More on “Less Science”

Some additional items relevant to the Intelligent Designers’ attack on evolution. You might want to enjoy a Creation Moment first.
  • Index to Creationist Claims
    At talk.origins. A very good place to start if you need to respond.
  • Why Creationists Need to Be Creationists
    From Bora Zivkovic, Science and Politics. Nice observations on the motives of some creationists. Noting that creationists generally do not oppose the theories of Copernicus, Einstein, and so on, Zivkovic notes that “the more sophisticated folks object only to evolution. If their problem was that it is ‘just a theory’, they would have problems with other theories as well. If their problem was biblical inerrancy, they would have problems with all of science. If their problem is dethroning humans from the pinnacle of Creation, at least Freud would also be problematic. And here may lie the key.”
    Like some of the commenters, I don’t think the explanation then offered is the whole story. But it puts the issue in a helpful frame: evolution is offensive not for scientific or even for religious reasons, but for political reasons that have to do, among other things, with attitudes toward authority and with exploiting resentment of an “elite” who are, as it happens, frequently liberals.
  • Stranger Fruit
    John M. Lynch. More information about the Kansas Board of Education, in particular the statement of the Science Hearings Committee (9 June), and a newsletter piece by Connie Morris, a member of the Board. Morris concludes from the one-sided testimony at the science hearings, which cost the state somewhere between $17,000 and $30,000, that “Darwin’s theory of evolution is biologically, genetically, mathematically, chemically, metaphysically and etc. ‘wildly’ and ‘utterly impossible.’”. (Her newsletter bears the letterhead of the Kansas Board. Morris speaks of herself and her five creationist colleagues as a “well-oiled machine”. Freedom of thought, anyone?) It’s worth noting that biologists boycotted the hearings, on the grounds that they were biased.
    Stranger Fruit has also done useful work in tracking down publications of some proponents of Intelligent Design. The following extract, from an interview with Philip Skell, indicates, I think, the principles behind the biology curricula at Christian universities like Anderson and Taylor Universities (mentioned in “Less Science”):
    [Interviewer:} You have spoken about a “historical biology” being separate from an “experimental biology.” Could you please elaborate on the distinction? [Skell:] Modern biology is engaged in examining the structures and functions of tissues from live organisms; it is the most prolific and important branch of all the sciences. Historical biology has only the minuscule fragments of our ancestors, fossils, for examination. They are stones, not tissues. The geologists provide a reasonable time line, but minuscule evidence about their function, zero evidence for the “transit” from one species to another. The claim for “mountains of evidence” is a disingenuous lie. The modern biology, demonstrably, makes no use of the historical biology; at times the historical is an encumbrance on the modern.
    Lynch has also posted at Panda’s Thumb a discussion of what counts as “peer review” at the journal Progress in Complexity, Information and Design, published by International Society for Complexity, Information and Design. The entry includes a link to the analysis by the National Center for Science Education of the Discovery Institute’s tendentious “Bibliography of Supplementary Resources for Ohio Science Education”. Tendentious because, as the Center learned by querying the authors of articles cited in the Bibliography, the Institute’s summaries of those articles were misleading and sometimes erroneous. It is an instance of what has come to be called “quote-mining”, a venerable practice well described by John Cole:
    Creationists have developed a skill unique to their trade: that of misquotation and quotation out of context from the works of leading evolutionists. This tactic not only frustrates scientists but it misleads school board members, legislators, and the public. Whether such actions by creationists of selectively seeking out quotations or references in order to prove a preconceived case are willful distortion or the product of wishful thinking is irrelevant. Such acts misuse science and scientists in bogus appeals to authority.
    Quote-mining is a new name for an old practice. It is not at all unique to creationism; it is very common in any sort of apologetics. Those who claim to find prophecies in the Old Testament—Pascal was one—are quote-miners. Quote-mining is suspect only when the parti pris of the quote-miner leads to misrepresentation of the sense of the passage quoted or when the mining is selective. Quote-mining introduces noise into the channel of transmission of results and opinions; reduction of noise takes work.
    Unfortunately, the quote-miner can presume that (i) readers approach an author in the expectation that the author will not deceive them (this is especially true of readers who have been taught to form their opinions on the basis of authority, but it is also a condition of informative communication generally); and that (ii) readers are unlikely, not only because they assume the author is trustworthy but because time and resources are limited, to return to the sources to find out whether they are being misled or deceived.
    Anthologies, common-place books, anas, and so on are labor- and money-saving devices. We all depend on them. Our dependence is warranted insofar as authors for the most part trustoworthy enough; but as with any shared understanding of this sort, cheating is always possible. The abusive quote-miner lacks integrity: he presents himself as trustworthy when he is not (I exclude here confirmation bias and other tendencies that an author may be unaware of). One can see from the interview with Karen Brauer cited below that integrity of this sort counts for little with certain zealots who act, they say, in accordance with a “higher law”. Yet without it science (and philosophy as most philosophers understand it) would cease to exist.
  • Steve Dutch on “Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism”
    Via Stranger Fruit. “Self-Appointed Experts” takes on the accusations of arrogance that experts sometimes face. It’s an able defense of expertise. I think that the political issues deserve more consideration. The moment you call your opponent “stupid”, the debate turns toward questions of persons and power. The right has learned very well how to exploit the resentments that then tend to come to the fore. The temptation to express one’s irritation is strong. But to give in to it is to play into the hands of your opponent, who knows that the practical question—here the teaching of evolution—is decided not by scientists but by politicians and their more vocal constituents.
    Nevertheless, as an argument against the insinuations and pig-headedness of those who take issue with science they know nothing about, Dutch’s argument is sound.
    Source: Tom Tomorrow
    There are serious issues, of both philosophical and political interest, concerning the role of expertise (which has been criticized by the political left too) in public discourse and political decision-making (see various works by Steve Fuller and Ian Hacking). In my view “knowledge in the wild”, especially the we know or the it is known that embodied in the expert, deserves more attention from epistemologists than I see it getting (I should mention, however, Margaret Gilman, On social facts, Princeton, 1992, orig. publ. 1989).
  • Darwin’s Little Darling
    Mike Price. “Making martyrs out of monsters” discusses the “disturbingly widespread trend of pharmacists refusing to fill perscriptions for birth control or dispensing the ‘morning after’ pill on the basis of personal beliefs”. Pharmacists for Life International is an organization (see the interview with Karen Brauer at Media Matters 30 Mar 2005; see also SourceWatch) whose brief is to promote the position that pharmacists (and by extension all medical professionals) have a right to refuse to perform acts contrary to their religious beliefs.

LinkJune 19, 2005 in Current Affairs · Religion · Science