 12/09 at 02:43 PM
So true RS, I would merely want to understand how they evolved. I would still hold the observable principles of evolution to be valid, even given the super-intelligent alien race/God starting to fry everyone with lightining bolts and appearing on TV type arguments.Posted by Pinko Punko on 12/09 at 03:47 PM
Uh, dude, Feyerabend doesn’t believe “Anything goes”. He believes “Anything goes” so long as it’s *creative*Posted by on 12/10 at 07:32 PM
I am little surprised that the outline of this discussion seems to take for granted the basic supposition from which Fuller appears to be arguing, namely, the premise that if X has demonstrated usefulness in the past and lead to great discoveries, then X or some variation on X may demonstrate similar usefulness in the present and also lead to great discoveries. Fuller is basically arguing from tradition. The fact that Newton or Babbage or Mendel or whomever, had design (intelligent or otherwise) in mind when formulating their scientific ideas is irrelevant to the question of its present day utility, whether employed heuristically or literally.
I’ve stated the above objection elsewhere and pointed out that, for better or worse, contemporary science doesn’t look to their forbearers as a matter of policy when generating new theoretical frameworks or leading exploratory questions. Biology is perhaps the best example of this sort of pushing away the historical ladder once it has been climbed. That’s the beauty of science and why it’s been so successful.
To Borrow from Talcott Parsons’ famous quip “Who now reads Spencer?” - “Who now reads Darwin or Newton?” That is, students of biology need not read Darwin to adequately and successfully position themselves as scholars in their field. I suspect the same is true for students of physics. Newton’s Principia is arguably one of the most important historical documents in the history of science, but I doubt reading it let alone understanding the mind of Newton is, in any sense, a necessary or even prudent prerequisite for becoming a physicist.
The history of science is an important and worthwhile endeavor to be sure, but to suggest that contemporary science ought to mine the cognitive particularities of its esteemed forbearers simply because such perspectives worked so well in the past smacks of historicism. The cord has been cut and I don’t see why the future or present success and advance of science has any direct ties to what certain historical figures may or may not have been thinking about in terms of design when formulating their groundbreaking ideas. Indeed, the evidence appears to point to just the opposite.
So, the charge that contemporary science is potentially missing the boat by abandoning an important tradition in its own history when it rejects a design perspective seems to me to be very much of a non sequitur. Ok, yes, science has abandoned an important tradition in its own history when it rejects a design perspective, but for a very good reason. Science doesn’t need tradition for it to be successful, and in fact it does much better when it contravenes tradition.
By the way, I haven’t thoroughly read through every response here, so I may have inadvertently missed someone else making this same point. If so, my apologies and “never mind…”Posted by Buridan on 12/11 at 06:13 PM
"In this respect, ‘our’ side pulled its punches in the Science Wars when it refused to come out and say that the scientific establishment may not be the final word on what science is, let alone what it ought to be.”
This line made me think of a quote from Mel Brooks’ ‘History of the World, Part 1’
Dole Office Clerk: “Occupation?”
Comicus: “Stand-up philosopher.”
Dole Office Clerk: “What?”
Comicus: “Stand-up philosopher. I coalesce the vapors of human existence into a viable and meaningful comprehension.”
Dole Office Clerk: “Oh, a *bullshit* artist!”
Dole Office Clerk: “Did you bullshit last week?”
Dole Office Clerk: “Did you try to bullshit last week?”
Jeesh! What ‘is’ is all over again.
.Posted by on 12/12 at 01:11 AM
Thanks for being clear, you are completely right about the cobaggery of Fuller’s argument. I did mention at some point that Newton’s personal beliefs concerning his discoveries had no relevance toward the legitimacy of his belief or ID that claims to be in that tradition.
Total and complete wankery.Posted by Pinko Punko on 12/12 at 04:11 AM
Steve Fuller is a good example of what can happen when someone not possessing facts, reason, relevant expertise, or intellectual integrity gets ahold of a keyboard. Why, exactly, are his comments of such interest?Posted by on 12/21 at 07:58 AM
"My own guess is that some design-based paradigm will overtake Darwinism in about 100 years, but only once it loses its theistic connotations and a new generation of philosophers and scientists arrive who aren’t afraid of pursuing the ideas seriously.”
What would we think of someone who guessed that some astrology-based paradigm would overtake astronomy in about 100 years?
Make no mistake about it—Steve Fuller is an idiot.Posted by on 12/21 at 08:22 AM
It seems that we should be thankful to Steve Fuller for his Kitzmiller testimony:
Fuller proved to be quite compliant generally, but Judge Jones seems not to to have heard his pleas to institute in Dover a kind of affirmative action program for ID. Instead, it was the repeated acknowledgement that Intelligent Design is, in fact, creationism, that Judge Jones took away as the salient point of Fuller’s testimony.
In the decision, Fuller is cited 11 times:
1. Professor Steven William Fuller testified that it is ID’s project to change the ground rules of science to include the supernatural. 
2. This definition was described by many witnesses for both parties, notably including defense experts Minnich and Fuller, as “special creation” of kinds of animals, an inherently religious and creationist concept. 
3. Moreover and as previously stated, there is hardly better evidence of ID’s relationship with creationism than an explicit statement by defense expert Fuller that ID is a form of creationism. 
4. Although contrary to Fuller, defense experts Professors Behe and Minnich testified that ID is not creationism, their testimony was primarily by way of bare assertion and it failed to directly rebut the creationist history of Pandas or other evidence presented by Plaintiffs showing the commonality between creationism and ID. 
5. Additionally and as pointed out by Plaintiffs, it is indeed telling that even defense expert Professor Fuller agreed with this conclusion by stating that in his own expert opinion the disclaimer is misleading.
6. Stated another way, ID posits that animals did not evolve naturally through evolutionary means but were created abruptly by a non-natural, or supernatural, designer. Defendants’ own expert witnesses acknowledged this point. (21:96-100 (Behe); P-718 at 696, 700 (“implausible that the designer is a natural entity”); 28:21-22 (Fuller) (“… ID’s rejection of naturalism and commitment to supernaturalism …”); 
7. First, defense expert Professor Fuller agreed that ID aspires to “change the ground rules” of science and lead defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology. 
8. What is more, defense experts concede that ID is not a theory as that term is defined by the NAS and admit that ID is at best “fringe science” which has achieved no acceptance in the scientific community. 
9. Science cannot be defined differently for Dover students than it is defined in the scientific community as an affirmative action program, as advocated by Professor Fuller, for a view that has been unable to gain a foothold within the scientific establishment. 
10. Additionally, even if irreducible complexity had not been rejected, it still does not support ID as it is merely a test for evolution, not design. 
11. In addition to failing to produce papers in peer-reviewed journals, ID also features no scientific research or testing. Posted by on 12/21 at 09:03 AM
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A friend drew my attention to your blog. Your perplexity over my position in the Dover trial is only matched by my own perplexity, since in other contexts academic humanists appear to be quite sophisticated in teasing out, and often justifying, seemingly paradoxical positions. One thing I can say though is that for people who seem to worry about whether ID or I make any sense, you don’t try very hard to check out what you’re saying.Posted by alaska swinger on 12/01 at 04:24 PM
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Mr. Fuller is ignorant, dense, dishonest, and fulsome. Of course, I have no burden to disprove anyone’s preconceived notions to the contrary.Posted by on 12/27 at 06:17 PM
“8.“Hacks like Fuller refuse to call “evolution” by its generally recognized name (preferring to use the rhetorically-loaded “Darwin” or “Darwinism").” Well, I can’t speak for all the other hacks you know, but “evolution” is a little too polysemous for my liking. It lets you card-carrying Darwinists to get away with ideas and explanations that appeal to mechanisms other than natural selection. If we had more time, I could use this point as a “wedge” to show how the Neo-Darwinian synthesis is the biggest “big tent” theory ever concocted in the history of science – and a damn fine one it is.
But we’re not card-carrying Darwinists, you intellectually dishonest twit, we’re card-carrying explainers of biodiversity, and as good scientists we appeal to whatever mechanisms the evidence leads to. Atomic theory is also a “big tent” theory in that it appeals to mechanisms unknown to Dalton—as if there were something wrong with that.
“philosophy of science” has become infested by ideologically motivated idiots like Fuller and Paul Nelson who not only don’t know the facts of science, but they don’t understand its practice and purpose—or, to the degree that they do understand it, they oppose it.Posted by on 12/27 at 07:22 PM
But Fuller has also got a point. It struck me when Mike Dunford asked what he must have thought was a rhetorical question: How can one understand the Roman Empire without first learning Latin? Well, for writing the more interesting histories, knowing about the histories of other empires, as loci for comparison, is more valuable than learning Latin. And that’s what the business of distinguishing science from non-science is more like.Posted by Pozycjonowanie on 12/28 at 12:13 AM
But Fuller has also got a point. It struck me when Mike Dunford asked what he must have thought was a rhetorical question: How can one understand the Roman Empire without first learning Latin?
That Dunford used a bad example does not mean that Fuller has a point.
And that’s what the business of distinguishing science from non-science is more like.
Dunford should have asked how one can understand the Roman Empire without even understanding what an empire is—that’s the position Fuller is in, in regard to science.Posted by on 12/28 at 12:42 AM
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