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 Joe
    September 5, 2006

    Ugh I know. I was pretty pissed when I read that. It’s my favorite magazine and I finally shelled out 80 bucks a year for it and that’s the kind of article I get. The first issue I got had that atrocious piece about how science should not be used against religion because it has nothing to say about it. I immediately wondered if I had made a mistake. At least there are almost always more letters challenging those types of articles than defending them.

  2. #2 JackGoff
    September 5, 2006

    Seriously, how do nutjobs with religious bents get publised in a science journal, of all places? Oh wait, now I remember. Because science is being co-opted to validate religion more and more nowadays. Jeebus, this is bullshit.

  3. #3 mark
    September 5, 2006

    I have always known that my religion is the right one. Practitioners of all other relions need to be either assimilated or exterminated.

  4. #4 Steve LaBonne
    September 5, 2006

    Fuller knows exactly what he’s doing and he doesn’t believe a word of the crap he writes. It’s all about shocking the academic bourgeois so as to get Steve Fuller noticed. Making sesne is not even a minor consideration.

  5. #5 Kleyau
    September 5, 2006

    You meant that was a real article? I thought my NewScientist just got misprinted. Damn.

  6. #6 zayzayem
    September 5, 2006

    Damn science, only hates Christians.

    Why can’t they hate everyone, like Christians.

    (I’m not serious, I mean Hindus hate ppl too)

  7. #7 Bruce
    September 5, 2006

    “Christianity’s uniqueness in being…most resistant to science.” This is what Christianity has to offer? We can stick our fingers deeper in our ears than any other religion; neener, neener.

  8. #8 Corkscrew
    September 5, 2006

    On reading that article, did anyone else et a strong urge to go out and buy Collins’ book? After all, if Fuller is slating it, it must be good.

  9. #9 Chris Stevenson
    September 5, 2006

    JackGoff said: “Seriously, how do nutjobs with religious bents get publised in a science journal, of all places?”

    New Scientist is not a science journal. It is a science *magazine*. The articles in it are science journalism, not scientific research. It isn’t peer reviewed. Most of the articles and content is pretty good IMHO, and I’m sure we’ll hear more on why this article was published.

  10. #10 BlueIndependent
    September 5, 2006

    Bruce is right, and that’s the line I hooked onto too. Wow, thanks for the admission of ignorance, Mr. Fuller. At least we know you excel at being stupid. I’d love to see how this man “tears” down science so skillfully. He sounds like a smug ass.

    But the stranger thing is that he seems to be treating his religious position with a sort of “survival of the fittest” mentality…as if other religions are old hat and tired and thrown away in some historical dust bin like the Dodo bird because Chrsitianity has been somehow deemed the best of all religions. I wager if he said this aloud in a room of his peers from other religions, he’d walk out with a black eye at the very least.

    I’ve never read the guy before, and after reading this tripe, I certainly do not feel compelled to continue further.

  11. #11 gengar
    September 5, 2006

    Oddly, I had never considered the possibility that Fuller might be a Christian; I had put his attitude down to smug post-modern “only I can see that your flawed and biased perspective” ass-hattery rather than smug “I’m saved and I know the truth!” ass-hattery. You live and learn….

  12. #12 JackGoff
    September 5, 2006

    New Scientist is not a science journal.

    Heh. My bad. I did mean “magazine”, but I was too focused on how fucked up the article was to catch my mistake.

  13. #13 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”.

  14. #14 logopetria
    September 5, 2006

    Shouldn’t the 2nd and 3rd blockquotes have the Gumby background, like the 1st one?

  15. #15 Kevin W. Parker
    September 5, 2006

    New Scientist seems to enjoy being controversial – you have to take some of their content with a grain of salt because they’ll publish fringe theories (and theorists) with the same degree of seriousness as they do mainstream ones.

  16. #16 darukaru
    September 5, 2006

    Co-opting postmodernism was the smartest thing the religious right ever did. Like the crew at Butterflies and Wheels point out in their lovely book Why Truth Matters, knocking down the ideals of reason, logic, and objectivity just leaves us a battle of rhetoric vs. rhetoric. And the religionists have nothing if not some awfully persuasive rhetoric.

  17. #17 darukaru
    September 5, 2006

    Actually, make that “manipulative”, not “persuasive”.

  18. #18 Paul
    September 5, 2006

    Christianity is unique, eh? I’m sure Mithras and Apollonius of Tyana must be gutted to hear that.

    And I’m sure if Steve Fuller happened to have been brought up in India or Jordan, he wouldn’t be saying that Hinduism or Islam are unique at all – no, sir. And it would be foolish to even suggest so.

    Yes, bad Francis Collins for suggesting there might be anything to heathen cults. By the Law, a godly man would go and “make a ruin” of Bethesda for such promotion of false idols:

    http://www.thebricktestament.com/the_law/religious_tolerance/dt13_13-15.html

  19. #19 Stanton
    September 5, 2006

    I’m not sure what this Fuller twit is arguing about…
    From what I can read, he’s saying that science isn’t scientific because science doesn’t say that people are special because God and Jesus made people special because God and Jesus are special, and that everything else, especially all of the non-Christian religions, is just bland, if not wrong because they aren’t like Christianity…
    Um…
    How does this make any sense to anyone?

  20. #20 Keith Douglas
    September 5, 2006

    gengar: I’ve suspected for a long time that insecurity about one’s religious beliefs is at a root of many antirealist views in the “sciences of science” generally, but especially amongst pomos. But this is an impression, not the result of serious sociological research. (After all, just guessing that there is such a connection and pronouncing it settled is itself very pomo. :))

  21. #21 Millimeter Wave
    September 5, 2006

    I’m still trying to get my head around that third block quote.

    He seems to be annoyed with Collins for disagreeing with him, but without conforming to his own stereotype of somebody who disagrees with him, thereby robbing him of the opportunity to respond with a boilerplate dismissal.

  22. #22 Greg
    September 5, 2006

    The problem is pseudoscience is propogated everywhere and are firmly entrenched. Interestingly, studies show that pseudoscientific beliefs remain in people even though they have completed a science education.

  23. #23 Paul
    September 5, 2006

    @Greg: Is this in reference to that paper delivered at the BA Festival of Science this week?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/story/0,,1864748,00.html

    “The battle by scientists against “irrational” beliefs such as creationism is ultimately futile, a leading experimental psychologist said today.

    The work of Bruce Hood, a professor at Bristol University, suggests that magical and supernatural beliefs are hardwired into our brains from birth, and that religions are therefore tapping into a powerful psychological force.”

    I’m very interested to see what PZ and others might make of this…(lights blue touch-paper; retreats to minimum safe distance) 🙂

  24. #24 Great White Wonder
    September 5, 2006

    Oddly, I had never considered the possibility that Fuller might be a Christian

    Does he actually admit to being one? In a few other blogs where Fuller has revealed himself online and tried to defend his “tripe,” he was asked about this and refused to answer (apparently his own religious beliefs are “irrelevant” to the “logic” behind the claim that Christianity is the Best Religion Ever(TM)).

  25. #25 darukaru
    September 5, 2006

    I’m very interested to see what … others might make of this

    Speaking for myself: it’s also very likely that war and murder are hardwired into the human brain, but you don’t ever see anyone say that we should embrace them.

  26. #26 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.

  27. #27 Fraser
    September 5, 2006

    I notice the article also lumps together all animal rights supporters as people who believe human comfort is no more important than animal suffering. Speaking as an animal-rights supporter who doesn’t believe that position, nonsense.

    For that matter, there’s no conflict between a moderate animal rights position and Christianity, unless you believe getting dominion over the beasts of the field means humans have a right to leave animals caged and sitting in their own feces, killed for personal amuseument or thrown into a pit to kill each other.

  28. #28 Jim Harrison
    September 5, 2006

    The lockean version of Kant certainly has the virtue of originality. It’s so original that Kant himself could never have dreamed of it.

    I’m reminded of the Monty Python bit where the T.V. scientist explains “the brain is like a fish. It breathes through its gills…”

    For the record, Kant believed that philosophical truths and moral principles are utterly universal since they are grounded in reason alone. Cultural relativism is utterly alien to his thought.

  29. #29 Tony Jackson
    September 5, 2006

    “Can somebody explain how this deranged cultist gets published in something like New Scientist?”

    Can somebody explain how this deranged cultist gets to run a department in a respectable UK university, supervise graduate students, act as an external assessor for tenure and promotion committees and review grants for the NSF?

    http://www.einaudi.cornell.edu/sshen/pdf/cv_fuller.pdf#search=%22%22steve%20fuller%22%20cv%22

  30. #30 PaminBB
    September 5, 2006

    “Christianity’s uniqueness in being…most resistant to science”

    Like others above, I was struck by this comment – mainly struck by how wrong it is. Christianity isn’t resistant to science, but some christians sure are.

  31. #31 Uber
    September 5, 2006

    Christianity isn’t resistant to science, but some christians sure are

    One true scotsman rides again. Of course it’s resistant to science and reason.

  32. #32 Great White Wonder
    September 5, 2006

    Can somebody explain how this deranged cultist gets to run a department in a respectable UK university, supervise graduate students, act as an external assessor for tenure and promotion committees and review grants for the NSF?

    Yes, I can: philosophy is mental masturbatory bullshit and nobody loves mental masturbatory bullshit more than a professional mental masturbatory bullshit lover, i.e., another professor of philosophy.

  33. #33 Bob O'H
    September 5, 2006

    I just want to defend the Editors of New Scientist. I think asking Fuller to review Collins’ book was a stroke of genius. The review was always going to garner attention: Fuller could be relied upon to say something, um, interesting, and Collins would make an unusual target.

    I don’t think book reviews are meant to be authoritative, so they can be used to stir up some debate. On that score the editors have certainly succeeded.

    Bob

  34. #34 lockean
    September 5, 2006

    Jim Harrison,

    I did not say Kant didn’t believe in universal truths. I was not trying to belittle Kant. I said he introduced the concept of Culture and I explained the implications of that concept and only that concept as it applied to Fulller.

    If you can explain Kant and Culture better than I can, do it.

  35. #35 Steve_C
    September 5, 2006

    http://onegoodmove.org/1gm/1gmarchive/2006/09/crazy_motherfuc.html

    Penn gets most of it right. Little weird that he didn’t think evolution “had” to be taught in high school.

  36. #36 Tom Morris
    September 5, 2006

    I met Fuller a month or so back when he gave a talk in London. He claims not to be a postmodernist, but also claims that teaching ID is great not because it’s true but because it’s useful for a variety of reasons. He cringed when I described Phillip Johnson’s “theistic science” pap, but couldn’t provide a better alternative.

    Nice guy, but, as you say PZ, an “alien mind”. He’s agreed to exchange emails for my dissertation (philosophy of religion, covering ID).

  37. #37 Jim Harrison
    September 5, 2006

    Culture is hardly a central concept in Kant’s philosophy. He didn’t introduce the term into German, and in his writings, it mostly refers to personal cultivation (Bildung or paideia). Incidentally, Kant always spelled the word “Cultur” and never “Kultur”–it’s a borrowing from the French. It is important to note that Kant never contrasted culture with civilization, a move characteristic of later cultural conservatives such as Oswald Spengler. For Kant, becoming cultured and becoming civilized are pretty much the same thing.

    Maybe lockean is confusing Kant with Herder. Herder also used culture to refer to the development of capacities, but the was fascinated by the specific forms that this cultivation took in variously societies and famously asserted that they were all worthy of respect, “equally close to God.”

  38. #38 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!

  39. #39 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?

  40. #40 DAS
    September 5, 2006

    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.

    This part confused me until I read it a few times. I think I get the point Fuller is making — the problem with evolution is that it causes us to reconsider social organization in ways that Fuller does not like. This is actually the ostensible reason why most of the ID crowd is so hung up on evolution, and their support of ID says something about them (they feel this need to distort science so it fits their own ends): what’s interesting is that rather than hiding behind opposition to social Darwinism (which, if the ID crowd really opposed, how come they themselves tend to support rather “social Darwinist policies? Does evolution being taught in schools make them vote Republican?) or to libertinism (how an evolutionary view of nature necessarily leads to moral relativism, I don’t get?), this guy is saying, essentially, that viewing mankind as part of nature has some moral implications that he doesn’t like in terms of the environmental movement.

    Actually, IMHO, he hits on something here: the reason people feel this need to oppose evolution is it does jibe rather nicely with certain social trends, i.e. the emergence from the Middle Ages. To me, ID strikes me very much as essentialism to evolution’s nominalism …

  41. #41 goddogit
    September 5, 2006

    Wait a bit. Sometime we’ll find out he has a friend, or even a “friend”, at New Scientist who is willing to bend the standards and pull some strings to get these (rather poorly written, as well as pompous-but-stupid) articles published.

  42. #42 Steve LaBonne
    September 5, 2006

    Pomoism is inherently crypto-fascist. It systematically undermines all the intellectual resources needed to meaningfully oppose tyranny and injustice.

  43. #43 Great White Wonder
    September 5, 2006

    He claims not to be a postmodernist, but also claims that teaching ID is great not because it’s true but because it’s useful for a variety of reasons.

    He seems to have Cornell professor (and “philosopher”) Allen McNeill and Panda’s Thumb contributor (and “philosopher”) Pim van Meurs on board with him, in that regard.

    http://degas.fdisk.net/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.cgi/2524

  44. #44 Great White Wonder
    September 5, 2006
  45. #45 jpj
    September 5, 2006

    I love this blog, really I do, but sometimes y’all make me crazy.

    Fuller is hardly a “deranged cultist” and philosophy is hardly “mental masturbatory bullshit.” You really think that? Then is should be ever so easy for you to publish some BS in a refereed philosophy journal. I dare ya.

    C’mon people, Fuller founded a respected academic journal (SOCIAL EPISTEMOLOGY) and is the author something like a dozen books, many published by the top-of-the-line academic presses like U of Chicago.

    I’m not writing the above paragraph as some sort of “Fuller is brilliant!” defense, but just as an explanation for why when y’all are trying to puzzle out why he is chair of a department and gets publilshed you should maybe read some of his published stuff for the answer instead of just a paragraph or two that PZ publishes here.

    He is NOT a postmodernist and has published some very sharp criticism of what goes by that name. What he is is facile and writes too quickly for his own good. I’ve met him a couple times and thought he was a speed freak–he talks even faster than he writes and sometimes he should just shut up and listen for a while. He especially should have shut up in Dover where his behavior was just idiotic.

    As for what appears here, I’ve read that second block quote a couple times and I’ll be damned how it is a promotion of Christianity. All Fuller is saying is that Christianity is unique in that it has both promoted science (consider the natural theology tradition that gave birth to Darwin) and attempted to smother it (the creationist nutjobs we have today). How is that a promotion of Jesus?

    Other religious traditions just haven’t had these problems. Good studies on the comparative reception of Darwin’s ideas have shown that it met no religious objections in non-Christian places like Japan. C’mon, do we really have a huge outcry from Buddists or Hindus to teaching Darwin?

  46. #46 Steve LaBonne
    September 5, 2006

    All Fuller is saying is that Christianity is unique in that it has both promoted science (consider the natural theology tradition that gave birth to Darwin) and attempted to smother it (the creationist nutjobs we have today).

    His (and your) history is as bad as his sociology and philosophy. You’ll find exactly the same duality in the histories of both Hinduism (and yes, right this very moment you can find Hindu fundy creationists fulminating on the web- do a little Googling) and Islam.

  47. #47 El Christador
    September 5, 2006

    something like New Scientist?

    Most people I know consider New Scientist to be basically a supermarket tabloid, anyway. Not a serious news source.

  48. #48 PZ Myers
    September 5, 2006

    For the record, I think philosophy is an important discipline (man, I feel it’s superfluous to even write that), and I agree that whatever Fuller is, it’s not neatly encompassed with the term “post-modernist,” which is why I call him a pseudo-post-modernist.

    I do think that Fuller is an incompetent idiot, though. I’ve read his testimony in the Dover case and his attempted defense thereof afterwards — he’s totally out of it, incoherent and confused, and he gets everything wrong. If it’s because his mouth races ahead of his mind, it doesn’t matter: he’s still saying some very stupid things. Get him some prozac and tell him to slow down.

    I don’t know if he’s a Christian, but he’s definitely preaching a kind of Christian exceptionalism…and again, it’s hopeless. He wants to say the religion is super special because it both promotes and opposes science, but I’ve seen a dearth of the former and a bounty of the latter, and it’s not as if other religions have any less mixed a record (Islam, for instance…now there’s a religion with an amazingly contradictory history of conflicting ideas about science!)

  49. #49 Coin
    September 5, 2006

    social Darwinism (which, if the ID crowd really opposed, how come they themselves tend to support … libertinism

    You mean libertarianism, right? I think maybe if they supported libertinism we wouldn’t have such a problem here 😛

    Fuller is hardly a “deranged cultist” and philosophy is hardly “mental masturbatory bullshit.” You really think that? Then is should be ever so easy for you to publish some BS in a refereed philosophy journal. I dare ya. C’mon people, Fuller founded a respected academic journal (SOCIAL EPISTEMOLOGY) and is the author something like a dozen books, many published by the top-of-the-line academic presses like U of Chicago.

    So in other words he’s being judged based on his actual words, rather than his academic qualifications.

    Goodness gracious.

  50. #50 jpj
    September 5, 2006

    The fact that a google search turns up Hindus and Muslims holding forth against Darwinism doesn’t mean a great deal. I can google someone saying pretty much anything. Have their organized religious institutions taken a stand against Darwin on religious grounds? I don’t think so, and I’ll bet they were fairly recent if they have. Fuller’s point is that religious objections to science, and Darwin in particular, have been distinctively Christian. Finding a few objections from other religious traditions obscures that basic point.

    I think, if you read things like GLick’s edited volume, THE COMPARATIVE RECEPTION OF DARWINISM and other studies that you won’t find sustained critiques of Darwinism from major religous leaders apart from Christians, and that didn’t really start in a serious way until the 1920s (getting a huge boost in the 1970s). And I wonder how many of these Hindu or Islamic critics are borrowing from Christian critics?

  51. #51 goddogtired
    September 5, 2006

    More outpourings of ignorance by usually intelligent people! How I LOVE post-modern philosophy, which allows me the chance to see my allies and friends resorting to characterizations that would make any YEC, if the subject was “Darwinism” or “evilution”, proud.
    The constant slimy mischaracterizations by the “scientific” on their fingerpainted representation of philosophy really allows me to regain my perspective, and regauge my respect for them when dealing with subjects they actually know something about.

  52. #52 jpj
    September 5, 2006

    C’mon coin, I explicitly wrote in my post that I WASN’T “judging him by his academic qualifications” alone. I wrote that he had written a great deal, that much of what he wrote is of high quality, and that he was capable of writing absolute crap as well.

    Just trying to get folks here to judge him by his body of work rather than by a few paragraphs or his Dover testimony. I agree with PZ that his testimony is “incoherent and confused.” I’ve seen him give academic presentation that were the same way. ANd then I’ve read his “Being There with Thomas Kuhn” which is one of the most important things written about Kuhn.

    As to whether or not Christianity is “special” or not, to what extent is Fuller talking only about the American context? Because it clearly is the “special” religion here.

  53. #53 Paul
    September 5, 2006

    Special means predominant now?

  54. #54 Coin
    September 5, 2006

    Just trying to get folks here to judge him by his body of work rather than by a few paragraphs or his Dover testimony.

    Why?

    As to whether or not Christianity is “special” or not, to what exent is Fuller talking only about the American context? Because it clearly is the “special” religion here.

    Certain political groups think it should be considered so. Some other people disagree.

  55. #55 Rex Max
    September 5, 2006

    This is why I read Scientific American, its better edited and the contributors actually know their science

  56. #56 Greco
    September 5, 2006

    The fact that a google search turns up Hindus and Muslims holding forth against Darwinism doesn’t mean a great deal. I can google someone saying pretty much anything. Have their organized religious institutions taken a stand against Darwin on religious grounds?

    It would be pretty hard to find anything about the stance of “organized religious institutions” of Hinduism or Islam, for the quite simple reason that there is no such thing, unless you count madrasahs and the various groups of Hindu nationalism – and guess what, they don’t like Darwin very much.

  57. #57 Great White Wonder
    September 5, 2006

    ANd then I’ve read his “Being There with Thomas Kuhn” which is one of the most important things written about Kuhn.

    LOL! Yeah, Kuhn was real “important.” To who?

    Philosophers.

    That’s it.

  58. #58 Scott Hatfield
    September 5, 2006

    It seems to me that the benefit of philosophy is not authoritative, but diagnostic. That is, I don’t go to philosophers of any stripe to evaluate scientific findings as such. Rather, I see the role of a philosopher as providing those of us who do science with a ‘tool kit’ which, properly applied, helps clarify the issues under discussion.

    Thus, I strongly resist (for example) the ad hominem argument which attempts to say, in effect, that Darwin ’caused’ the Holocaust not just because it is wrong-headed, but because it is non-scientific claim attempting to speak authoritatively about science itself. The very same tools which some deride in the hands of an uncritical ‘philosopher’ are of no small use in rejecting such a smear, and in pointing out the inconsistencies in Fuller’s argument. I might add that when I’ve found the same tools directed at me, it forces me to reevaluate the strength of my own arguments. Sauce for the goose, and all that.

    In that sense, Kuhn is important to scientists as well; not because his pronouncements on Galileo etc. are necessarily ‘authoritative’ (they aren’t) but because he provides a useful concept for evaluating the practice of science, including our own practice. The notion of a ‘paradigm shift’ is not the be-all and end-all of science sociologically (did Kuhn himself ever claim otherwise?), but it’s a nice thing to have in one’s mental tool kit.

    Scott

  59. #59 Great White Wonder
    September 5, 2006

    In that sense, Kuhn is important to scientists as well; not because his pronouncements on Galileo etc. are necessarily ‘authoritative’ (they aren’t) but because he provides a useful concept for evaluating the practice of science, including our own practice.

    *Yawn*. Except that Kuhn didn’t “provide” anything of the sort to scientists. He just provided a way for philosophers to yak about science.

    Scientists do things. Philosophers yak about people who do things. Philosophers are to scientists what film critics are to directors: utterly beside the point. That doesn’t mean their words aren’t sometimes interesting to read but the importance of philosophers to science can not be understated.

    The notion of a ‘paradigm shift’ is not the be-all and end-all of science sociologically (did Kuhn himself ever claim otherwise?), but it’s a nice thing to have in one’s mental tool kit.

    Sort of like a stick of gum is a nice thing to have in one’s backpack, if one is lost in the mountains and starving to death. Of course, if one has a working compass, then the gum is irrelevant.

  60. #60 A.Y.
    September 5, 2006

    Fuller being a former contributor to the Social Text (home of the 96′ Social Text affair) claims to not be post-modernist…

    Right. That’s completely believable.

  61. #61 Millimeter Wave
    September 5, 2006

    …philosophy is hardly “mental masturbatory bullshit.” You really think that? Then is should be ever so easy for you to publish some BS in a refereed philosophy journal. I dare ya.

    Perhaps this is just my own coloring, but I didn’t interpret the “mental masturbatory bullshit” description as implying that philosophy is easy, or even wrong. Rather, I interpreted it as describing the gripe that scientists frequently have about philosophy: that it is seen as almost entirely self-referential.

    Of course, that isn’t to say that the sentiment is valid, only that your response to it doesn’t really address the question. A better response would have been for you to list all of the instances where philosophy produces an output which is of value to anybody other than other philosophers.

    Personally, I don’t know of any, but I’m not a philosopher. Could somebody fill me in?

  62. #62 RavenT
    September 5, 2006

    A better response would have been for you to list all of the instances where philosophy produces an output which is of value to anybody other than other philosophers.

    Hmmm, this one is a maybe–there’s no doubt of the value, but of whether it is actually an output of philosophy.

    Symbolic modeling for the computer of biological objects relies on ontology, which is the specification of entities that exist, and the relationships among those entities. For example, Heart (human) has-part Left atrium of heart (human) (among others), where Heart (human) and Left atrium of heart (human) are entities, and has-part is a relationship. Principled modeling using ontologies is an important component underlying computer modeling of large quantities of biological data.

    The reason I am not sure it is from philosophy anymore is that “ontology” in knowledge representation is far enough away from what philosophers mean by “ontology” (or so I am informed by Mr. Raven) that I don’t know if it still counts as philosophy or not. Perhaps Keith has more insight on this question. But it is a possible answer to what you asked.

  63. #63 Steve LaBonne
    September 5, 2006

    Wittgenstein knew exactly what a philosopher is for- to clear up the confusion created by other philosophers. Who am I to disagree? 😉

  64. #64 Millimeter Wave
    September 5, 2006

    Thanks for the example, RavenT.

    Just from a quick search, though, I don’t think the use of the word “ontology” is connected with its menaing in philosophy. I think it’s just a case of an existing word being borrowed and repurposed.

    Like I said, I’m not entirely sure, but it looks like the actual system of relationships originates in computer science rather than philosophy.

  65. #65 miko
    September 5, 2006

    Philosophy of science is only useless to scientists because of their utter ignorance of it. I’m a scientist, and I find philosophy of science (and history of science) not only interesting but actively informative. A lot of biologists I know are incredibly clumsy thinkers about ontology and epistemology, concepts that should be at the core of scientific reasoning.

    You get absurd outcomes… look at how ridiculed Alain Prochiantz was for showing that homeodomain proteins could be secreted and signal between cells. People thought it couldn’t be true because, after all, these are “transcription factors” not “secreted signaling molecules”–as if these are inherent and exclusive properties and not just empirical categories we made up. These are smart scientist who make reasoning mistakes like this constantly. And it doesn’t just limit their own work. They are on grant and tenure committees, and their lack of any experience in reflecting on their own biases or the epistemological framework of science retards progress.

    Another example… how the modern synthesis excluded developmental biology in favor of an essentially 1-1 mapping of genotype to phenotype. Even if Carroll, Kirschner & Gerhart, and West-Eberhard sell like Crichton, King, and Rowling it will not rid us of the public misconception of what genes are and what they do after decades of “gene action” and “genes for x” talk… from biologists! The people who resisted this weakness in the modern synthesis were those who understood the potential dangers of epistemological shortcuts like this.

    In my opinion, anyone getting a higher degree in the natural sciences should have to be conversant with philosophy and history of science. It makes you think better.

  66. #66 Millimeter Wave
    September 5, 2006

    miko,
    I think I just about follow your examples, but I’m not a biologist, so they do seem arcane to me.

    In any case, I certainly agree with the importance you place on history of science. I’ve never personally been content to be simply be told that some scientific fact was true; I always want to know why it’s considered to be true, and what assumptions were in place when that conclusion was arrived at. That is to say, I always want to know the history behind everything we take to be true, who deduced it, when and why. Absent that, it isn’t possible to know when the assumptions have been broken and the conclusion should be considered to no longer hold. If I’m understanding correctly, that’s fairly close to what you’re getting at with your examples.

    Again, I don’t know if I’m following correctly, but what you refer to as epistemological philosophy sounds exactly like what I would call deductive reasoning coupled with an understanding of the assumptive foundations on which it is based.

    Perhaps it’s just my narrow outlook, but none of these things are those which I would have put into the bucket of philosophy. Perhaps that’s why I’m missing it. I’ve always called it “Math”… but that might have something to do with my high school math teacher being a very rigorous logician who yelled at people for the vaguest hint of sloppy reasoning.

  67. #67 Jonathan Badger
    September 5, 2006

    Ontology in computer science is pretty much derived not from metaphysics but still from philosophy — from philosophers like John Wilkins who (before moving to Australia and becoming a science blogger) was a 17th century Englishman who wrote An Essay Toward a Real Character — describing an early artificial language of the a priori type. Wilkins created a classification (or ontology) f all concepts he could think of in order that his language could describe them.

  68. #68 Gerard Harbison
    September 5, 2006

    I am not at all ignorant of the philosophy of science. I have to say that I find the best of it is a catalog of obvious truisms, and the worst is not only misguided but (if taken seriously) positively harmful if used as a guide or model as to how to do science.

  69. #69 Millimeter Wave
    September 6, 2006

    Jonathan,
    thanks for the context of the history of the term; I hadn’t heard that before.

    Maybe this is just me, but what I’m seeing is a question about exactly what we call “philosophy” and what we call “science”. Of course, science has its historic origins as philosophy: Isaac Newton called himself a philosopher, and came up with a pretty good formulation of “science” which he labelled “experimental philosophy” (subject, naturally, to the translation from the original Latin).

    Nonetheless, I’m not sure whether that matters: the question I have is what impact what we call “philosophy” today and what philosophers do today impacts science. I’m still not seeing that.

    Like I said, though, maybe that’s just my own definitional boundaries.

  70. #70 Andrew McClure
    September 6, 2006

    Ontology in computer science is pretty much derived not from metaphysics but still from philosophy — from philosophers like John Wilkins who (before moving to Australia and becoming a science blogger) was a 17th century Englishman who wrote An Essay Toward a Real Character — describing an early artificial language of the a priori type. Wilkins created a classification (or ontology) f all concepts he could think of in order that his language could describe them.

    Okay, but what is this? Is it philosophy? Is it formal logic? Is it mathematics? Is it linguistics? Is it primitive computer science?

    “Philosophy” is a pretty flexible word and it’s warped significantly with time. At the time Newton published, physics was considered “natural philosophy”. Is Wilkins’ study of ontologies really in the same class of things as what today we call “philosophy of science”?

    And they share a label, but are the “philosophy of science”-s practiced by Popper, Kuhn and Fuller all really the same thing?

  71. #71 jpj
    September 6, 2006

    Wow. Just wow. Some of the statements made here dismissing the entire field of philosophy of science just boggle me. I suspect that many commentators who think philosophy is “useless” or just “self-referential” have done little or no reading of the field. Way back in 1973, Stephen Brush wrote an article in SCIENCE that history and philosophy of science had become so “dangerous” to the sciences that he posited that the the history of science should be rated X. Clearly some readers of this blog agree and have averted their eyes ever since.

    On what basis could one possibly claim that the work of Thomas Kuhn has not been “important?” I don’t mean “authoritative” I simply mean “important.” To claim that he is not is to simply proclaim that you are ignorant and proud of it.

    As for philosophy’s “uselessness” let me offer a few examples of its use: 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.

    In the 1982 case in Arkansas on creationism, philosopher Michael Ruse offered the most effective testimony against creationism–the judge’s decision was clearly following the line of argument offered by Ruse.

    And I invite all those who continue to insist that Fuller is a postmodernist clarify what they mean. What is a postmodernist? What are the basic tenants of postmodernism? How does Fuller’s work fit the definition? Why does he insist he is not a postmodernist? Why does being on the editorial board of SOCIAL TEXT make one a postmodernist?

    “Postmodernism” has become the all-purpose boogieman that scientists invoke to label and dismiss any and all work in science studies that they don’t like. In fact, postmodernism has had very little influence in the professional philosophy of science and even less in the history of science. I would posit that those who keep invoking it here simply don’t know what they are talking about.

  72. #72 Millimeter Wave
    September 6, 2006

    jpj,
    appreciate the references to philosophers saying things that were important and impactful.

    That still doesn’t answer my question, though: what are the impactful things which philosophy as a discipline, as opposed to people who happened to be philosophers, has produced since the distinction was created between philosophy and science?

    I’m not going to respond to you calling me ignorant while I’m genuinely asking the question and awaiting a reply…

  73. #73 John Wilkins
    September 6, 2006

    A couple of observations. Fuller seems to be motivated by the notion, popular in continental philosophy, of an Episteme (which I pronounce with a long final “e”, being corrupted by studying Greek, but which is generally pronounced “e-pis-teem”). This is effectively the knowledge community of some group or tradition. What Fuller seems to do with this is suggest in Feyerabendian style that no episteme is privileged over any other, and so arguments from the authority of the episteme of science are fundamentally inegalitarian. Hence, he wants to play up the importance of competing epistemes, such as the religious ones, in order to bring science back down a notch or two.

    His basic error, for it is an error, is to think that what is a sociological fact (that there are competing epistemes) is a normative one (that each episteme should be given equal privilege in a modern society). It’s all, for him, a bout pwer relations. It’s also the Naturalistic Fallacy in action – as Moore observed, no statement of a factual case gives any indication of what is morally right.

    Science is privileged because it works much better than any other episteme, past or present. Fuller will deny this, of course, but only at the cost of rejecting the usual standards of success. For him, if homeopathy fails to work on the standards by which science is judged to have succeeded, then these standards must be adjudged to be part of the “science episteme” the way Kuhn argued that paradigms bring with them their standards of success. So, like paradigms, epistemes are incommensurable, and you can’t say science actually does do better than the religious or homeopathic episteme. I think that’s just false.

    Second, my namesake, with whom I am in considerable disagreement, is part of the tradition of the Topoi, or Categories, of Aristotle. His ontology is based on the notion that there are only a set number (Ari had 10, but I don’t know what the first JW had – I’ve got a copy of his Real Character about somewhere, but I can’t be arsed looking it up) of basic categories in the universe, that set up something like the Tractarian “logical space” in which everything that is real is situated. So in Wilkins-1’s system, to give the name is to uniquely identify what logical possibilities the named thing instantiates. You can see why this would be of interest to the Ontology Projectarians, who are basically trying to set up general database categories for specific fields. In my view, they are resurrecting Aristotelian logic for fields that are not very Aristotelian.

  74. #74 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”.

  75. #75 RavenT
    September 6, 2006

    You can see why this would be of interest to the Ontology Projectarians, who are basically trying to set up general database categories for specific fields. In my view, they are resurrecting Aristotelian logic for fields that are not very Aristotelian.

    Yes, that is a good description of what we are doing. Certainly, Aristotelian logic is insufficient to describe all of comparative anatomical knowledge, but it is a good start in organizing and managing the quantities of data that underlie that knowledge.

    My mentor, the anatomist Cornelius Rosse, is fond of observing that “formalization improves conceptualization”, and we found that borne out on the bear vaginal cytology project I’m assisting on. The existing literature on carnivore vaginal cell types is confusing and contains contradictions. By defining our cell types for the bears in this study in terms of Aristotelian generae and differentiae, we were able to classify cells quickly and reliably, and considerably improve our inter-reader reliability, compared to when we were trying to make our readings conform to the inconsistent criteria in the literature. Those definitions translated into our data management design as well.

    So while I agree with you that Aristotelian logic is insufficient for completely representing biological knowledge, it’s also very valuable as a tool for organizing the associated data. The trick is to not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself.

  76. #76 RavenT
    September 6, 2006

    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.

    Yes, that’s crucial–garbage in, garbage out, as they say. If the model doesn’t fit the biological facts, the model is crap, as well as a waste of everyone’s time.

    That’s actually a vital part of what CR (Rosse) has always meant by “formalization improves conceptualization”–the improvement is measured by how much better it matches the biological facts than the previous conceptualization did (or didn’t).

  77. #77 miko
    September 6, 2006

    millimeter wave: “Perhaps it’s just my narrow outlook, but none of these things are those which I would have put into the bucket of philosophy.”

    Point taken, you don’t have to be a card carrying philosopher to make these arguments, but correctives often come from the other side of campus. To be anecdotal yet again, biologists have a wacky ongoing love affair with “scale free networks”– a neat feature of a lot of systems but basically a non-starter as an organizing concept. For some reason, it takes someone like Evelyn Fox Keller (originally trained as a scientist but in history and philosophy of science now) to point out the relative weak thinking and premises that often back up trendy ideas like this (and how a little history and exposure to other disciplines can cure them).

    Scientists HATE to feel like they are subject to the same silly fads and group dynamics of, say, the British music press, but they are. That’s why Bruno Latour’s “Laboratory Life” is such a fun read (and the best part is you can tell by their reaction to it exactly which scientists take themselves a little too seriously).

    Anyway, my main point is that science education is devoid of training in traditional disciplines that teach you to detect logical fallacies and analyze assumptions in arguments, or the vocabulary to discuss these issues (philosophy, rhetoric, etc). It’s not important, I suppose, if it’s “philosophy” or not. Science in practice focuses almost exclusively on technical quality (and desperately, doggedly following the trends of the moment–Kuhn had a few things right), and there is little discourse on the ideas themselves.

    OK, last anecdote. Next time you see a seminar from someone working in a cell culture system, ask them why they work with that particular cell line. I’ve never met a grad student who has asked him/herself this question, or could answer it adequately when asked by someone else (unless the answer is “we tried a bunch of cell lines and this one gave us the answer we were looking for”). Science education and the resulting critical thinking abilities of most scientists are exceedingly narrow, even if deep.

  78. #78 Great White Wonder
    September 6, 2006

    Philosophy of science is only useless to scientists because of their utter ignorance of it.

    This is too funny. Is your claim that science quality would improve if scientists were required to study the works of St. Kuhn??? That sounds a lot like Fuller’s baloney.

    Someone else spoke:

    And I invite all those who continue to insist that Fuller is a postmodernist clarify what they mean. What is a postmodernist? What are the basic tenants of postmodernism?

    I could care less whether Fuller is a postmodernist or neo-postmodernist or pre-neo-postmodernist. The bottom line is that he is a habitually dissembling dipshit, and saying that he is merely “inarticulate” is far too charitable.

    Philosophy is dead, postmodernism is the last audible fart, and “intelligent design” is just one of the many poisonous mushrooms sprouting from the corpse. I say: zip the bag up and dump it into the Antarctic Ocean.

  79. #79 Great White Wonder
    September 6, 2006

    Science education and the resulting critical thinking abilities of most scientists are exceedingly narrow, even if deep.

    The critical thinking abilities of most scientists are exceedingly narrow, sayeth the philosopher. “Most people aren’t aware of how infested their houses are,” said the bug exterminator.

    I ain’t buying.

    For some reason, it takes someone like Evelyn Fox Keller (originally trained as a scientist but in history and philosophy of science now) to point out the relative weak thinking and premises that often back up trendy ideas like this (and how a little history and exposure to other disciplines can cure them).

    Even this were true (and I have no reason to believe that Evelyn Fox Keller was the first or only person to point anything out to “biologists”), it ignores the fact that these very same scientists who are so allegedly poorly trained in the “rules of logic” and other allegedly philosophical subjects happen to point out errors in reasoning to each other all the freaking time. Every day. In labs across the United States.

    If you observe some grad student making a lame argument to explain some data and nobody pipes up to characterize the argument as some sort of “logical fallacy” it is less likely a problem of a “logically clueless” audience and more likely that nobody gives enough of a shit about the work in general to raise their hand and embarass the speaker.

  80. #80 truth machine
    September 6, 2006

    Ontology in computer science is pretty much derived not from metaphysics but still from philosophy — from philosophers like John Wilkins

    This is somewhat like saying that modern physics is derived from Democritus. That Wilkins did something that can described by a term from computer science does not mean that the term or the practice it describes was “derived” from Wilkins.

    If you want a philosopher from whom computer science concepts were derived, try Frege.

  81. #81 truth machine
    September 6, 2006

    “Christianity isn’t resistant to science, but some christians sure are”

    One true scotsman rides again. Of course it’s resistant to science and reason.

    I’m not one to defend Christianity, but that is not a true scotsman fallacy or any other kind of fallacy, any more than “biology isn’t racist, but some biologists sure are”.

    An example of true scotsman fallacy is “the Pope isn’t a true Christian because he accepts evolution”.

  82. #82 Millimeter Wave
    September 6, 2006

    …but correctives often come from the other side of campus.

    Well, I don’t have a campus. I guess I should come clean here; I haven’t mentioned before (I think) what I do, because it didn’t seem relevant before. Maybe I should clarify.

    I’m not a scientist, I’m an engineer. My field is wireless communication protocols. This probably has some bearing on my outlook on this discussion.

    What I deal with is the problem of multiple intercommunicating systems exchanging messages over an unreliable communication channel. Each system has an internal state which changes on receipt of messages, and affects its behavior in terms of which messages it might send in response. Without going into too much detail, I hope its reasonably obvious that you’re dealing with systems which try to deduce the state, or, I guess you could say, “knowledge” held by the multiple other systems in the face of incomplete information, and that rapidly spirals into a horribly difficult problem.

    I don’t know much about epistemological philosophy, not having been trained in that discipline (my understanding being limited to some brief Internet trawls), but so far, all I have found are some thought experiments, held up as shining examples of this thinking, which strike me as, frankly, laughably trivial (two guys each with ten coins in their pocket not knowing what the other has, somebody looking at facades of barns and concluding that there are barns there).

    I’m fully prepared to conclude that my lack of being impressed is a function of my not knowing enough such philosophy; but could somebody please tell me where I should look?

  83. #83 truth machine
    September 6, 2006

    A better response would have been for you to list all of the instances where philosophy produces an output which is of value to anybody other than other philosophers.

    Do you have any idea that the U.S. is founded on Enlightenment principles? Ever hear of Locke, Bentham, Mill, Burke, Hume, Smith, Rousseau, Voltaire, Wollstonecraft, Jefferson? The contribution of philosophers to politics, law, ethics, literature, art, music, mathematics, and yes, even science is quite considerable. You might want to peruse

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_philosophers

    even you might recognize some of these folks.

  84. #84 truth machine
    September 6, 2006

    Perhaps it’s just my narrow outlook, but none of these things are those which I would have put into the bucket of philosophy. Perhaps that’s why I’m missing it. I’ve always called it “Math”…

    If by “narrow outlook” you mean lack of education. Ontology and epistemology are not “math”.

  85. #85 truth machine
    September 6, 2006

    As for philosophy’s “uselessness” let me offer a few examples of its use: Philip Kitcher …

    Surely you can do better than that. How about, say, John Locke? Or John Dewey? Or William of Ockham?

  86. #86 f.mem
    September 6, 2006

    NOMA! NOMA NOMA NOMA! That’s all.

  87. #87 Millimeter Wave
    September 6, 2006

    truth machine,
    thanks for again supplying a list of names of important philosophers, but that wasn’t what I was asking for.

    What I’m looking for is some examples of important things they have deduced. Surely, as an expert in philosophy, you understand the difference?

    I’m not implying that such things don’t exist – I’m simply asking for examples to be supplied.

    And again, I’m not going to respond to being told that I’m ignorant (or as you put it, “uneducated”) when I’m genuinely asking the question and you’re still not telling me.

  88. #88 miko
    September 6, 2006

    The critical thinking abilities of most scientists are exceedingly narrow, sayeth the philosopher.

    No, sayeth the biologist.

    Is your claim that science quality would improve if scientists were required to study the works of St. Kuhn???

    No, it would improve if they learned to discuss ideas rather than just data and technical merit. And if they were taught the history of their discipline so they know why things are done a certain way (or why it shouldn’t be). Of course there are those who can, and do, it’s just that they didn’t learn to in science class, where they should have.

    Even this were true (and I have no reason to believe that Evelyn Fox Keller was the first or only person to point anything out to “biologists”)

    Whatever. Biologists have been having a wank party over scale free networks in Nature and Science, etc, It assuages their math envy and makes them think they’re doing “systems biology.” Keller pointed out the silliness. I’m sure she’s not the only one with that opinion, but she put it in print. My point is that the formal discourse of science does not include many forums for this kind of discussion.

    these very same scientists who are so allegedly poorly trained in the “rules of logic” and other allegedly philosophical subjects happen to point out errors in reasoning to each other all the freaking time

    Yes, they do. They just are often very bad at it when it is outside a very narrow technical context.

    In labs across the United States.
    And maybe even in inferior countries.

    it is less likely a problem of a “logically clueless” audience and more likely that nobody gives enough of a shit about the work in general to raise their hand and embarass the speaker.

    No, the problem is that entire fields of cell biology have working assumptions that have not been revisited for years, like the use of particular bizarre and arbitrary cell lines that happen to like living in petri dishes. Students have no knowledge of this history or the assumptions entailed because it is not taught to them. Most biologists never think about it.

  89. #89 miko
    September 6, 2006

    millimeter wave: What I deal with is the problem of multiple intercommunicating systems exchanging messages over an unreliable communication channel

    We need you working on cell signaling. Here it is 2006 and you open the Journal of Biological Chemistry and people are still drawing linear one-way diagrams of signaling cascades. As if.

    I don’t know if any modern philosophers have made any significant contributions to science (maybe ask over at the Philosophy of Science scienceblog), my sense is that good philosophy mainly bolsters and gives (unasked for) credibility to methodological naturalism (Quine, Dennett). However, systems neuroscience and consciousness studies is getting into questions that philosophy has always been pre-occupied with, and I would be surprised to find any scientist in the forefront of consciousness research whose thinking wasn’t steeped in various philosophical positions on the subject. I’ve only met a few, but they all talk about the philosophical literature on mind/brain etc.

    My personal feeling is that learning to think like a philosopher will make you a better scientist. Even at the superficial and facile level of analyzing assumptions or recognizing logical fallacies. We’d all like to think Francis Collins is some weirdo who managed to fake his way through being a scientist, or that he woke up one morning and was suddenly a crackpot. But ask a psychologist how context-dependent our reasoning skills are, it’s frightening. And the reasoning skills of many biologists fail them demonstrably just outside the boundary of their own technical expertise. I mean, as in the example I cited earlier, biologists have fought tooth and nail that some molecule can’t possible do X, because it happens to be named “molecule that does Y.” I’m not some science-hater… I’m a working scientist who gets depressed from seeing this shit all the time.

    I think philosophy is a good way out of this context-dependence and to recognize the abstract features of logic and arguments. I don’t think you have to be a philosopher or have taken a philosophy course to be able to do this, or that this is a special skill of philosophers. I just think courses or taking some time to read some good philosophy and history of science is the best and most accessible way for science students to acquire these skills.

  90. #90 guthrie
    September 6, 2006

    [i]Students have no knowledge of this history or the assumptions entailed because it is not taught to them. Most biologists never think about it.
    [/i]
    So we’re back to “state your assumptions”. Which is one of the things that should be dinned into science students at school, and encouraged all the way through university. Whereas in most cases it is not.

  91. #91 truth machine
    September 6, 2006

    What I’m looking for is some examples of important things they have deduced. Surely, as an expert in philosophy, you understand the difference?

    You asked for important outputs, and I gave you an example: our form of government. I’m not going to do all your work for you; go investigate if you really want to know. I gave you plenty of info to start from.

    And again, I’m not going to respond to being told that I’m ignorant (or as you put it, “uneducated”) when I’m genuinely asking the question and you’re still not telling me.

    Boo hoo hoo. Are you playing some stupid ass game of manipulating someone into telling you something, or do you really want to know things? I don’t give a flying fig what you will respond to; it’s a fact that you’re ignorant and uneducated on this subject, and it’s up to you whether you want to change that.

  92. #92 Jonathan Badger
    September 6, 2006

    This is somewhat like saying that modern physics is derived from Democritus. That Wilkins did something that can described by a term from computer science does not mean that the term or the practice it describes was “derived” from Wilkins.

    Well…that’s not really analogous. Democritius’ atoms have almost nothing to do with the modern concept of atoms other than being the source of their name — but Wilkins’ ontology is so close to the modern concept that it can even be expressed with KIF, as modern ontologies are. Additionally, I think you can trace a line of thought from Wilkins-1 to Dewey and the other library classifiers to things like the Gene Ontology — it isn’t just coincidence that they all use similar concepts.

  93. #93 blog responder
    September 6, 2006

    Millimeter Wave wrote:
    “Again, I don’t know if I’m following correctly, but what you refer to as epistemological philosophy sounds exactly like what I would call deductive reasoning coupled with an understanding of the assumptive foundations on which it is based.
    Perhaps it’s just my narrow outlook, but none of these things are those which I would have put into the bucket of philosophy. Perhaps that’s why I’m missing it. I’ve always called it “Math”… but that might have something to do with my high school math teacher being a very rigorous logician who yelled at people for the vaguest hint of sloppy reasoning.”

    Deductive reasoning (rigorous logic) was invented by a philosopher, namely, Aristotle. [Some might argue that he also wore a ‘natural scientist’ hat (even though that’s to use a category which can’t really be applied to the pre-Socratics in any strong sense), but deductive logic was not, and still is not, natural science (Aristotle himself would not see logic as the work of “physikoi,” or ‘natural scientists’).] The more formalized medieval logic was essentially just a systematization of Aristotle’s logic. Even though modern formal logic has gone far beyond Aristotle, the basic moves one makes in his logic still apply, and, generally speaking, are the very ones you would be using yourself, including all the fallacies (“sloppy reasoning”) you’d recognize because of an inheritance from him.

    Posted by:

  94. #94 blog responder
    September 6, 2006

    Whoops! Got ahead of myself! I wrote: “Some might argue that he also wore a ‘natural scientist’ hat (even though that’s to use a category which can’t really be applied to the pre-Socratics in any strong sense” — but Aristotle came after Socrates, and so in not a pre-Socratic. Whether or not Aristotle was a ‘natural scientist’ in our modern sense is debatable–but even if he was one, it wasn’t as a natural scientist (theorist of physis or ‘nature’) that he invented deductive logic.

  95. #95 Unsympathetic reader
    September 6, 2006

    miko writes: Next time you see a seminar from someone working in a cell culture system, ask them why they work with that particular cell line. I’ve never met a grad student who has asked him/herself this question, or could answer it adequately when asked by someone else (unless the answer is “we tried a bunch of cell lines and this one gave us the answer we were looking for”).

    I’m annoyed that knowledge of the detailed history of biological research seems to go back only as far as *online* copies of papers go. In bacteriology, a lot of the interesting papers describing the origin of strains aren’t online.

    in a later post: My personal feeling is that learning to think like a philosopher will make you a better scientist.

    I don’t know about that. Learning to think like a *proper* scientific philosopher, perhaps. At least in the fields of ethics and religion I’ve tended to find that philosophers seem to end up demonstrating whatever it was that they intended to prove in the first place. In my mind, a good sense of history would probably work better. But that is a lot more work and really takes time. I don’t expect undergrads or even grad students to have mastered a lot of the oral history behind their research area. They should recognize that there is a vast background behind their work but I’d expect that could take years to fully comprehend.

  96. #96 blog responder
    September 6, 2006

    Dear Unsympathetic reader (“In my mind, a good sense of history would probably work better”) — it’s often philosphers of science who are doing that research as part of their work.

  97. #97 Millimeter Wave
    September 6, 2006

    I’m not going to do all your work for you; go investigate if you really want to know. I gave you plenty of info to start from.

    Ah, I see.

  98. #98 Richard
    September 6, 2006

    Th rdcl tht PZ hs drctd t Cllns s cntmptbl.

    Cllns s mny tms th scntsts PZ s nd hs ccmpshd mny tms s mch.

    thnk PZ s s gttd bcs h rlzs ths.

  99. #99 Steve_C
    September 6, 2006

    What about Fuller? He ridiculed him here too.

    Collins may be a scientist but he’s certainly no philosopher.

  100. #100 Coin
    September 6, 2006

    Smbd pls hlp m kbrd s fll f crmbs

  101. #101 Steve_C
    September 6, 2006

    If you didn’t overcook the roasted baby there wouldn’t be crumbs in your keyboard.

  102. #102 Keith Douglas
    September 6, 2006

    RavenT: Actually, it isn’t that far away from one philosopher. I haven’t followed knowledge representation in too much detail, but I see enough citations of the “Bunge-Wand-Weber” approach or the like to recognize my old teacher’s name. Bunge’s ontology (or metaphysics – he basically uses the term interchangably) is not the sort of fuzzyheaded claptrap found in foggy German or the like. It is found in vol. 3 of his Treatise on Basic Philosophy and is interestingly exact, having been crafted in mathematical language. The use of this in knowledge representation then got started in the volume Studies on Mario Bunge’s Treatise where either Wand or Weber (I forget which) wrote an article on the subject. Bunge’s reputation is much higher amongst scientists and technologists than philosophers, so this use of the Treatise isn’t incomprehensible.

    I might add that Bunge is not the only one to do exact metaphysics even within philosophy departments. Zalta, I think it is, at Stanford, is another fairly big name. Simons book Parts is also pretty good, as is the work of Varzi (who has a book on holes, of all “things”, and a few others. (I’m horrible with names and could produce more examples if I thought harder …)

    jpj: I agree that pomo has not affected professional philosophy of science very much except at the fringes. Why do I label Fuller one? For lack of a better word for someone with contempt for evidence and truth. (If you want evidence for that claim, I essentially agree with the critical comments made against him in many places. See, for example, what John Wilkins has said already.)

  103. #103 truth machine
    September 6, 2006

    That’s the only thing that matters in re whether it was “derived”, and so you would need to actually produce evidence of such a trace in order to justify the claim.

    it isn’t just coincidence that they all use similar concepts

    When people perform similar actions, similar concepts apply; that doesn’t mean that one derived from the other.

  104. #104 JacksonDupont
    September 9, 2006

    Philosophy is bullshit.

    EOF

  105. #105 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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