Pharyngula

More Fuller

Some people, after seeing the recent Dover documentary (now available online), have been wondering who the heck this Steve Fuller wanker is, and why he’s defending Intelligent Design. Here’s a philosopher to explain Fuller to you. You’ll wish you hadn’t asked.

Comments

  1. #1 Sastra
    November 17, 2007

    Ten years ago, Taner Edis wrote a prescient essay titled “Relativist Apologetics: The Future of Creationism?” It’s online at
    http://www2.truman.edu/~edis/writings/articles/relativism.html

    In it, he points out that in universities some extreme versions of cultural relativism have been applied to the scientific process — science as “only one way of knowing” specific to a culture and enforced by power, blah, blah, blah. It’s considered intellectually sophisticated and respectable in some circles (and it looks like Fuller is coming from this angle).

    Then he points out that “Protestant theology is already full of presuppositional apologetics and leaps of faith between worldviews—much like paradigms.” He then predicts a marriage, based on convenience. The Creationists get a veneer of sophistication, and the Pomos get another marginalized group of victims.

    If you think about it, it’s not just Calvinist presupp arguments which talk about incommensurate world views. Remember that opening video for the Creationist museum which so disgusted John Scalzi. The avuncular paleontologist informed folks that hey, the scientist with the Biblical world view and the scientist without it will of course look at the same bones and come to different conclusions, because of where they start out. You’re not supposed to even try to ignore biasing assumptions — you embrace them. They’re your respectable starting point. Everyone’s got a starting point.

    At any rate, Edis’ essay is worth a read.

  2. #2 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 17, 2007

    Group solipsism!?! You made me curious! I’ll read it! (Philosoraptor being well known from the Dinosaur Mailing List and all.)

    Like it or not, knowledge is socially constructed. It may be based on actual facts, but the facts that get accepted in any science are the ones that the gatekeepers in science are willing to recognize as fact.

    You forget one thing: Science is not about truth, it’s about reality — and reality is that in which argumenta ad lapidem work. That’s right: the argumentum ad lapidem is not a logical fallacy in science, even though it is in philosophy.

    This makes it very easy to determine what is and is not a fact. That is the gatekeeper.

    History of science is replete with theories and explanations that were rejected when first proposed and only later recognized as valid.

    Yes, and?

    “Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.”
    — Thomas Henry Huxley

    The point is that a less complete dataset can lead to a different abyss than a more complete one. As our datasets grow, so change our hypotheses.

    rejecting his arguments out of hand because he’s not a scientist

    You have it backwards: “scientist” is defined as “someone who does science”, not the other way around.

    I think comment 18 is spot-on.

    Incidentally, I had two hours per week of philosophy in the last year of the non-equivalent of highschool.

  3. #3 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 17, 2007

    Group solipsism!?! You made me curious! I’ll read it! (Philosoraptor being well known from the Dinosaur Mailing List and all.)

    Like it or not, knowledge is socially constructed. It may be based on actual facts, but the facts that get accepted in any science are the ones that the gatekeepers in science are willing to recognize as fact.

    You forget one thing: Science is not about truth, it’s about reality — and reality is that in which argumenta ad lapidem work. That’s right: the argumentum ad lapidem is not a logical fallacy in science, even though it is in philosophy.

    This makes it very easy to determine what is and is not a fact. That is the gatekeeper.

    History of science is replete with theories and explanations that were rejected when first proposed and only later recognized as valid.

    Yes, and?

    “Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.”
    — Thomas Henry Huxley

    The point is that a less complete dataset can lead to a different abyss than a more complete one. As our datasets grow, so change our hypotheses.

    rejecting his arguments out of hand because he’s not a scientist

    You have it backwards: “scientist” is defined as “someone who does science”, not the other way around.

    I think comment 18 is spot-on.

    Incidentally, I had two hours per week of philosophy in the last year of the non-equivalent of highschool.

  4. #4 darwinfinch
    November 17, 2007

    There is an objective reality only to the degree that we can recognize it, and there are obvious physical AND social limits on that recognition. Scientists or, and the older term is the better one here, natural philosophers are able to uncover larger amounts of reality through their work, but it still takes genrations for all but a very few, even of scientists, to absorb it as members of the culture in which they live.

    I’ll give what is perhaps a too-simple example for the flaming anti-pomo tribes that inhabit the science blogs (and there is plenty to despise about post-modernism – Fuller is a classic example of everything I find disgusting in it, and in philosophy in general [but there are plenty of shitty people who are scientists as well, pray not forget – remember Watson?]): in English and other languages we still say “the Sun rises…” although we “know” it does no such thing. Since the fact does not cause us any trouble, the language AND the thought behind it are taken as true, unless pressed. We still live, in our daily culture, on a flat earth: it becomes a sphere only when we are put into a situation that demands recognizing the fact.
    Dawkins suggested somewhere that poetry, etc. will (or should), if placed in a society that teaches science properly, begin to move away from the imagery of religion and mysticism and toward the celebration of our current scientific reality, and without losing any of its power. That is an idea I believe he is absolutely correct in predicting.

    Less stupid hate for philosophy, please, however stupid the philosopher, or pseudo-philo, may be. I find a few of the comments here silly at times: unreasonable middle-class American truisms turned into universal truths.
    Reality is, like, kompulcated.

  5. #5 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 17, 2007

    There is an objective reality only to the degree that we can recognize it, and there are obvious physical AND social limits on that recognition.

    Those parts we can consistently recognize — repeatability, falsifiability — are, by definition, objective reality. That’s the distinction I like to make between truth and reality; science is not about truth, it’s about reality; in science, unlike in philosophy, the argumentum ad lapidem is not a logical fallacy.

    Note that my silent assumption that there is anything we can consistently recognize is itself a falsifiable hypothesis.

    Scientists or, and the older term is the better one here, natural philosophers

    No, it is never better. Philosophers don’t do experiments.

    Dawkins suggested somewhere

    In his book Unweaving the Rainbow.

    First, I have no idea why some of you are blaming philosophy for this. The guy is a sociologist, not a philosopher.

    Sociology is the science that investigates society, isn’t it? Pomo isn’t science. It does seem to be philosophy — bad philosophy, but still.

  6. #6 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 17, 2007

    There is an objective reality only to the degree that we can recognize it, and there are obvious physical AND social limits on that recognition.

    Those parts we can consistently recognize — repeatability, falsifiability — are, by definition, objective reality. That’s the distinction I like to make between truth and reality; science is not about truth, it’s about reality; in science, unlike in philosophy, the argumentum ad lapidem is not a logical fallacy.

    Note that my silent assumption that there is anything we can consistently recognize is itself a falsifiable hypothesis.

    Scientists or, and the older term is the better one here, natural philosophers

    No, it is never better. Philosophers don’t do experiments.

    Dawkins suggested somewhere

    In his book Unweaving the Rainbow.

    First, I have no idea why some of you are blaming philosophy for this. The guy is a sociologist, not a philosopher.

    Sociology is the science that investigates society, isn’t it? Pomo isn’t science. It does seem to be philosophy — bad philosophy, but still.

  7. #7 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 17, 2007

    Sorry, but the guy is trained as a sociologist, holds himself out as being a sociologist, and is employed as a sociologist.

    Yes, I would say that all this is irrelevant. “Sociologist” is defined as “someone who does sociology”, not the other way around, right?

    (“True Scotsman” does not have a definition. That’s the difference.)

    He does things that sociologists commonly do. He espouses a theory that is popular among sociologists.

    Then sociology is not a science, and its name is misleading like that of astrology is.

    I want to be wrong about this point…

  8. #8 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 17, 2007

    Sorry, but the guy is trained as a sociologist, holds himself out as being a sociologist, and is employed as a sociologist.

    Yes, I would say that all this is irrelevant. “Sociologist” is defined as “someone who does sociology”, not the other way around, right?

    (“True Scotsman” does not have a definition. That’s the difference.)

    He does things that sociologists commonly do. He espouses a theory that is popular among sociologists.

    Then sociology is not a science, and its name is misleading like that of astrology is.

    I want to be wrong about this point…

  9. #9 molecanthro
    November 18, 2007

    it seems that Fuller has completely overlooked a large part of the history of biology in his statement that scientists thought the genetic material was supernatural…and, thus, supernaturalism lead to “fruitful results.”
    even in my undergraduate molecular genetics course years ago we learned that scientists didn’t initially know what the genetic material was but they were trying to figure out what it could be (ie. protein, dna, etc). just look up Griffith’s experiment, Avery, McLeod and McCarty’s experiment and the Hershey-Chase experiment. You didn’t see them and the research they built their experiments on chasing unicorns!

    And this idea of knowledge being a social construct? Wow. Yes, the way we know the world is a social construct…however, the way the world actually works is not. And using objective methods to describe this world is the best way to know it.
    I agree that other societies should be able to hold their own beliefs about why the sun rises or that animals are the spirits of their ancestors or whatever (and I also agree that fields like ethnobotany are very useful for modern science). However, that doesn’t make them right…and it doesn’t make their ideas about the world equal to scientific theories. The extreme cultural relativism found in much postmodernist thought needs to go away. It only limits social sciences. I though that it was being shown the door years ago!

    On another note, Fuller appears in the Dawkins’ ‘Enemies of Reason’ and sounds like a complete wanker there as well.

  10. #10 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 18, 2007

    David M has now determined what is science and what is not by looking at a dictionary (many, many factors less ridiculous than a bible, I must admit), so he wins!

    No. Azkyroth, not me, posted the dictionary entry. A few days ago I posted “Never, I repeat, never look up a technical term in a general dictionary”…

    I think it is more accurate to say that “sociology” is whatever those people who can get away with calling themselves “sociologists” actually do.

    In that case, sociology is not a science.

  11. #11 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 18, 2007

    David M has now determined what is science and what is not by looking at a dictionary (many, many factors less ridiculous than a bible, I must admit), so he wins!

    No. Azkyroth, not me, posted the dictionary entry. A few days ago I posted “Never, I repeat, never look up a technical term in a general dictionary”…

    I think it is more accurate to say that “sociology” is whatever those people who can get away with calling themselves “sociologists” actually do.

    In that case, sociology is not a science.

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