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What difference did Ben Stein’s Expelled film make? Dembski’s surprisingly mixed review

Continuing with James Barham’s The Best Schools interview with design theorist Bill Dembski – who founded this blog,

WD: I could recount case after case of mediocre academics who have done well for themselves (tenure, named professorships, etc.) by denouncing ID. And I can recount case after case of very bright individuals whose careers have been derailed for supporting, or even showing sympathy toward, ID. The documentary Expelled demonstrates this last point.

Rubes, shouting in: Barbara Forrest! Robert Pennock! Wesley Elsberry! [Rubes told to hush their dam mouths, they dunno what they’re talking about.]

TBS: In bringing up Expelled, you beat us to the punch. You were prominently featured in a documentary favorable to intelligent design, narrated by Ben Stein and titled Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. What can you tell us about that documentary? Did it help or hurt the ID movement?

WD: The documentary came out in the spring of 2008 and most of the footage was taken the year earlier. I was therefore called in as an information resource person—in the few spots I have in the movie, that’s what I do, i.e., provide background information. I could well have been one of the “expelled,” but my story with Baylor goes back to 2000 and the producers were looking for more recent narratives.

I would give the documentary a B, certainly not an A. It effectively underscores the opposition that proponents of intelligent design face in the academy. Some of the individual cases recounted pack a nice punch. And the “exit interview” of Richard Dawkins by Ben Stein is classic. Stein gets Dawkins to admit that ID might be legitimate, so long as the designer is not God but a space alien who evolved by Darwinian means. I almost always show that clip in my public presentations of ID. Indeed, Dawkins gives away the store in those two minutes.

But the documentary had some weaknesses. The seven or so minutes devoted to the Nazis and their assimilation of Darwinian theory and its basis in the Holocaust seemed misplaced. Not that there isn’t a connection, but bringing up the Nazis invariably causes the temperature to rise and the train of an argument to be lost. Far better would have been to use those seven minutes to recount the record of accomplishment of intelligent design. This, to me, was the biggest weakness of the movie. So, ID is marginalized and its proponents vilified. But what has it accomplished to show that it doesn’t deserve that treatment? This needed to be spelled out.

I also understand that the producers mismanaged their funds. Expelled was to lead to a national reaction, with an active website from which people could learn more. The weekend that the documentary opened in theaters, the website went dormant—the producers had run out of funds. I think the film could have done much better at the box office with some more careful editing and refocusing of the material. And its impact, even as it is, would have been much greater if the intended support structures, such as the website, had been fully functioning.

See also: Expelled timeline

Even so, now that the film is out on DVD, I keep hearing from people who’ve seen me in it (some from my distant past). On balance, I think it’s had a positive impact in alerting people to the controversy over intelligent design.

Next: Dembski on the future of ID

See also:

Why Bill Dembski took aim against the Darwin frauds and their enablers #1

Why Bill Dembski took aim against the Darwin frauds and their enablers Part 2

Bill Dembski: The big religious conspiracy revealed #3

Bill Dembski: Evolution “played no role whatever” in his conversion to Christianity #4

So how DID Bill Dembski get interested in intelligent design? #5a

So how DID Bill Dembski get interested in intelligent design? #5b – bad influences, it seems

Bill Dembski: Trouble happens when they find out you mean business

What is Bill Dembski planning to do now?

Comment on Dembski interview here if you wish.

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26 Responses to What difference did Ben Stein’s Expelled film make? Dembski’s surprisingly mixed review

  1. Haven’t seen the movie yet but I know the jewish angle was important to get the movie made.
    the numerous jewish people involved surely are motivated by the idea that evolution was part of the holocaust.
    They are right.

    Without evolutionary presumptions being accepted by the educated classes and general establishment in Europe the nazi’s could never of got their superior/inferior concepts of race accepted or even embraced.
    They were goofy and impossible ideas before evolution taught ape to men or rather dumb got smarter and so a small step that evolution that created the races also created differences in race.

    Evolutioism must own up to its role in bringing credibility to racial biological ideas.
    They have not yet.
    They still today hint or proclaim race is the origin of intelligence. I see it constantly.

  2. I for one – as an IDist – fully agree with Dembski’s review of Expelled. It’s not a mixed review btw, it is a generally positive review that acknowledges the faults of the doccie. Yes Ben Stein is as human as the rest of us, he can make mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable. Dembski has made them too. Yes they are just human beings after all. I have to say that very lengthy interview with Dembski is a must-read for all interested in ID, fascinating and very informative.

    However because Dembski’s experiences and philosophy cannot be neatly pigeonholed (he’s neither the elitist academic in thrall to the god of scientific materialism nor the unthinking ‘religion is for Sunday’ Christian, who is Christian simply because of circumstances of birth and environment and never looks any deeper than that), he occupies a position that earns him contempt and dismissal from several quarters, all of whom misunderstand and misrepresent him. As Dembski points out it doesn’t make for an easy life, yet that is how it is if one follows one’s own path and doesn’t compromise with well entrenched bureaucracies and belief systems, even though the latter have all the prestige and respectability and financial rewards. Along with P Johnson, Dembski has been the most articulate spokesperson for the dupes that are theistic neo-Darwinian evolutionists.

    Even though I have sharp theological disagreements with Dembski (I am not a Christian), I find his personal experiences mirror my own. A dissatisfaction with the rote so-called religious instruction, that is neither sincere nor serious. Yet a recognition that there are deeper truths there, one has to find them for oneself. Dembski never made the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    What comes through in the interview is that Dembski is a maverick in the best sense of the word, and because he had no choice in the matter. If men like Dembski are forced into the wilderness, it tells us everything about our society and so-called civilization. Same old same old.

  3. What is completely missing from Dembski’s interview is any sense awareness that his problems might have arisen from his own mistakes, both intellectual and strategic.
    His actual intellectual output has been widely criticised by competent mathematicians, and he has simply not responded to those criticisms. And by his own admission, his behaviour with regard to the Polanyi/Baylor incident was foolish.

    If you do work that is widely regarded as flawed, fail to respond to your critics, and behave obstreperously when your position is called into question, then yes, you may find yourself “expelled”.

    That’s not the fault of “the academy” (which does not exist, of course), it’s hubris.

  4. obstreperously – nice one, Elizabeth!

    “‘the academy’ (which does not exist, of course)”

    Is that a bit like the iron lady saying: “There is no such thing as society”?

    Doesn’t sit well with a sociologist, of course. ;)

    Btw, awaiting your defense of Darwinism as ‘science’ instead of ‘ideology.’ Neuro-science + music doesn’t necessarily prepare one well for understanding ‘philosophy of science,’ which properly hosts the core of the conversation. Your opinion about ‘Darwinism’ now sounds quite peripheral.

    But hey, I didn’t say something like “there’s no such thing as a brain!”

  5. Well, tell me first the sense in which you are using the term “Darwinism”. Some people seem to use the word to denote ideology, but I have no idea what that ideology is supposed to be.

    And I feel reasonably well prepared to discuss philosophy of science. A scientific training is pretty well essential, I would have thought, and I have that. If you don’t understand the principles of scientific methodology, you aren’t really competent to practice science, and I do and am :)

    But I’ve been interested in the philosophy of science all my life.

  6. And when I say “the academy” does not exist, of course what I mean is that by using the phrase, Dembski implies a monolith, and the academic world is not monolithic. Indeed the entire notion of tenure was motivated to preserve the rights of academics to think independently of the herd.

    And herding academics anyway, is notoriously, like herding cats.

    That is before even mentioning the powerful incentive to iconoclasm represented by the chase after publication in high impact, peer-reviewed journals. You don’t get publishe din high impact journals without being prepared to break the mould or challenge the status quo.

    In fact, so much so, that there is a sad dearth of replication studies, which are notoriously under-rewarded.

  7. Well, Elizabeth, now we’re dealing in 2 threads at the same time.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....-the-cure/

    You defined ‘Darwinism’ in the 1st response there. I responded to your definition with a more appropriate, up-to-date definition, informed by rigorous study (examined by ‘experts’ at the PhD level) in philosophy of science (PoS) and ideology.

    Your personal (read: highly subjective) definition of ‘Darwinism’ as a ‘scientific theory’ shows little familiarity with ‘philosophy of science’ (if you’ve been interested in PoS ‘all your life’ I’d guess you are a 6 yr-old!). From Timaeus’ comments, let us call it your ‘insistence’ on defying experts re: ‘Darwinism’. The question is, in your heart, do you have the humility to listen to masters with living hope to learn something or do you instead parade an unteachable (naturalistic-)scientistic attitude to condescend upon others who far exceed you in fields more relevant to defining what is ‘science’ and what is ‘ideology’?

    It is not difficult to “understand the principles of scientific methodology” without being a ‘practising (natural) scientist,’ Elizabeth. I ‘understand’ the rules of (USAmerican) football, without actually playing it myself. Is this so difficult to comprehend?

    I’ll respond later to your vainglorious contention that ‘technology’ is (read: should be called) ‘natural’. From what I see up to now, your ‘opinions’ about PoS are far from ‘scientific’ or ‘scholarly’; they are rather amateurish. And your frequent visits to a Blog about ‘intelligent design/Intelligent Design’ when you’ve claimed disbelief (post-belief) in ‘religion’ or the possibility of a ‘spiritual’ (read: non-materialistic) dimension of human existence betray a lack of interest.

    It is interesting to me, as one who studies scientists, why you would wish to beat your chest at UD, trying to (scientifically) prove to people that the ‘implications’ of ID, i.e. that “G-d created the heavens and the earth,” simply could not be true.

    “[N]ow scientists in the laboratory are observed in basically the same way as ‘savages’ by an anthropologist.” – Wolf Lepenies

    You are thus a kind of ‘savage’ to me, Elizabeth, and I have been studying you (meant as ‘impersonally’ as your statement that ‘the Academy’ doesn’t exist) with interest! Brain, mind, heart, soul – integration or alienation? Long live those who find a way in their personal lives to integrate science, philosophy and theology, instead of ignoring the ‘knowledge’ in one or two out of three.

  8. Well, Elizabeth, now we’re dealing in 2 threads at the same time.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com…..-the-cure/

    You defined ‘Darwinism’ in the 1st response there. I responded to your definition with a more appropriate, up-to-date definition, informed by rigorous study (examined by ‘experts’ at the PhD level) in philosophy of science (PoS) and ideology.

    Could you link to the definition you gave? All I’m seeing is:

    Darwinism is an ideology, full stop.

    So is Marxism, so is pragmatism, so is reductionism.

    Darwinian evolution is a scientific theory, for better or worse.

    I do wish Elizabeth would stop making the mistake of trying to turn (an) ideology into (a) science.

    If all you mean is that I should have used the word “Darwinian evolution”, fair enough. In which case, I’d like to know what ideology it is that you refer to as “Darwinism”.

    Your personal (read: highly subjective) definition of ‘Darwinism’ as a ‘scientific theory’ shows little familiarity with ‘philosophy of science’ (if you’ve been interested in PoS ‘all your life’ I’d guess you are a 6 yr-old!).

    No, I’m 60 next month. But I still await your definition of “Darwinism” as an ideology.

    From Timaeus’ comments, let us call it your ‘insistence’ on defying experts re: ‘Darwinism’. The question is, in your heart, do you have the humility to listen to masters with living hope to learn something or do you instead parade an unteachable (naturalistic-)scientistic attitude to condescend upon others who far exceed you in fields more relevant to defining what is ‘science’ and what is ‘ideology’?

    Definitions are descriptive, not descriptive. “Darwinism” is, in my experience, used to describe a body of theory that underpins evolutionary science. If you have experience of people using to refer to some ideology, then, fine. I’d like to know what that ideology is. What I object to is the equivocation – using the term, usually pejoratively, to denote some ideology, and then implying that it has anything to do with the theory of evolution.

    Unless you think it has, but as I don’t know what you mean by this ideology called “Darwinism” I can’t offer a view.

    It is not difficult to “understand the principles of scientific methodology” without being a ‘practising (natural) scientist,’ Elizabeth. I ‘understand’ the rules of (USAmerican) football, without actually playing it myself. Is this so difficult to comprehend?

    Gregory, that is not what I claimed. I said the converse: that it is not possible to be a practising scientist without understanding the principles of scientific methodology. Of course it is possible to understand the principles of scientific methodology without understanding the science, just as you can understand the rules of football without playing it. But you certainly can’t play it without understanding the rules!

    I’ll respond later to your vainglorious contention that ‘technology’ is (read: should be called) ‘natural’. From what I see up to now, your ‘opinions’ about PoS are far from ‘scientific’ or ‘scholarly’; they are rather amateurish. And your frequent visits to a Blog about ‘intelligent design/Intelligent Design’ when you’ve claimed disbelief (post-belief) in ‘religion’ or the possibility of a ‘spiritual’ (read: non-materialistic) dimension of human existence betray a lack of interest.

    What? I don’t understand any of the above (except obviously that you find me amateurish – which is fair enough; I’m certainly not a professional philosopher of science).

    It is interesting to me, as one who studies scientists, why you would wish to beat your chest at UD, trying to (scientifically) prove to people that the ‘implications’ of ID, i.e. that “G-d created the heavens and the earth,” simply could not be true.

    eh? I think you have me confused with someone else.

    “[N]ow scientists in the laboratory are observed in basically the same way as ‘savages’ by an anthropologist.” – Wolf Lepenies

    You are thus a kind of ‘savage’ to me, Elizabeth, and I have been studying you (meant as ‘impersonally’ as your statement that ‘the Academy’ doesn’t exist) with interest! Brain, mind, heart, soul – integration or alienation? Long live those who find a way in their personal lives to integrate science, philosophy and theology, instead of ignoring the ‘knowledge’ in one or two out of three.

    I deny the charge.

  9. Ah, according to Wiki, it looks like there might be a transatlantic problem here:

    Darwinism is a set of movements and concepts related to ideas of transmutation of species or of evolution, including some ideas with no connection to the work of Charles Darwin.[1][2][3] The meaning of “Darwinism” has changed over time, and varies depending on who is using the term.[4] In the United States, the term “Darwinism” is often used by creationists as a pejorative term in reference to beliefs such as atheistic naturalism, but in the United Kingdom the term has no negative connotations, being freely used as a short hand for the body of theory dealing with evolution, and in particular, evolution by natural selection.

    So I continue to await your definition of “Darwinism” qua ideology.

  10. If you do work that is widely regarded as flawed, fail to respond to your critics, and behave obstreperously when your position is called into question, then yes, you may find yourself “expelled”.

    That would fit any evolutionist. :)

  11. What work, specifically, has Dembski done that is considered flawed? What peer reviewed journals are you referencing?

  12. Well, as Dembski has produced very little work in peer-reviewed journals, there isn’t much critique in peer-reviewed journals either.

    But there’s Wilkins and Elsberry, 2001:

    http://www.talkdesign.org/cs/theft_over_toil

    David Wolpert, one of the actual authors of the Wolpert and MacReady No Free Lunch theorems (NFL) that Dembski treats in his book No Free Lunch (and so most definitely a “peer”!), and invokes to demonstrate that evolution doesn’t work, wrote this critique:

    http://www.talkreason.org/articles/jello.cfm

    There are plenty of other critiques on the web if you google, many by established scientists and mathematicians.

    And I’m in the middle of pointing out some of the flaws myself, here :)

  13. Hi Elizabeth,

    Yes, now we’re on the same page again.

    You wrote (1st response in the thread):
    “Darwinism is a scientific theory not a philosophy of life. / I do wish people would stop making that mistake.”

    To which I responded as you correctly quoted: “Darwinism is an ideology, full stop.” (etc.) This was the simple ‘definition’ of ‘Darwinism’ that I gave. It is consistent with high-level PoS today.

    The ideology that I was referring to: ‘Darwinism.’

    ‘Marxian economics’ is not an ideology, it is a ‘scientific’ or ‘scholarly’ theory (Popper’s critiques noted), still entertained by some economists worldwide. ‘Marxism,’ otoh, is an ideology, where followers of Marx have invested many different and sometimes contradictory claims into the legacy that Marx left. The ideology trangresses the boundaries of the original thinker.

    “If all you mean is that I should have used the word “Darwinian evolution”, fair enough.” – Elizabeth

    Yes, that is all I meant. Merely a technical point. Then let us agree that it is fair terminology also the next time around:
    Darwinism = ideology. Darwinian evolution = a scientific theory, for better or worse.

    Are we agreed, Elizabeth?

    johnnyb and Bydand have done some work on this front already here, though with a different emphasis:
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ry-theory/

    It is true that the IDM focuses its offensive on ‘Darwinism’ instead of ‘evolutionism.’ Theirs is a somewhat narrow target in the broader realm of ‘evolutionary theories,’ but imo a well-placed one. It is not surprising that you seem to be waiting for a new name, Elizabeth, to transfer yourself away from the ‘Darwinian’ approach to ‘evolution,’ instead to another more appropriate ‘post-Darwinian’ scientific meta-narrative. But what name will it be?

    ‘Darwinism’ doesn’t, as you say, “underpin evolutionary science,” but rather places an unnecessary ideological barrier between the objects/subjects of ‘natural science’ and the individual scientist or group (cf. team) of scientists involved in ‘doing science’. Theories of evolution can be studied/framed in non-Darwinian ways, do you not agree?

    The IDM focuses little on ‘Dobzhanskian evolution’ or on ‘Teilhard de Chardinian evolution’ and these figures (20th c.) do not imo provide as significant a ‘leap’ as what Darwin offered to human knowledge (19th c.) – though their contributions should likewise not be under-estimated. But they do allow ‘purpose’ and ‘meaning’ back in the door of a universe deemed cold and neutral within Darwin’s own personal worldview. Like you, Elizabeth, Darwin was an ‘enchanted’ naturalist-scientist, whose religious faith eroded away through his newly garbed philosophy of science.

    Does the Emperor in the worldview you now wear – nature uber alles – Elizabeth, have any clothes?

    “I deny the charge.” – Dr. Elizabeth Liddle

    This is not something to be denied. It is a (scientific/historical) fact. Neuroscientists are studied by sociologists of science, just as are many other (natural) scientists. We are debunking the fabled ‘priesthood’ of ‘natural scientists’ by observing them/you ‘in the wild.’ Learn to live with it…)

  14. What you say is true, but scientists are still sensitive to the pressure to “publish or perish.” If they get a reputation as a fringe scientist, they are less likely to be taken seriously by major journals. So there is a tendency, I think, for some group-think when it comes to certain subjects that have the stink of pseudo-science (whether warranted or not).

  15. “you find me amateurish – which is fair enough; I’m certainly not a professional philosopher of science” – Elizabeth

    Yes, but that leaves room for hope, that the love of wisdom might not be in vain.

    In case you watched The Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies…”

    A warm winter gift (from -20c),
    Gr.

  16. There are some exceptions though, but I wonder how it effects their careers. For example, my father in law is a neuroscientist at U of Washington. Most of his work is fairly mainstream, but he has also published articles like “Evidence of correlated functional magnetic resonance imaging signals between distant human brains.” In other words, telepathy. I think I’ll ask him if he thinks that such research negatively impacts his career.

  17. Well, glad to be on the same page :)
    However, you say:

    ‘Darwinism’ doesn’t, as you say, “underpin evolutionary science,” but rather places an unnecessary ideological barrier between the objects/subjects of ‘natural science’ and the individual scientist or group (cf. team) of scientists involved in ‘doing science’. Theories of evolution can be studied/framed in non-Darwinian ways, do you not agree?

    I’d say that “Darwinism” in the UK sense does do precisely that (indeed it’s the UK definition given by wiki, and indeed how it is used in the UK in this country), so my statement remainsn true, given that meaning.

    I am still not sure what ideology “Darwinism” refers to in the US, but I do not think that any ideology is acting as a barrier in evolutionary science. We possibly genuinely disagree here :)

    But yes, even in my usage, I guess that evolution could be framed in non-Darwinian ways. But again, it would depend precisely what was meant by “non-Darwinian”.

    And your “charge” is not “a fact”. Unless this is a word quibble. I meant I am not guilty as charged. Scientists are not a priesthood, so there is nothing to debunk.

    And I have nothing to say about Darwin’s “worldview”. I am only interested in him as a scientist, and in his really quite extraordinarily fruitful idea.

    I do not think the world is cold and purposeless. I think it is full of purpose. And love. And goodness.

    You have read me wrong, I think. Not sure why.

    Still, nice to talk to you anyway :)

    Lizzie

  18. Lizzie,

    Do you currently think I am “in the US”?

    - Gregory

  19. Oh, aren’t you? I thought that might be the explanation of your understanding of the word “Darwinism”.

    Goodness me, Darwin used to be on the £10 notes! He’s not a bogeyman over here.

    So tell me what ideology you think is denoted by the term “Darwinism”.

    I really want to know.

  20. Joe, almost correct except for the last line:

    ” … then yes, you may find yourself promoted/published/lauded.”

    How’s that?

  21. Thanks, that is much better.

  22. Elizabeth,

    If you don’t mind, I’d appreciate an answer to the question I asked you, highlighted in bold in 3.1.1.1.3

    “Are we agreed, Elizabeth?” & “Yes, that is all I meant. Merely a technical point.”

    “what ideology you think is denoted by the term “Darwinism”.” – Elizabeth

    It is the ideology of ‘Darwinism.’

    The defence of “Darwinism in the UK sense” based on a wikipedia entry is unacceptable at a scholarly level. You seem to prefer ignorance to knowledge, Elizabeth, denying possible knowledge in PoS that would over-turn your notion that ‘an ideology’ in one place is simply (happily, innocently) a ‘science’ in another place. I’ve met British people who correctly (in the technical sense) identify ‘Darwinism’ as an ideology and ‘Darwinian evolution’ as a scientific theory, for better or for worse. Are you willing to accept their (national) perspective and mine? Are you willing to elevate your play?

    “I am still not sure what ideology “Darwinism” refers to in the US, but I do not think that any ideology is acting as a barrier in evolutionary science.” – Elizabeth

    This might help – it is a significant level above Wikipedia: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/darwinism/

    Please don’t quiz me anymore about defining ‘Darwinism qua ideology’ when the simple point to make is that it *is* ideology, which you have not yet conceded.

    “I thought that might be the explanation of your understanding of the word “Darwinism”.” – Elizabeth

    No, I do not live in the USA and am not a USAmerican citizen. But it is interesting that you recognize the power of ‘environment’ or ‘surroundings’ in informing how people approach ‘science’ and ‘nature’ and ‘society’ and ‘culture,’ if that is what you meant.

    “I have nothing to say about Darwin’s “worldview”. I am only interested in him as a scientist” – Elizabeth

    That’s a shame. I’m not interested only in Darwin’s contribution to (naturalistic) science (though that interests me also), but also in who he was as a person and in what he believed about the universe and why. Indeed, it seems to be much harder to take a(n) holistic approach than to settle for a reductionistic one as you are doing, where ‘personality’ is checked in a closet at the door.

    The fact that you lost (your) religion finally after reading a Richard Dawkins newspaper article just after 11-09-01, speaks volumes for the cultural situation in which you live today in England. I have heard, however, that the UK is more tolerant of ID advocates than in the USA, due to the persistence of an established Church, and thus, the (qualified) legitimacy of religion in British society. Indeed, I find the over-lap between science, philosophy and religion a ripe ground for new fruits, which involves necessarily love, goodness and purpose.

    Regarding the so-called ‘charge’ that you seem intent to deny, it is simply that (natural & applied) scientists are nowadays studied by anthropologists and sociologists. That was what the Lepenies quotation meant, and why I called you a ‘savage,’ since it seems you are a ‘neuroscientist’ (is this true?). Both anthropology of science and sociology of science are active fields that ‘watch’ or ‘observe’ (natural & applied) scientists ‘in action.’ This doesn’t seem like something to deny, does it Elizabeth? Even if you do not view scientists as a kind of priesthood, it doesn’t mean that others do view science that way; hence more and more discussions of ‘scientism.’

    “What I object to is the equivocation – using the term, usually pejoratively, to denote some ideology, and then implying that it has anything to do with the theory of evolution.” – Elizabeth

    Yes, and rightly so. There are many in the IDM that do this – having no positive words at all to say about Darwin and his (natural) scientific contribution. What I hear you saying is that ‘evolution’ is independent of Darwin, and at the same time that Darwin’s theories ‘underpin evolutionary science.’ The ideology of Darwinism, however, does not ‘underpin evolutionary science,’ but rather ‘evolutionistic ideology.’ Do you acknowledge a difference?

    Darwin is not a boogeyman for me, Elizabeth, as he admittedly is for many in the IDM. ID advocates can and often do justify their narrow focus on Darwinian evolution, on Darwinists and Darwinism. I received my major training about Darwin, ‘evolution’ and ‘creation’ outside of the Anglo-American tradition. Indeed, what this tradition exposes is the narrow-mindedness of the PoS upon which many arguments for ‘methodological naturalism’ and ‘nature uber alles’ that you have been repeating are based.

    You view that ‘technology’ is ‘natural’ is an easy example, which I’ll get around to writing about elsewhere. Likewise, your early claim to me that your studies in neuroscience explore purpose, decision making and meaning betrays the object/subject of neuroscience, which is not society, but brains. Socio-neuroscience, is that what you are suggesting makes your (personal) field’s topic purpose, decision making and meaning?

  23. Gregory I cannot agree that “Darwinism is an ideology”.
    in any sense other than that it is possible that some people use the signifier “Darwinism” to denote an ideology. It is not a usage I am familiar with, so I am asking you, again, what ideology you know of that is denoted by the signifier “Darwinism”.

    I certainly do not deny that such usage occurs, it is, simply, one with which I am not famiiliar. Your link gives, as a referent for “Darwinism”, “a distinctive form of evolutionary explanation for the history and diversity of life on earth”. That is not an “ideology”. At least not in usages of the word “ideology” that I am familiar with!

    But this discussion about who means what by which word is getting us nowhere. Let us define what we ourselves mean, and move on from there.

    Regarding the so-called ‘charge’ that you seem intent to deny, it is simply that (natural & applied) scientists are nowadays studied by anthropologists and sociologists. That was what the Lepenies quotation meant, and why I called you a ‘savage,’ since it seems you are a ‘neuroscientist’ (is this true?). Both anthropology of science and sociology of science are active fields that ‘watch’ or ‘observe’ (natural & applied) scientists ‘in action.’ This doesn’t seem like something to deny, does it Elizabeth? Even if you do not view scientists as a kind of priesthood, it doesn’t mean that others do view science that way; hence more and more discussions of ‘scientism.’

    If all you mean is that some anthropologists study scientists are regard them as savages, well, if you say so. I expect it’s true. That they do so, I mean.

    Yes, and rightly so. There are many in the IDM that do this – having no positive words at all to say about Darwin and his (natural) scientific contribution. What I hear you saying is that ‘evolution’ is independent of Darwin, and at the same time that Darwin’s theories ‘underpin evolutionary science.’ The ideology of Darwinism, however, does not ‘underpin evolutionary science,’ but rather ‘evolutionistic ideology.’ Do you acknowledge a difference?

    Let me clarify (I do not recall saying that evolution is independent of Darwin – if I did say it, a link to context would be helpful). I think that the explanandum of evolutionary theory is the distribution of phenotypic and genetic features of living things, and of the geological record of living things. I think that Darwin’s basic insight, namely that heritable variation in reproductive success results in adaptation of a population to its environment (and I think this is a fair description) underpins all modern evolutionary theory. It needn’t – if someone comes along with some quite different theory that explains the data better, fine – but I don’t see any current theory (apart from ID, and even IDists usually acknowledge that the Darwinian algorithm results in “microevolution”) to which that principle does not form a fundamental part, not Shapiro, not Margulis, not evo-devo, not even OOL studies, interestingly, which increasingly invoke Darwinian processes to bootstrap the earliest barely-self-reproducing molecules or vesicles into robustly self-reproducing ones.

    That’s a shame. I’m not interested only in Darwin’s contribution to (naturalistic) science (though that interests me also), but also in who he was as a person and in what he believed about the universe and why. Indeed, it seems to be much harder to take a(n) holistic approach than to settle for a reductionistic one as you are doing, where ‘personality’ is checked in a closet at the door.

    Well, let me walk that back a little. Yes, I am quite interested in Darwin as a historical person, but no more so than other historical people, and less than some, while I find his scientific principle absolutely and continuingly fascinating.

    The fact that you lost (your) religion finally after reading a Richard Dawkins newspaper article just after 11-09-01, speaks volumes for the cultural situation in which you live today in England.

    Well, no, it doesn’t, because while I was appalled at the lack of a principled and honest response from religious leaders to that article, it was not the precipitating factor for my abandonment of theism, by a long shot, although you are trivially correct that it preceded it.

    I have heard, however, that the UK is more tolerant of ID advocates than in the USA,

    We may be more tolerant of it. Most people have never heard of it. Same with other religious ideas that are familiar in the US – the Rapture for instance. There aren’t even any jokes about it, because it just isn’t a current meme. Nor is ID, at least in my experience.

    due to the persistence of an established Church, and thus, the (qualified) legitimacy of religion in British society. Indeed, I find the over-lap between science, philosophy and religion a ripe ground for new fruits, which involves necessarily love, goodness and purpose.

    I’m now assuming you are not British – am I right? My own view is that the existence of an established church in England (not Britain, of course) seems ensure that religion is taken for granted, and largely ignored, except as a cultural spectacle, and even that is waning. The more lively churches on the whole are catholic and evangelical churches (although a few of the latter are Anglican). Not sure what your last sentence means. I might agree with it or I might not.

    Likewise, your early claim to me that your studies in neuroscience explore purpose, decision making and meaning betrays the object/subject of neuroscience, which is not society, but brains. Socio-neuroscience, is that what you are suggesting makes your (personal) field’s topic purpose, decision making and meaning?

    And I’m afraid I don’t understand this question either. Nor do accept the implication of your statement. A brain, clearly, is not a mind (at its simplest because an inactivated brain is still a brain, but obviously not a mind). Brains do not have purposes, people do. Brains do not make decisions and act on them, people do. A brain is not a decision-making organism, a person is a decision-making organism.

    There is a good reason why brain-in-a-vat thought experiments tend to yield fallacious conclusions.

  24. Let’s try this another way, since you’ve once again ommitted to answer the basic and simple linguistic distinction I bolded in 3.1.1.1:

    “If all you mean is that I should have used the word “Darwinian evolution”, fair enough.” – Elizabeth

    Was this not an acceptance that ‘Darwinism’ and ‘Darwinian evolution’ have different meanings? ‘Fair enough’ meant what?

    Are you just being a stubborn horsey, now that you’ve reached the water, Lizzie? ; )

    One might ask what counts as ideology to you, Elizabeth, if ‘Darwinism’ doesn’t count. I raised the notion of ‘Marxism’ – to which your wind instrument lay silent. You would not be the first natural scientist I’ve met who categorically denies *any* ideology in her view that science is a universalistic, worldview-like substitute for religion and faith.

    You are at risk of losing a dialogue partner due to waffling.

  25. I honestly have no idea what response you are waiting for from me, Gregory. It’s not for want of trying to understand your question – I just don’t get it.

    My view of language is straightforward – that words – signifiers – have referents, and that those referents are sometimes different for different people, in different contexts, and in different linguistic traditions.

    If you say that “Darwinism” is sometimes used to denote an ideology, fine. It probably is. It’s just not a usage I am familiar with.

    I don’t see what else I can say really.

    I certainly deny that science is a universalistic worldview like substitute for religion. Dunno about “faith”. Dunno what it means – or what it means in the context in which you are using it, anyway.

    I hope that clarifies things a little.

  26. Thank you Elizabeth, you have faced my questions with what is available in your current arsenal. There is no pre-scripted answer that I was awaiting from you.

    I was looking for some creativity and recognition of ‘ideology.’ Unfortunately, you’ve confirmed that ideology is something ‘unfamiliar’ in your studies and education. This is not an uncommon thing, in my experience with natural scientists.

    Darwinism as ideology, Darwian evolution as scientific theory, for better or worse, is the ‘mature’ position. Asking you to ‘grow up’ and accept this would be impolite, and perhaps seem just as condescending as the sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists who figure social scientists are children to their ‘evolved’ higher minds.

    As for what ‘faith’ means, well, I guess you’ll just have to ‘have faith’ to discover it! ; )

    “hard to know what it is if you never had one” – U2

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