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Post Hoax, Ergo Propter Hoax


Michael Bérubé is confused about my appeal to the contexts of discovery and justification in the Dover trial. (I was the one who happened to raise the distinction.) There are two points about the distinction as it applied to the trial: (1) The plaintiffs’ witnesses were claiming that scientific inquiry required a commitment to ‘methdological naturalism’, something lacking in intelligent design theorists and creationists. This struck me as a false claim about the context of justification that smuggled in claims about the context of discovery: i.e. if you’re not a naturalist, you can’t do science right. (2) The trial itself was about what to teach high school students. Here it is completely appropriate to introduce the context of discovery as part of the pedagogy that motivates students to do science, and so it matters that important science has been done by people operating from religious beliefs not so different from the ones that are legally barred as ‘intelligent design’.

The confusion arises from those who think that science education is exclusively about teaching science’s context of justification. That is tantamount to indoctrination.

Steve Fuller
posted by Steve Fuller
December 20, 2008 @ 5:40 AM

Steve Fuller is indeed a confusing fellow. In my essay, I remarked that Fuller testified in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District on behalf of the religious fundamentalists who had sought to introduce Intelligent Design into the Dover science curriculum. I briefly summarized Fuller's argument as "intelligent design is worth pursuing partly because great scientists of the past -- such as Newton -- believed in God." Fuller now replies that "it matters that important science has been done by people operating from religious beliefs not so different from the ones that are legally barred as 'intelligent design.'" I thank Professor Fuller for taking the time to confirm my characterization of his testimony.

Yet I confess that I remain confused about Fuller's argument. If it really is “tantamount to indoctrination” to appeal to the context of justification in order to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate science, then Fuller might as well go the full distance, and argue for teaching high school students alchemy and phrenology. One wonders why he has chosen to shill only for Intelligent Design.
posted by Michael Bérubé
December 22, 2008 @ 4:34 PM

Michael Bérubé says something unwittingly accurate and inaccurate in his response. Alchemy and phrenology are indeed part of the backstory of modern science, and had they enough practitioners or believers today, they would be worth trying to incorporate in the science curriculum to illustrate the context of discovery. It’s interesting that Bérubé, who often strikes the pose of a pragmatist, fails to see the merit of this point himself.

The inaccurate part of his response is an inference that could be drawn by his use of ‘shill’ to describe my advocacy of intelligent design, which often suggests that the person has gained financially from the advocacy. It is true that I was instructed by defence counsel at the Dover trial to specify a notional expert witness fee. However, since the plaintiffs’ won, and the civil rights nature of the case meant that the defence was ordered to pay legal fees, which in turn bankrupted the school board, I was never paid a cent for my participation in the trial above expenses. Moreover, my subsequent ID-related activities have not appreciably increased my income.

Steve Fuller

posted by Steve Fuller
December 23, 2008 @ 4:03 AM

By “shill” I meant only that Fuller does not practice the “science” of Intelligent Design himself; he merely works as an enthusiastic bystander, urging others to do so. My remark was meant not to suggest that Fuller has “gained financially” from his advocacy of intelligent design, but to suggest that the entire enterprise of ID is fraudulent.

Fuller seems to think that something counts as a science if sufficient numbers of people are “practitioners” of it; another aspect of his testimony in Dover, to which I did not refer in my essay, involved arguing that ID will be a legitimate science once Darwinists loosen their grip on the field and allow for a critical mass of “practitioners” of ID to develop a viable research program. This argument neatly ignores the fact that ID has no research program, and no method of determining when in fact one has discovered the Designer.

Good pragmatists like myself don’t buy the “had they enough practitioners” argument. Instead, we want to know why, precisely, alchemy and phrenology didn’t pan out pragmatically as sciences -- and whether, by Fuller’s logic, astrology (whose “practitioners” certainly outnumber evolutionary theorists today) deserves a place alongside ID in the science curriculum.
posted by Michael Bérubé
December 23, 2008 @ 11:07 AM

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 @ 5:39 PM

Professor Berube's review of my book is illuminating and in general very fair. My only complaint is with his attribution to me, in the last six paragraphs of his review, of views about the philosophical foundations of ethics that are nowhere asserted (or implied) in my book and that I do not in fact hold. More details can be found at
posted by Alan Sokal
March 20, 2009 @ 10:02 AM


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