World's Fair

While driving back home yesterday and dreaming of that Saturday afternoon sweet spot of a nap time, I heard the above comment from one of the people interviewed on a story on Weekend America. A Kansan contributor to the program, Laura Ziegler, was interviewing her neighbors about the upcoming vote for School Board there, wondering what their takes on the I.D and Evolution thing were. One guy down the street’s all gung-ho for teaching I.D. – and he’s a medical doctor! — and instead of really explaining why, he says instead, “There’s not a shred of evidence that Darwin was a scientist.” (Though I guess a shred is about the most charitable way to describe the kind of evidence an intelligent design proponent might have.)

So I’ve never heard this reply. What does it mean? What kind of angle is that? Is this as bizarre to others as it is to me? I realize any attempt to push an I.D. position is generally perceived as bizarre, but I’d not heard the argument by reference to professional status.

What does that guy even mean?

The producer/interviewer didn’t follow up, though she did admit it was a very strange response. If she did follow up, could she have asked, what in the world do you mean by that? Or, what does that have to do with my question? Or, that’s the most subtle kind of sarcasm I’ve ever heard, so much so that it really really sounds like you’re being serious. A line-drawing guy, demarcater, this guy is.

Oh, and now I can make this relevant to scienceblogs even more. Scientists, a lot of bloggers here included, are really into Karl Popper’s philosophy of science because it attempts to offer a clear demarcation between what’s a scientific theory and what isn’t (e.g., Marxism isn’t scientific because it can’t be refuted. Relativity is scientific, because it can be refuted with a strong enough experiment. Which is why Popper’d say it’s a damn fine theory, because it made ever bolder conjectures that were not refuted/falsified.) [Other bloggers have discussed demarcation, as at Evolving Thoughts, The Intersection, and Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Check them out.] If it’s scientific, then it’s good; if it isn’t, then it’s bad.

Popper was working back in the earlier days of phil. of sci. when people operated under the equation that science = theory and theory alone, and so whatever you want to know about science you could figure out by knowing something about scientific theory. But that doesn’t help when you find out that science is a whole lot more than theory alone (you know, experiment, debate, values, text, education, communication, professionalization, funding, and so on) *or* when the question is about demarcating between who’s a scientist and who isn’t. That becomes a sociological problem. And a whole lot of sociologists of science have spent a whole lot of time working on that one too. In fact, there’s a decades-old argument about whether or not sociology of science has supplanted and superseded philosophy of science. (On that, you could check out a somewhat complicated academic book by John Zammito, called A Nice Derangement of Epistemes, though he writes that book to show that he thinks the sociologists are all wrong. You know, more or less.) But hell, that’s something for a whole other link, and one that many other Sciencebloggers have already been writing up (as I just linked to).

So back to my car radio: this guy on the radio is making some kind of claim about Darwin’s status as a scientist. Which makes no sense to me, that he’s using that demarcating tool to decide that I.D., not evolution, should be taught in schools. (And it isn’t something that could be replied to with reference to philosophy of science demarcation criteria.) If Darwin was a scientist, then evolution would be okay? Is that what he means? This is hurting my head.

How many possible reasons are there for why that makes no sense? The easiest: fine, then Newton doesn’t count, Pasteur doesn’t count, Galileo doesn’t count, Kepler, Copernicus, anyone before 1833 (as I linked in another post) doesn’t count — none of them were scientists; and lord knows who else doesn’t count. Do any of the science bloggers count? What shred of evidence do we have that you/they are all real scientists? Next you’ll say the moon landing was for real? Where’s the evidence for that? No, scratch all that. That’s too facetious. Sorry.

Perhaps better put: what is all that?


  1. #1 Jess
    July 30, 2006

    Maybe it’s a case of historical bias, and he means that Darwin wasn’t a professional scientist in the way we understand it today? I.e. he didn’t wear a white coat and/or get grants from the NSF?

    They really are clutching at straws, aren’t they.

  2. #2 afarensis
    July 30, 2006

    The Darwin thing goes back to the fact that Darwin started out training to be a country parson rather than a scientist. Compounded with the fact that Darwin, when young, was interested in hunting and whatnot. Creationists consider him something of a dimwit. Additionally, he only had a Bachelors degree (which in those days was good enough to allow one to be a practicing scientist).

  3. #3 coturnix
    July 30, 2006

    When I dug through Darwin’s Earthworms book, and Barnacles book, and Orchids book, and Power of Movement of Plants book, and Expressions book….that certainly looked like science to me: experiment after experiment after experiment!

    Anyway, even if Darwin really was not a scientist but a windsurfer and, one evening when he was high and drunk he came up with the Principle of Natural Selection, then dismissed it next morning while struggling with hangover – none of it matters – the PNS is still a scientific theory, it is science, and it stood the test of time and millions of experiments. Now if Jesus came up with PNS…

  4. #4 Dave S.
    July 30, 2006

    Yes, and a bachelors degree in arts. No B.Sc., let alone a Ph.D. I’ve actually had Creationists make the claim Darwin wasn’t a scientist for exactly that reason. And apparently since he wasn’t a scientist, therefore nothing he said was scientific. Anything added later on was just building onto a non-scientific frame-work and can be ignored. Q.E.D.

  5. #5 Gerry L
    July 30, 2006

    Sounds like a “so’s your old man” or “and your mother wears army boots” kind of statement. Can’t think of a good counter argument so you come back with a “clever” riposte.

    Is the “Darwin wasn’t a scientist” rejoinder one of the bullet points in the Intelligent Design Network slideshow that Calvert is delivering around Kansas? If so, we should be hearing it again from the ID copy&paste crowd.

  6. #6 afarensis
    July 30, 2006

    that certainly looked like science to me: experiment after experiment after experiment!

    Darwins’ experiments never cease to amaze me. I’ve always thought he had a unique ability in that regard…

  7. #7 bob koepp
    July 31, 2006

    Of course, it’s absurd to even question whether Darwin was a scientist. Anybody making such a claim must surely be operating with a very idiosyncratic notion of what constitutes science.

    But lunatics aside, anybody who has actually read Popper on the demarcation problem should know better than to suggest that Popper equated science with theory. Sure, he neglected the sociological dimensions of scientific practice. That’s because he was looking for an epistemic cum methodological criterion of demarcation. But far from ignoring experimentation and debate, he made these the centerpiece of his theory of science.

  8. #8 Barry
    July 31, 2006

    It’s the Big Lie technique. You’ve probably heard people say that there’s no evidence for evolution, or some such incredibly sweeping claim. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it works.

  9. #9 Benjamin Cohen
    July 31, 2006

    certainly you’ll hear about experiment in Popper, but you won’t learn much about a philosophy of experimentation, or experimental practice. so, i was noting that the focus of phil of sci was on theory for a very long time, and that popper’s work was written during that time. but popper is far more complicated — and the demarcation issue is far more complicated — than a blog post can do justice to. and, anyway, it’s not, what, till the 80s?, that “the experimental turn” in phil of sci comes along (see Ian Hacking, e.g.). brc

  10. #10 kev
    August 4, 2006

    eh Instead of pontificating, try being humble. But then I guess nothing would be written. eh

  11. #11 Snail
    August 10, 2006

    Did radio-man have anything to say about Alfred Russel Wallace?

New comments have been disabled.