10/04/2007

LOSING STEAM

My exchange with Vox has pretty much run out of 'umph', and that's due to three factors:

  • I haven't posted about it in more than a week, as reality has definitely intruded
  • The exchange has become increasingly technical, with each of us needing time to do a little research.
  • Vox and I are actually in substantive agreement; his position is different from conventional creationists who want to import Big Sky Daddy into the classroom; rather, his is one of general skepticism as to the sufficiency of the present paradigm to describe all phenomena (plus, of course, his general scorn of those atheists who are quick to invoke evolution as 'evidence' for their position.)
It's a surprising outcome, as the former general skepticism is entirely consonant with the scientific worldview, and not at all that friendly to the doctrinaire conservative hooie that is spewed by many of the posters at Vox's site. Really, from my point of view it puts Vox in the same company as S.J. Gould, who (as Dennett put it) held out hope for something like a 'skyhook' to accompany natural selection.

So, in my next post I'll briefly address the last two points that Vox makes (the case of the naked mole rat, and the question of whether evolutionary theory is epicyclic), then suggest where this exchange might be more fruitfully directed.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that skepticism is considered an acceptable position toward TENS.

If it is indeed a plain fact, self-evident, demonstrated daily, known to all who live in the real world, and ignored only by those who are blinded by their desperate need for Big Sky Daddy to reach down and gently wipe away their infantile tears of disillusionment, then we should conclude that skepticism is the road to savagery and death.

Avoiding the blatant truth cannot be tolerated in a rational society, can it?

--emerod

Scott Hatfield . . . said...

You shouldn't make too much of my faint praise of Vox. I'm actually tweaking him in a very mild way by comparing him to Gould.

Look, skepticism is an acceptable position within science generally. TENS is not an item of dogma that must be uncritically accepted. My problem is not with those who note that TENS tends to be held uncritically by some(which is true!), my problem is those who use their criticism of TENS as a mask for their true face, which is typically some truly dogmatic form of creationism.

Now, Vox is not skeptical with respect to whether evolution is real or whether natural selection causes evolution; he is skeptical about the sufficiency of the present model to explain all aspects of living things. In that respect he is like a conservative mirror of those on the left who harbored such reservations, such as S.J. Gould. Which is ironic, yes?

Anonymous said...

I think that the middle ground is a reasonable place for the center point of a normal distribution of one's opinions. As such, it isn't really ironic to find someone on the "left" to have something in common with someone on the "right."

However, "skepticism" gets too much play in discussions among freethinkers, as if it were some kind of ideal that they actually apply uniformly in order to separate good from bad. They are generally not skeptical about anything they love.

Moreover, skepticism of known facts is generally not acceptable. If you know something to be true, and are ready to defend it vigorously, it really doesn't matter why. All skeptics will seem to be insane or criminal.

For myself, I am skeptical of the historical imagination in everyone. This makes me an adversary to almost everyone.

--emerod

Scott Hatfield . . . said...

Individual scientists are as prone to human weakness as everybody else, including personal bias. The strength of science is that it is not (as is often the case with art and religion) done by individuals. The scientific community is both highly collaborative and intensely competitive, and over time this tension seems to promote self-correction and refinement/retooling/rejection of models in the light of data.

But, of course, in the short term, bias may prevail within an entire scientific discipline. For example, there was for many decades an uncritical acceptance of gradualism within paleontology and an unwillingness to consider catastrophic interpretations of the major divisions of the fossil record. Gould's book 'Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle' has a rather poetic discussion of this which I commend to you.

In the long run, we (cough) still have hope that Ptolemy's epicycles and Archimedes' statics will yield to Kepler's ellipses and Newtonian mechanics, which in turn yield to better descriptions, etc. There is more to scientific history than this sort of triumphalism, and there is more to historical investigations (such as those practiced by evolutionary biologists) than ad hoc declarations fitting a pre-existing worldview. As Piglucci has remarked, the existence of functional ecological examples of evolution in action breaks that tautological chain.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, my reading list is overscheduled for the next year. But after looking over Gould's bibliography, I think I will make Leonardo's mountain of clams and the Diet of Worms my next audiobook, since it is the only one available to me.

The conclusion derived from an historical investigation need not fit a preexisting worldview, but it always involves an imaginative element. This is true even of recent events, and especially of personal memories.

To that extent, an historical narrative involves the narrator and the audience in establishing credibility. Even if both are highly organized corporate entities involved in constant error-checking, they are still constructing a story that will never quite reach the status of a present reality.

--emerod