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Post Hoax, Ergo Propter Hoax


Bérubé asks whether I would put astrology in the science curriculum. Why not, especially given the continuing enthusiasm for it? I can imagine a substantial pro- and con- discussion of astrology at the start of a physics course, where students might want to know why physics is so often seen as the foundational science and why astronomy has been historically so central to its conduct. Without a discussion of astrology, those two basic features of science literacy are not easily motivated.

But as with my response to the question about phrenology and alchemy, two points need to be kept in mind: (1) My answer turns not on the ideas themselves but on the quality of the teaching materials on offer. This applies to intelligent design too. To say that ID ought to be taught is not to give carte blanche to any textbook that passes itself off as being about ID. Thus, I did not endorse the specific textbook on offer at Dover. (2) All of the non-ID examples are ultimately irrelevant because, as a matter of fact, there is nothing in the US Constitution that would prohibit the teaching of astrology, alchemy or phrenology in state-supported schools. (For all we know, some of these subjects are being taught as science somewhere in the US.) That is because their religious roots are non-obvious or mixed. ID poses a specific legal problem because of its relatively explicit religious content and motivation.

Finally, while one might like the people touted as the leading ID scientists to do more original research, one wonders how that would be possible, given the institutional barriers to their getting the funds, students, etc. one needs to produce such research. The other deviant sciences died pretty much the same way, not because of some knockout argument or result but simply an inability to reproduce the perspective in institutionally fertile ground. (I reaize that pragmatists have historically had difficulties comprehending power relations.) However, the need to produce novel results is somewhat misdirected because much of the research that Neo-Darwinists claim for themselves can be interpreted in ID-friendly ways and in many, if not most, cases were generated by people who didn’t think of themselves as doing Darwin’s bidding. So, I have repeatedly urged ID supporters to reclaim the history of science by revealing how ID assumptions have been responsible for science that anti-ID people accept, if not claim for themselves.

Steve Fuller

posted by Steve Fuller
December 23, 2008


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