Sunday, December 15, 2013
If You Can Colbert It!
Michael Schulson at The Daily Beast has a nice summary of the creationist attempts to censor, as much as they can, evolution out of pubic school textbooks. The piece is called "When Creationists Collide with Stephen Colbert" and his "hook" is Don McLeroy's appearance, and savaging, on Stephen Colbert's show in April 2012. Colbert's money line was "I've always been a fan of reality by majority vote."
One good insight by Schulson is:
It wasn't just the defeat of explicitly Christian creationism that drove the rise of intelligent design; it was also lifted by favorable winds from certain corners of the secular university. Various academic movements in the humanities were emphasizing that scientific theories are constructed by humans—and that, as a result, biases and politics and other non-scientific factors might play some role in the formation of scientific theory. Maybe scientists were not quite as objective as they claimed. In this vein, Thomas Kuhn, a physicist-turned-philosopher, famously argued that science tends to be dominated by certain paradigms, each of which comes with a whole set of implicit premises and rules. These paradigms occasionally reach a point of crisis, when, burdended by their inherent limitations, they collapse and make way for a whole new way of conceptualizing the field.This is, of course, why people like Steve Fuller wrecked their reputations in defense of ID.
Thinkers like Kuhn implied that change could come from unlikely quarters. Creationists needed to show that being on the fringe didn't mean being wrong, and that scientific authority wasn't as absolute as it seemed. It was an ideal match. Johnson—who originally wanted to title his first book on evolution Darwin Deconstructed—started writing about a Darwinist monopoly on knowledge, and about the difficult at arriving at objective truth, or at least objective truth not revealed by a divine being.
By taking these postmodernist insights to their extremes, Johnson and other intelligent design advocates can argue that, rather than religious people with a mission, they are scientific revolutionaries, boxed out by a politically-charged, biased community that will only gradually come to accept the radical reality of their ideas. To put is mildly, this is a massive stretch. But it lets them recast the whole conversation not as one of Bible vs. science, or of pseudoscience vs. science, but of one kind politicized science oppressing another.
And once mainstream academic science is seen as a political tool, then it starts to seem patently undemocratic. After all, scientific research is reserved to a highly trained elite. ...Or as McLeroy himself stated [see, 4:15 of the video]: "Someone has to stand up to experts ..."
Which is why, perhaps, we get public figures like McLeroy, who just dismiss the experts out of hand and choose their own science. It's all biased anyway—and look, we can vote on this. Our opinions matter. Who are you to tell us otherwise?
Schulson is right, in a way, when he says:
Science advocates would do well to remember McLeroy the next time they respond to creationists, or vaccine-deniers, or climate skeptics with a barrage of facts, as if a bundle of correct information will somehow right those persistent wrongs. Sure, the scientific argument may be right. But in politics, being right isn't enough. Say what you want about postmodernism: in democracy, reality does come with a dose of social construction.That doesn't mean we have to accept it or that it can't change. Think of the change that has come over the issue of same sex marriage in the last ten years and, particularly, among young adults. If we are persistent enough, if we show that these "experts" are just people like all the rest of us, who are honestly trying to do their best to make their and our world better, we can win not just the minds but the hearts of future generations.
Creationism at the other hand by definition is unfalsifiable and untestable. Popper fully applies: it explains everything and hence nothing.
Creationists referring to Kuhn (and Lakatos) are either ignorants or liars.
"McLeroy, who just dismiss the experts out of hand and choose their own science."
You notice correctly that creationists like to pick some cherries from postmodernism as well. Alas that idea in its most extreme form (pick the narrative you like best) hasn't been criticized nearly enough. Despite having some good points especially for the humanities and social sciences I have known it's bunk in it's general form since more than 25 years.
"in democracy, reality does come with a dose of social construction"
Yes. That's not an excuse to deny well-established empirical facts. Schulson and co don't argue either that they will fall upward if they jump off a bridge tomorrow. They should ask themselves why.
If there were an alternative to evolutionary biology, then it might be something worth talking about. The "demarkation problem" might be relevant, if there were something to be talked about. But there isn't, and the evolution-deniers show a decided lack of interest in exploring alternatives.
We should also show that experts are not experts because they took a correspondence course one summer or read a few books or just bought a "degree" from a diploma mill. They are experts because they spent years and years studying and practicing their craft. They are amongst the most knowledgeable in their chosen field because they worked long and hard to get to that point and you ignore their opinions at your peril.
If someone feels unwell and their doctor refers them to an oncologist who tells them that they have a cancer, they could "stand up" to this "expert". They could say they don't believe them. Onclogists are only right 85% of the time (or whatever the real figure is) after all. Maybe they'd be right. Maybe they're one of the 15% who don't have a cancer after all. On the other hand, the odds are that the oncologist is right and when, a few months after they "stood up" to this expert, they find they have a cancer which has now metastasized and is no longer treatable, who are they going to stand up to now?
McLeroy may not like the idea that there are people who know more than he does about certain fields but that doesn't make it any the less true. Unfortunately, you can lead an IDiot to data but you can't make them think. Or, as comedian Ron White puts it "You can't fix stupid".
pointed out some problems and showed that Popper claimed too much
Popper claimed (sometimes but not others) that falsifiability was a reliable demarcation between science and non-science. It isn't. But so-called science that by its very terms (Omphalos) is not falsifiable or by its practice (I'm looking at you Larry Laudan) ignores falsification can't be science.
Schulson and co don't argue either that they will fall upward if they jump off a bridge tomorrow.
I don't think Schulson was arguing that the social construction was right as much as he was arguing it is inevitable in a democracy.
As always, correct. Creationism's only explanation is "poof."
you can lead an IDiot to data but you can't make them think. Or, as comedian Ron White puts it "You can't fix stupid".
I don't quite know which one I like best and will steal.
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