The Early Days of a Better Nation

Friday, January 18, 2008

Useful IDiot

A reader at Fora TV has pointed me to a clip of sociologist Steve Fuller urging that Intelligent Design be taught as part of science. By the end of it, I'd begun to wonder whether sociology should be taught as part of anything. Fuller's book Science versus Religion? got a severe going over by Norman Levitt; to which review Fuller has replied.

Fuller, at least from these samples, seems to be pulling a bait-and-switch: he accuses evolutionary scientists of unfairly conflating ID with 'six-day creationism', while himself conflating the actual ID movement - a cynical, conscious cover for creationism (including, but not confined to, six-days-six-thousand-years-ago creationism) - with the theism or deism that (of course) inspired almost all scientists before Darwin, and which continues to inspire some leading evolutionary scientists (Francis Miller Collins, Kenneth Miller, Steve Simon Conway Morris) today.


Ken, is there an ID movement in the UK? I'd no idea! Ick, ugh, phew! It's not coming from the liberal factions of the C of E, surely?

Fuller is right in this, though: most of the great physicists and many of the great mathematicians to this day believe in some sort of mystical order in the physical universe, though not often any more in christian theology. Not minor figures: people like Einstein and Penrose. (Einstein's background seems to have been Jewish-influenced German philosophy; Penrose has a huge streak of English Platonism, which seems to be infused in the very stones of Oxford and Cambridge.) It isn't just the pre-Darwinians, by any means.

I've seen Einstein quoted as saying he believed in "Spinoza's God." I read Spinoza's Ethics, some years ago, and found that Spinoza's God was in fact identical to the cosmos, and was not at all the creator of the cosmos. There's a reason that "Spinozist" was taken as a synonym for "atheist" for several centuries. Assuming Einstein knew what Spinoza had said (which I think probable), he was not endorsing theism by his statement, but rejecting it in polite terms. Possibly too polite, but I imagine he didn't want to spend his energy on arguing with theists for the rest of his life.

"Some sort of mystical order in the physical universe" ≠ a creator god.

Y'know, I miss the Raven.

The best line on the subject, I think, is from the comedian Chris Addison: 'if they start teaching creationism in Science, they should also do Narnia in Geography'.


Fuller seems well aware of the nature of the actual ID movement. In his rebuttal, he says:

"As any student of the history of science knows, challenges to the status quo often originate in strange, sometimes even unsavory, quarters. After all, Darwin’s own theory was kept afloat for its first half-century largely by an unholy alliance of capitalists, eugenicists, free-floating racists, and wishful theologians. The trick is for the challenger to expand from its initial base and secure the support of the broader scientific community. Darwin’s theory has certainly done that; ID has not. My book was written to show that there are good historical reasons for believing that ID’s scientific constituency could well extend beyond the offices of the Discovery Institute. Why Levitt should fear this prospect to such an extent that it compromises his critical judgment remains a mystery to me."

Randolph - ID has been plugged by Melanie Phillips (aka 'Mad Mel') but it doesn't come from the C of E. There are also of course creationists in the evangelical wing of the C of E and the evangelical churches.

Einstein's deism/pantheism/whatever, and the theism or deism of some modern scientists, is not the same as ID.

Charles, Fuller's account of Darwinism's first half-century seems a tad distorted.

Fuller intentionally makes these kinds of claims to provoke argument and attract attention. He argues that this is the role of the academic in his The Intellectual. He's not engaging in honest debate, and when challenged on the actual science he doesn't know what he is talking about (see eg.

Basically he is a massive, tenured troll with a dislike of science.

Having looked at the Fuller article on Crooked Timber I admit I dun bin trolled. Maybe more later.

Randolph- there is almost no ID movement in the UK. What there most definitely is are Creationists who have been trying to use ID as a cover for their activities. Last year we had the kerfuffle of "Truth in Science", a group made up mostly of YEC's, sending out a DVD and "information pack" to schools, to try and get across what was effectively an ID message.

It didn't work very well. However YEC's are apparently well organised and busy in Northern Ireland, so expect to see some different stupidity coming from there soon.

Nick is correct regarding Fuller. I've tried to read a couple of his essays and articles that are available online. What little sense I can make out of them is that Fuller thinks scientists are being evil nasty people by using language which suggests design, even when that is not what they mean. (E.g. how many times have you heard people, even including scientists, say "That was designed so well" about an animal/ plant/ chemical reaction)

Now, he does have a point in this regard, we could all do with using language more carefully. However I have yet to work out how Fuller then gets from this to suggesting that ID has some merit. And as far as I can tell, because of his sociological focus on the processes involving humans and changes in science and such, Fuller completely misses the central factor, which is that science works, and ID doesn't.

Or he is just being a very intelligent small child desperate for attention. Either way, Fuller is a moron. Far more dangerous are the actual YEC's. Have a look at:

THen have a read through some of the stuff available here:

Now, lets see if this post gets done as spam...

The quote put up by Charles Pooter above does suggest that Fuller is aware of the success of evolutionary biology, however this quote would make me laugh except for it's collossal stupidity:

"My book was written to show that there are good historical reasons for believing that ID’s scientific constituency could well extend beyond the offices of the Discovery Institute."

Nobody denies that some people outside the DI are interested in ID as a theory etc. Unfortunately, none of them are doing science, and nobody has come up with a proper working ID hypothesis for a century or two.
(I.e. the Reverend Paley and others)

Guthrie, that's what the ID "movement" is in the USA, too. ID is the position of most Christians, but the moderates don't particularly care what is taught in science classes. It's only the radicals right factions that are using ID as a way to get religion into science classes. Basically, they're trying to shift the "Overton window"--get the idea of god into science classes, so that they can go on to argue for YEC.

The difference in the UK is legal - the reason creationists in the US have to pretend to not be creationists and literally cut and paste the word 'God' in textbooks (Google 'cdesign proponentsists') is because they can't teach God in schools there.

They can here, but don't because ... well, for the same reason they don't teach Pretend French.

Except now the US evangelical movement is funding individuals like Christian Voice, to push the issue. And Blair and people like him say it's 'all part of a balanced education'.

Say what you like about Dawkins - he was warning this would happen fifteen years ago, when it seemed about as likely as bringing back slavery.

To be honest, I don't think most of them are that intelligent. If you read the latest goings on on Pandas thumb, various obviously religiously motivated assaults are under way in Florida and it looks like Texas is going to go the same way.
Then of course there is the launch of a new "peer reviwed" Creationist journal,

There has been some suggestion that it should be possible to submit a fake paper...

From what I have read though, it seems the republican hierarchy are getting a bit worried about the fundamentalist voting machine they have nurtured all these years. It might be getting a mind of its own and could turn on its creators.

To expand on what Guthrie
said, there is a small creationist/ intelligent design movement in
the Republic of Ireland.
Several ultra-conservative
magazines, like the "Irish Family
Press" and "Alive!" carry approving
articles on intelligent design.

Many of the people involved in these magazines
would also be linked to organisations
like Youth Defence (the extremist
anti-abortion group).

Although the Irish "Religious
Right" has been losing influence
since they lost the divorce
and abortion information referenda
in the last two decades, it's possible they might pick this issue as their
next target.

I was watching this and while I grew more frustrated and disappointed by the ill thought out argument and shallow perception of the sociology of science and education, I had to smirk at the thought of the whole brood of Institute of Ideas types rubbing their hands gleefully as yet another social constructivists, would be postmodernist dug his own grave manfully. To any halfway educated teenager, Fuller's adroitly delivered non-sense would appear as it exactly what it is: the hand waving accompanied by smoke and mirrors that has bedevilled sociology ever since Levi-Strauss decided real anthropology was too difficult and theory much easier.

Anonymous 3:20pm- I've been looking for someone to explain what label Fuller's maunderings come under. To people with little knowledge of the subject, he looks a bit like a postmodernist, but we can't really tell. Now you are saying he is a social constructivist, and on the face of it that seems to fit, not that I know exactly what it means, I'm just going by the words.
So any chance you can go into more detail?

Simon Conway Morris, BTW.

I love the idea of Steve Fuller doing a bait and switch. But I don't think that is quite what he's doing here. At least, not if you take the last few minutes of the video into account. He wants people to use reasonable ID texts. I doubt that there are any, but he probably genuinely thinks there are some.

I'm still waiting for a book like Gillian Rose's Hegel contra Sociology that has something more palatable than Hegel in the contra sociology slot.

Sociology in general I can take or leave. Sociology of science is evil all the way through. Even sociobiology is less evil.

Fuller has a new book coming out in April called "Dissent over Descent: Evolution's 500-year war on Intelligent Design": Here's the blurb:
Description: If you think Intelligent Design Theory (IDT) is merely the respectable face of Christian fundamentalism, and Evolution the only sensible scientific world-view, think again...IDT has driven science for 500 years. It was responsible for the 17th century's Scientific Revolution and helped build modern histories of physics, mathematics, genetics and social science. IDT's proponents take literally the Biblical idea that humans have been created in God's image. This confident, even arrogant, view of humanity enabled the West to triumph in the modern era. Evolution, on the other hand, derives from more ancient, even pagan, ideas about our rootedness in nature and the transience of all life forms. It has been always more popular outside the West, and until Darwin few evolutionists were scientists. What happened to reverse these two movements' fortunes? Steve Fuller's brilliant revisionist history is essential reading for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of science's most vociferous debate.

Well, if it is anything as incomprehensible as 'The New Sociological Imagination', I think I'll give it a miss. However, if that blurb is an accurate guide to the new book, it does look like Fuller has been playing a good marketing game - getting very publicly stuck into a debate that animates great passion in participants, and then writing producing an academic book that allows him to draw back from his characterisation as a pro-IDer and redrawing himself as a historian of thought.

Aside from that, how on Earth does Dominic justify the claim 'sociology of science is evil all the way through'? What is it meant to mean? I could imagine that someone who stated that sociology of science was evil might justify that statement by reeling off a handful of sociologists of science that they took issue with - as with any discipline there will be cranks and crackpots - though the 'evil' claim would probably be very difficult to maintain. But 'all the way though'. There isn't much to say to such a stupid comment, but 'bullshit'.

"Francis Miller"

Are you perhaps conflating Francis Collins and Ken Miller?

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