He said it: Prof Lewontin’s strawman “justification” for imposing a priori materialist censorship on origins science
|June 15, 2011||Posted by kairosfocus under academic freedom, Atheism, Creationism, Darwinism, Design inference, ID Foundations, Intellectual freedom, Intelligent Design, Philosophy, Religion, Science, science education, theistic evolution|
Yesterday, in the P Z Myers quote-mining and distortion thread, I happened to cite Lewontin’s infamous 1997 remark in his NYRB article, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” on a priori imposition of materialist censorship on origins science, which reads in the crucial part:
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
To my astonishment, I was promptly accused of quote-mining and even academic malpractice, because I omitted the following two sentences, which — strange as it may seem — some evidently view as justifying the above censoring imposition:
The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.
To my mind, instead, these last two sentences are such a sad reflection of bias and ignorance, that their omission is an act of charity to a distinguished professor.
Similar, in fact, to how I also did not refer to the case prof Lewontin also cited, of what we were invited to believe was a “typical fundamentalist” woman who disbelieved the TV broadcasts of the Moon landing in 1969 on grounds that she could not receive broadcasts from Dallas. By telling contrast, Lewontin somehow omitted to mention that the designer of the Moon rocket, Werner von Braun, was a Bible-believing, Evangelical Christian and Creationist who kept a well-thumbed Gideon Bible in his office.
The second saddest thing in this, is that ever so many now seem to be unaware that:
1: Historically, it was specifically that theistic confidence in an orderly cosmos governed by a wise and orderly Creator that gave modern science much of its starting impetus from about 1200 to 1700. Newton’s remarks in his General Scholium to his famous work, Principia (which introduces his Laws of Motion and Gravitation), are a classic illustration of this historical fact.
[Let me add an excerpt from the GS: “[[t]his most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being . . . It is allowed by all that the Supreme God exists necessarily; and by the same necessity he exists always, and every where. [[i.e. he accepts the cosmological argument to God] . . . We know him only by his most wise and excellent contrivances of things, and final cause [[i.e from his designs] . . . Blind metaphysical necessity, which is certainly the same always and every where, could produce no variety of things. [[i.e. necessity does not produce contingency]. All that diversity of natural things which we find suited to different times and places could arise from nothing but the ideas and will of a Being necessarily existing. [[That is, he implicitly rejects chance, Plato’s third alternative and explicitly infers to the Designer of the Cosmos.]”]
2: As C S Lewis and many other popular as well as technical theological and historical writers point out (cf. here, here and here), in theism, miracles are signs pointing from the ordinary course of the world to the special intervention of God. As such, a world in which miracles happen MUST be a world in which there is an ordinary, predictable day to day course of events — one that is amenable to science, rather than the rationality-sapping chaos Beck and Lewontin imagine.
3: Similarly, one of the major, well-known emphases of theism is our accountability before God as morally governed agents and stewards of our world. Such accountability is only reasonable in a cosmos where choices and actions have reliably predictable consequences. Such a world, again, is one in which science is possible.
4: In light of such facts, it is unsurprising that the leading scientists of the foundational era of modern science often saw themselves as thinking God’s creative and sustaining thoughts after him.
5: Going beyond that, as Nancy Pearcey rightly pointed out in her 2005 article, “Christianity is a Science-starter, not a Science-stopper”:
Most historians today agree that the main impact Christianity had on the origin and development of modern science was positive. Far from being a science stopper, it is a science starter . . . .
[T]his should come as no surprise. After all, modern science arose in one place and one time only: It arose out of medieval Europe, during a period when its intellectual life was thoroughly permeated with a Christian worldview. Other great cultures, such as the Chinese and the Indian, often developed a higher level of technology and engineering. But their expertise tended to consist of practical know-how and rules of thumb. They did not develop what we know as experimental science–testable theories organized into coherent systems. Science in this sense has appeared only once in history. As historian Edward Grant writes, “It is indisputable that modern science emerged in the seventeenth century in Western Europe and nowhere else.”. . . .
The church fathers taught that the material world came from the hand of a good Creator, and was thus essentially good. The result is described by a British philosopher of science, Mary Hesse: “There has never been room in the Hebrew or Christian tradition for the idea that the material world is something to be escaped from, and that work in it is degrading.” Instead, “Material things are to be used to the glory of God and for the good of man.” Kepler is, once again, a good example. When he discovered the third law of planetary motion (the orbital period squared is proportional to semi-major axis cubed, or P[superscript 2] = a [superscript 3]), this was for him “an astounding confirmation of a geometer god worthy of worship. He confessed to being ‘carried away by unutterable rapture at the divine spectacle of heavenly harmony’.” In the biblical worldview, scientific investigation of nature became both a calling and an obligation. As historian John Hedley Brooke explains, the early scientists “would often argue that God had revealed himself in two books—the book of His words (the Bible) and the book of His works (nature). As one was under obligation to study the former, so too there was an obligation to study the latter.” The rise of modern science cannot be explained apart from the Christian view of nature as good and worthy of study, which led the early scientists to regard their work as obedience to the cultural mandate to “till the garden”. . . .
Today the majority of historians of science agree with this positive assessment of the impact the Christian worldview had on the rise of science. Yet even highly educated people remain ignorant of this fact. Why is that? The answer is that history was founded as a modern discipline by Enlightenment figures such as Voltaire, Gibbon, and Hume who had a very specific agenda: They wanted to discredit Christianity while promoting rationalism. And they did it by painting the middle ages as the “Dark Ages,” a time of ignorance and superstition. They crafted a heroic saga in which modern science had to battle fierce opposition and oppression from Church authorities. Among professional historians, these early accounts are no longer considered reliable sources. Yet they set the tone for the way history books have been written ever since. The history of science is often cast as a secular morality tale of enlightenment and progress against the dark forces of religion and superstition. Stark puts it in particularly strong terms: “The ‘Enlightenment’ [was] conceived initially as a propaganda ploy by militant atheists and humanists who attempted to claim credit for the rise of science.” Stark’s comments express a tone of moral outrage that such bad history continues to be perpetuated, even in academic circles. He himself published an early paper quoting the standards texts, depicting the relationship between Christianity and science as one of constant “warfare.” He now seems chagrined to learn that, even back then, those stereotypes had already been discarded by professional historians.
Today the warfare image has become a useful tool for politicians and media elites eager to press forward with a secularist agenda . . . [The whole article is well worth the read, here.]
Perhaps, the saddest thing is, even with such correction on the record, many will be so taken in by the myth of the ages-long war of religion attacking science, and by the caricature of the religious as “ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked,” that they will still fail to see that the last two sentences cited from Lewontin above, provide not a justification for materialist censorship on the very definition and methods of science, but instead a further proof of just how ill-instructed, polarising and pernicious such a priori imposition of materialism is.
At the expense of simplicity (and while reserving the right to excerpt from the wider commented quote and using a link back to show the context), I have therefore decided to adjust the commented quotation as follows, to provide a correction on the record:
>> a key danger of putting materialistic philosophical blinkers on science is that it can easily lead on to the practical establishment of materialistic ideology under false colours of “truth” or the closest practical approximation we can get to it. Where that happens, those who object may then easily find themselves tagged and dismissed as pseudo-scientific (or even fraudulent) opponents of progress, knowledge, right and truth; which can then lead on to very unfair or even unjust treatment at the hands of those who wield power. Therefore, if religious censorship of science (as in part happened to Galileo etc.) was dangerous and unacceptable, materialist censorship must also be equally wrong.
Well did Aristotle warn us in his The Rhetoric, Bk I Ch 2:
. . . persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile . . .
So revealing, then, is the Lewontin quote that it is no surprise that several months later, design thinker Philip Johnson, went on corrective record as follows:
Let us hope the above will sufficiently set the record straight that we can now clear the atmosphere of the miasma of poisonous caricatures of theism and theists, and address the substantial matter, the recovery of an objective understanding of what science is and how it should work. For, nothing can justify such a priori censorship as Lewontin advocates — and many others also (including very important official bodies), e.g. the US National Academy of Science and the US National Science Teacher’s Association.
In that interest, I suggest that we would profit from reflecting on this proposed restoration of the more historically warranted, and epistemologically justifiable understanding of what science should seek to be:
science, at its best, is the unfettered — but ethically and intellectually responsible — progressive, observational evidence-led pursuit of the truth about our world (i.e. an accurate and reliable description and explanation of it), based on:
c: thus producing hypotheses, laws, theories and models, using logical-mathematical analysis, intuition and creative, rational imagination [[including Einstein’s favourite gedankenexperiment, i.e thought experiments],
d: continual empirical testing through further experiments, observations and measurement; and,
e: uncensored but mutually respectful discussion on the merits of fact, alternative assumptions and logic among the informed. (And, especially in wide-ranging areas that cut across traditional dividing lines between fields of study, or on controversial subjects, “the informed” is not to be confused with the eminent members of the guild of scholars and their publicists or popularisers who dominate a particular field at any given time.)
As a result, science enables us to ever more effectively (albeit provisionally) describe, explain, understand, predict and influence or control objects, phenomena and processes in our world.
Let us trust, then, that cooler and wiser heads will now prevail and in the years ahead, science can and will be rescued from ideological censorship and captivity to Lewontinian-Saganian a priori evolutionary materialism presented in the name of science, through so-called methodological naturalism.
CONCLUSION (after a day of intense exchanges):
It seems to me that CD captured the essential problem in the false accusation of quote-mining, as early as comment no 3:
Evolutionists in general absolutely hate it when we use the words of authority figures like Crick and Lewontin against them. So when they say “Stop quote mining” what they actually mean is “Stop quoting!”
Bot is very much mistaken when [in comment no 1, cf below] he claims that Kairosfocus was “concealing the proper context of the quote”. The substantial point – that Lewontin demands an a priori, completely exclusive commitment to materialism – is not altered in any way by the lines that were omitted. What the likes of Bot also need to realise about quoting is that, when quoting, you have to start and end somewhere.
Quoting is an exercise in capturing the essence of the substantial point being made: not reproducing the complete work.
After over 100 further comments, much of it on tangential themes, it is quite evident that this summary still stands. END
F/N: Smoking gun, courtesy Expelled. (HT: News.)