Monday, August 20, 2007

David Warren Denies Darwin

The Ottawa Citizen's David Warren's latest begins by invoking Philosopher of Science and Anarchist Paul Feyerabend:

As Paul Feyerabend, one of my scientific heroes, wrote in his 1975 essay, How to defend Society against Science: “In society at large the judgement of the scientist is received with the same reverence as the judgement of bishops and cardinals was accepted not too long ago. Science has now become as oppressive as the ideologies it had once to fight. Do not be misled by the fact that today hardly anyone gets killed for joining a scientific heresy. This has nothing to do with science. It has something to do with the general quality of our civilization. Heretics in science are still made to suffer from the most severe sanctions this relatively tolerant civilization has to offer.”

Warren then bashes the Global Warming consensus for a bit, before turning to what is really cheesing him off; Darwinism in general, and in particular the cross examination of Creationist and Botanist Michael Behe during the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in 2005. He writes:

There was a show trial in Dover, Pennsylvania, two years ago, in which a local school board was prosecuted for having permitted the teaching of intelligent design. This was publicized by the liberal media as, “Another Scopes trial in America!” The defence called Michael Behe, so the plaintiffs brought Eric Rothschild, a high-powered attorney, to lure him into verbal traps. Rothschild made tendentious points on the definition of “science.” Behe wouldn’t play, and noted, rather dryly, that if the current official definition of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences were enforced, most major advances in modern science would have to be ruled illegal. Rothschild then paraphrased Behe’s position as, “So you believe astrology is valid science.” Needless to say, Behe demurred.

Well, I don't think so. Or at least, here is the transcript to that portion of the trial. Decide for yourself if Mr. Behe's response counts as demurring:

Q But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?

A Yes, that's correct.

(Of course there is far more to it than that. The entire transcript is a good read. Behe got his ass chewed off.)

But what is most striking here is what Warren forgets: Paul Feyerabend himself advocated for the legitimacy of astrological practices, and lashed out against the famous letter condemning Astrology from 180 "eminent scientists". Now, Feyerabend had his reasons. He viewed certain certain aspects of science as being elitist or racist, and saw himself as a kind of activist on behalf of the Knowledge Underclasses.

Furthermore, there was a core of good sense behind Feyerabend's theories of scientific practice. He was correct in noting, for example, that metrics of "explanatory strength" tend to have a Conservative bias. For while one can quantify past results, it is impossible to quantify "promise", so if such metrics were ever applied rigorously, no new scientific theories would ever get off the ground (and no old ones would be left standing, but that is another story).

However, what is important to this particular discussion is Judge John E. Jones reaction to the argument as applied to Intelligent Design, which was made not only by Behe but by social epistemologist Steve Fuller (who I used to argue with regularly on the HOPOS mailing list). The full decision can be found here. I have read it on a number of occasions and consider it to be one of the most important documents of the age, a sign that maybe the light of rationality is not going out on our civilization. In it, Judge Jones, a Republican appointed by George W. Bush, says that Intelligent Design is simply not worth this kind of Feyerabendian activism:

Science cannot be defined differently for Dover students than it is defined in the scientific community as an affirmative action program, as advocated Case 4:04-cv-02688-JEJ Document 342 Filed 12/20/2005 Page 70 of 139 71 by Professor Fuller, for a view [Intelligent Design] that has been unable to gain a foothold within the scientific establishment.

Therefore, while Science does indeed occasionally suppress dissenting views, not all of these views are worthy of the quotas and set asides (which is what the Dover School Board was demanding for ID) required to allow for their full expression.

PS. Weird how we're still fighting Conservative Creationists in 2007; weird how you scratch of Global Warming Denier and, so often, you find a Darwin Denier.


Anonymous said...

scratch a Warmist, tickle a Believer and you find an irrational human being that persists in supporting a position when the bulk of evidence is contrary.

"The UK's Metereological Office research centre has now had to confirm a fall in average global temperatures since 1998 (The Guardian, 10 August 2007, pp1/2). This clearly opens to challenge the widely-held view that it is primarily the growth in carbon dioxide emissions, released by mankind's use of carbon fuels, that cause global warming. Indeed, since 1998 there has been a record near-25% increase in the production and use of coal, oil and natural gas - totalling an additional 2000 million tons of oil equivalent over the nine year period. Two-fifths of this has been coal, the most polluting of the three carbon fuels, so generating voluminous additional carbon dioxide for the atmosphere.

Yet, in spite of an all-time peak period of carbon fuels' use, it seems that no overall global warming phenomenon has been generated! Thus, instead of the Met Office's think-tank apparent acceptance of the concept of a demonstrable relationship between global warming and carbon dioxide emissions for its future forecasts, should it not first be held responsible for an explanation as to why this has not happened over the past nine years - and why it will not happen for at least the next three years?"

buckets said...

A couple more points strike me. First, although professional scientists should perhaps be regularly reminded of Feyerabend since a habit of questioning one's premises is good for science, the ID debate was what we teach school children. It is not what the scientists are doing at the leading edge of science (or even its trailing edge). Second, Warren is invoking scientific creativity in exactly the wrong direction. Scientific progress happens when clever scientists realize that some scientific premise is false, not when previously rejected premises are re-imposed.

Anonymous said...

Please excuse me for being blunt: Warren is a disingenuous asshat.

Anyone interested in having a good look at the POV of one of the witnesses for the plaintiffs should watch this entire lecture by Dr. Ken Miller of Brown University: He is a Catholic and a evolutionary scientist. In the lecture he describes how the trial was a sham and how the ID folks completely ignored the science and instead attacked wishy-washy concepts of 'scientific truth', 'naturalism', 'scientific criticism', etc. The idea is SOLELY to give the impression that there is a significant controversy where there is not - in this way there are parallels to the climate change denial movement as well.

The Dover trial demonstrated that the ID movement is religion masquerading as science. That is why the Discovery Institute redirected their efforts towards the newly-minted 'Critical Analysis of Evolution' and the 'Teach the Controversy' initiatives (wikipedia them for references).

Don't be fooled. At this point, all Warren has done is demonstrated that he a) lacks fundamental scientific knowledge, b) refuses even to acquire some with a very minor amount of personal research, d) would like to transfer his ignorance onto his readership, and c) is more than willing to sacrifice his critical thinking skills over to his ideology. None of that bodes well for his opinions on, e.g., climate change, evolution, gravity, quantum field theory, or cosmology. Invoking Feyerabend is a cheap attempt at name-dropping to maintain a facade of intellectualism. He might as well have brought up Derrida.

Ignore him. He's a goof. Unfortunately he has a podium, which makes him a dangerous goof, but a goof nonetheless. A better man would pity him - I recommend we just laugh at him. His kind should be happy that we shared the knowledge of fire instead of letting him freeze his stone-age ass off.

bigcitylib said...


What the ID people did this time out is start looking around in the PHILOSOPHICAL literature for pro-ID arguments. That was actually quite clever on their part, as discriminating between science and pseudo-science has always been philosophically quite difficult.

Anonymous said...

Canada has many Muslim citizen.
We do not proscribe to this darwin hate speech which oppress us an deny our religion. Big city you are hating muslim. we preach peace and the truth that darwin is an infidel.

Anonymous said...

So ding dong, are you Joel Schwartz? Or do you just copy his stuff without attributing it?

Anonymous said...

Funny thing, ding dong, I can't find your reference; did you make it up? Here's a real article in the Guardian Aug 10/07:

"...From 2010, they warn, every year has at least a 50% chance of exceeding the record year of 1998 when average global temperatures reached 14.54C..."

"..."A number of the sceptics are saying there's no warming because they look at the temperature record and see a peak in 1998 and cooler years after that. But we know the peak was because of an El NiƱo event and that comes out in this forecast," said Prof Jones..."

Anonymous said...

Thanks Holly. You did the footwork I was going to do . . . gotta love those random references with no link.

Anonymous said...

Warren is The Ottawa Citizen's house troll. Look at his bio on his own website and various speeches he's given. He was educated in a post-colonial expatriate Catholic school in the 1960s. This experience was hardly likely to have left him with any understanding of science, but just to be sure he dropped out in the tenth grade.

Warren then hung out in Southeast Asia in the late 1960s/early 1970s, playing at being a boy journalist in Bangkok. When that didn't work out, he worked his way over to old Blighty, where he claims to have seen Jesus on a footbridge. This was followed by vague self-directed studies in the UK that produced no degree and no apparent capacity for critical thinking. All this screams "pot-head" to me.

Warren's next adventure was to set up an eclectic magazine in Toronto, called The Idler. This seems to have been his one achievement in life. Russell Smith of The Globe and Mail recently praised its arts contents as innovative, though he added that it was all made somewhat weird by the arch-conservative political veneer Warren glued on top of it all. The Idler failed, by some accounts (see, passim) after he had wasted a wad of his wife's money. Said wife left him a few years later. Same reports suggest he blew his one chance at saving The Idler when he nervously drank too much while waiting for an interview with Conrad Black, whom he intended to hit up for a loan.

With his best years behind him, Warren's current pastime is a rather sad one. He makes his living by unapologetically cranking out pro-war, anti-scientific cant thrice weekly. "Will write propaganda for food". The more provocative the better: any attention is good.

I have vast wells of pity and would normally go easy on someone as pathetic as Warren. But this guy goes out of his way to be offensive.

As others have said, the only correct reaction to David Warren is to ridicule him.

rabbit said...

Warren misses the point. The crux of the matter in the Dover decision revolved around one question:

Was the Dover school board attempting to teach religion in the class room?

The evidence was overwhelming that they were. The comments made by the school board members themselves made that clear (e.g., one board member stated in support of ID "2000 years ago someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?")

Had the Dover school board instead mandated that global warming was to be questioned they would have been on much firmer legal footing, since there would have been no (obvious) religious component.

It didn't help, of course, that some board members lied on the stand, and that the defense was a complete shambles.

Anonymous said...

My buttocks are alive with penetrating goodness!

Anonymous said...

You are hilarious. Scratch a 'believer', and you find a neo-communist.

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