Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Appearance of Legitimacy

Japan have suffered a setback in putting whale meat on the table with their "scientific program" being labelled a ruse by an international court. Of course, the Japanese knew it was a ruse too (their disappointment was expressed in the denial of tradition, not of what they could have learnt from slaughtering whales), yet it was a ruse they needed to keep up for international obligations.

This same kind of legitimacy is presumably what Russia sought with the referendum in Crimea, or any dictator does with a "poll". It's the kind of ruse that fools nobody, yet it's enough to fend off simple criticism. Russia doesn't care about having a fair election any more than a dictator does, yet the burden is now on those who say it's unfair - a burden that really can't be met beyond suspicion.

The example I want to highlight, though, is scientific creationism. What should be said about all creationism is this - any starting point other than the science will exclude it from being science. It's that simple. The goal of science isn't to vindicate any doctrine, religious or otherwise, but to use observation to develop and test theories. Creationists fall afoul of this because they already have the answer.

Yet creationists want scientific legitimacy. While many will affirm that the bible is their starting point, they are also quick to criticise any scientific claim that seemingly contradicts that. They also crave people with qualifications - real qualifications if possible, but degree mills in the absence of those. They even have their own "scientific" journals where people submit "real" research.

What is interesting is exploring what the response to that should be. Science, of course, needs to be an open enterprise and people need to be able to explore avenues wherever they lead. At the same time, scientists need to guard against pseudoscientists who are looking to use the scientific process to serve their own ends.

What we end up with, sad to say, is Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The complaint was that Intelligent Design isn't being given a fair go by the scientific community, and proponents are finding that their support of Intelligent Design is meaning losing academic credibility. It sounds appalling, which it would be if it were the case.

There is a perceived circularity with scientific orthodoxy. Intelligent Design, to be a legitimate view, needs to have academic support. But since the evolutionists are the ones in charge of what gets called science, Intelligent Design cannot get the academic support it needs. In other words, the orthodoxy rigs the game by excluding any person or paper that might be sympathetic to ID as simply being anti-science.

Of course if this were really circular, then it would be utterly astounding that science progresses at all. Yet science does, and the ideas accepted by the biological community now are not the same as 50, 100, or 150 years ago when Darwin first published. The big deal is made of the orthodoxy because it's a convenient scape goat standing in the way of perceived scientific legitimacy.

What Expelled did was tie cases of ID proponents being fired or denied tenure to the fact that they were ID proponents. That in turn was tied into the wider narrative of academia trying to exclude God from the picture. What this does is gives a reason for the lack of legitimacy. They are serious scientists doing serious research promoting a serious view, but the atheistic evolutionists stand in their way. (One of the most baffling things about Expelled is how much of the film is about Richard Dawkins' atheism, from theologians discussing it to Ben Stein drilling Dawkins on what gods he doesn't believe in.)

The argument so far has been made without context. If we were to put ID into a cultural and historical context, ID an incarnation of creationism in an attempt to give it scientific legitimacy at least as far as what gets taught to students. ID is aimed at school boards, politicians, and at the wider public. It craves scientific legitimacy not because God should be vindicated in science, but because scientific legitimacy is what counts as far as what is taught in science class. If ID were to limit itself to being an expression of natural theology, there'd be no issue. But as the wedge document confirms, the motives of ID proponents is to ultimately bring people to Jesus.

Thus scientists are put in an awkward position. If people want to use the appearance of scientific legitimacy for their nonscientific ideas, then scientists have to guard against it. But if they do guard against it, they are accused of guarding the orthodoxy against proper scrutiny. Proper science is brought down to the level of pseudoscience by virtue of pseudoscience being able to better posture itself as legitimate science persecuted by the orthodoxy.

The value of real science is that what is the mainstream now had to be earned through the scientific process. Just as a real democracy requires an open political process. The pale imitation of dictatorships fools no-one even though it's an attempt of dictators to appease their critics. The same goes for creationists pretending to do science. They aren't doing so because they want to find the truth - they know their truth already - but because it's what's expected of them.

The problem is that their pale imitation isn't the same thing as doing real science, and real scientists call them out on it. The irony of it all is that scientists standing up for science has become to be seen an expression of ideology, while ideologues craving the appearance of scientific legitimacy as the persecuted minority standing up for Truth.

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