Are we “scientific fascists”?

December 2, 2020 • 1:15 pm

This article from Medium floated into my ambit, with a title was guaranteed to lure me like a mayfly lures a trout.  The author, Roderick Graham, is an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and has his own eponymous website.

The main point of his article is to outline a set of ideas and behaviors that he calls “scientific fascism”, which appear to involve the use of data, reason, and logic in a way that attacks Graham’s favorite ideas about social justice. It’s the combination of “scientific” and “fascism” that intrigued me.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Graham gives a definition of scientific fascism that guarantees that it will fulfill the secret mission of its adherents:

I offer this definition of scientific fascism:

“Scientific fascism is a body of ideas characterized by the desire to erase the unique experiences of minority groups, obedience to a narrow view of science, and a dismissal of people who disagree as being devoid of reason or intelligence.”

. . . . and as part of the definition he includes these behaviors practiced by “scientific fascists”:

The scientific fascist adopts as their tools of choice science and reason. The purpose of using these tools is only ever to mount an attack on the ideas underpinning social justice activities. These ideas include “lived experiences”, “safe spaces”, “white fragility”, “heteronormativity”, “systemic racism”, “toxic masculinity” and “microaggressions”, to name a few. This is one of the qualities that separates scientific fascism from scientism. Scientism is an extreme belief in science. [JAC: no it’s not!] Scientific fascists, on the other hand, are using science and reason for the political goal of pushing back social justice activism.

Now of course science and reason can be used to criticize any ideology or idea, be it Critical Studies, other aspects of social justice, liberalism as a whole, the ideology of Republicans, Communism, and so on.  But Graham uses the term “scientific fascist” only for those who use science and reason to attack social justice—and his conception of it—which already shows that the two words of his mantra “scientific fascist” have been construed more narrowly.

But he’s dead wrong in his second quote, for the purpose of using “science” and “reason” is NOT “only ever” to mount an attack on social justice, or to try to “maintain social inequalities and erase the experiences of minority groups from public discourse.” But you could, of course, use science to see if safe spaces work, or if there is such a a thing as implicit bias, but somehow I don’t think Graham would favor that kind of science. He’d rather use “lived experience”—those people who say that they require safe spaces and have been victims of unconscious bias.

By Graham’s definition, then, scientific fascists are identified by what they do, not by the fact that they use reason and science in an authoritarian way (whatever that is; how can data be non-authoritarian?). Ergo Graham is not being profound when he says stuff like this:

At the risk of belaboring the point, the scientific fascist is only ever interested in using science to push back against social justice ideas. Within academia, knowledge production is varied. Professors in history, law, business, and theology, just to name a few, use many different approaches to producing knowledge within their field. Scientific fascists are not interested in those fields unless they attempt to speak to the experiences of minority groups.

Well, we can argue about whether business, law and theology are “ways of knowledge production”, unless they use scientific (i.e., empirical) methods. But under Graham’s definition, someone who criticizes theology and its dictates for being irrational and nonscientific is not a “scientific fascist” unless she is going after social justice aspects of theology, like God’s supposed dictates.

The above gives us a hint of how Graham says is the best way to counter scientific fascists: use LIVED EXPERIENCE.  We all know the fallacies of generalizing from anecdotes—through anecdotes, multiplied through, say, a scientific poll, can become data. But Graham doesn’t talk about that. Rather, he’s referring to someone who uses their “lived experience” to produce knowledge by generalizing from it.

So what do “scientific fascists” say? Graham has a little list. Here are some examples of how we (I suppose I’m one of them) use science to attack social justice. We supposedly make statements like these:

“…the desire to erase the unique experiences of minority groups…”

  • “I believe in the Englightenment [sic] principles of individual liberty.”
  • “Why must you always put people in groups. I am an INDIVIDUAL!”
  • “What kind of ‘lived experiences’ do trans folks have? What is an experience if not lived?”
  • “All Lives Matter”

Only the first statement has anything to do with science, but none of these statements involve using science to do down social justice. They are statements of preference that do not involved data.  Let’s throw these in the circular file and move on to how we supposedly misuse science:

“…obedience to a narrow view science…”

  • “Sociologists are a bunch of left-wing communists, and you cannot trust their research.”
  • “Critical scholarship is a cancer in our society and must be removed from our universities.”
  • “These studies departments — women’s studies, queer studies, black studies — they produce no real knowledge.”
  • “Critical theory is unfalsifiable.”

The first and second statements are not science, construed either narrowly or broadly, but are slurs, that don’t involve data. (I suppose you could test whether sociologists are all “left wing communists”!)

The third statement is one that can be debated so long as you define what you mean by “knowledge”. I would claim that, in general, Critical Studies departments aren’t usually in the business of producing knowledge (though some practitioners are), but are in the business of pushing an ideology and burnishing people’s self image.

The last statement, too, is worth debating, because perhaps Critical Theory, unlike the structure of DNA, evolution, or the cause of malaria, might indeed be unfalsifiable. I have yet to hear an adherent to Critical Studies outline what could falsify it.  But in truth, although these statements may be made by scientists who are used to a certain level of rigor in their experiments and conclusions, they do not stem from science itself.

And this is how we supposedly use science to “erase” minorities and our purported opponents (by the way, if you see the word “race” or “harm” in a screed, head for the hills):

“…and a dismissal of people who disagree as being devoid of reason or intelligence.”

  • “Ibram Kendi is a low IQ individual.”
  • “Here are the fallacies in this claim.”
  • “Black folk are being told there is racism by liberal elites (but there really isn’t).”
  • “The woke are irrational and illogical.”

Good Lord! First of all, you’d have to be a low IQ individual yourself to claim that Ibram Kendi is a “low IQ individual.” You may not like his ideas, but you can’t take issue with the fact that the guy is smart.

The second claim is indeed a use of reason and logic to attack an argument. There’s nothing wrong with it, nor does it dismiss people as being devoid of reason or intelligence. In fact, the statement itself is a use of reason and intelligence to address an argument, not to impugn anyone.

I don’t quite get the third statement. One may argue about whether “structural racism” is pervasive (and argue, based on its definition, whether it is), but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who says that there is no racism. The data even show it, reflected in the differential rate of traffic stops by police, which, since the black/white difference narrows at twilight, is surely based on anti-black racism.

As for the last statement, well, it may be true in some instances—indeed, like this article itself, which attacks science and reason not for their supposed lack of value, but because they’re supposedly a tool of racism.

After reading this article—and I draw to a close, for discussing it involves too much “emotional labor”—I realized that it has nothing to do with science at all. It is an attack on those who use reason and logic to go after the social-justice ideas that Dr. Graham embraces. The word “fascist” is in there simply as a pejorative: someone who argues against those who want to restrict immigration, and who uses the same kind of authoritarianism and data would not, I suspect, be called by Graham a “scientific fascist”.

You might entertain yourself by thinking of related names that characterize people like Graham, but in the interest of reducing my peevishness, I’ll refrain.

Boudry on scientism and “ways of knowing”

July 27, 2020 • 10:30 am

It’s been a while since we’ve discussed either scientism or “ways of knowing” on this site (the two ideas are connected). I’ll reiterate my views very briefly. “Scientism” has two meanings, as Maarten Boudry notes in his piece below, but the most common non-pejorative meaning is that of science making claims outside of its ambit, something that almost never happens these days.

I’m more interested in the idea whether there are “ways of knowing” beyond those involving science or “science broadly construed” (“SBC”, i.e., any profession, including plumbing and car mechanics, that uses the empirical method and relies on hypotheses, tests, and confirmation as ways of understanding the cosmos). As far as I can see—and I’ve asked readers about this—I’ve found no way beyond SBC to ascertain what’s true about our universe.

The most common area to claim that there are ways of knowing beyond the empirical is of course religion, but theology has never found a single ascertainable truth about the Universe that hasn’t been confirmed (or disconfirmed, as in the Exodus) by empirical research. You can’t find out what’s true about the Universe by reading scripture or waiting for a revelation. Even “scientific revelations” like Kekulé’s dream of a snake biting its own tail, which supposedly gave rise to the ring structure of benzene with alternative single and double bonds, had to be confirmed empirically.

Maarten Boudy has a new blog piece that discusses these ideas, but also highlights a new paper that, he says, puts paid to the notion that there are ways of knowing beyond science. Click on the screenshot to read it. (His piece has a good Jewish title though Boudry is a goy.) As you can see from the title, Maarten tells it as it is:

Boudry, by the way, is co-author of this collection of essays, which, though mixed in quality, is generally good and gives a good overview of the “scientism” controversy. (Click screenshot for Amazon link.) The co-author, Massimo Pigliucci, absolutely despises my including stuff like plumbing in “science construed broadly,” and has said so many times. Massimo is deeply preoccupied with demarcating “science” from “nonscience,” and sees me as having messed up that distinction.

Here’s Maarten’s link to the new paper and a useful classification of four flavors of scientism:

Now yesterday I read a clever new paper in Metaphilosophy – yes, there really is a journal by that name – in defense of scientism, which follows the second strategy. The Finnish authors, known as the Helsinki Circle, present a neutral definition of “scientism”, distinguishing between four different flavors represented by the quadrant below. The four positions follow from two simple choices: either you adopt a narrow or a broad definition of science, and either you believe that science is the only valid source of knowledge or that it is simply the best one available.

The differences between “natural sciences” and “sciences” here, as Maarten wrote me, is this:

“Natural sciences” is just physics, chemistry, biology, etc.

“Sciences” includes the human and social sciences, (like “Wissenschaft” in German).

But I’d prefer the distinction to be between “science” (what is practiced by scientists proper) and “SCB”, or the use of the empirical method to ascertain truth (SCB includes the human and social sciences). Given that slight change, I’d fall into the lower-left square. The upper left square, says Maarten, is occupied only by the hard-liner Alex Rosenberg.

But never mind. Boudy and I are more concerned with the criticisms of science that fall under the rubric of “non-pejorative scientism”, and he mentions two:

The authors want to draw attention to the other three versions of “scientism”, which are more defensible but nonetheless interesting and non-trivial. In the rest of the paper, they discuss how the different interpretations of scientism fare under two lines of criticism: (a) that scientism is self-defeating because the thesis itself cannot be demonstrated by scientific means; (b) that science inevitably relies on non-scientific sources of knowledge, such as metaphysical assumptions or data from our senses.

I’ve addressed both of these, but Maarten concentrates on the second. (My criticism of [a] is that you don’t need to demonstrate a philosophical or scientific underpinning of the methods of science to accept it, because science works—it enables us to understand the Universe in ways that both enable us to do things like cure smallpox and send rovers to Mars, and to make verified predictions, like when an eclipse will occur or the light from stars might bend around the Sun). Justification of science by some extra-scientific method is not only futile, but unnecessary.

Maarten refutes (b) handily:

Here I want to focus on the second objection. Does science “presuppose” the existence of an external world, or lawful regularities, or the truth of naturalism, or other metaphysical notions? No it doesn’t. These are merely working hypotheses that are being tested as we go along. I’ve argued for this position at length myself, in a paper with the neurologist Yon Fishman and earlier with my Ghent colleagues. As the authors write:

“One does not have to assume that science can achieve knowledge of the external world. Science can merely start with the hypothesis that some kind of knowledge could be achievable. For all practical purposes, this hypothesis would merely state that there are at least some regularities to be found. This hypothesis could be tested by simply attempting to obtain empirical knowledge with scientific means. If it is impossible to achieve this kind of knowledge, then the efforts would just be in vain. But hoping that something is the case is not the same as believing that it is the case.”

Second, does the fact that scientists rely on their sense organs invalidate scientism? No, because that’s a trivial point. It’s obviously true that science could not even get off the ground without sensory data, but this input too is being refined and corrected as we go along.

All these arguments about science being “based” on some extra-scientific assumption or source of knowledge are guilty of what I call the “foundationalist fallacy”. The mistake is to think that knowledge is something that needs to be “grounded” in some solid foundation, and that if this foundation is not completely secure, the whole edifice will collapse. But this metaphor is deeply misguided, and it inevitably leads to infinite regress. Whatever ultimate foundation you come up with, you can always ask the question: what is that foundation based on? It cannot be self-evident, floating in mid-air. This reminds one of the old Hindu cosmology according to which we live on a flat earth supported by four big elephants. Pretty solid, but what are the elephants standing on? On the back of a giant turtle. And that turtle? On the back of an even larger turtle. And so it’s turtles all the way down, ad infinitum.

Boudry’s Argument from Turtles also goes, I think, for (a): if you must justify using scientific methods through philosophy, how do you justify the value of philosophy in settling such a question? But never mind. If people dismiss science as an activity because philosophy (or science itself) provides no foundation for the empirical method, I’ll just ask them, “Have you ever been vaccinated or taken antibiotics?” If they say “yes,” then they already trust in science regardless of where the method came from. (It comes, by the way, not from a priori justification, but through a five-century refinement of methods to hone them down to a toolkit that works. Remember, science used to include aspects of the Divine, as in creationism as an explanation for life on Earth or Newton’s view that God tweaked the orbits of the planets to keep them stable.)

I’ll be reading the Metaphilosophy paper (click on screenshot below to access and download it), but let me finish by self-aggrandizingly saying that Boudry does agree that SCB is part of the nexus of empirical methodology that includes “real science”

For me, an essential part of scientism is the belief in one unified, overarching web of knowledge, which was defended most famously by the philosopher Willard V.O. Quine. Take an everyday form of knowledge acquisition such as a plumber trying to locate a leak (I believe this analogy is due to the biologist Jerry Coyne). Now plumbing is not usually regarded as a “science”, but that doesn’t mean that my plumber is engaged in some “different way of knowing”. He’s also making observations, testing out different hypotheses, using logical inferences, and so on. The main difference is that he is working on a relatively mundane and isolated problem (my sink), which is both simple enough to solve on his own, and parochial enough not be of any interest to academic journals. Plumbing is not a science, but it is continuous with science, because it makes use of similar methods (observation and logical inference) and is connected with scientific knowledge, for example about fluid dynamics. The plumber or detective or car mechanic is not doing anything radically different from what the scientist is doing.

Take that, Massimo!

And here’s a reading assignment:


In yet another paper, Gregory Bassham continues his criticism of my science vs. religion work

May 31, 2020 • 1:15 pm

Two days ago I analyzed former philosophy professor Gregory Bassham’s unpublished critique of my book Faith versus Fact. (I also discovered that I analyzed the paper on this site in 2017 at greater length, so it’s been unpublished for at least three years. Shoot me for forgetting!). Bassham claimed that religion has its own “ways of knowing” that aren’t based on science, much less empirical observation. His argument, I contended, falls flat.

Now I found a similar critique from Bassham on about my argument in the book that science does not depend on faith. I won’t say he’s obsessed with me, but if he wants to get his ideas out, he should concentrate on getting them published.

You can see his second critique by clicking on the screenshot below.

My argument in the book, also made in my Slate piece “No faith in science,” is aimed at a common jab at science made by believers. “Science,” they say, “is based on faith, just like religion.” In effect, they’re saying, “See, you’re just as bad as we are!”

Read below if you want; it’s a short paper (12 pages double spaced).

In my book and the Slate article I contend that the religionists’ argument depends on two different conceptions of faith, described in the Slate piece like this:

You have faith (i.e., confidence) that the sun will rise tomorrow because it always has, and there’s no evidence that the Earth has stopped rotating or the sun has burnt out. You have faith in your doctor because, presumably, she has treated you and others successfully, and you know that what she prescribes is tested scientifically. You wouldn’t go to a shaman or a spiritual healer for strep throat—unless you want to waste your money.

The conflation of faith as “unevidenced belief” with faith as “justified confidence” is simply a word trick used to buttress religion. In fact, you’ll never hear a scientist saying, “I have faith in evolution” or “I have faith in electrons.” Not only is such language alien to us, but we know full well how those words can be misused in the name of religion.

It goes on, and I don’t want to reprise the argument, which is a short one at Slate. In the present paper, Bassham presents a variety of ways that, he thinks, science depends on “faith”, but it turns out that all of these are “confidence-justified-by-experience” construals of that word.

First, though, he reprises word for word what he wrote in the Faith vs. Fact critique when trying to argue that religion is not based on “faith = belief without evidence.” You’ve seen this before, so he’s self plagiarizing:

There are many widely accepted conceptions of faith that do not view it as evidence-free belief. Among these are the Catholic “propositional” view of faith as assent to revealed truths on the authority of God the revealer;  the Calvinist conception of faith as firm belief in key tenets of the Christian faith as a result of the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit; the modern Protestant “voluntarist” view of faith as interpretive trust in the self-revealing actions of God within human history;  and the modern “Existentialist” conception of faith as an attitude of commitment, acceptance, and “total interpretation” made by the whole person. None of these common views of faith see it as an evidence-free form of cognition, or as inherently irrational.

Where’s the beef—the bit about “evidence”? The paragraph above doesn’t do a lot of work towards showing a similarity between what scientists deem as “faith” (justified confidence) and religious faith. So let’s look at one of Bassham’s arguments that scientist really do have a religious-like faith:

Finally, what of the claims that science is based on faith because of its commitments to the orderliness of nature and an unexplained set of physical laws?

These are really separate issues, but Coyne lumps them together and dismisses both with the following quick retort:

The orderliness of nature—the so-called set of natural laws—is not an assumption but an observation. It is logically possible that the speed of light in a vacuum could vary from place to place, and while we’d have to adjust our theories to account for that, or dispense with certain theories altogether, it wouldn’t be a disaster. . . . The laws of nature, then, are regularities (assumptions, if you will) based on experience, the same kind of experience that makes us confident that we’ll see another sunrise (p. 210).

Here Coyne completely misses the point at issue. The claim that scientists’ belief in the orderliness of nature is based on faith is grounded in two obvious features of science: (1) its working assumption, based on extensive but nevertheless limited evidence, that the laws of nature always operate everywhere in the universe, and (2) its resort to inductive reasoning to predict future events based on past observations. Both points require comment.

Since Francis Bacon, it has been clear that scientists regularly make claims that are not 100 percent certain because they go beyond the available evidence. For instance, they often make universal generalizations (statements of the form “All A’s are B’s”) based upon limited evidence. This is one reason why, as Coyne himself admits (33-34), all scientific theories and claims are tentative, revisable, and falsifiable. Thus, when scientists assume that basic scientific laws like the speed of light operate always and everywhere in the universe, they are not simply, as Coyne claims, making an “observation.” It is impossible to “observe” either future events or (trivially) events in unobserved parts of the universe. Thus, when scientists assume that the speed of light is a “regularity” that remains absolutely invariant, they are making a universal generalization that goes beyond the available evidence. In other words, they are holding “a belief which is not based on proof.” This is what defenders of the “science is based on faith” argument mean when they claim that scientists’ belief in the orderliness of nature is based on “faith.”

In other words, says Bassham, our assumption that the speed of light is a constant throughout the universe is an act of “faith” comparable to the claim that “belief in Jesus as your savior will get you to Heaven”.  And that is bogus. The speed of light in a vacuum can be measured in several ways, and incorporated into physical theories that apply elsewhere than in a laboratory on Earth, and, as far as we know now, is a constant. We do have evidence, just as we have evidence that other physical constants apply in places other than on Earth. So our inference to the best explanation is that the speed of light is constant in a vacuum.

Only a faith-osculator would argue that the speed-of-light claim is bascially the same as claiming that Jesus Christ, the son of God (as well as God himself) died and was resurrected so you can go to heaven, a belief based on at least five distinct empirical claims, all of them unevidenced.

In fact, there are some who have suggested that the speed of light is variable (see here and here, for instance). I’m not sure how much credibility the VSL (variable speed of light) view has, but the important thing is that we hold to a constant c because that’s what the evidence shows, but we could relinquish it if the evidence shows otherwise.

In contrast, no Christian will abandon the Jesus idea even though there’s not a scintilla of evidence for it from the get-go.  So, “faith” in science 1, “faith” in Christianity, -100.

All of Bassham’s arguments for “faith” as a tenet of science are similar to the above, and I’ll let you grapple with them yourself.  To end, I’ll give a quote from philosophers J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig (oy!), which Bassham quotes to show how science depends on faith:

Science cannot be practiced in thin air. In fact, science itself presupposes a number of substantive philosophical theses which must be assumed if science is even going to get off the runway. . . . Here is a list of some of the philosophical presuppositions of science: (1) The existence of a theory-independent, external world; (2) the orderly nature of the external world; (3) the knowability of the external world; (4) the existence of truth; (5) the laws of logic; (6) the reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth gatherers and as a source of justified true beliefs in our intellectual environment; (7) the adequacy of language to describe the world; (8) the existence of values used in science (e.g., “test theories fairly and report test results honestly”); (9) the uniformity of nature and induction; (10) the existence of numbers.

I would claim that all of these are inferences to the best explanation, though #6 is clearly not what scientists believe since we know that in some ways our faculties are faulty (that’s what optical illusions are about).  #7 is dubious because nobody argues that (viz., quantum mechanics), and a few of the others, like “the existence of numbers” are not articles of faith.

Knock yourself out!


Op-ed in science journal Nature disses science and “scientism”, questions Enlightenment values

October 10, 2019 • 10:15 am

Nathaniel Comfort, author of the risible Nature essay at hand (click on screenshot below), is a professor in the history of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. We’ve met him three times before on this site; he seems to be a postmodernist who dislikes genes, New Atheism, and Richard Dawkins.  Now he’s written about. . . . well, it’s hard to discern. If you read the essay (and I both pity you if you do and challenge you to see its point), you’ll see it’s laced with criticisms of Enlightenment values, white males, scientism, and the oppression of the disabled. Oh, and it lauds postmodernism, especially its “other ways of knowing”.

One of Comfort’s main points, at least as I discern it, is that science has somehow deeply changed how humanity has perceived itself. Not so much in the Darwinian way, in which we now see ourselves as part of the branching bush of life, but because of discoveries like our microbiome (seriously, do I think of myself as “Jerry Coyne + bacteria”?), the “blueprint” model of DNA, horizontal gene transfer, epigenetics, CRISPR technology, and so on. This, of course, is not new: many people have flaunted these buzzwords before and claimed they affected our sense of self, even though our sense of self seems to be pretty much what it was half a century ago.

Comfort’s real point, though, appears to be doing down science, or what he misdefines as scientism:

Huxley’s sunny view — of infinite human progress and triumph, brought about by the inexorable march of science — epitomizes a problem with so-called Enlightenment values. The precept that society should be based on reason, facts and universal truths has been a guiding theme of modern times. Which in many ways is a splendid thing (lately I’ve seen enough governance without facts for one lifetime). Yet Occam’s razor is double edged. Enlightenment values have accommodated screechingly discordant beliefs, such as that all men are created equal, that aristocrats should be decapitated and that people can be traded as chattel.

I want to suggest that many of the worst chapters of this history result from scientism: the ideology that science is the only valid way to understand the world and solve social problems. Where science has often expanded and liberated our sense of self, scientism has constrained it.

I am not sure that this definition of “scientism” matches that of other people; usually the definition is of “science extending its ambit beyond what it should be”. In that latter sense, I’d see “scientism” as the misuse of science to push ideological issues, like saying “science tells us that we should sterilize Italians and Jews”, or “science tells us that races are inherently unequal”. And, indeed, science has been misused in such ways, though these misuses have severely diminished over time and, in the end, it’s not science itself that’s responsible for these attitudes, but bigots and other bad people latching onto science. Still, what’s the point of running through this list once again?

Further, just because people holding Enlightenment beliefs can also hold un-Enlightenment beliefs, like killing aristocrats and having slaves, does not constitute an indictment of the Enlightenment beliefs as commonly understood and adumbrated by Pinker in Enlightenment Now—the tripartite values of reason, science, and humanism. These values do not call for the killing of aristocrats or the enslavement of others.

And Comfort gives no examples of how “scientism”, even as he construes it, has constrained our sense of self. He seems to give one example at the end of his piece (see below), but it’s unconvincing. In fact, one can make a good argument that the solving of social problems is in many cases a deeply empirical issue. Perhaps your ideas don’t come out of science per se, but from your own values and ethics. But then confecting solutions often requires empirical data. One example of the former is the idea that all people should be equal under the law, regardless of race, sex, or gender. But how do you fix things? Those decisions, like using busing or affirmative action or even demonstrating that unequal representation results from discrimination rather than unequal preferences, are empirical matters: does intervention X facilitate solution Y? That, I’d say, is “science construed broadly.”

Even immunology and information theory come in for a hit, since they somehow facilitate the discrimination between “self and nonself”, or make people seem like machines, in a socially inimical way. Look at the postmodernism on show here:

Across the arc of the past 150 years, we can see both science and scientism shaping human identity in many ways. Developmental psychology zeroed in on the intellect, leading to the transformation of IQ (intelligence quotient) from an educational tool into a weapon of social control. Immunology redefined the ‘self’ in terms of ‘non-self’. Information theory provided fresh metaphors that recast identity as residing in a text or a wiring diagram. More recently, cell and molecular studies have relaxed the borders of the self. Reproductive technology, genetic engineering and synthetic biology have made human nature more malleable, epigenetics and microbiology complicate notions of individuality and autonomy, and biotechnology and information technology suggest a world where the self is distributed, dispersed, atomized.

Yes, and so what? Where’s the scientism here? Certainly IQ was once used to keep foreigners out of the US and even sterilize women, but we don’t do that any more. As for the other stuff he mentions, that’s not scientism but science. The last sentence about the “atomized” self is pure nonsense.

And then Comfort calls on postmodernists (who aren’t of course scientists) to demonstrate the “deep entanglement of science and society”:

The immunological Plato was the Australian immunologist Frank MacFarlane Burnet. Burnet’s fashioning of immunology as the science of the self was a direct response to his reading of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. Tit for tat, social theorists from Jacques Derrida to Bruno Latour and Donna Haraway have leaned on immunological imagery and concepts in theorizing the self in society. The point is that scientific and social thought are deeply entangled, resonant, co-constructed. You can’t fully understand one without the other.

The last bit isn’t really true. Yes, some scientific problems arise in a social milieu, which is trivial, but the truth or falsity of scientific findings themselves is absolutely independent of society. And, as reader Vampyricon noted when calling this article to my attention, “Comfort also leans on the postmodernist myth of science as being focused on dominating nature, a claim that reminds one of Luce Irigaray’s claim that Newton’s Principia is a rape manual.”

At the end, Comfort disses rationality again, because, after all, those who promulgated Enlightenment values were “university-educated men who were not disabled”, and, as Vampyricon noted, wanted to “dominate nature.” Here Comfort mixes postmodernism with wokeness. If any two things are deeply entangled, it’s not science and society, but wokeness and postmodernism, both afflicted with the idea that truths are not empirical and determined by consensus, but personal and validated by feelings:

Yet there is a fruit fly in the ointment. Most of these Age-of-Reason notions of identity, and the dominant sci-fi scenarios of post-human futures, have been developed by university-educated men who were not disabled, and who hailed from the middle and upper classes of wealthy nations of the global north. Their ideas reflect not only the findings but also the values of those who have for too long commanded the science system: positivist, reductionist and focused on dominating nature. Those who control the means of sequence production get to write the story.

That has begun to change. Although there is far to go, greater attention to equity, inclusion and diversity has already profoundly shaped thinking about disease, health and what it means to be human. . .

So, if scientism is bad for society, and the lucubrations of able-bodied white men who went to college are determining our future, what can we do? What is Comfort’s alternative? He offers none. All he does is give us an example of how artistic “liberation” from science leads to some kind of enlightenment for disabled people:

DNA-based conceptions of ethnicity are far from unproblematic. But the impulse to make the technologies of the self more accessible, more democratic — more about self-determination and less about social control — is, at its basis, liberatory.

Nowhere is this clearer than for people living with disabilities and using assistive technologies. They might gain or regain modes of perception, might be able to communicate and express themselves in new ways, and gain new relationships to the universe of things.

The artist Lisa Park plays with these ideas. She uses biofeedback and sensor technologies derived from neuroscience to create what she calls audiovisual representations of the self. A tree of light blooms and dazzles as viewers hold hands; pools of water resonate harmonically in response to Park’s electroencephalogram waves; an ‘orchestra’ of cyborg musicians wearing heart and brain sensors make eerily beautiful music by reacting and interacting in different ways as Park, the conductor, instructs them to remove blindfolds, gaze at one another, wink, laugh, touch or kiss. Yet even this artistic, subjective and interactive sense of self is tied to an identity bounded by biology.

What is the sweating journalist trying to say here, here in the pages of one of the world’s premier scientific journals? Is this kind of art better for disabled people than the many scientists and technologists working on curing disabilities or making it easier for disabled people? (And yes, many of these benefactors are white men who went to college.) Note that the above is Comfort’s peroration, and it’s almost nuts. Not just nuts, but poorly written and loaded to the gunwales with postmodern jargon.

In his last paragraph, Comfort—surprise?—plumps for “other ways of knowing”:

Since the Enlightenment, we have tended to define human identity and worth in terms of the values of science itself, as if it alone could tell us who we are. That is an odd and blinkered notion. In the face of colonialism, slavery, opioid epidemics, environmental degradation and climate change, the idea that Western science and technology are the only reliable sources of self-knowledge is no longer tenable. This isn’t to lay all human misery at science’s feet — far from it. The problem is scientism. Defining the self only in biological terms tends to obscure other forms of identity, such as one’s labour or social role. Maybe the answer to Huxley’s ‘question of questions’ isn’t a number, after all.

Umm. . . Western science and technology—if you construe empirical observation, affirmation, and testing as “science”—are the only reliable sources of public knowledge. “Self-knowledge” is emotion and feeling, but becomes scientific if you want to demonstrate to others stuff like “I am a caring person who helps others.”

But none of this has anything to do with “defining the self only in biological terms.” Such a definition is Comfort’s conceit, and one of the hard-to-discern themes of his piece. But his conceit is misguided and wrong. Even biologists don’t think of their “self” in purely biological terms.

What is also wrong is that the scientific journal Nature published this tripe. What were they thinking?

h/t: Vampyricon

A misguided attack on scientism in Quillette

May 12, 2019 • 10:30 am

How many times do I have to criticize attacks on scientism, all of which use various permutations of the same three claims? Here they are:

1.) There are “other ways of knowing” that don’t involve science. These often involve “why” questions, like “Why am I here? (i.e. what is my purpose?)” or “Why is the universe here”?

2.) The scientific method (or rather, the use of empirical analysis and observation, confirmation, testing, making predictions, and so on) cannot be justified a priori by philosophy, and involves untestable or fallacious assumptions.

3.) Science is  trying to take over the humanities, and this unwarranted extension of science to places where it doesn’t belong is true scientism.

The article below that just appeared in Quillette rehashes the same tired old arguments, and I’m tired of refuting them. But I’ll take up the cudgels once again. To see my numerous and previous criticisms of scientism, go here.

Read the article by clicking on the screenshot below. It’s a criticism of an earlier piece by Bo and Ben Winegard (also in Quillette) called “In defense of scientism.”


The nice article by the Winegards uses a narrow definition of scientism: “science based social policy” (SBSP) which they say is “the view that social policy should be based on the best available theory and data; in other words, that social policy should be decided using the weight of the evidence. And that is all scientism is—the view that scientific attitudes and methods can enhance all modes of empirical inquiry and should, therefore, be promoted.” Well, some would disagree with that. Others define scientism as “the extension of science beyond its proper bailiwick.” Two such construals of that are 1.) The claim that science devalues nonscientific realms like art and literature, and 2.) Science tries to construct an objective morality, saying that empirical investigation alone can tell us what and what is not desirable and good.

The Winegards address both of these construals, admitting that science can’t replace art and literature, which convey emotion and experience rather than empirical truth. But they also argue—and I agree—that science can helpfully infuse areas like sociology, literary criticism, and other areas that try to make claims about reality. And they agree with me that no, science can’t tell us objectively what is good and moral and desirable, for those are subjective preferences. But once you agree on those preferences—and in morality many of us do adopt similar consequentialist views—then science can tell us how to best achieve them; for how to achieve a desired goal is an empirical matter.

But Aaron Neil, a researcher at the Canadian think tank Cardus, wants to go beyond what the Winegards say, in particular conveying the first two tropes given at the top.  I’ve refuted both of these claims before, most extensively in my book Faith Versus Fact, but I’ll try again, and will also try—and probably fail—to be brief. My refutations of claims 1 and 2 as emitted by Neil are these:

1.) Neil fails to tell us a single bit of knowledge that wasn’t derived by science, though he bloviates at length about how this is possible. If there are “other ways of knowing”, what is the knowledge produced by those ways? If it’s so pervasive, Neil should be able to give us many examples. But he fails miserably, coming up dry.

2.) Indeed, you can’t justify philosophically the use of the empirical method to produce truths about the universe. But the justification is not by philosophy, but by usefulness. In other words, the scientific method works to tell us truths about the universe, and some version of it (the varieties of empirical methods that I call “science construed broadly”) are the only way to find out facts. To paraphrase theology, we justify science by works rather than faith.

Let’s take Neil’s two claims in reverse order (his quotations are indented):

1.) The scientific method can’t be justified by philosophy, and involves untestable (and sometimes failed) assumptions. Here are some of the philosophical attacks on science leveled by Neil:

a. Science is self-refuting in saying that “scientific truth is always provisional.” To wit:

Although the Winegards present an innocuous definition in their essay, they commonly drift into the less benign form of scientism identified by Hayek. The Winegards’ Hayekian scientism manifests itself early in their piece with the claim that “Truth is always provisional.” As they correctly note, scientific “truths” appear to be true so long as they provide “the best available theory” based on the evidence at hand. However, not all truths bear this hypothetical quality. Ironically, the very statement, “Truth is always provisional” is not itself a provisional truth claim. If it is always true that truth is always provisional, this statement is self-refuting. Not all truth claims are theoretical statements that are vulnerable to empirical falsification. Take the proposition, “there are no square circles.” This is not a hypothesis that is true so long as scientists do not discover a square circle. Logically, a circle can never be a square.

Do I need to waste time on this? It’s philosophical pilpul. Instead of saying “truth is always provisional”, let’s restate it as “science doesn’t tell us anything with absolute certainty, but we have degrees of certainty about various things, and are more confident about some scientific truths than others.”  That revision is sufficient to refute Neil’s philosophical twiddling.

b. Science is based on untestable metaphysical assumptions. To wit:

. . . as the greatest critics and advocates of modern science have argued, science is full of extra-scientific assumptions.

Friedrich Nietzsche, for example, saw that far from doing away with faith and metaphysics, the scientific enterprise of the “godless anti-metaphysicians” rested upon its own “metaphysical faith.” In The Gay Science, Nietzsche explains that science depends on dispelling personal convictions and replacing them with provisional hypotheses. However, Nietzsche argues, the scientific attempt to disallow a priori convictions is itself based on “some prior conviction…one that is so commanding and unconditional that it sacrifices all other convictions to itself.” For scientific inquiry to occur, the conviction must “be affirmed in advance” that “‘Nothing is needed more than truth.’” Implicit in the modern “scientific spirit” is the metaphysical belief that “truth is divine.” Therefore, he argues, “there is simply no science ‘without presuppositions.’”

If Nietzsche provides an example of a moral assumption implicit in the scientific method, David Hume, the great skeptic and pioneer of the modern empirical project, provides a philosophical one. For Hume, “all inferences from experience suppose that the future will resemble the past.” To observe that a cause follows from an effect, and to conclude that the same effect will always follow from the same cause, assumes that nature remains the same. This assumption is impossible to prove. “It is impossible,” writes Hume, “that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future; since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance.” In other words, arguing for uniformity in nature based on experiences assumes that uniformity already exists. To prove the consistency of the causal relationship would require stepping outside of empirical experience.

Again, this is easily refuted. First, not all scientists think that the pursuit of truth is the most important thing they do. But as scientists it is our job to pursue truth and that’s all, though many of us do value truth above nearly everything. (For example, many of us would prefer to be told we have a fatal disease than be lied to.) Further, if you are interested in solving problems like “How can we stem global warming?” or “How can we quash this outbreak of measles?”, then science is the only way to go. The so-called a priori assumption that the empirical method is the best way to find truth is not a prior conviction, but the result of centuries of experience of what works and what doesn’t.

As far as Hume is concerned, science does not assume that the future will resemble the past. Indeed, evolutionary biologists assume that the future will NOT resemble the past. The resemblance we do see, and this is not an a priori conviction but also the result of experience, is that the laws of physics appear to remain unalterable in our universe, so in that sense future laws and events (i.e., as instantiated in the evolution of stars) can be assumed to resemble the past laws and events. We use uniformitarianism insofar as our experience tells us this applies. We do not assume it a priori.

It’s a common mistake of people like Neil to think that scientists once sat down and constructed a scientific method, complete with dictums like “value truth above all else”, “assume the future will be like the past”, and “empirical investigation, replication, and so on are the best ways to find empirical truth”. No, those procedures developed from experience when people learned about the best ways to find truth.

2.) There are other ways of knowing. I discuss this at length in Faith Versus Fact, concluding that if you want to know facts about our universe, the scientific procedure (“science construed broadly”) is the only way to proceed. This does not denigrate philosophy or mathematics, both of which are logical systems that are very important in doing science and in thinking hard about what you’re doing. Mathematics does not tell us truths about the universe, but truths about the logical system it comprises. That’s why we can sensibly speak of “proof” in mathematics but not in science. Philosophy, by teaching us how to think clearly and logically, can point out errors in our thinking and lead us to conclusions that aren’t obvious. One of them is the Euthyphro Issue, which teaches us that most religious people get their morality not from religion itself, but from secular and extra-scriptural sources. That is not a truth about the universe, but a logical (and valuable!) truth that comes from reflection and perhaps some observation of how people construe morality (the border between this kind of philosophy and science is very tenuous).

What are the other ways of knowing? Neil discusses two areas.

a. Ways to answer “why” questions. To wit:

A notable example of this scientistic shift from method into metaphysics comes from Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins who, like Dawkins, is a prolific author as well as a fellow at Lincoln College, Oxford University. During the question and answer period following a discussion of The God Delusion, Dawkins was asked whether science provides the answers to the great existential ‘why’ questions. In his reply, Dawkins declared that questions like “why does the universe exist” are “silly” questions that do not deserve answers. Peter Atkins makes a similar point in a recent article. He argues that questions like “Why are we here?” are “not real questions because they are not based on evidence.” Real questions, according to Atkins, are questions “open to scientific elucidation.”

Unfortunately, for Dawkins and Atkins, the belief that all questions must be open to scientific explanation is a metaphysical commitment, not a scientific one. Science does not say that only scientific questions are worth pursuing. Nor does science say that every aspect of reality can be explained by science. Lurking beneath their rejection of the non-scientific lies a fundamentally extra-scientific worldview. In their dismissal of the deepest questions concerning human existence, Dawkins and Atkins speak not as dispassionate scientists, but as partisans to their own philosophical picture of reality.

This can be dispelled easily when we realize that what Dawkins and Atkins (both scientists) are talking about as “fake questions” are “questions that cannot be answered with any certainty.” They are construing “real questions” as questions that have answers that we can all agree on, and can have some certainty about the answers. And for those kinds of questions, Dawkins and Atkins are correct, for only science can answer questions that have answers like that. Sure, you can say, “I had a vision of Jesus,” but there is no way to verify it. Beyond this kind of subjective “truth”, we must turn to science. If questions like “Why are we here?” do have “correct” answers, or answers that most of us can agree on, then pray tell us what the answers are, Dr. Neil! For religions, which occupy themselves with such questions, cannot agree of any answers.

b. Areas that constitute “other ways of knowing.” Disturbingly, besides philosophy, which I’ve already discussed, the only field mentioned by Neil is theology. (I’m not sure whether he thinks theology can really tell us any truths.):

Science is not the only form of knowledge. There are valid non-scientific ways of approaching reality. In fact, before the empirical science of Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon, science (from the Latin scientia) simply meant “knowledge.” For the ancients, natural philosophy (the rough pre-modern equivalent to modern science) and philosophy were ‘sciences’ because each intellectual discipline contributed towards knowledge of reality. Not only were philosophy and theology considered legitimate ways of knowing, the medievals placed natural philosophy below philosophy and theology. It may be tempting to dismiss the medieval hierarchy as an example of pre-modern ignorance. Before too quickly discounting it, consider first the following explanation behind the ordering provided by Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologian-philosophers of the Middle Ages: “Lower sciences,” Aquinas writes, “presuppose conclusions proved in the higher sciences.”

And that’s about it: philosophy and theology (“natural philosophy” is just another word for “science”). Neil doesn’t mention literature or art or music or any of the other classic but bogus “ways of knowing.” (I’m not denigrating these areas, but claiming, as I did in my book, that they are ways of feeling rather than ways of knowing.)

Again, it’s extremely telling that despite Neil’s repeated claim that “science is not the only form of knowledge,” he cannot give us a single example of “knowledge” that comes from outside science. That alone invalidates this part of his argument.

For further discussion of the fallacious “other ways of knowing” claim, read pp. 185-196 of Faith Versus Fact, and for a longer discussion of the scientism canard, read pages 196-224—a section that goes over many of the issues discussed by Neil as well as the Winegards.


New York Times op-ed: Science can learn from religion

February 3, 2019 • 10:00 am

UPDATE:  If religious practices promote well being, one would expect that more religious countries would have happier inhabitants. But the graph below (prepared by reader gluonspring) shows that this is not the case: the most religious countries score lowest on the UN’s “happiness index.” Of course this is a correlation and not necessarily a causal relationship, and there are other factors as well (people may turn to religion if they are poor and unhappy), but this certainly goes against DeSteno’s hypothesis.


I’ve gotten the link to this new NYT op-ed from about a dozen readers, with some explicitly asking me to respond.

Okay, I’ll bite, though my response will be limited to this site as there’s no way in hell that the New York Times would publish a piece saying that science and religion are not mutually helpful. The writer is David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and author of the book Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride. More about him and his funding sources (yes, you can guess!) later.

The article manages to press all my buttons, including extolling the oleaginous Krista Tippett (I had to listen to her ask Daniel Kahneman this morning how he manages to “inhabit the space of his theories”!) and criticizing Steven Pinker. But let’s examine the arguments, which are independent of whether DeSteno loves Krista Tippett (she is, by the way, funded by Templeton).

DeSteno’s thesis is that religion has contributed to science, and that arguing for a divide between the areas “might not only be stoking needless hostility; it might also be slowing the process of scientific discovery itself.”

How does this occur? According to DeSteno, religion has found ways to control not only individual behavior, but also group behavior—and in good ways. If we study these religous methods, we could concoct hypotheses about how we can apply this behavioral control to society at large. In other words, the contribution of religion to science is that it suggests hypotheses. These hypotheses can then be tested using science to see if they work. As DeSteno says:

Religious traditions offer a rich store of ideas about what human beings are like and how they can satisfy their deepest moral and social needs. For thousands of years, people have turned to spiritual leaders and religious communities for guidance about how to conduct themselves, how to coexist with other people, how to live meaningful and fulfilled lives — and how to accomplish this in the face of the many obstacles to doing so. The biologist Richard Dawkins, a vocal critic of religion, has said that in listening to and debating theologians, he has “never heard them say anything of the smallest use.” Yet it is hubristic to assume that religious thinkers who have grappled for centuries with the workings of the human mind have never discovered anything of interest to scientists studying human behavior.

Just as ancient doesn’t always mean wise, it doesn’t always mean foolish. The only way to determine which is the case is to put an idea — a hypothesis — to an empirical test. In my own work, I have repeatedly done so. I have found that religious ideas about human behavior and how to influence it, though never worthy of blind embrace, are sometimes vindicated by scientific examination.

So what are these “religious ideas”? They include these:

1.) Meditation. The idea that meditation can reduce suffering and make people more moral has, says DeSteno, been supported by science. He also says that idea comes from Buddhism.

2.) Ritual. DeSteno says that science has found that the repetitive actions of rituals lead to greater self-control and more feelings of “affiliation and empathy”. He implies that the use of rituals originated in religion.

3.) “Religious virtues such as gratitude and kindness.” See below.

That’s about it, but one can think of other ideas as well. Whether they come from religion is debatable, and I’ll get to that in a minute. DeSteno’s conclusion?

If this view is right, religion can offer tools to bolster secular interventions of many types, such as combating addiction, increasing exercise, saving money and encouraging people to help those in need. This possibility dovetails with a parallel body of research showing that by cultivating traditional religious virtues such as gratitude and kindness, people can also improve their ability to reach personal goals like financial and educational success.

. . . My purpose here isn’t to argue that religion is inherently good or bad. As with most social institutions, its value depends on the intentions of those using it. But even in cases where religion has been used to foment intergroup conflict, to justify invidious social hierarchies or to encourage the maintenance of false beliefs, studying how it manages to leverage the mechanisms of the mind to accomplish those nefarious goals can offer insights about ourselves — insights that could be used to understand and then combat such abuses in the future, whether perpetrated by religious or secular powers.

Science and religion do not need each other to function, but that doesn’t imply that they can’t benefit from each other.

It’s clear that what DeSteno means is that science can find out stuff if they test hypotheses derived from examining religion, but that science itself doesn’t benefit. Science is, after all, a set of practices that help us find out stuff, and it isn’t and has never been helped by religion. It is society that benefits—supposedly.

DeSteno calls these testable hypotheses “spiritual technologies”, a word he got from Krista Tippett (it has shady overtones from Scientology, though). But he also says, correctly, that these practices can be separated from religious dogma, and also don’t vindicate the dogma of any religion. In response to Pinker, who, when faced with DeSteno’s ideas, said that these are cultural and not religious practices, DeSteno says that it’s hard to separate the two.

And it is, which is one of the problems of DeSteno’s thesis. Are these techniques derived from studying religion and its supposed successes, or do they come from elsewhere? I’m willing to admit that meditation comes from Zen Buddhism, though many people don’t see that as a religion. But that aside, it does seem to have value, though some people, like Dan Dennett, never feel the “mindfulness” and “out of self” experiences touted by adherents like Sam Harris. I would be interested to see if the scientific studies of meditation explicitly credit Buddhism, but I won’t carp if they did.

As for the other two, I am not so sure they come from religion.  Ritual probably long preceded present-day religions, and may have had little to do with belief in divine beings. The origins of ritual are lost in the irrecoverable past of our species. Indeed, religion may have adopted rituals like singing and dancing from the teenage phase of our evolutionary history.

And, of course, there are other ways of bonding. Do soccer fans derive their chants and solidarity from observing religion? I don’t think so. There are many things that help us bond, and many rituals that facilitate that, and surely some of those don’t come from religion. I won’t go into this in detail as readers can think of these on their own. But why not write an article like “What science can learn from soccer”?

Here’s some video from that proposed article:

As for “gratitude and kindness,” I deny that these ideas derive from religion. While some religions emphasize them, many urge them on adherents to their faith but urge intolerance and dislike towards members of other faiths. That, indeed, was the situation throughout most of religious history. If you ascribe “gratitude and kindness” to religion, you must also ascribe “dislike, xenophibia, and intolerance of others” to religion as well. Here DeSteno is brandishing a double-edged sword.

There are many reasons to think that religion adopted the “gratitude and kindness” stand from secular reason and from evolution. These virtues would have arisen via experience and evolution over the long period of time when humans lived in small groups—groups of people who knew each other and thus could practice these virtues in light of the expected reciprocity from others. And, of course, secular ethics has emphasized these virtues from since forever. As Rebecca Goldstein told me, moral philosophy is a thoroughly secular enterprise. And she’s right. Religions simply took over these virtues from preexisting groups.

But there’s more to say. Religion has also had a malign influence on humanity, not, perhaps, through scientific study of religious methods of behavior control, but from secular enterprises apeing religious methods to control people. For example:

  1. Threats as a way to control behavior. There’s nothing more compelling than making people behave than by threatening them if they don’t. Religion is excellent at doing this, especially through threats of burning in hell. Other threats have been used by dictatorships to make people conform. What are Nazism and Stalinism but oppressive ideologies that use the methods of religion, including god figures, threats, ritual, and punishment of apostasy and blasphemy?
  2. Deprivation of freedom of expression. Religions have been suppressing heresy for centuries, a technique taken over by totalitarian regimes to ensure control.
  3. Use of raw power to get your way. Here I’ll mention how some Catholic priests have used the cachet of their church to sexually molest young people.
  4. Promises of reward if you give money or effort to the church. People who tithe expect rewards, often in the afterlife. But “prosperity gospel” hucksters like Creflo Dollar, as well as Scientologists, use these promises of reward to bankrupt their acolytes.

Now scientists may not have studied these religious methods to judge their efficacy. After all, who would fund a study of whether gaining religious power over someone makes them more likely to succumb to sexual molestation? But the hypotheses that these methods work can reasonably be ascribed to religion (at least as reasonably as the three ideas mentioned above), and they have been used to damage human beings. On balance, one can’t say that the existence of religions has been an overall good in making humans feel good and behave well. Likewise, we can’t say that scientific discoveries about human behavior would be less advanced if religion hadn’t existed.

When I read this article, I immediately thought, “I smell Templeton in here.” (By the way, the self-aggrandizing rat in the wonderful children’s book Charlotte’s Web is named Templeton!) And it doesn’t take much digging to find that DeSteno has been and still is amply funded by Templeton. Here are two past grants he’s had, both listed on his c.v.:

John Templeton Foundation Co-PI’s: David DeSteno and Lisa Feldman Barrett Informal Science Education via Storytelling: Teaching Scientists and Philosophers How to Communicate with the Public Funding Program: Academic Engagement November 2016 – October 2018; Total costs: $216,400. J

John Templeton Foundation PI: David DeSteno Behavioral Measures of Virtue: Moving from the Lab to the “Real World” Funding Program: Character Virtue Development June 2014 – May 2016; Total costs: $244,251

And, on January 22 of this year, Northeastern University noted that DeSteno and a colleague now have three more grants from Templeton adding up to a cool $600,000:

DeSteno and fellow Northeastern psychology professor Lisa Feldman Barrett recently received three grants from the John Templeton Foundation for a total of nearly $600,000, including two grants to continue offering workshops that help scientists such as Routledge communicate complex information to laypeople.

Hundreds of scientists from all over the world have applied to attend the first three workshops, and a dozen have been selected to participate in each one. According to DeSteno, several of their workshop attendees have written articles for major news outlets such as theTimesThe Wall Street Journal, and Scientific American. Now they are planning a fourth workshop this fall in Boston.

Some of these grants have been to teach scholars to communicate with the public. As Templeton described the first grant above, which expired in October 2018:

Scholars yearn to provide insights into some of the big questions. Yet, too often, they are limited in their abilities to communicate findings directly to a knowledge hungry public .The result is either that scholars write mainly for one another, placing important knowledge in insular academic journals that are beyond the reach and interest of the public, or rely on intermediaries to digest and transmit knowledge. If science and philosophy are to maximally enhance well-being and benefit humanity, scholars must have a way to more easily disseminate their discoveries to the public. Success in doing so requires learning not only how to tell a good story, and how to write in different styles, but also how to approach, pitch and work with editors at prominent publications.

There’s the Big Questions trope again, which is TempletonSpeak for “osculating faith.” I see workshops like this as Templeton fostering a way to spread its own views to the public, as DeSteno does here (this article could have been written by a Templeton flack). And two of DeSteno’s new Templeton grants are for further workshops in this kind of communication.

There’s a lot of dough to be made, and public approbation to be gained, by claiming that science and religion have a lot to teach each other. Yes, science can often test religious claims (Adam and Eve, the efficacy of prayer, and so on), and these claims are always dispelled. As for religion’s contribution to science, as outlined by DeSteno in this article, well, it’s not impressive.

It’s not to the New York Times’s credit that they continue publishing religion-osculating pieces like this. Would that they gave the same space to criticisms of religion!

Templeton the rat (from the Charlotte’s Web Wiki)

h/t: Greg Mayer, Michael

More science-dissing from two scientists and a philosopher

January 27, 2019 • 12:42 pm

I was going to write a critique of the article below from Aeon; its authors are Adam Frank, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, Marcelo Gleiser, a professor of natural philosophy and professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College, and Evan Thompson, a professor of philosophy and a scholar at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. (Click on the screenshot.)

But as I read it for the second time, and the familiar science-dissing arguments arose before my eyes, I became dispirited. Science can’t give us an objective view of reality, the authors claim, because “reality” is always filtered through our consciousness (and, by the way, good luck, Science, with explaining consciousness!). The view that we perceive an objective reality is, Frank et al. argue, “more theological than scientific.” (But theology can’t make verifiable predictions, and science can!). Science changes, too, as our experience of “how things are” changes (viz., quantum mechanics). Thus we don’t have a handle on Reality.

And as I mentally prepared my arguments, I became almost physically ill. Of course we don’t know for sure if there’s an external reality independent of our experience, but if there isn’t then our predictions are remarkably successful. And animals perceive physical things that comport with what we perceive (i.e., a mallard hen gets alarmed when she sees a Great Blue Heron near her chicks; when water freezes for us, it freezes for ducks; and so on). Doesn’t that mean that there’s something out there that we see and that other species see, all with very different consciousnesses?

If you’re going to diss science because it’s filtered through our consciousness, then every notion of the word “truth” goes out the window. How do I know you ate a cheeseburger today, even though I saw you scarf it down? After all, although what I saw looked like a cheeseburger, it was filtered through my consciousness, so the idea of a Cheeseburger Independently Existing in the Cosmos is garbage.

And then there’s this paragraph, which begins the piece:

The problem of time is one of the greatest puzzles of modern physics. The first bit of the conundrum is cosmological. To understand time, scientists talk about finding a ‘First Cause’ or ‘initial condition’ – a description of the Universe at the very beginning (or at ‘time equals zero’). But to determine a system’s initial condition, we need to know the total system. We need to make measurements of the positions and velocities of its constituent parts, such as particles, atoms, fields and so forth. This problem hits a hard wall when we deal with the origin of the Universe itself, because we have no view from the outside. We can’t step outside the box in order to look within, because the box is all there is. A First Cause is not only unknowable, but also scientifically unintelligible.

First of all, we don’t know if there is a first cause; you can plausibly argue that the Universe in one form or another has proceeded from other universes and that it’s simply universes all the way down.  Physicists tell us that the notion of a time before the present Universe began makes no sense since the beginning of time is coincident with the beginning of space-time. And if a First Cause is scientifically unintelligible, which it appears to be, then why is it a criticism of science to say that we can’t pin down a “First Cause” (which, by the way, is NOT equivalent to an “initial condition”)?

And then I realized that I have remunerative and enjoyable work to do, and why should I waste my time rehashing the same old arguments?

If you want to see how scientists and philosophers combine forces to show that Science Isn’t Everything (something with which we mostly agree), have at it yourself. But it’s one thing to say that science is different from music, and that we’ll never know why some people like Stockhausen while others despise him (actually, some day science might be able to answer that!); but it’s another thing to say that science is fundamentally theological in nature.  Yes, science can be wrong, and all we can do is to make models that conform better and better to how we perceive the universe, and that predict things we can observe. Yet one thing is for sure: it would be remarkable if Einstein’s perception of the Universe corresponded with the bending of light by the sun, but that actually there may not be light or a Sun, and it’s all some kind of Matrix.

Oh, and another thing is for sure: theology isn’t even CLOSE to science in understanding “reality”, whatever that might be, because different theologians—unlike different scientists—have huge differences in what they say reality consists of, and there’s no way to judge who is right. On the other hand, we know there isn’t an ether and that we can test whether matter bends light. When theologians find a way to tell us whether there’s a god, and whether that god is one or many (as Hindus maintain), and what the nature of that god is, and that we can test their claims, then I’ll start saying that theology is scientific in nature.

The only purpose of pieces like this, it seems to me, is to do down science. You tell me why, as I don’t know. Perhaps people are upset that science continues to advance and push woo further into the corners, and that other areas of human endeavor have had no such successes.

At any rate, I’m done for the day. I’m tired of these kinds of arguments. I’ve attacked them before and need not do so again, and I’ll move on to more interesting pursuits. I wonder why Messrs. Frank, Thompson and Gleiser are going after science rather than theology.


UPDATE: Over at the site Spirituality is No Excuse, writer Yakaru does a good job deconstructing the Aeon piece in a post called “Three academics launch a vague attack on science and propose a vague solution of some kind.”


A Mormon beefs about my anti-accommodationism

December 27, 2018 • 10:30 am

My piece on The Conversation about the incompatibility of religion and science continues to be the most-read piece of the week on that site, having reached nearly 100,000 views and 655 comments. I can’t say I’m not chuffed, but of course most of the comments take issue with what I said. Well, that’s okay by me: at least they heard me.

And I continue to get a lot of private emails from believers and loons (there is substantial overlap). I’ll show two of them today. This one came from someone called “Nobody special”, who was anonymous but apparently a scientist. I didn’t realize that my piece had been republished in Newsweek, but sure enough it was, just yesterday.

Here you go. “Nobody Special”‘s comments are indented, and my responses are flush left:

War between Religion and Science?

Nobody Special

Dear Dr. Coyne,

I read your opinion piece in the Conversation and in Newsweek about whether there is a war between science and religion.

I believe you are correct when both disciplines are incorporating the “philosophies of men”. And not open to new ideas or other vantage points.

Truth is universal, whether found in science or religion it is the same. The key is what basic principles you accept at the starting point. In science we accept basic truths about our external world, then we learn and test externally to see what hypothesis are true. Do you accept basic truths about the spiritual world, then learn and test internally to see what creeds of religion are true? No you do not.

Science accepts that this existence is real and what you see, touch, smell, and hear are real. There are truths in science that can’t be proved, but are accepted by faith (without proof), because we need a starting point. Yet many people experience dreams that are so real that they don’t know they are dreams until the wake up. This questions existence. You think, therefore you are. But you cannot prove to me that you think, you can only prove it to yourself. Sounds like religion. You can prove that you have brain waves that appear similar to mine when we each think of green, but there are still differences and you cannot prove that your experience of green is the same as mine.

No, those are philosophical questions, not religious ones, and they don’t go any distance towards proving the existence of God. And, of course, someday we may be able to see what other people’s subjective experiences are like, though we already have some clues from their behavior. It is, after all, empirical study and not the Bible that revealed that color blind people see differently from the rest of us.

Thus faith is required by you that your perception of green is correct. Yet we know this is not true for everyone. Color blind people do not see what you see, and vice versa. This experience we call life is very subjective, not objective. Science tries to remove much of the subjectivity, which is good, but it is never fully successful at the task.

I’m not sure that you can say “my perception of green is correct”. If 95% the world were blue-green color blind, it would be abnormal, but given that our perceptions are evolved, I’m not sure you can say that my perception of green is “correct” any more than you can say that a gay person’s romantic feelings towards of a person of their own sex is “incorrect”.

Does this make a color blind person’s experience of the world untrue? No, he has a different vantage point.

There are spirituality blind people also. And we know for a fact that what I experience when I seek the divine is not what you experience when you seek the divine.

Does this make one of our experiences untrue? No, we have a different vantage points.

Like the color blind person can’t see green normally. You, a spiritually blind person, cannot see the divine normally.

Okay, so HOW do you see the divine “normally”? Do Muslims see it normally? How about Scientologists, or Hindus? This person somehow is deluded into thinking that there are ways to judge the divine that are objectively “true.” The impossibility of that was my whole point.

So how did you get to your vantage point on Evolution? (Which by the way I believe is one of God’s methods of eternal progression.)

Thanks. Is that a truth?

You got there with much study, learned from masters, and tested the hypothesis for yourself. If I an unlearned evolutionist were to try to explain and criticize evolution, I would likely make many grave errors in my explanation and criticism. We scientists see this all the time in the “Divine Design” movement.

Is it not true that you an unlearned spiritualist will make grave errors and false understandings about faith and religion as you did in your hatchet piece?

It has taken me my life studying science to get to my current level of proficiency in my chosen field. It has also taken a lifetime of study, testing faith, seeking, and questioning God to get to my current level of spiritual proficiency.

Yet you, a spiritual nube, are criticizing that which you don’t know and haven’t studied or experienced. I have deeply studied many religions and found truth in all as well as error in all. This is exactly the same as science. All published papers have errors and truths in them. I would be castigated in science circles if I did the same thing with evolution that you are doing with religion.

Umm. . . I’ve studied religion and theology a lot more than the average person, but of course none of it gives even remotely convincing evidence for gods, much less religious “truth”. What this dude is doing is arguing from authority. He, apparently, has studied religion his whole life and is proficient in discerning “truth”.

But what IS that truth. Wait for it—it’s MORMONISM! He goes on (I’m assuming it’s male):

Gaining Knowledge of Eternal Truths”:

An interesting read, I recommend you pay close attention to the paragraphs after the heading “Teachings of Joseph Smith”.

Note, I am anonymous as there is a contingent of scientists who will make great effort to submarine my career if I were not. This is the worst kind of censorship and definitely not scientific. Shades of Copernicus.

Nobody Special

Well, here are the paragraphs of “truth” that he pointed me to:

The gospel of Jesus Christ embraces all truth; the faithful accept the truths God has revealed and put aside false traditions.

“Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth: consequently the shackles of superstition, bigotry, ignorance, and priestcraft, fall at once from his neck; and his eyes are opened to see the truth, and truth greatly prevails over priestcraft. …

“… Mormonism is truth, in other words the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same.”

So there you have it ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters. Mormonism is TRUE! Other religions, by implication, are false.  This self-styled Copernicus has embraces one of the craziest religions in the U.S. (but it’s crazy only because we knew how it arose), and he says it’s rock-solid truth. Such a view deserves mockery and contempt, which I would summon up if I thought it was worth it.

I will let this person know that I posted the email (without identifying information), and you can feel free to respond in the comments.

In which Ken Miller and I defend Francis Collins against the religious Right

December 20, 2018 • 10:00 am

I never thought that I’d be on the same side as biologist Ken Miller when it comes to issues of science and religion. But we are this time, in an article by Kimberly Leonard in The Washington Examiner (click on screenshot below). It’s about Right-wing religionists calling for Dr. Francis Collins to be fired as director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—on the grounds that he favors the use of research employing fetal tissue. He also favored research using embryonic stem cells, which got him into hot water with believers some years ago.

The curious thing is that Collins, as you probably know, is an evangelical Christian, and wrote a book, The Language of God: A Scientists Presents Evidence for Belief, full of religious superstition and frankly risible statements about why the Path of Jesus was the right one, as well as allusions to frozen tripartite waterfalls that prompted Collins’s conversion (he was an atheist when younger). I’ve criticized Collins several times for mixing science and faith in his pubic talks, in which implies—using “fine tuning” arguments and the like—that science supports the existence of God. While Collins is free to say what he wants, I thought it was pretty dire to give public talks pushing apologetics and a form of theology when he is also known as the country’s most powerful scientist. But I’d never call for him to be censored, and certainly not fired.

Now I, along with Ken Miller and others, are defending Collins, for on the matter of research using otherwise to-be-discarded material from aborted fetuses and frozen embryos, he’s right, and his religious critics are, well, totally irrational.

Read below:

Fetal tissue comes from aborted fetuses that have been frozen, so they’ll never become adults. That tissue, like embryonic stem cells, has promise for treatment of diseases; as Wikipedia notes,:

Fetal tissue implant or fetal cell therapy is an experimental medical therapy where researchers implant tissue from a fetus into a person as treatment of a disease. In the case of Parkinson’s disease, it is hoped that the fetal tissue would produce chemicals, specifically dopamine, which is lacking in the diseased brain. This therapy is also being investigated for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease. Fetal tissue is unique since it is fast growing and has a lower possibility of rejection from the host’s immune system than adult cells.

Likewise, embryonic stem cells, which come from frozen embryos that are stored and will never be implanted, have similar promise. Both cells and tissue, then, can be used for medical research in lieu of simply being thrown away. To me this is a no-brainer, like organ donation: if it can do some good, why not use it? After all, my organs, like embryonic stem cells and fetal tissue, will never do anyone any good if they’re incinerated or buried after I die.

But of course religionists object to the medical use, presumably because embryos and fetal tissue are parts of what could have been “potential humans”, but aren’t. Their reasons are pretty lame, as Leonard shows in her report:

“I do think that part of the argument has been missing a little bit in the fetal tissue debate: the sort of immediate assumption that if you’re in support of fetal tissue research that you must also think abortion is just fine,” Collins told the Washington Examiner. “Even for people who are pro-life, who are troubled by abortion, the use of fetal tissue for research, since they are being derived anyway, if that is going to save a life someday, seems like a credible stance.”

Collins’ reasoning outrages people devoted to ending abortion. Advocates from March for Life, the organization that runs the annual rally protesting the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, have told White House officials they want Collins out.

“The current NIH director doesn’t accurately reflect the pro-life and pro-science views of the current administration,” said Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs for the group. “The president would be better served to find a replacement that does.”

David Prentice, research director at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, agreed.

“We are not questioning his faith,” Prentice, who is a cell biologist, said of Collins. “Certainly that relationship and faith is between him and God. There are obviously a variety of viewpoints within the Christian community with these life issues. All we have to go on are his policy positions.”

Groups opposed to fetal tissue research are not just opposed to abortion, but contend the practice of using the tissue in experiments is degrading, wrong, and unnecessary. They question whether fetal tissue research is effectual and believe other types of tissues work better and should be used instead — adult stem cells, umbilical cord, amniotic fluid, tissue from the placenta, or discarded tissue from surgery on an infant.

And the threat from Trump’s administration:

In May 2017, 41 conservative U.S. representatives sent Trump a letter asking him to replace Collins, but they haven’t followed up in light of the latest debate. The Washington Examiner hasn’t obtained evidence that Collins’ job is in jeopardy.

“As a matter of standard policy, we do not conduct performance reviews in the press,” said Caitlin Oakley, a spokeswoman for HHS.

But Trump has been unpredictable in his firings, and anti-abortion advocates have developed a strong foothold in his administration. Trump has kept his promises to them. He has appointed judges that align with their positions, allowed religious and moral exemptions to the Obamacare contraception mandate they’ve sought, and examined how to untether pregnancy prevention funds from organizations that also provide abortions.

“We really are very pleased with President Trump and his pro-life policies and all of the promises he has kept,” Prentice said. “We just want to see that continue.”

If the policies don’t change, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List [JAC: the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List] said in a statement, then “it would be the first time the Trump administration has broken with the pro-life movement.”

Now the Department of Health and Human Services, of which the NIH is a branch, “has asked most government scientists to temporarily halt the acquisition of new fetal tissue.” That can come only from the religious character of the GOP administration. The same thing happened earlier during the G. W. Bush and Obama administrations, when the number of embryonic stem-cell lines that could be used for research was strictly limited.

None of this makes any sense. The other argument from the religious Right is that using fetal tissue will encourage abortions, which they abhor. But that doesn’t wash. Does anyone seriously think that a woman will have an abortion because she thinks its tissue might be valuable for medical research, as opposed to having the baby? What kind of mindset could even contemplate such an argument against fetal-tissue research?

A few of us scientists were quoted as supporting Collins:

The biology textbook author Kenneth Miller, a Roman Catholic and cellular biologist at Brown University, said that a ban would affect medical research more than it would Collins personally. “He’d have to execute the ban,” Miller said. “But it would make the job of researchers that much more difficult.”

. . . “I never would call for him to resign,” said Jerry Coyne, a former critic who is a prominent evolutionary scholar and an atheist. “He’s a good scientist and a good administrator. I admire him for sticking up for something that is actually going to help humanity.”

. . . Some scientists who have expressed concern about Collins’ leadership before now say that is overridden by their fear of whom Trump might pick to replace him.

Jonathan Eisen, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Davis, has several qualms about Collins’ leadership, but he wouldn’t want him to be replaced now.

“Since Trump was elected many people say, ‘I don’t really like him, but he’s a supporter of science and medical research, and you could get someone who doesn’t believe in science,’” Eisen said. “That scares a lot of people.”

Coyne said “there would be an outcry” if Collins were to be fired.

“Almost every scientist says he has done a good job … I feel there is something sacrosanct about the NIH,” he said. “It is such a good influence for the U.S.”

Seriously, this is a real instantiation of the conflict between faith and science. Faith says that it’s disrespectful to use fetal tissue for research. Presumably it should be given a dignified burial with a little cross over the top. That’s based on the notion that a fetus is a person with a soul and its tissue shouldn’t be used for medical research. But how can you justify that stand and be in favor of organ donation at the same time, which is the use of dead adult tissue to help others? In contrast, science needs fetal tissue to do research that can save the lives of people with various diseases.  If you say there’s no conflict between science and religion, this fracas shows that you’re wrong.

Anyway, I got a nice email from Ken Miller, who also tweeted our mutual support, and, despite our differences on religion, it’s nice to know we can stand together on issues like evolution versus creationism and fetal tissue research versus, well, doing nothing with the tissue. He also issued a tweet:

More dumb antievolution statements from Jews

November 2, 2018 • 1:00 pm

I suppose that, as a secular Jew (yes, Dave Silverman, they exist!), I am biased, but it really rankles me a lot when Jews come out against evolution. We’re supposed to be down with science, for crying out loud, and a Jew who opposes evolution seems like a lion who opposes carnivory.

But apparently the pages of The Jewish Press a major Jewish website, has been having a debate about whether “a frum [very pious] Jew can – or should – accept the theory of evolution considering that it doesn’t easily fit the text of Parshas Bereishis [Genesis, Chapter 1]”. That’s like debating whether a pious Jew can accept a spherical earth given that Scripture implies that the earth is flat.

I haven’t followed this debate, but the final contribution to the “discourse” is the piece below, written by Josh Greenberger, identified as “author of Fossil Discoveries Disprove Evolution Beyond A Doubt.” He also wrote a previous and similar creationist piece for this “newspaper,” “No, evolution is not a scientific fact,” which was handily taken apart by the Sensuous Curmudgeon.

Well, read the link below and weep, and weep harder if you’re a Jew, for one of your own has shown himself to be irredeemably stupid—or willfully ignorant in the service of G-d, which is suppose is the same thing.

A few quotes (indented) and my brief and my ascerbic responserew (flush left):sarrfrrr

Charles Darwin, the “father” of evolution, was neither a scientist nor an authority in any endeavor that might have made him an authority on biological life.

The profession of “scientist” wasn’t as established in the mid-19th century as it is today, but of course Darwin was a scientist, as he practiced what everyone would recognize as science. And as for his qualifications, he studied biology in school and throughout his entire life as an autodidact. Do note that Mendel, whom Greenberger much prefers to Darwin, wasn’t a scientist in that sense, either: he was a monk.

But let’s proceed:

Upon observing many life forms and some fossils, Darwin concluded that all species of organisms develop via small incremental changes and the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the organism’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. But Darwin never ran any experiments or discovered any empirical evidence to support his beliefs. Basically, his theory was based on pure imagination.

This is complete hogwash, or muttonwash if you need a kosher metaphor. Of course Darwin did experiments, and, more important, larded his books, including the seminal Origin of Species, with empirical information: information about embryology, morphology, biogeography, development, and artificial selection, all of this evidence so strong that within a decade virtually all rational people accepted the idea of evolution and common descent (acceptance of natural selection took longer).

Darwin himself remarked: “the number of intermediate and transitional links, between all living and extinct species, must have been inconceivably great.” The fossil record, though, shows life forms appearing fully formed – a “serious” difficulty in Darwin’s eyes.

The fossil record was indeed scanty in Darwin’s time, but now, as I show in Why Evolution is True, we have innumerable fossilized transitional forms between “kinds,” including between fish and amphibians, amphibians and reptiles, reptiles and mammals, reptiles and birds, and, of course, between our earlier ancestors and modern humans. Darwin’s difficult is no longer an issue.

Gregor Mendel, a contemporary of Darwin – and much more qualified to opine on biological life – challenged Darwin’s views. Darwin assumed there were no limits to biological variation and that, given enough time, a fish could eventually evolve into a human being. Mendel challenged this assumption, claiming evolution was restricted to within “kinds.” A drastic development, such as a fish evolving into a human being, could never happen no matter how much time was allowed, he said.

Mendel carefully designed and meticulously executed experiments involving nearly 30,000 pea plants followed over eight generations. However, the importance of his work only gained wide understanding in the 1890s, after his death, when other scientists working on similar problems rediscovered his research.

Mendel was wrong about evolution not occurring between “kinds”, no matter how you define them. As I said above, we have evidence from fossils, genes, and development for common ancestry of what are surely different “kinds”, like reptiles and birds. And Mendel didn’t ever study evolution: he studied genetics and never published a comprehensive theory of evolution.

Greenberger then recounts the experiments of Rich Lenski, wrongly characterizing them as showing that laboratory evolution aways produces the same result over and over again. But it didn’t!

More than a century later, experiments by evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski of Michigan State University, showed that Mendel was right and Darwin was wrong. In experiments that began in 1988 and continued for at least 20 years, Lenski demonstrated very clearly that speciation is the result of underlying genetic design, not chaos and randomness.

Lenski didn’t study speciation: he studied evolutionary change within a species: the bacterium E. coli. And he showed that different lines responded to selection in different ways: just what you’d expect if evolution depends on unpredictable (“random”) mutations that occur regardless of their adaptive value.

Lenski’s experiments demonstrated that Darwin’s notion that there were no limits to biological variation was false, and that beneficial biological changes are the result of a genetic predisposition that allows for very specific, predefined forms of life. A good analogy might be: If you hit balls on a pool table at random, they will fall into random pockets. But they can only fall into pockets prepared by the pool table manufacturer; the balls cannot drill new pockets on their own. In the same way, the evolution of life is only “random” in that it can choose, perhaps randomly, from a list of predefined organisms.

Lenski did no such thing—he showed that random mutation in some lines of the bacterium could enable them to adapt to a novel substrate, and different lines responded in different ways. That is evolution, and it’s evolution by natural selection. Those are two of the major points in Darwin’s “theory” of evolution. To buttress his Jewish faith, Greenberger is simply distorting what Lenski showed.

Finally, Greenberger has to deal with the question of why so many scientists accept evolution if there’s no evidence for it. His answer is the usual one, but again he’s wrong:

If there’s so much solid scientific evidence against Darwinian evolution, why do people embrace it? In my opinion, they do so because it allows them to believe in a universe without God. But for those to whom scientific truth and honesty mean something, there’s no getting around the fact that Mendel and Lenski demonstrated undeniable design in what appears to be genetic chaos and biological randomness. If that means there must be a God, so be it.

In fact, more than half of American scientists claim some kind of religious belief, so why would religious scientists like, say, Francis Collins and Ken Miller embrace evolution? Those two men are, respectively, an evangelical Christian and a Catholic. It’s risible, bogus, and reprehensible to say that scientists accept evolution because it buttresses their atheism. The fact that most scientists are not atheists is sufficient to refute this.

I have no words to describe how infuriating stuff like this is. Greenberger is obviously not insane, but he looks that way because he’s marinated in his faith. But, as I mention in Faith versus Fact, a 2006 poll of randomly-selected Americans showed that 64% of them would reject a scientific fact if it went against the tenets of their belief. Evolution is one of those facts, and Greenberger is one of the rejectors.

h/t: reader Mark