Lewontin's Divine Foot

From: Sarah Berel-Harrop (sec@hal-pc.org)
Date: Tue Sep 23 2003 - 23:12:51 EDT

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    Re: RFEP & IDIt blew past me that someone made reference to the
    "divine foot" paragraph by Lewontin. I am not sure
    whether he got it from an ID source or read the article.

    Here is the article.


    My comments,

    I think the ID people got a lot of mileage on a statement
    that was easy to misinterpret if you don't read a lot of
    L's work. There are a lot of ways to interpret what he
    meant. First recognize that this in a certain sense a highly
    negative review. He is not saying don't read the book but
    he is saying that he thinks Carl Sagan is wrong to
    popularize science using the angle he does. In that sense
    what you have here is a somewhat sarcastic articulation
    of Sagan's view. If you read the preface to _It Ain't
    Necessarily So_ you will see L does this very same
    thing over I can't remember the subject, maybe
    genomania. So I think he's making fun of materialists
    a little bit here. I don't think he's setting out a research
    methodology, as has been portrayed by the ID'rs.

    Here is another clue: look at the paragraph immediately
    following, the divine foot paragraph, where he notes "The
    mutual exclusion of the material and the demonic has not
    been true of all cultures and all times." Remember, he
    is a Marxist. He here and in other writings has noted
    that the rules of science are situated in a social context,
    and he's describing here the way it's played these days.
    I don't think he's passing a normative judgement here,
    in the sense that I think he would say ALL science
    is socially situated, in fact I am pretty sure he has
    stated (the comment, racists do racist science in
    the review of Mismeasure of Man comes to mind).

    And the juxtaposition of Newton and LaPlace is
    interesting, not least because Newton was highly
    religious albeit Arian and LaPlace also a devout
    Catholic. Whether intentional or not, he shows here
    Newton put God in the Gap and LaPlace took Him
    out. Then back to the class thing.

    And that is what I think this essay is really about. He is
    saying it is wrong to take superstition - the "demon-haunted
    world" or maybe Dr Nelson would say folk religion - and
    replace it with a superstitious trust in science. It's wrong
    because it doesn't change the situation for those who are
    not in the elite, it just changes the master. The final
    paragraph articulates that, how do we teach lay people how
    to evaluate claims? And that is really quite an important
    question that got lost in the hype over this quote.

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