Discoveroids Say Steven Pinker Is Wrong

We recently praised Steven Pinker’s Book on the Enlightenment, and now we have some reaction to his book from the Discovery Institute, titled Is Science Objective? Steven Pinker’s Counterattack Against the “War on Science”.

Their post was written by Discovery Institute “fellow” Richard Weikart, author of From Darwin to Hitler, so you know he’s a solid thinker. We consider him to be the intellectual godfather of the Discoveroids’ frequently-repeated malicious mantra: “No Darwin, no Hitler.” Here are some excerpts from his post, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

Surely he [Pinker] is right that self-interested business and political interests sometimes motivate people to reject scientific findings that are not convenient for them. He is also correct to note that some people’s religious views influence their interpretations of nature. [Some people? Hee hee!]

I especially applaud his rejection of postmodernist views of nature, which construe truth and knowledge as nothing but subjective human constructs without any objective basis. Pinker is right that data should have more weight than our feelings in formulating our ideas about nature and society.

No objection so far, but you know he’s going to go off the rails. That begins now:

Unfortunately, however, Pinker’s overweening faith in science as a reliable path to the truth has its own problems. First, he seems to assume that “science” is a single, unified front, always striving for objective truth in the face of religious or philosophical obscurantism. … Pinker wants to parade all the achievements of science before us — and they are certainly impressive — and then use that to validate everything that “science” says, as though everything that “science” says has equal validity. But this is a naïve vision of science.

Ooooooooooooh! Pinker is naïve. Then Weikart gives some examples of false, invalid science:

For instance, in the 19th century it was considered indubitable that empty space was not really empty, but was composed of a substance called ether, through which light and other electromagnetic waves travelled. Today physicists consider ether a fictitious construct. At the time, however, it was considered solid science.

Weikart has no doubt that Darwinism will suffer the same fate as the Luminiferous aether. But before that happens, the Discoveroids need the equivalent of the Michelson–Morley experiment. After some talk about human biases — which of course don’t affect the Discoveroids — Weikart tells us:

Another problem plaguing some kinds of science is that they involve significant extrapolations that may or may not prove to be valid. In the 19th century, Lord Kelvin, a brilliant scientist who contributed a great deal toward our understanding of thermodynamics, used extrapolation to determine that the maximum age of the earth is 100 million years. Scientists today consider his extrapolations a huge blunder. Why? Because he did not understand radioactivity and nuclear energy (nor did anyone else in his day). Scientists do not always take into account — or even know — all the factors in complex systems, so extrapolations can be misleading.

We know all about that. As we previously wrote:

Darwin’s biggest problem, largely unnoticed by today’s creationists, didn’t come from experts in his own field, but from non-biological sciences. Darwin understood that the grand course of evolution requires hundreds of millions of years, but Lord Kelvin’s calculations of the age of the earth and the sun — before anyone knew about nuclear physics — indicated that the earth and the sun were far younger than the eons Darwin required. Later discoveries showed that Kelvin, through no fault of his own, was exceedingly wrong, and that removed the greatest obstacle to acceptance of evolution.

The Lord Kelvin story doesn’t help the Discoveroids very much. Weikart continues:

Finally, Pinker doesn’t seem to recognize that science is one path to knowledge among others. He appears to imply that science is the only reliable way to gain knowledge. But what can we make of the position — advanced by the famous British empiricist David Hume in the 18th century — that any knowledge that is not based on empiricism is invalid? This position is, in fact, self-refuting, because it is not based on anything empirical. It is a philosophical, not a scientific, statement.

The Discoveroids would never commit such an error — or would they? See The Magic of Design Intuition. Ah well, here’s Weikart’s final paragraph:

In sum, Pinker’s ideal for science — the objective search for the truth that sets aside all assumptions, presuppositions, and biases in favor of observation and experimentation — is certainly laudable, and I agree with him that we should pursue this ideal. However [Hee hee!], let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that scientists — himself included — can entirely lay aside all their biases and assumptions that color their ideas and theories. Science is a good thing, to be sure, but let’s not turn it into another religion by insisting that whatever is considered “consensus science” is always the gospel truth and anyone questioning the scientific consensus is a heretic worthy of scorn (or worse).

So where are we? The message seems to be that Pinker is wrong. Just as the once-accepted theory of the luminiferous aether was finally overthrown, so will it be with evolution. The day is coming. You heard it from Weikart, so you know it’s true.

Copyright © 2018. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article

12 responses to “Discoveroids Say Steven Pinker Is Wrong

  1. How was the existence of the ether oveethrown?
    Not by people asking for K12 schools to teach that it’s just a theory.
    It was by someone proposing an alternative: quantum theory of light.

  2. Michael Fugate

    Weikart conveniently forgets that creationism was overthrown by evolution in the 19th c. Why does he never use that as an example?

  3. SC:
    “Their post was written by Discovery Institute “fellow” Richard Weikart, author of From Darwin to Hitler, so you know he’s a solid thinker.”

    “Solid thinker”? As in, “His brain is ossified”?

  4. Weikart:
    ” Science is a good thing, to be sure, but let’s not turn it into another religion by insisting that whatever is considered “consensus science” is always the gospel truth and anyone questioning the scientific consensus is a heretic worthy of scorn (or worse).”

    No one questioning the consensus in science should be considered a “heretic worthy of scorn” as long as they have new evidence to support their claims. The Discoveroids don’t. Therefore, they are worthy of scorn.

  5. No one who has nothing to say deserves serious consideration.

  6. “postmodernist views of nature, which construe truth and knowledge as nothing but subjective human constructs without any objective basis”
    The sweet taste of unintended irony. Creacrap, including IDiocy, has benefited from post-modernism. Ol’Hambo’s “the lens you use determines how you interpret evidence” and the IDiot’s very own rejection of ‘materialism’ demonstrate this.

    “But what can we make of the position — advanced by the famous British empiricist David Hume in the 18th century — that any knowledge that is not based on empiricism is invalid?”
    There is no strawman the IDiots can ignore. While Hume was instrumental for the last scientific revolution (the one that gave us Laplace’ probably apocryphal “je n’ai besoin de cette hypothese”) there is more to science – specifically Descartes’ philosophy of science, ie the research of the role of deduction. Then again we cannot expect a fraud like Weickart to talk about Popper, Kuhn and Latour, to name a few of the most important philosophers of science.

    “The message seems to be that Pinker is wrong.”
    Rather “scientists err, sometimes their errors are grave, so we IDiots have a legitimitate case against evilution.”

  7. “How was the existence of the ether overthrown?”
    Actually by the rightly famous Michelson-Morley experiment, which has very little to do with quantum mechanics, if only because it was done in 1887, quite a while before Max Planck his equally rigthly famous postulate and thus founded a quantum formulation of light. QM decided a centuries old and fierce debate: wave or particle? Newton advocated a particle model of light, Huygens a wave model (this is the core of geometrical optics). QM provided the famous synthesis of both: wave-particle dualism.

  8. Laplace’s famous remark was not a philosophical rejection of God, but a proud and well justified technical claim. Newton had noticed that the gravitational interaction between planets in would disturb their orbits, and suggested that God intervened from time to time to straighten things out. Laplace developed a theory to quantify these perturbations, and showed the orbits to be (reasonably) stable, making this hypothesis unnecessary. As I understand it, Laplace is correct on the timescale of a billion years or so, but it may well be that early in its formation of the solar system lost planet or two, and it is all too likely that around two billion years from now Mercury will be slingshot out of its orbit, perhaps drastically perturbing the orbits of fearless and Earth on its way out.

    OF COURSE Pinker is wrong. We are all wrong, but considerably less wrong than we used to be, except for those among us who refuse to learn.

  9. The Michelson-Morley experiment did not dissolve the existence of the ether There were a few puzzles in 19th century physics that needed clearing up. The ether was postulated on the wave theory of light, but there were troubling phenomena which suggested the particle theory. There were theoretical inconsistencies between electromagnetic theory of Maxwell and Newton’s mechanics. There were the experiments with black-body radiation.
    The whole story is complicated.
    It certainly isn’t is not that someone said that there are fatal flaws in physics that we should stop teaching physics while we just say, whatever is going on, God did it.
    Just as 500 years before, it was known that there were problems with the Aristotle-Ptolemy model of the motions of the heavens, yet that model was not thrown out. Not until someone came up with an alternative.

  10. Indeed, Lakatos argued explicitly that a theory is not thrown out because it is fatally flawed (on his view, theories are born fatally flawed), but only because it has been replaced by better.

  11. I think that there are cases where a weak theory is retained when there is a better alternative. I haven’t thought this through, but I’m thinking of navigation using a geocentric model. or maybe the retention of Newtonian mechanics for most cases, and even classical optics.

  12. In your examples, the weak theory is a limiting case of a stronger theory, and the latter tells you when the former can be sued as an approximation. Ideal gas theory may be a good case for you; you can’t replace it by real gas theory without introducing a separate batch of ad hoc parameters for each gas.