Pharyngula

Steve Fuller and Christian Exceptionalism

Poor Francis Collins: now his book has been panned in New Scientist…by Steve Fuller. That Steve Fuller, the pompous pseudo-post-modernist who testified for Intelligent Design creationism in Dover. His criticism has an interesting angle, though. Collins is just like Richard Dawkins. Who knew?

In trying to accommodate too many camps, Collins ends up mired in confusion. Ironically, rather like Richard Dawkins, he treats religions equally, thereby homogenising them. Collins promotes “theistic evolution”, a philosophy sufficiently devoid of controversy, if not content, to be “espoused by many Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Christians, including Pope John Paul II”. It amounts to a treaty with God, whereby science does the “how” and religion the “why” of reality.

Dawkins and Collins clearly need a lesson in social science. The idea that, say, Hinduism and Islam can be lumped together is left over from 19th-century attempts to understand how complex social relations survived long stretches of time without the modern nation state. Repeating this idea uncritically in 2006 when we know better is bizarre.

That’s Fuller for you. Do you think neither Collins nor Dawkins can see the differences between Hinduism and Islam? Proposing theistic evolution (which I do not find at all interesting, and see as merely a weaker kind of anti-science) as a shared philosophical bridge that could reconcile different religions to science is not lumping them together.

However, that isn’t actually Fuller’s gripe, anyway. His problem isn’t that these fellows lack a sufficiently nuanced appreciation of the diversity of religion…it’s that they don’t go far enough in giving mad props to Jesus as the BEST, the GREATEST, the COOLEST Messiah ever.

As is Collins’s refusal to deal with Christianity’s uniqueness in being both most inspirational and most resistant to science. On the one hand, Christians extended the Biblical entitlement of humanity to understand and exercise dominion over nature. On the other, they baulked at theories such as Darwinism that failed to put humans on top. The alleged war between science and religion has really been a fight over the soul of Christianity.

Remember, if you want to make Steve Fuller happy with your position, it has to be a full-on sectarian promotion of a very specific religious dogma, and it must be solidly Christian. Don’t you go giving any credit to Buddhism, or he’ll wag his finger at you.

For all their faults, intelligent-design theorists grasp this much better than Collins. Immanuel Kant argued that moral law is no more and no less than our private imitation of God’s enforcement of physical law. Subsequently, as our understanding of nature changed, our relationship to each other changed too. So when intelligent-design theorists think of a Darwinist, they don’t imagine a Collins, who sees evolutionary theory as a boon to medicine. Rather, they see an animal-rights protester who wonders, on good Darwinian but anti-Christian grounds, why human comfort has priority over animal suffering.

Fuller is a wonderful example of an Alien Mind, one that just doesn’t seem to work in quite the same way as mine—it’s as if an ant or a sea slug had acquired the level of intelligence needed to communicate its ideas, and we find a whole slew of fascinatingly skewed perspectives that we struggle to understand. So when I’m seen through the lens of the Discovery Institute, I’m a vegan PETA acolyte who wants to give mosquitos my privileges? I’ve always known their views to be a bit cracked, but that’s more insane than I would have imagined. I hate to say it, but I think the gang at the DI are a little smarter than that (but not by much.)

Can somebody explain how this deranged cultist gets published in something like New Scientist? I really don’t believe that sociologists and philosophers simply pull stories out of their asses, but that seems to be Fuller’s usual approach.


Fuller S (2006) God and science: You just can’t please everyone. New Scientist 2566:48.

Comments

  1. #1 Ritchie Annand
    September 5, 2006

    I had to see it to believe it. That leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. I really like New Scientist, generally.

    Ironically, rather like he imagines Richard Dawkins to be, he treats his opponents equally, thereby homogenizing them. Fuller promotes “too-clever-by-half sociology professor views”, a philosophy sufficiently devoid of truth, if not content, to be “snuck into a magazine, disguised as a legitimate article.” It amounts to a treaty with the Discovery Institute, with opponents treated as “idiots” and intelligent design as the “truth”.

  2. #2 lockean
    September 5, 2006

    PK,

    I don’t know why Fuller was published but I think I know from whose metaphorical ass his ideas are pulled. I don’t think he’s a post modernist.

    What he’s saying basically is that he’s interested in Immanuel Kant, and Collins and Dawkins aren’t interested in Kant, so they’re both missing the intellectual boat.

    Kant invented the term ‘Culture.’ Which is directly or indirectly the basis of Fuller’s ‘Soul of Christianity’ argument.

    The (pre-Kantian) Enlightenment considered the political regime, or lack thereof, the most important influence on human behavior. In this view, we do what we do because of self-interested instincts and actual knowledge, both dependent on the politcal regime; beliefs are the excuses we make afterwards. Differences of custom, religion, language, economic systems, etc are mere curiosities, and art is made by artists not the Spirit of the People. So reforming the political regime (which meant attacking Christianity) is the most important thing. Reforming science and economics matters too, but politics matters most.

    For Kant (inspired heavily by Rouseau) people don’t live in political regimes, so much as they live in Cultures. What matters is the language, customs, and religion, not their laws and political order. Liberal democracies and dictatorships may rise and fall but Germans are still Germans and Poles are still Poles. Behavior is motivated by beliefs, not politically-ordered self-interest, so how many gods people believe in tells you how they view the world and therefore what they will do.

    So, in Fuller’s sub-Kantian view, debates over evolution can only be somehow about the soul or shape of Our Culture. Since Our Culture is, in Fuller’s mind, synonymous with Christianity, the debate must somehow be about Christianity. He isn’t sure how. But to Fuller the dislike of evolution must be Cultural.

  3. #3 Steven Sullivan
    September 5, 2006

    The subhead for the review at the New Scientist site reads:

    ‘Denying the real conflict between religion and science is a sure formula for confusion, finds Steve Fuller’

    Hey, I thought that was what *Dawkins* finds too!

  4. #4 DAS
    September 5, 2006

    Collins promotes “theistic evolution”, a philosophy sufficiently devoid of controversy, if not content, to be “espoused by many Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Christians, including Pope John Paul II”. It amounts to a treaty with God, whereby science does the “how” and religion the “why” of reality.

    I know the atheists and even agnostics ’round these parts would disagree with me, but I don’t get what exactly is wrong with this “treaty” — sounds like a heckuva deal to me.

    Dawkins and Collins clearly need a lesson in social science. The idea that, say, Hinduism and Islam can be lumped together is left over from 19th-century attempts to understand how complex social relations survived long stretches of time without the modern nation state.

    ummm … where is he really going with this? Is this a crypto-fascist argument? He’s ostensibly saying that Collins and Dawkins are so 19th century, but I cannot help but wonder if he is inviting the reader to think that the idea of complex social relations surviving long stretches of time without some nationalistic uber-state is so 19th century … i.e., that he’s inviting the reader to think that powerful nationalistic states, i.e. fascist states, are necessary for long term social stability — or am I reading too much into this?

  5. #5 Ichthyic
    September 6, 2006

    Philip Kitcher wrote the best, most accessible eviscertion of creationism, ABUSING SCIENCE. No single work by a scientists is as effective at showing its errors, especially for undergraduates. He did a similar job on sociobiology but that book is a little less accessible.

    …and did an absolutely horrible job looking at the issue of group selection.

    http://human-nature.com/nibbs/04/rawilson.html

    since you seem familiar with his work, maybe you have an opinion as to why that was?

    I see a fundamental disconnect between the practice of science and philosophy, that often shows up when philosophers expound on scientific theory.

    I tend to think it’s this fundamental disconnect that results in the reactions you see here, not a complete ignorance of the field.

    I see similar reactions (and have had them myself) between field biologists and theoretical modelers. The modelers are often disconnected from the data the field biologists are providing, and build unrealistic variables into the models that make them practically useless when a field biologist wants to test them in the field.

    I couldn’t say what the best approach is to fixing that level of “disconnect”, but it also isn’t dismissable as simply “ignorance”.

  6. #6 bruce hood
    September 13, 2008

    I guess this is really some time after the event (2 years!!)

    But the book is written, the comments are in and you can watch the movie

    http://www.brucemhood.com

    take a peek if you have time

    Bruce

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