Thursday, February 15, 2007

On the "Darwin Fetish" and Other Political Oxymorons

SOURCE: Cornell IDEA Club

AUTHOR: Allen MacNeill

The IDEA Club at Cornell has recently been discussing the following quote by Steve Fuller, a sociologist and one of the "experts" who testified in support of "intelligent design" at the Dover trial in Pennsylvania last year:

"If you want to stop use of the word 'Darwinist' to capture modern evolutionary theory, then you should encourage people like Dawkins, Jones, Wilson, Watson, Ridley and (were he alive) Gould to stop talking about 'Origin of Species' etc. as if they were books of some secular Bible. This kind of thing doesn't happen in physics. The world-view implications of physics can be discussed, while giving due respect to Newton, Einstein, etc., without trying to find bits of their texts that anticipate or legitimise what the author wants to say today . From a sociological standpoint, the Darwin fetish is very weird, and doesn't seem to be related to any claims that creationists or ID people are making. Marx and Freud are the only figures who have been treated this way in recent memory – and you've seen what's happened to them…"

Here's my take on all of this:

It sounds to me like Fuller is objecting to the idea that biologists, especially evolutionary biologists, cite Darwin as a published authority when writing (and talking and teaching) about their own work. However, this is exactly what you're supposed to do in science: back up your assertions with citations whenever your assertions are not completely original. Fuller, who is not a natural scientist but rather a sociologist, doesn't seem to understand this basic fact. Indeed, he seems to think that citation is somehow illegitimate in science, even that it may indicate some kind of slavish adherence to dogma, rather than simply an attempt to ground one's own work in previous work on the same subject.

If I were to cite W. D. Hamilton on the subject of kin selection, for example, does that mean that I have some kind of "Hamilton fetish?" What if everyone who works on kin selection does the same thing; does this mean that we're "deifying Hamilton?" No, the whole idea is absurd; citation is both an accepted and indeed required part of standard science writing, teaching, and speaking.

It goes deeper than this, of course. The reason that Fuller was chosen as one of the "experts" in defense of "intelligent design" at the trial in Dover, PA was because Fuller (like many sociologists today) is a "post-modernist." This means that, like post-modernism's founders such as Foucault and Derrida, Fuller believes and promotes the idea that "all knowledge is reducible to 'discourse'" in which politics is the ultimate force, and political victory over one's intellectual opponents is the ultimate goal. Fuller and others like him argue that there is no such thing as "objective knowledge" at all, only competing ideologies. According to this view, science is just another way for the "dominant white patriarchal class to extend its hegemony" by forcing others to believe in its politically motivated view of reality, and that all intellectual debates are really just part of the ongoing class struggle for political power.

It surprises me, therefore, that "intelligent design" supporters would cite Fuller and promote his ideas, which are of course ultimately based on Marxist (and therefore atheist) theories. Politics indeed makes for strange bedfellows, and to see Christian supporters of ID cite Fuller and others like him as authorities and supporters of their world view strikes me as laughable and ultimately self-defeating.

Yet at the same time, it doesn't surprise me, because that's what "intelligent design theory" started out as and has remained: not science, not the legitimate search for knowledge derived from empirical analysis of nature, but rather politics, pure and simple. This is why IDers don't publish in scientific journals, but rather push their agenda in the media, the courts, and in elections. ID isn't science, it's politics, conducted by press release and lawsuit, and its goal isn't the expansion of knowledge or understanding, it's winning by whatever means possible: distortion, misrepresentation, mischaracterization, even character assassination and outright lying are sanctioned, so long as they promote the ultimate goal: the victory of ID (and therefore the forces of "good," i.e. Christianity) over evolution (and therefore the forces of "evil," i.e. evangelical atheism).

How else to explain such masterpieces of political propaganda as Phillip Johnson's The Wedge of Truth or Benjamin Wiker's Moral Darwinism? The former was written by the acknowledged founder of "intelligent design theory," and the latter was published with a foreword by William Dembski in which he lavishly praises Wiker for getting down to the real issues in the evolution/intelligent design debate. IOW, it's not about knowledge, it's all about winning folks, and cultural warfare (Johnson's term) is just politics by other means. And in cultural warfare as in war in general, the first casualty is the truth...


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At 4/18/2007 02:52:00 PM, Blogger Joe G said...


I would say that Fuller's point is that someone didn't like the use of the word "Darwinist" and he was telling them

A) why it is used- and
B) how to put a stop to it if they didn't like it

And Allen, it is ALL about knowledge.

Ya see we exist. And there is only one reality behind that existence.

Now you can think that sheer dumb luck brought us here but let's see some of that in a peer-reviewed journal.

Good luck with that.


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