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I’m working on something that I’ll explain more fully next week (when, I hope, it will be done), but in the course of my work on it I found that sociologist Steve Fuller blurbed Meera Nanda’s 2003 book, Prophets Facing Backward:  Postmodern Critiques of Science and Hindu Nationalism in India by writing,

This first detailed examination of postmodernism’s politically reactionary consequences should serve as a wake-up call for all conscientious leftists.

Right, well, it so happens that I’m down with much of Nanda’s argument myself, as I explain in a bunch of things I’ve been writing lately.  But wait!  This Steve Fuller is that Steve Fuller, the author of Social Epistemology (and much, much more) who showed up in Dover, Pennsylvania this past October to testify that Intelligent Design is a legitimate science and that “the main problem intelligent design theory suffers from at the moment is a paucity of developers.” He also kindly explained to MSNBC that the reason ID has a paucity of developers isn’t that it’s a load of swill or anything:

Fuller said intelligent design hasn’t been extensively promoted in the scientific community because the process by which articles are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals tends to favor established, mainstream approaches.

“It seems to me in many respects the cards are stacked against radical, innovative views getting a fair hearing in science these days,” he said.

Fuller testified earlier that intelligent design is a scientific, not religious, concept because its proponents have used observation to describe biological phenomena. He cited in part the work of Lehigh University biochemistry professor Michael Behe, a leading intelligent design advocate and prior trial witness.

Then, as if all this weren’t bad enough, I find over on The Panda’s Thumb that Fuller came in for a good deal of (thoroughly merited) criticism, and that . . . hold on to your precession of simulacra . . . his testimony was blamed on postmodernism!

My.  Head.  Hurts.  Can someone, anyone out there explain all this to me?  Right now? 

Posted by on 12/02 at 11:02 AM
  1. No. How can one explain such insane ideas? Can I get you some aspirin?

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  12:37 PM
  2. I think for a lot of people, post-modernism gets boiled down to “nothing means anything”, which of course can be used as an excuse for any old kind of wrong thinking.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  12:52 PM
  3. Or that “everything means nothing,” alwsdad.  And thanks for the aspirin, Ex Con.  Here’s to the minor discoveries of science.

    Glug glug glug glug glug.  Ah.  Much better.

    Now.  Can anyone tell me what’s up with Fuller?

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  01:04 PM
  4. He’s the same Steve Fuller who took the work and life of a relatively comprehensible philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn, and spun it into one of the most pointlessly obtuse intellectual biographies ever written. Some are worthy of the label “purposeful obscurantist” and Steve Fuller is one.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  01:37 PM
  5. I realize your position maybe somewhat delicate Michael, but I have to wonder why you’ve not addressed the NYU strike. The situation is going from bad to worse as the administration threatens punitive action against the striking graduate students by stating they will not provide stipends or teaching positions to those who do not return to work by December 5.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  01:50 PM
  6. Delicate?  We don’t do delicate when it comes to graduate student strikes, Boethius.  The AAUP supports the right of graduate students to bargain collectively, as does the MLA, as do I.  NYU struck a deal with the graduate students, recognized their union, waited for Bush to shift the NLRB back to the right, and then de-recognized the union.  So there’s really nothing for me to be delicate about.  The only reason I haven’t addressed it is that I’ve been working around the clock trying to finish This Thing while creating the local AAUP chapter.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/02  at  02:43 PM
  7. I could explain how postmodernism is responsible for intelligent design, radical feminism, and Islamofascism, but it would involve a lot of math.  In particular, it would rely on complex numbers, which as you know serve to undermine the “reality-based” hegemony of the unimodular real number system.  It gets kinda technical.

    Posted by Sean  on  12/02  at  03:08 PM
  8. Sean - ignore the complex numbers; it’s much simpler if you explain it in terms of quaternions. If two of those little fellows interact then the result is a third quaternion, that has no memory of the other two and pretends to behave as an entirely independent entity. If you trap all of the quaternions together then the answer is minus one, which means you are right back where you started but pointing the other way. I find them very helpful.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  03:44 PM
  9. yes

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  04:18 PM
  10. I take it that Steve’s position derives from Feyerabend: the “anything goes” principle (which Feyerabend adapted from Cole Porter, I think). The idea is that you can’t know in advance what avenue of research will produce results.  The reason it doesn’t apply here is that issue is not whether people should be able to conduct research base in intelligent design, but what public school students should be taught. Feyerabend never said “anything goes” in education.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  04:18 PM
  11. hmmm.  i remember seeing fuller’s comments at dover, but i didn’t associate them with that steve fuller, social epistemologist.  more’s the pity.

    so, what remains to be explained?  how does fuller use postmodernism to justify his ludicrous assertions at dover?  but he doesn’t, right---those are the panda’s thumb folks.  fuller says enough silly things on his own.

    or are we explaining why someone championing an unfortunate epistemology (and anything which allows ID to supplant legitimate scientific method is unfortunate) gets associated with postmodernism?  but that’s your fight, isn’t it, professor?

    i guess we could be explaining why fuller subscribes to such an unfortunate epistemology in the first place.  there, it seems to me, he made a few missteps which carried him disastrously far afield.  (and academia means never having to say you’re sorry---at least until you can’t get your books and articles published anymore.)

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  04:21 PM
  12. How distressing to hear that all this makes your head hurt.  I took such comfort from a quote in “The Jane Austen Book Club”:  [when one
    character refers to Northanger Abbey as “very pomo"] “The rest of us weren’t intimate enough with postmodernism to give it a nickname.  We’d
    heard the word used in sentences, but its definition seemed to change with its context.  We weren’t troubled by this.  Over at the university, people were paid to worry about such things; they’d soon have it well in hand.”

    Aren’t you one of those people paid to worry about it?

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  05:03 PM
  13. The New Yorker article on the Dover trial makes some wholly unprincipled but fairly funny cracks about Fuller’s appearance and manner on the witness stand.

    Posted by rootlesscosmo  on  12/02  at  05:04 PM
  14. Sometime in the mid-1980s I remember “postmodernism” associated with a movement in architecture.  Parody and disproportion.  Fine.

    Sometime in the mid-1990s I started running across attacks on my post-structuralist faves (Foucault, Barthes, Said, Spivak, Bourdieu) as “postmodernist,” generally by people who hadn’t read them but were convinced they undermined truth and goodness.  This is how it’s being used on Panda’s Thumb.

    In between I remember reading something by Richard Rorty that advanced a “postmodernist” approach, but it seemed unrelated either to architecture or to post-structuralism (a portmanteau term itself). 

    I never figured out the rest.  There were, I think a few well-meaning efforts in the early 1990s to define postmodernism as a new synthesis, but nothing compelling.  Is it now just an all-purpose bogey-term?

    There does seem to be a more interesting story in there somewhere about how a lot of people both lean on relativism and oppose it at the same time.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  05:18 PM
  15. "Fuller said intelligent design hasn’t been extensively promoted in the scientific community because the process by which articles are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals tends to favor established, mainstream approaches.”

    I cannot explain all of Fuller’s contortions on the mat of postmodernism, but clearly he’s pissed he can’t get into bed with those ethically-bankrupt peer reviewers who shun evidence-based argument in favor of endlessly circulating a bunch of predictable claptrap. And the editors--whew, what a craven, sycophantic lot of sheep they are!

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  06:53 PM
  16. There were, I think a few well-meaning efforts in the early 1990s to define postmodernism as a new synthesis, but nothing compelling.  Is it now just an all-purpose bogey-term?

    Colin, I do believe the answer is yes.  When you have scholar X denouncing postmodernism and blaming it for lending a hand to politically reactionary movements, and then showing up to lend a hand to a politically reactionary movement and being denounced as postmodern as a result, it’s safe to say that the term has been effectively dereferentialized.  Or we could just say, how post-postmodern! That would be kind of post-ironic in a post-post-ironic way.

    Aren’t you one of those people paid to worry about it?

    Yes indeed, Ralph!  In fact, as Sian knows, I’m writing a whole mess of things that worry about it, which is why my head hurts.  In a kind of pre-postmodern way, of course.

    Or are we explaining why someone championing an unfortunate epistemology (and anything which allows ID to supplant legitimate scientific method is unfortunate) gets associated with postmodernism?  but that’s your fight, isn’t it, professor?

    Yes it is, Randall, and I’m just this far from giving up.  That is, I’m about to abandon the term “postmodern” altogether (except for that wacky neo-something architecture) and replace it with “rich Corinthian leather.”

    Sean, thanks for the complex numbers remedy.  I’m tempted to point out to everyone here that the discovery of complex numbers in 1977 paved the way for chaos theory’s destruction of the hegemony of linearity in differential equations, but then Alan Sokal would find me and mock me no end.  Deservedly so, I might add.

    Posted by Michael Bérubé  on  12/02  at  07:19 PM
  17. In the latest edition of Harper’s, Stanley Fish has a brief essay about this very issue. It’s titled “Academic Cross-dressing; How Intelligent Design gets its arguments from the left”

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  07:49 PM
  18. As someone who once flirted with pomo philosophy myself, even going to so far as to send myself to Paris to study with Deleuze and Lyotard at Paris VIII - St. Denis in the early 90s, I’d be happy to write out a philosophical defense of ID. The only caveat is that I will only do so with massive influxes of funding from Bill Gates or other gabillionaires. Anyone know his number?

    Posted by helmut  on  12/02  at  08:07 PM
  19. I suppose that it would be too easy a solution if the identification in the blurb was wrong and the Steve Fuller who wrote the blurb wasn’t the same Steve Fuller who wrote _Social Epistemology_?  Stranger things have happened.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  08:14 PM
  20. Either there is some deep underlying connection here that I’ve sussed out, or I’m just tired from a week of Meetings From Hell, but I thought of Michael’s plaintive and probably unanswerable question today while reading Paul Deignan’s discussion of Jackson Pollock’s work. Perhaps it’s the sense I get that Deignan is unconsciously - and unsuccessfully - attempting to emulate Sokal.

    But his whole post is worth it for this sentence:

    <em>There is no critical agreement by experts or any other subset of viewers as to the meaning of Lavender Mist, but one thing is clear: when viewed from less than three inches or beyond 300 yards, it is nondescript. </em>

    Unlike, say, Wheatfield with Crows, which is resplendent from any distance.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  12/02  at  11:56 PM
  21. I believe I can clear this up. The ID-defendin’ Steve Fuller is the former NFL quarterback best known as Jim McMahon’s backup on the ‘85 Bears. Unreported by the MSM was this part of his testimony in Dover:

    This is Steve, and it’s no wonder,
    I run like lightnin’, pass like thunder,
    So bring on Atlanta, bring on Dallas,
    This is for Mike and Papa Bear Halas,

    Posted by Dr. Drang  on  12/03  at  12:04 AM
  22. How do you view a Pollock from >300 yards distance?

    Posted by rootlesscosmo  on  12/03  at  12:11 AM
  23. How do you view a Pollock from >300 yards distance?

    From the cheap seats at Madison Square Garden during the Monsters of Abstract Expressionism 2007 World Tour.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  12/03  at  01:07 AM
  24. I suppose that it would be too easy a solution if the identification in the blurb was wrong and the Steve Fuller who wrote the blurb wasn’t the same Steve Fuller who wrote _Social Epistemology_?

    Insert joke about the author-function.

    How do you view a Pollock from >300 yards distance?

    Stand on the corner of West 53rd and Sixth Avenue. Face East. Squint hard.

    Posted by  on  12/03  at  03:36 AM
  25. Oh my god.  Now Deignan thinks he’s Panofsky or Rudolf Arnheim or something.  *That* made my head hurt.

    How do you view a Pollock from >300 yards distance?

    From the cheap seats at Madison Square Garden during the Monsters of Abstract Expressionism 2007 World Tour.

    Stand on the corner of West 53rd and Sixth Avenue. Face East. Squint hard.

    You guys are killing me!  And this after I almost spilled my coffee over Michael’s hold on to your precession of simulacra comment.

    Posted by  on  12/03  at  09:59 AM
  26. I suppose that it would be too easy a solution if the identification in the blurb was wrong and the Steve Fuller who wrote the blurb wasn’t the same Steve Fuller who wrote _Social Epistemology_?  Stranger things have happened.

    Actually, Rich, the solution turns out to be far from easy.  I have recently learned that the Steve Fuller who wrote the blurb is in fact an anti-Steve Fuller—a particle hypothesized by Paul Dirac in the 1930s but never experimentally verified until just this morning.  And what do you think would happen if a Steve Fuller and an anti-Steve Fuller appeared in the same Dover courtroom?  Well, let’s ask Scotty in Engineering about that.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/03  at  10:25 AM
  27. Now Deignan thinks he’s Panofsky or Rudolf Arnheim or something.

    Sometimes a drip is just a drip.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  12/03  at  11:59 AM
  28. Just one more question for you theory-wallahs: What notable figures have used “postmodern” to describe any of their *own* work?

    Posted by  on  12/03  at  03:33 PM
  29. I am aware of the Sokal affair--it was great.

    However, there is some credit to be given this fuzzy thinking. It does emanate from a mammalian part of the brain that then goes on and defines much of the pattern of higher level thinking.

    So when we examine thinking, some areas “resonate” differently with different individuals. That is not to say that the thinking is deficient, only that it may be characteristically more fundamental. We have errors in our higher level processes as well due to unexamined assumptions based on these lower level functions.

    The key is to enforce a feedback loop--i.e. to examine one’s own thinking in the face of empirical evidence. Unfortunately, the “feelers” do not tend to complete the feedback loop going through the higher levels (it is a short and local loop). Widening the loop is essential for all, including those that typically process in the higher levels.

    The Pollock painting provide an excitation to the lower level functions that may be analyzed by their patterns in the cognitive levels. The contemplation is worthwhile as a mental exercise.

    I have adjusted the ranges in the post to conform to typical 20/20 vision unaided. Sorry that this caused Chris to miss the point. (300 yards are the far targets at a rifle range if yards=meters). I used English units for the predominately nonengineering audience.

    Back to Hockey.

    Posted by Paul Deignan  on  12/03  at  04:34 PM
  30. The key is to enforce a feedback loop--i.e. to examine one’s own thinking in the face of empirical evidence. Unfortunately, the “feelers” do not tend to complete the feedback loop going through the higher levels (it is a short and local loop). Widening the loop is essential for all, including those that typically process in the higher levels.

    The Pollock painting provide an excitation to the lower level functions that may be analyzed by their patterns in the cognitive levels.

    I’m with PZ. This kind of stuff suffers in translation from the Big Chief tablet.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  12/03  at  04:43 PM
  31. Chris,

    You read it, but did not understand (and seem to be stuck on ad homs).

    It would be interesting to see how you come out on a M-B (even knowing the model).

    You are an academic right?

    Posted by Paul Deignan  on  12/03  at  05:15 PM
  32. Actually I think Chris Clarke is the Founding Director of the Chris Clarke Institute for Advanced Theory, but will take a leave of absence in 2006-07 in order to organize the Monsters of Abstract Expressionism 2007 World Tour.  But among his many accomplishments as Institute director, if I recall correctly, is the famous 1988 essay in which he points out that ad hominem arguments actually have to say something bad about the person to whom they refer in order to be ad hominem.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/03  at  05:52 PM
  33. Of course. So what is your point?

    Posted by Paul Deignan  on  12/03  at  05:56 PM
  34. Hmmmmmm, at least three options and none look too good I am guessing by the failure to explicate.

    I guess entertainment only goes so far.

    Welcome to the new reality based community Michael and Chris.

    Posted by Paul Deignan  on  12/03  at  06:51 PM
  35. Oh, gosh, Paul, I’m sorry I wasn’t attending sufficiently to comment 33.  I was cleaning up around the house and getting ready for dinner.  How can I make it up to you?  By pointing out that I was pointing out that Chris did not, in fact (in a reality-based sense of “fact"), employ any ad hominems?

    Posted by  on  12/03  at  07:10 PM
  36. Leaving still at least three possibilities with the confirmation now that you have no answer.

    Thanks. With Biff, waiting for Frank is not a problem. (Do I need to explain this for you?)

    Posted by Paul Deignan  on  12/03  at  07:26 PM
  37. You know, folks, I’m getting the funny feeling that Paul isn’t trying to help me with the Steve Fuller/ anti-Steve Fuller problem.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/03  at  08:32 PM
  38. OK Michael. Here is some help on ID (Fuller and anti-Fuller):

    Our high schoolers do not have the mathematical basis to approach the problem. Neither do our college undergraduates as a whole. I doubt that Fuller has the necessary background either. If so, he could publish a framework paper rather than try to recruit high schoolers.

    Chaos theory may be of some help. However, although we can model the weather using supercomputers a for fine grids, our predictions are only good for maybe several days. So how can we possibly quantify accurately the statistical limits of known deterministic processes over millenia?

    In short, this whole debate is nonsense. However, it might serve a useful purpose in promoting math in our schools. Perhaps if we can model the human brain we would have a good start at it. A test might be to model Pollock’s brain and recreate Lavender Mist as a proof of concept.

    Hope that helps.

    Posted by Paul Deignan  on  12/03  at  08:53 PM
  39. Of course. So what is your point?

    I believe Michael’s point was that my argument merely implied that your rejoinder was an ill-formed mishmash of apparently misunderstood concepts, misrepresentations of fact, misuse of terminology, and grammatical errors.

    This may have been unpleasant to read, and it may have been snarkily stated on my part, but as it rebutted your argument alone, in no way calling your character into question, it was in no way an ad hominem argument.

    An ad hominem argument, by definition, is arguing against the person rather than his or her argument. Ad hominems are frowned on in formal debate, but are often perfectly valid in real life, as in fact a person might find were he to file, oh, let’s say a frivolous libel suit, which by some fluke or oversight actually reached the trial stage. A defense attorney might call plaintiff’s mental health into question, or introduce examples of plaintiff’s egregious prior conduct, and while this would technically be an ad hominem argument by rules of formal debate, it would in certain circumstances be allowable as evidence of the character of the party being “ad-hommed.”

    In our context here, had my post truly been an ad hominem argument, it would have looked something like this:

    “Don’t pay any attention to what Deignan says, folks. Look at his website! He habitually tries to use words and concepts that it’s clear he doesn’t understand, and besides he’s threatening a libel suit because someone called him ‘sexist’ while insisting it’s not a political vendetta, and to cap off his hypocrisy he’s perfectly willing to publish someone else’s vile, slanderous and probably actionable comments against the party he’s threatening to sue! The guy’s clearly an obsessed stalker, and thus his argument is invalid!”

    That would have been an ad hominem argument. But I didn’t make that argument, and so your allegation that I resorted to “ad homs” was fallacious.

    At least that’s what I think Michael’’s point was. Michael, correct me if I’m wrong.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  12/03  at  09:40 PM
  40. grammatical errors!?

    OMG [short for “oh me gads"}. tat’s tebbile.. i Really feel baf abot that now. You did proof me all rong., witf that

    sorry but i had to use a commpurt to rite this cause my cut and paste magazine ledders donot fit in da litle wires.

    Posted by Paul Deignan  on  12/03  at  09:49 PM
  41. Oops. I did done givvy away I b stalking you wif answering you’re Electronical mails and lokijg at the computr webcite heron.

    (Tat b “cibertakng"}

    Posted by Paul Deignan  on  12/03  at  09:55 PM
  42. oooopps I did it agin. I dod answerd andy i guessng cause im’b obsessing cus yous imputant person Chris (Eeeeeeeeeek, i forgetted and used you’re name de plumb.

    Posted by Paul Deignan  on  12/03  at  09:58 PM
  43. But seriously Chris. You’re killing me.

    Who is writing articles about whom? Why do you even bother checking my blog or linking some article you can’t understand? I have a libel suit in progress and all you are concerned about is me the person, not the facts of the matter. That’s really out there.

    At least you are in good company with other retreads and third rates.

    Peace out.

    Posted by Paul Deignan  on  12/03  at  10:08 PM
  44. You’l have to forgive me, Paul. As I am a mere Feeling Liberal, I am having trouble interpreting your precisely worded and dispassionate Thinking Conservative responses.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  12/03  at  10:09 PM
  45. Michael, I can explain.

    Postmodernism means that everything means nothing, yes.  Bush is the first postmodern president.  Therefore, everything is postmodernism’s fault.

    Easy, huh?

    Posted by bitchphd  on  12/03  at  11:59 PM
  46. Thank you, Dr. B.  Everything makes sense now.

    Well, almost everything.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/04  at  10:09 AM
  47. Totally OT (though very meta-on-topic, given the length of this thread, and therefore potentially postmodern, thus on topic)…

    One of the few things that annoys me about this site is that when you reload a comment thread, you are returned to the top of the page.

    I don’t know whether this is something you (or your webmaster) can adjust, Michael. I do know that plenty of other sites don’t do this, and return you to where you were reading (usually the bottom of the comment thread) when you reload the page.

    Just a thought.

    Posted by  on  12/04  at  12:35 PM
  48. Next up:  convincing Michael that he loves Big Brother.

    Posted by bitchphd  on  12/04  at  03:34 PM
  49. "The long-hoped-for bullet point entered his brain.”

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  12/04  at  04:54 PM
  50. By an amazing coincidence, it turns out David Horowitz’s office at The Center for the Study of Popular Culture is in Room 101.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  12/04  at  05:30 PM
  51. PART ONE OF TWO

    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.]

    ...TO BE CONTINUED

    Posted by Steve Fuller  on  12/04  at  07:54 PM
  52. PART TWO OF TWO

    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?

    END

    Posted by Steve Fuller  on  12/04  at  07:55 PM
  53. Most interesting.  I’m agree that the Panda Thumb people throw around the epithet “postmodern” way too readily.  But

    (a) The line from Newton to “ID researchers” seems forced.  Newton was compelling not because he had a particular vision but because he really delivered the goods, in a number of fields.  The mind-of-God question is fascinating and there’s a lot that can be and has been said about Newton and his differences from contemporary natural science, but it’s not clear how this plays out in the high school science classroom.

    (b) The reply above does not address the Meera Nanda point that Michael raised.  To what degree could the BJP in India make parallel arguments?  Why was the line drawn so firmly in that case? 

    At what point, then, does one want to acknowledge that a certain kind of broadminded, problematizing openness is being hijacked?  I don’t mean this in an entirely adversarial way, as I acknowledge that by appearing to default to a certain kind of established view we may make further problems.  I’m a heterodox economist, for example, whose work would not be judged favorably by mainstream journals in that field, and this makes me uncomfortable with arguments that want to make truth by opinion-polling specialists.

    Posted by  on  12/04  at  08:35 PM
  54. I have some comments on this here:

    http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/article/fullers_dover_testimony/

    Briefly, I think the analogy with Newton fails not because of theistic motivation, but because of theistically inspired antagonism towards the existing theory.

    Posted by Jonathan  on  12/04  at  09:40 PM
  55. It’s actually very simple. Put together two greatly abused words like “PoMo” and “Theory”, and boom, you are guaranteed complete confusion. Just as “theory” is used to mean “only a guess”, “PoMo” means relativism to most of us--the idea that all ideas are equivalent, that some theologian’s wild-ass interpretation of biology is just as valid as the professional biologist’s interpretation of biology.

    That quote you cited is a perfect example. He’s treating the subject as if any observation, informed or not, is sufficient to legitimate an idea as ‘scientific’.

    Posted by PZ Myers  on  12/05  at  09:46 AM
  56. Steve Fuller is a posturing idiot. I know this from personal experience.

    Posted by  on  12/06  at  11:09 AM
  57. Substantial remarks only, please.  Thanks.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/06  at  01:24 PM
  58. Substantial remarks only, please.  Thanks.

    I’m in trouble now.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  12/06  at  01:26 PM
  59. Oh, you’ve been in trouble for quite some time, Chris.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/06  at  01:32 PM
  60. "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.”

    Exactly. And ID has been shown to be completely religiously motivated. Thank you, Mr. Fuller.

    Posted by  on  12/06  at  03:36 PM
  61. I find it passing strange that someone who is “committed to retrieving the Enlightenment project” would get into bed--or go into court--with the theocrats behind ID.

    Posted by joseph duemer  on  12/06  at  06:20 PM
  62. And in the trial, when you said:

    “But I think it is very loose to say, oh, evolutionary theory is being tested directly every time we do an experiment in a cell biology lab, because that is not the case at all. One has to build in a lot of other assumptions in order to reach that sort of conclusion, each of which could be contested.”

    What specifically would some of those contestable assumptions be?

    Posted by  on  12/08  at  05:43 PM

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