Re: A touch of Russian cynicism? (was Re: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design)

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Fri Apr 24 2009 - 09:39:28 EDT

Hi Murray,
Thanks for your questions, which are difficult ones. They are of course personal in some ways as well. Yet I can try to speak as objectively as a subjective person may aspire to.
First, let me say that I've read more of Michael Polanyi than of Solzhenitsyn. The latter is one Russian writer whom I've kept away from on purpose due to the intensely political 'character' (i.e. not 'nature') of his writings. I read him in Russian in early 2001 speaking about 'power' and that was enough to lead me back to Plato and Aristotle as deeper philosophical resources. Perhaps in the not-so-distant future I'll return to him again wrt 'truth and reconciliation'.
My Russian philosophy instructor was a great leader in this regard - "go to the classics, there is not 'progress' in philosophy like there is supposedly in natural science." George Grant (Cdn philosof) echoed this too, so we are in good company. Solzhenitsyn was after all first a novelist, not a 'systems analyst' compared with someone like Ilya Prigogine. And he was exiled for many years in America, so this greatly coloured his views - e.g. we wouldn't trust the great poet (in league with Dante, Cervantes and Shakespeare) Alexander Pushkin's views of the state any more than Solzhenitsyn's due to this fact. There was obvious anger in his voice - "burn with my words the hearts of men," wrote Pushkin - in addition to critical scholarly analysis.
That said, I do find it interesting what you ask. It should be said upfront and openly that I have not grown cynical living in Russia, even with the strong influence of this system. Thus, to answer the thread's title, you won't find a touch of Russian cyncism here. There are strengths and weaknesses of all systems and, as the great Canadian political-economist and historian Harold A. Innis wrote after visiting the USSR for a month in 1945,
“The tendency to rely on force is accentuated by the necessity of discussion in the simplest possible terms of the relative advantages of systems. System is a fighting word and the emotional excitement surrounding it obscures even a realization of the necessity of intelligence.” ("Reflections on Russia" [1945]: 76)
I might add that American 'systems-thinking' is likewise biased and insular (as all national ideologies are), but that the United States is more isolated than most on the global stage, and certainly it is more isolated than is Canada ("God save our gracious Queen"). I wonder how you feel there in Australia, Murray, surrounded by non-western nations, living 'down-under,' yet still attached to the legacies that gave birth to and supported your homeland's quest for national sovereignty. My words thus far are likely to be censored by the moderators for missing the mark of 'science and religion' plus philosophy dialogue.
Let me note just one more 'non-scientific' thing that contrasting 'socialist' and 'soviet' doesn't make sense, given that the Russian meaning of 'soviet' is 'council.' Unless you meant a 'consensus' "notion of science" I see no direct connection between them.
Polanyi's defense of 'freedom in science' and his criticism of the system of 'planned science' has (at least) two edges. One the one hand, the creativity of scientists shouldn't be oppressed by the hand of the state, due to ideological pressures. On the other hand, 'mass science' requires the 'command' of resources at a large scale, which cannot be accomplished by individual scientists alone. It is a command vs. market question that is still not entirely solved or forever balanced.
This is a paradox of sorts, likewise the 'socialist-looking' turn of 'government support for banks' during this current economic downturn, which began in America. Polanyi was himself a natural scientist and not just a (read: lesser, in the minds of most natural scientists) philosopher of science. Yet in some senses a 'collective approach' to scientific R&D seems to fit consistently with a 'democratic,' even laissez-faire economic-social system, which runs alongside an 'individualist approach.' Likely the best alternative model to compare with America's today is China, which still plans much of its science and has gained achievements with science (as a tool, not a worldview) under a system of more-than-American government control. How much is to be invested in science instead of arts, education, cultural and social programs, political empowerment, healthcare, etc.?
Rather than being cynical, as in always doubting people, my experiences in Russia have revealed many things invisible or simply outside of the frame of reference to western scholars and scientists, that I have come to believe in. Included in this, is a clear and coherent perspective that the philosophical assumption of MN is sinister in that it is 'misanthropic.' Indeed, it is a weapon of dehumanisation far greater than Ted Davis and many others on this list have yet considered, and certainly not comprehended. Keith Miller didn't answer my question for a good reason - it would have denuded him of any force in his philosophy of science.
Here I would say that yes, my experiences in Russia have allowed me to see from a healthy distance some western views which are, as you say, "blind to its ideological commitments." Science in America is strong, yet philosophy of science quite obviously is, as admitted on this list, weak. MN is a glaringly obvious example of this in the way that natural scientists think about it and use it in arguments. These arguments can be read on-line and in printed texts and thus argued against for their lack of coherent vision.
Hopefully I have addressed, even if in just a tangental way, the questions in your post.
With warm spring-sunshine wishes,
from Spb,

--- On Fri, 4/24/09, Murray Hogg <> wrote:

From: Murray Hogg <>
Subject: A touch of Russian cynicism? (was Re: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design)
To: "ASA" <>
Received: Friday, April 24, 2009, 2:02 AM

Hi Greg,

A change in subject line to flag the introduction of a tangential

I've been reading Solzhenitsyn recently and got to wondering: to what
extent has your Russian experience influenced your views on Philosophy of
Science? I ask because Solzhenitsyn explored some rather interesting questions
in respects of how "the system" influences perceptions (I'm
thinking particularly of "For the Good of the Cause" here, but one
sees it in his other works) and did so, interestingly, at the same time that
Polanyi was developing his philosophy of science in conscious contrast to what
we might call "socialist" (or even "soviet") notions of

It does strike me that your remarks below mirror, in some respects, the sort of
criticisms that Solzhenitsyn was making of the soviet academy (hence the subject
line of the post) - i.e. that it was blind to its ideological commitments - and
wondered how your time in Russia might have influenced this?


Gregory Arago wrote:
> Hi Ted,
> In the following quotation you've left out 'humanity' - why?
> "This isn't what the genuine pursuit of truth about God and
nature should be about, IMO."
> Why not truth about humanity too? Is humanity left out so that a certain
philosophical assumption about 'science' can be defended and a
comfortable status quo (based on the 1986 paper of a Calvin College philosopher)
maintained? That way one doesn't have to deal with all of the complicated
things that involve the human beings who are doing the science itself. One can
avoid all of the messiness of how science is done through human action and not
without it.
> This move (and I suspect it is unintentional and for the most part not
even recognized by those who commit it) to dehumanise the academy is more
divisive than anything the IDM has yet offered!
> If we aren't doing science to better humanity, then what are we doing
it for - science just for science's sake, like a fetish? How does this
glorify the Creator, by turning our backs on the Holy Spirit?
> Johnson's approach is in some ways muddy and in some ways it is
crystal clear. He is and was right to challenge 'naturalism' as a
"cause of so much moral and cultural depravity." Naturalism is not the
only cause, there are surely others, but it is 'a' cause indeed and is
oftentimes opposed to theism. Not according to theistic naturalists, of course,
but then, isn't a 'theistic naturalist' a contradiction in terms and
isn't their definition of 'naturalism' thus entirely unsatisfactory
and unconvincing?
> The MN-squad opposes Johnson's views about naturalism with its own
unsaid 'wedge' strategy, that is, with the argument that
"methodological naturalism does not equate with metaphysical
naturalism". MN does not = MN. This is a shoddy philosophical assumption,
much more naive than what Stephen Meyer is offering about how many great
historical scientists thought and worked 'doing science' consistently
with the idea of 'intelligent design'. And MN causes great damage (which
MNists don't like to admit, but which doesn't make it untrue) to the
potential unity of the Academy by conveniently forgetting all of humanity
'in the process.'
> May we be on the lookout for bridges (and philosophies) we might not yet
know exist,
> Gregory
> --- On *Thu, 4/23/09, Ted Davis /<>/* wrote:
> From: Ted Davis <>
> Subject: Re: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design
> To: "David Clounch" <>,
"Cameron Wybrow"
> <>
> Cc:
> Received: Thursday, April 23, 2009, 6:40 PM
> If the waters have been muddied, David, in your words "so badly
> almost everybody thinks thats TD is ID and ID is TD. Everyone seems
> concerned that some transcendental agent is at work," then IMO
it is
> mainly if not entirely b/c leading ID advocates themselves have turned
> ground under them into mud.
> I mean especially Phil Johnson, none other than the "father"
of the
> ID movement, with his campaign to use ID as the "entering
wedge" to
> topple naturalism, which he in turn sees as the cause of so much moral
> cultural depravity. And, I mean Bill Demsbki, who (in the preface to
> Festschrift for Johnson that he edited) wrote, following the Dover
trial, that
> "school boards and state legislators may tread more cautiously,
but tread
> on evolution they will — the culture war demands it!”
> When 2 of the 3 top guns in the movement (the other one is Mike Behe)
say such
> things, it's somewhere between extremely difficult and impossible
> separate the ideas from the culture wars and thus from the religious
component. Ditto for the refusal publicly on the part of ID to pronounce a
view on the
> history of nature (i.e., the big bang, the old earth, the historicity
of the
> fossil record), which allows YECs to make up a good part of the camp
following. Ditto for the attack dog mode of UD and Denyse O'Leary, which
apes what it
> abhors (namely, the attack dog mode of Dawkins and company) and plays
to the
> culture of talk radio and sound bites. This isn't what the
genuine pursuit
> of truth about God and nature should be about, IMO. But, if you
somehow rid ID
> of all of those associations, you might end up with half a dozen nerds
> around a table talking serious stuff, not a movement large enough to
> change in how science is taught in public schools. And that, f!
> or Johnson and many of his friends and followers, is the bottom
> Ted
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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Received on Fri Apr 24 09:39:56 2009

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