Re: Washington Post Magazine article on ID

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Fri Feb 24 2006 - 08:55:58 EST

I have to admit, Gregory, I just don't entirely follow your train of thought in what follows below, esp as it comments on my posts. I don't think I could restate all of the points you are trying to make about my views. This could be one of those cases where members of different "communities of discourse" just aren't getting across to one another. Although I read a fair bit of sociology of science, there are sometimes when I just don't get it, when I have the gut feeling that what has just been said in (say) 7 paragraphs might have been put more clearly and accurately in 7 words--if I could somehow discern what those 7 paragraphs were actually trying to say. I've had that experience from time to time.

For the record, let me just state that I am not a philosopher. I'm an historian. Yes, I did study a little philosophy of science in grad school, so I know what it looks like and can read a lot of it without getting lost, but I am not a philosopher. The philosophical distinction between "science as science" vs "science as metaphysics" is however worth drawing at least for analytical purposes, IMO. David Livingstone (and many others) don't think it holds up historically, and I'm sympathetic to that, but nevertheless I don't agree that the distinction is without content. One CAN accept the apparent validity of a given scientific theory (such as Newtonian gravitation or Darwinian evolution or Quantum mechanics) without accepting a specific metaphysical/philosophical interpretation of a that theory. Physicists argued for two centuries (and still do, for that matter), for example, about whether or not such a thing as "action at a distance" is even coherent, let alone whether!
 it actually exists. Yet they bought the mathematical descriptions of motion stated by Newton as accurate science.

Incidentally, when you quoted the following, Gregory...

  "By its salvation is meant its desirable natural evolution." * ASA (source misplaced)

That comes from my post containing the passage from Vern Kellogg. Kellogg was summing up the position of the German officers/intellectuals whom he dined with in Belgium.

As for my "being isolated by the scientific community, which often considers anthropology merely a 'soft science.' ," I don't share this perception. It has long been my opinion that American Scientist is the best science magazine in the world (not refereed science journal, but magazine about science), and they are the people who published the article I cited about the biological roots of Nazism. They also published an article of mine last spring, in which there is signifcant attention paid to the "science" of eugenics 80 years ago. The caption under the final illustration, written actually by a staffer at the magazine (the inclusion of that particular illustration of a flyer from the second International Congress of Eugenics in 1921 was their idea, not mine), notes that Osborn "was one of many scientists who embraced eugenics as a means of social reform. ... The use of evolutionary theory as a scientific basis for these measures complicated the interactions between relig!
on and science in the 1920s."

I received a lot of mail about that essay, and the magazine got further letters that were not sent to me. Just one took exception to it, all the others affirmed their interest in this topic. Judging from the royalty check I received this past year, I would say that lots of scientists are using this article in their classes. I know it's being used at Harvard Medical School and several other research universities. Almost all of the people who wrote me are scientists--subscribers are almost all members of Sigma Xi, a science honorary society. I take this as hard evidence that scientists are open to hearing this type of commentary.

I don't plan to make further comments on this thread, but I'll read those of others.


>>> Gregory Arago <> 02/24/06 4:42 AM >>>

  Dr. Allan Harvey's restatement of Ted's contention stands uncontested, either by biologists, engineers, cosmologists, psychologists, or any other scientists at ASA: "[B]elief in evolution was used to promote racism and Nazism." Was it not?
  In the defence of evolutionary theories across the board, natural scientists who are both evolutionists and theists are guilty of/prone to stretching their confidence in evolutionary theory beyond the confines of purely 'natural science.' Perhaps as a philosopher of science Ted has put his finger on a delicate problem. Otherwise, it seems that certain figures who have studied both science and philosophy or science and theology should have an important role in building bridges, instead of entrenching dogmatic positions. They might help the competing parties to know where they stand contextually.
  Natural scientists who wish to protect the legitimacy of their academic territory (apparently) do not choose to indulge Ted's views. Likewise, the social scientist who questions evolutionary dominance in his or her field, being in the vast, vast minority, is not given even a breath of consideration, let alone criticism or encouragement to continue to discern between what evolution can and cannot explain (if there is anything inexplicable by evolution). They are just told they don't belong in the game. 'Science' wins by not taking part in the discussion.
  "By its salvation is meant its desirable natural evolution." * ASA (source misplaced)
  And this is why Christian scholars should listen to natural scientists about who controls the evolution discourse?
  "[P]erhaps arguing that certain races were clearly 'designed' to rule over others?" * Allan Harvey
  Those words won't endear a person to the IDM! And yet, it is a reality that the IDM must confront if it really is to have "implications for all humane studies" as Michael Behe states in the foreword to "Intelligent Design: THE Bridge between Science and Theology" (1999). Are social inequalities 'intelligently designed'?
  "[T]he anthropologists did seem to be encouraged to make racism 'scientific' by their commitment to evolution. Who are the most 'primitive' people, the ones most removed from homo Britannicus or homo Americanus on the scale of beings?" * Ted
  Though there seems to be a considerable difference in approach between philosophy of science and sociology of science, I find many of Ted's comments well connected to the paradigm that social scientific theories are currently confronting. When Bruno Latour followed scientists around to reveal "Science in Action" he discovered that no 'science' is entirely objective, but that the subjectivities of scientists were themselves observable in the making of every scientific theory and practice. Even by invoking anthropology (cultural, linguistic, physical or archaeological, etc.) Ted risks being isolated by the scientific community, which often considers anthropology merely a 'soft science.' This is at the same time that I heard an Orthodox Priest recently acknowledge that there wasn't enough attention given to anthropology in the early Christian Church. Perhaps there's not enough attention given to anthropology today if evolution = bad!
  "There is a tendency, Glenn, to assume that older civilizations were composed largely of stupid individuals compared to us, the intelligent, well-educated, scientifically astute." * Dick Fisher
  This comment ties together exactly with claims of evolutionary and sometimes neo-evolutionary anthropology!
  It's hard to see why natural scientists continue to want to go it alone, without the perspectives of social scientists and philosophers of science, who are actually not telling scientists what to think anyway. Contextualization is a *huge* issue here.
  G. Arago wrote: Ted Davis wrote:
  The fact that creationists today blame evolution for everything evil and
rotten has more to do with their definition of evolution as sin itself
(Morris believes that evolution was the lie delivered by Satan to Nimrod at the tower of Babel, for example), than with historical reality.
Nevertheless, there is historical reality to their claim that belief in
evolution promoted racism and Nazism.
  Would that last sentence be better stated as "belief in evolution was used to promote racism and Nazism."? Was it really cause-and-effect as Ted's wording would suggest? Or was it more a case of people with already racist tendencies grabbing onto whatever science was around in order to arrive at the conclusions they were seeking? Or perhaps it was some of both.
    This distinction seems important to me. To choose a somewhat parallel example, there is a significant difference between saying "belief in Christianity promoted the Crusades" and "belief in Christianity was used to promote the Crusades".

  Had Paley been the prevailing scientific paradigm at the time, would we have seen similar movements with different justification, perhaps arguing that certain races were clearly "designed" to rule over others? Certainly some who rejected Darwin promoted forms of racism supposedly supported by science -- I am thinking particularly of Agassiz.

Dr. Allan H. Harvey, Boulder, Colorado |
"Any opinions expressed here are mine, and should not be
attributed to my employer, my wife, or my cat"

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Received on Fri Feb 24 08:56:44 2006

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