Three days ago I put up a post showing a short lecture by philosopher S. Orestis Palermos that was part of a University of Edinburgh Coursera course on Science and Philosophy. His lecture basically equated evolutionary biology with creationism, dismissing both as “pseudoscience”. (The course was also sponsored by—to its eternal shame—the John Templeton Foundation.) Palermos’s lecture was part of the course’s first week, “Introduction and overview”. Sadly, he argued the following:
- Both creationism and evolution are based on faith.
- As philosophers like Lakatos and Kuhn supposedly told us, there is no way to distinguish between science and faith-based superstitions like religion. Choosing which scientific or religious “myth” you like is simply a matter of “aesthetics”.
- Evolutionary biology cannot predict anything, so it’s a pseudoscience.
- Genetics is also a pseudoscience.
- Ergo, there’s no good reason to favor teaching evolution (or presumably genetics) over creationism in science classes.
It’s palaver like this that puts scientists off on philosophy, even though there is good philosophy being done around science. The problem is that Palermos apparently didn’t know squat about evolution, yet was pushing a bunch of lies and distortions on those people who paid to take the course. And, of course, Templeton helped fund the whole thing, belying their claim that they’re really down with good science. (Templeton used to push Intelligent Design, but stopped doing that when the pushback became too great. But they’re apparently willing to diss evolution as an untestable “pseudoscience.”)
I called my post to the attention of some evolutionary biologists at Edinburgh, who were of course horrified at the distortion of both evolutionary biology and science in general. And then Twitter got hold of the video (my posts are automatically put on Twitter) and it spread rapidly. (Calling attention to nonsense is one good thing that Twitter does.) Here are a few tweets; have a look at the comments on the first tweet by Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh:
Evolutionary biology is 'on par' with creationism and 'not scientific'. Very worrying that philosophy dept at my university @EdinburghUni–a world-leader in evolutionary research–is teaching this nonsense to its students. @UoE_Philosophy what is going on?https://t.co/gCnj0RGMOx
— Steve Brusatte (@SteveBrusatte) March 25, 2018
Its been done…check out https://t.co/6YQESHHzTy
— Prof Adam Hart 🦏 (@AdamHartScience) March 27, 2018
Adam Rutherford weighed in (below) and then Carl Zimmer retweeted Brusatte’s post.
According to this lecture series from Edinburgh University, Kepler and Galileo chose to support the failing theory of heliocentricism because they liked it and they had faith in it… 1/2https://t.co/CHzY1VmtKT
— Dr Adam Rutherford (@AdamRutherford) March 27, 2018
The opprobrium continued; I’ll show just two more comments:
I just ran through the material in this course. It seems to be trying to bring evolution as close to creationism as possible, by claiming evolution isn't predictive, falisfiable or testable. No-one involved seems to know any biology.
— Chris Jefferson (@Azumanga) March 26, 2018
Add Feyerabend. He's good on science's weak spots (eg "does 'Vulcan' exist inside Mercury's orbit? Does Pluto solve any problems with Neptune's orbit? [Both are no.])
— Dave (@rthonbwooster) March 27, 2018
So, this morning I found out (again from Twitter) that Palermos’s lecture has mysteriously vanished from from the course syllabus, where it was once publicly visible as lecture 1.4 (“Evolutionary biology and creationism”). But Brusatte is not correct in saying that the course has been pulled; it’s here—minus Palermos’s lecture.
The link was correct and working as of last night. But now it looks like the course has been pulled (or moved to another website…). I would love some clarification from the Edinburgh Uni philosophy dept.
— Steve Brusatte (@SteveBrusatte) March 28, 2018
And when you go to the link where Palermos’s lecture was, you get this (click on screenshot):
I don’t know exactly what happened to get Palermos’s lecture pulled, but I’m guessing some biologists at Edinburgh objected to the nonsense being sold as “science”. It’s not “free speech” to tell lies to students, so I don’t mourn the loss. And anyway, if you want a full transcript of what the lecture said, it’s available on my website (thanks to reader Simon, who transcribed it).
Nevertheless, the course itself, which I suspect is pretty dire, still remains, along with the weeklong unit on evolutionary biology, which I can’t see. The syllabus below lists all the videos, and the Introduction, by physicist Mark Harris, is freely viewable here (click on screenshot):
I have to say, though, that the topics given, combined with the presence of biology ignoramus Orestis Palermos as one of the speakers and a religious philosopher as the other, makes me pretty queasy. As far as I know, too, none of the many well-known evolutionary biologists at the University of Edinburgh were asked to give feedback on the course material. (Remember, the course is offered under the aegis of the University of Edinburgh.)
Disappointing how much sway Templeton has. They've even infected the New York Academy of the Sciences.
— Improv (@dachte) March 27, 2018