Stranger Fruit

On Steve Fuller

Over at Crooked Timber they are discussing a review of Steve Fuller’s latest expectoration Dissent Over Descent: Intelligent Design’s Challenge to Darwinism. As the review notes:

The book is an epoch-hopping parade of straw men, incompetent reasoning and outright gibberish, as when evolution is argued to share with astrology a commitment to "action at a distance", except that the distance is in time rather than space. It’s intellectual quackery like this that gives philosophy of science a bad name.

As part of the exchange over at CT, Jeff Rubard claims that “Steve Fuller knows a hell of a lot more about science than you” to which Steve LaBonne rightly points out:

[Fuller] knows nothing about anything except how to parlay being a pompous ass into a minor academic career and a certain amount of notoriety.

I am not, by the way, by any means a reflexive opponent of STS or whatever they’re calling ti [sic] these days. But people like Fuller give that discipline a bad name and many of its practitioners would be happy to tell you so themselves.

Exactly. Fuller encapsulates everything that is wrong and solipsistic about STS. And I say this as someone who is affiliated with the nearest thing ASU has to an STS program.


  1. #1 Bob O'H
    July 23, 2008

    Just out of curiosity, what proportion of STSers are embarrassed by Fuller? I’ve met a few who seem sane and sensible, so I’m sure some are.

  2. #2 RBH
    July 23, 2008

    In comment #40 in that thread Jeff Rubard wrote

    I am presenting tests of whether people are capable of recognizing historical (biographical, scientific) fact. If you don’t have an idea of what would generally motivate someone to be like Steve Fuller, or what generally motivated scientists before they discovered they made their own reality, no amount of cliche informal logic is going to help you, or help other people deal with your “awesomeness”.

    (Italics added)

    Can you, as someone who, as you say, is “affiliated with with the nearest thing ASU has to an STS program,” tell me what the hell the italicized phrase in that quotation means? I’d appreciate it, writing as an old guy whose philosophy of science came mostly from classes with Herbert Feigl and May Brodbeck and who hasn’t paid a whole lot of attention to it since.

  3. #3 Brian Morton
    July 23, 2008

    I’ve been following these so-called discussions of Fuller’s new book across the various cross-feeding threads with morbid fascination. No one seems to have read the book itself. Not even the original reviewer, a videogames expert who appears to have made up half the review out of boilerplate about ID. Yet, all you ‘evidence-based’ guys just pile in, presuming the worst. I now see how urban legends start to form. And here I thought it was limited to the ignorant God-fearing superstitious.

  4. #4 Jeff Rubard
    July 23, 2008

    Cool, I made an assertion; I’ll use my newfound powers to explain what I was saying. The comment about “making your own reality” was a dig at solipsistic nutballs — and you know who they are (although I personally count those who want the best of Science and Jesus) — controlling the discourse about science. Steve Fuller doesn’t strike me as especially awesome, but he is preferable to that.

  5. #5 michael fugate
    July 23, 2008

    After rereading Fuller’s Dover testimony, I was struck by his view of what “intelligent design” is – not arguing from nature to God, but from God to nature. His idea of a research program is simply to “think like God” – put yourself in God’s shoes (does God have feet?)- asking how would God make an animal? He claims this is what Newton did with physics and was the secret to his success as a scientist.

  6. #6 Steve Fuller
    July 23, 2008

    I don’t plan to get involved in the discussion, which doesn’t seem to require my presence to amuse the contributors. Still, you might be interested in a review of ‘Dissent over Descent’ by someone who has read and understood the book:

  7. #7 John Lynch
    July 23, 2008

    Hardly a rave review, now is it?

  8. #8 Steve Fuller
    July 23, 2008

    Whatever, sunshine, whatever…

  9. #9 Steve Fuller
    July 23, 2008

    Whatever, sunshine, whatever…

  10. #10 shonny
    July 23, 2008

    Ah, Fuller is aiming at a Templeton (aka “whoring for god and getting lots of money”)?

    The subtitle of the book gives it away, as far as I can see, Intelligent Design’s Challenge to Darwinism.
    An absolute non-starter!

  11. #11 Jeff Rubard
    July 23, 2008

    I don’t plan to get involved in the discussion, which doesn’t seem to require my presence to amuse the contributors.

    I don’t know, tastes like freedom to me.

  12. #12 SLC
    July 24, 2008

    Considering the fact that Mr. Fuller made a complete ass of himself during his Dover testimony, instead of writing a book, he should have climbed into a hole and pulled he hole in after him.

  13. #13 John Lynch
    July 24, 2008

    I don’t know whether I should be happy that Steve Fuller called me “sunshine” or not! 🙂

  14. #14 Modusoperandi
    July 24, 2008

    John; don’t worry your pretty little head about it, pumpkin.

  15. #15 michael fugate
    July 24, 2008

    “Wow,” said Lilly. That was just about all she could say. “wow.” (apologies to Kevin Henkes)
    Steve Fuller descended from his lofty perch to interact with mere mortal scientists – even if it was only to dismiss us. I am truly in awe.

    Since we are accused of not reading his books. I would like to try to summarize what I see as his thesis; it doesn’t come across very well in his Dover testimony – you must read some of his books. I also would like to claim that his conclusion that ID should replace evolution is unnecessary and founded on a naive view of evolution.

    Here goes:
    Only the sheer arrogance of the West in thinking we could understand and control the world as God does – epitomized by Newton – led to modern science. We had to believe we are apart from rather than a part of nature. Evolution, on the other hand, puts us back in nature – as animals functioning within ecosystems – subject to the whims of the environment. Evolution makes us objects acted upon by nature rather than subjects acting on nature.

    For science to be successful, we must believe we are subjects not objects. In other words, science is a result of a human desire to be God (the ultimate subject). Without this, our lives become meaningless – the best we can hope for is something equivalent to the Buddhist avoidance of suffering.

    Given this, evolution should not be the dominant view (truth is not an issue) because it will kill science. Science cannot survive unless we believe we can become like God through our study of the natural world. Humans must be special, we cannot think of ourselves as animals.

    I think this is a very naive reading of evolution – a view that only sees nature as the selector and the organism (including humans) as the selectee. An analogy with human class structure comes to mind where the lower classes are subject to the unexplained desires of the ruling classes. But, we know peasant revolts can and do occur and organisms can and do alter their environments just as easily as organisms can be altered by their environments. Organisms neither need to be scientists nor believe in God to do it.

    Of course, I could be totally misrepresenting his views….

  16. #16 Steve Fuller
    July 24, 2008

    You guys don’t really get it, do you? I didn’t start this thread: You did. You effectively hauled me into a kangaroo court where the ‘moderator’ wondered aloud whether anyone wanted to trash me, given the occasion of a videogames expert who trashed my book in a British newspaper. Sorry, if I don’t take you too seriously!!!

    I know all you people have problems with ID. Fine. But clearly you don’t need me to respond in person to vent your hostility. Any old excuse will do.

    Having said that, Fugate does have my position basically right, though I don’t buy the counter-argument. But sorry, this is not the place to discuss this matter.

  17. #17 Jeff Rubard
    July 25, 2008

    I think it’s a little unfair of Steve to expect us to read his book, considering this is a response to a Chris Bertram post and you couldn’t pay me to read his work (or any of the other Crooked Timberites, although I like reading Weatherson’s blog). If you’re not a Prussian academic with special rights, that’s how things go.

  18. #18 Thony C.
    July 26, 2008

    Fugate gives a brief synopsis of what in his opinion is Steve Fullers stand point on evolution and progress in science and Steve Fuller says that this is a fair representation of his views. This description led me to the following thoughts as a historian of science.

    Some form of scientific or at least proto-scientific activity has existed since about 30 000 BCE, evidence of possible counting by grouping and putative evidence of counting of lunar cycles. How true these claims are is not relevant to what I have to say in making the following thought experiment. I picture a simple beam balance and I place in the left hand pan all of the scientific progress made between 30 00 BCE and 1859 CE (I know scientific progress is very difficult to define let alone measure but please bear with me and remember this is only a thought experiment!), I then place into the right hand pan all of the scientific progress made between 1859 CE and the present, to which side would the balance tilt? I am prepared to bet that anybody with a suitably comprehensive knowledge of the progress of science would immediately answer to the right. If the scientific world view adopted since the publication of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is as Steve Fuller claims so detrimental to the successful pursuit of science how does he explain the fact that much more scientific progress has been made since 1859 CE than in all the millennia before?

  19. #19 Dan S.
    July 26, 2008

    Fuller was being all frustratingly coy over at Crooked Timber as well – understandable, I guess, given his post-Dover reception online (see for example comments here and here – with the posts themselves being far more temperate) and elsewhere. I’d like to thank michael fugate for the summary and Fuller for confirming it. Hmm.

    Given this, evolution should not be the dominant view (truth is not an issue) because it will kill science.
    -Sounds like Straussianism for the Science Studies set; ID as the Noble Lie that will preserve the scientific polis and all that. Blech. Not just offensive nonsense, but harmful as well.

    Beyond that, the rest, well . . . it isn’t exactly new, is it? Sounds fairly close(if inverted) to Carolyn Merchant’s work in The Death of Nature, (albeit stripped of feminist themes, and replaced with admiration for? the manly domineering will to power ) perhaps with some Needham thrown in. Which isn’t to say that any of all this isn’t interesting or provocative or at least partly right. Fascinating historical questions, not least about the role of ideology in making things happen.

    But in moving from history to prediction . . . oh, I don’t know about that. Fuller seems to be assuming that what was, will be – that can be kind of tricky. Sort of a companion problem to the genetic fallacy, etc. Even if modern science required a very particular theistic world view to get going and perhaps progress to a certain point, how confidently can one insist that this continues to be necessary in such drastically changed conditions? Analogously, there’s been decades and decades of fascinating work examining countless possible factors – from ideological to climatological – that might have gotten agriculture started up in the various places it appeared . . . but it seems rather unlikely that any of them (as such) are required at this point. Rather, change gives rise to change: society – I have to say it – evolves. For example – Christianity arose in a very specific social, political, and ideological context, so that one might argue that some such trait of the time (however important) was in fact inherently vital to its continued existence – but of course, it’s continued on for quite a while since, in drastically different times and places.

    Then of course, there’s the idea that we can’t recognize ourselves as part of the natural world while continuing to recognize that we are incredibly skilled and effective at acting upon it. (As michael pointed out above; it’s not unclear why Fuller hands down the pronouncement that “this is not the place to discuss” such responses.)

    I find it interesting how close this aspect of his argument is to the standard creationist insistence that noNoNONO we can’t be ‘just’ animals, because then life it utterly meaningless and morality a hollow joke, etc., etc. Damn nihilists.

    I’m still interested to hear what Fuller’s current view is on ID in the public school classroom, that being one of my chief concerns as a (former) educator, (potential) parent, and (no parentheticals) citizen. I would imagine it could only appear more urgent, which is of course a horrible mistake.

  20. #20 michael fugate
    July 27, 2008

    Phil Skell (chemist and ID sympathizer) claims the biologists he knows find evolution irrelevant to their work. Given Steve Fuller’s testimony at Dover, he would seem to be saying the same thing. He mentioned a study claiming most biologists don’t mention evolution in their publications. I would guess most chemists don’t mention atomic theory in their papers either. I tried to get Phil to comment on whether he could teach chemistry without atomic theory as he was suggesting teaching biology without evolution, but he mostly ignored my questions.

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