Dover


In my (by now somewhat infamous) discussion of the Dover trial (which occurs here, and in Chapter 2 of my book), I took issue with Judge Jones (and with Robert Pennock) for endorsing methodological naturalism, understood as the claim that science can’t in principle investigate supernatural phenomena. I was happy to come across an article by physicist Sean Carroll where he endorses the same anti-methodogical-naturalism point that I do:

There’s no obstacle in principle to imagining that the normal progress of science could one day conclude that the invocation of a supernatural component was the best way of understanding the universe. Indeed, this scenario is basically the hope of most proponents of Intelligent Design. The point is not that this couldn’t possibly happen — it’s that it hasn’t happened in our actual world.

I’ve been given a hard time for saying this, so I’m happy to see smart people agreeing with me.

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As an atheist who’s giving a partial defense of intelligent design, I’ve sometimes been accused of being intellectually dishonest. I want to assure you that I’m not — in academic contexts, at least, I try very hard to ensure that everything that I say I believe. Steve Fuller is another apparent non-theist who has tried to defend intelligent design (most notably when he testified on behalf of the school board at the Dover trial). Fuller, unlike me, is intellectually insincere. 

Given that I try to avoid the name-calling and emotional rhetoric that is disturbingly common in the intelligent design debates, how do I justify calling Steve Fuller insincere? Well, he admits it himself, in this article. For example, he writes:

I take seriously the idea that holding beliefs, understood as informed mental dispositions, is only one among several ways at our disposal to access, however fallibly, the truth. Another, occasionally more effective, way is to defend a position one does not believe. Needless to say, you will find it hard to accept my argument, if you regard a Romantic virtue like sincerity as part of the MO [modus operandi] of a truth-seeker.

And in case that’s not clear enough for you, he also writes:

for purposes of truth-seeking, what really matters is that we are willing to defend, or ideally justify, whatever we say – regardless of whether we believe it.

And, in case Fuller hasn’t made it completely clear, there’s this:

So, then, how do I determine what to say? Here is a handy step-by-step procedure:

  1. What has been already said – especially said well and recently?  Whatever you do, don’t say those things.
  2. What could you say of significance that hasn’t been said?
  3. Of those things, which ones could you get away with saying?
  4. Of those things, which ones are you willing to develop further in the face of various forms of resistance?
  5. Of those things, which ones come with a pretext likely to promote maximum exposure, participation and impact?
  6. That’s what you say – and Godspeed!

To be honest, I find this this sort of intellectual insincerity to be appalling. (I’m not sure how much more I can say without getting into what might be perceived as emotional rhetoric.)

Fuller has recently been blogging at Uncommon Descent, the main blog for intelligent design proponents. I wonder if they’re really aware of who they’re bringing on board?

I find reading Steve Fuller to be incredibly frustrating, in part because he often says things that just don’t make any sense. For example, consider the below passage from his book Science vs. Religion?. He is talking about the pro-intelligent design textbook Pandas and People, which was approvingly referenced by the Dover School Board in the disclaimer they wanted to be read to biology students, the disclaimer that sparked the Kitzmiller v. Dover case.

While Pandas is not the book I would write to introduce IDT [intelligent design theory] in a scientific light, it does imply that some forms of philosophical idealism and social constructivism might be considered versions of IDT. For example, in the Kitzmiller trial, the following quote from the textbook was cited as evidence that “intelligent design” is synonymous with “special creation”: “Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency with their distinctive features already intact: fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc.” (Davis and Kenyon 1993: 99-100). However, at this level of abstraction, it could equally well serve as a somewhat reified account of how, in Kuhn’s (1970) own words, “the world changes” in a paradigm-shift after a scientific revolution, since the paradigm-shifter acquires a new world-view as a whole, not in parts. (pp. 121-2)

But this is pretty nonsensical, isn’t it? The quote he gives from the textbook is a straightforward quote about special creation. What does that have to do with philosophical idealim or social constructivism? The “it” in “it could equally well serve” presumably refers to intelligent design theory, but I’m not sure. If that’s what the “it” refers to, then it’s crazy to say that intelligent design theory could be an account of how the world changes in a paradigm shift, based on the statement that intelligent design theory is about how species are created. 

For what it’s worth, I should point out that Fuller’s recent set of interviews on the Discovery Institute podcast ID the Future was much more clear. This is surprising to me, because I would think that it would be easier to be clear in print, when one has time to think about what one is saying, than in an interview, where there is pressure to keep talking.

There is an interesting passage in Steve Fuller’s book Science vs. Religion? where he basically explains why his testimony helped lead to the defense losing in the Dover case. (Fuller testified on behalf of the school board, but didn’t do a very good job promoting their side, and Judge Jones, in his decision, cited Fuller as providing evidence for Jones’s opinion that intelligent design is religion, and not science.) Fuller writes:

The judge cited me a dozen times in his ruling, unsurprisingly, from whenever I had said something revealing or critical of IDT [intelligent design theory]. In the judge’s mind, the case turned on whether IDT is “really” religion and not science. Indeed, this forced choice of “either religion or science” was  the one constraint to which my testimony had to conform, in the eyes of the defense lawyers. However, my own view … is that science and religion are not “separate but equal,” as the Kitzmiller verdict suggests, but rather are substantially overlapping modes of inquiry. The spirit of that position remained present in my testimony, which gave Judge Jones the opportunity to use it to bolster an exclusively religious interpretation of IDT. (p. 98)

Given that that’s Fuller’s view, the defense really made a mistake having him testify on their behalf. Given that Fuller was the only philosophy-of-science-oriented expert witness that they had, it’s not surprising that they lost.