Flunked, Not Expelled: And a Big Round of Plain Old Defamatory Speech from Kevin Miller

Kevin Miller has a writer’s credit on the upcoming entertainment from Ben Stein, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”. To his credit, he has been engaging people in online discussion. To Miller’s shame, though, he seems to have a penchant for making unsubstantiated personal aspersions, in this case going after me as being a “scoundrel”, basically taking a statement from Michael Crichton as license to libel.

It’s a tiresome, shopworn tactic, but I’ve come to expect tiresome, shopworn tactics from “intelligent design” creationism advocates. Unable to defend his assertions with evidence, scholarship, and logic, Kevin Miller descends to name-calling. In years of discussions with various IDC cheerleaders, I’ve seen the same progression from making what appear, superficially, to be arguments based on principles and about concepts to simple nay-saying and name-calling, but Miller’s retreat into schoolyard bullying proceeded faster than most.

So above the fold here I’ll give a short version of the specific post, then I’ll lay out the exchange as it stands to date. Most of what I’ve entered has been in a thread at the Antievolution.org bulletin board. Miller’s attack on me concerns my use of the word “consensus” and not spitting after I say it. The way he develops his attack is via this title and a long quotation from novelist and gadfly Michael Crichton:

Consensus science, the first refuge of scoundrels–and Wesley R. Elsberry

Miller’s readers are not treated to any exposition of how I have had the dastardly bad taste to dabble in consensus. I’ll have to provide the context Miller fails to convey. When Miller objected to my use of “consensus” in a reply, I clarified my meaning as follows:

[Miller:] But you of all people should know that consensus science is like patriotrism–the last refuge of a scoundrel.

That statement alludes to facts not in evidence. The scoundrels I’m familiar with in the developing story of the forthcoming propaganda film are the producers, and it appears, the writer. The evidence speaks clearly that false claims are made in the movie and that false claims are made in promotion of the movie. It’s not just one “interpretation” that John Lynch was told that the Tempe, AZ screening had been cancelled when the promoter knew full well that the screening would proceed.

I’m not talking, as Kevin has to be, about “consensus” imposed artificially from the top down. We scientists know what that looks like. It looks like the Inquisition that harassed Galileo. It looks like Lysenko’s discarding of genetics and the evolutionary biology of the west in favor of a Stalinist form of Lamarckism. (Scientists died for standing up to Lysenko, by the way.) It looks like a socio-political movement that will do anything and call its arguments by any label to force them into public school classrooms without having passed muster via the scientific process.

What I was pointing out is that a scientific consensus is different, it proceeds from the evidence through hypotheses that are tested, and a community that criticizes the arguments until what convinces that community is the consilience of evidence and theory, not the personal authority of either any one individual or even the collective authority of the community. The process doesn’t always proceed smoothly, as Kuhn noted in discussing paradigm shifts. But what happens even then is driven by the various and sundry individuals of the scientific community, each of whom by Kevin’s earlier (and apparently abandoned) argument having their own separate worldview and thus without any expectation under Kevin’s argument that they could possibly agree upon some one view, and yet that is exactly what the history of science shows us has happened time and again.

I think that is a perfectly reasonable response not only to Miller’s specific objection but also Crichton’s general polemic. Sure, top-down ideologically-driven “consensus”, like Lysenkoism, is justly excoriated. But consensus that follows from the evidence and argument representing the hard work of scientific research is not that sort of thing. Confusing and conflating the two does nothing but further the aims of propagandists.

One can almost feel empathy for Miller. He’s in a bad spot. His conclusion about “Big Science” goes ‘poof’ if he admits that the conclusions of science proceed from evidence and tested theories convincing the scientific community rather than “Big Science” issuing an edict from the top-down that things must be so. It is so obviously the case that the bottom-up view of consensus is the one applicable to how science works that Miller can’t keep to a topical discussion, and instead has found it convenient to trash-talk me. I just noticed the category into which Miller placed the post in question: “Mofos”. I have exalted company there: Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and Christopher Hitchens. Although I have disagreements with them on the relationship of science and religion, I’m thinking that I’d far prefer their company to that of Kevin Miller.

OK, so now for those who care about the picayune back-and-forth that is the background to Miller’s attack on my person, read on. Everybody else can figure out something useful to do.

Miller’s initial salvo, quoted from his blog on the AE BB by theloneliestmonk:

Kevin Miller really does = FTK???

Kevin writes,

In response to your question, Ellazim, I think you are a reasonable person. You other guys, however, need to take a primer on post-modernism. There's objective reality, and then there's our subjective experience and interpretation of that reality. All knowledge is perspectival, there's no way around it. No one can experience reality objectively, only from his or her limited point of view. That's why, when presented with the same body of evidence, people will arrive at such different conclusions. How we interpret the evidence depends on the worldview through which we view the evidence.

Here:
http://kevinwrites.typepad.com/otherwi….omments

My terse reply to Miller’s comment:

The value of pi is not socially constructed. People with all sorts of "worldviews" agree on pi, just as they agree on the findings of evolutionary biology. How can that happen if the social solipsism of dilettante post-modernists were true?

Miller had an equally terse reply with a reference to a comment elsewhere:

i think wesley et al misunderstood my meaning. see my latest comment on the "everyone who disagrees with me is stupid' post on my blog.

I grabbed the comment from Miller from his blog and made my not-so-terse reply:

Quote (kevinmillerxi @ April 04 2008,20:06)
i think wesley et al misunderstood my meaning. see my latest comment on the "everyone who disagrees with me is stupid' post on my blog.

Clearing up misunderstanding could be good.

The quote from Kevin that started this:

 

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In response to your question, Ellazim, I think you are a reasonable person. You other guys, however, need to take a primer on post-modernism. There's objective reality, and then there's our subjective experience and interpretation of that reality. All knowledge is perspectival, there's no way around it. No one can experience reality objectively, only from his or her limited point of view. That's why, when presented with the same body of evidence, people will arrive at such different conclusions. How we interpret the evidence depends on the worldview through which we view the evidence.

Now Kevin's latest comment:

 

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I think what's also getting missed here is the point that I'm not saying reality is socially constructed.

Don't various post-modernists say exactly that? Is that not in the recommended primer on post-modernism?

 

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But our interpretation of that reality certainly is.

Not *all* interpretations are socially constructed, thus my reference to the concept of pi. If pi is an exception, then so can other things be…

 

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Take the fossil record, for example.

Science works by not relying upon individual interpretations, but rather placing value in the evidence and inferences from that evidence that can survive a process of intersubjective criticism. It is still not the unobtainable goal of objective knowledge, but it is as close as we humans have managed to come.

 

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We're all working with the same body of data.

What exactly does Kevin mean when he says that he has been "working with" data from the fossil record?

 

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There's no question that the fossils are out there, and that these are the calcified remains of creatures that were once alive.
But over the years, people have interpreted this body of evidence in vastly different ways.

Historically, though, there were "interpretations" of the fossil evidence that held that they were more like crystals in their formation, and not the remains of once-living organisms. There were "interpretations" that God created them in situ out of whimsy.

 

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Why is that? Because each person brings something different to the evidence.

Why then does the scientific community, comprising millions of individuals from almost every culture in the world, have just one broad consensus that the fossil record shows the history and diversity of life evolving by descent with modification showing common descent from one or a few original forms? Is that "interpretation" of only equal value to the "interpretation" of the long-dead people who didn't even believe that fossils were anything but odd mineral deposits? Or can there be "interpretations" that can be demonstrated to be superior to other "interpretations" by consistent criteria? Whether Dawkins notes it or not, ignorance is common. Do the "interpretations" of people who are ignorant count just the same as the interpretation hammered out over decades of intersubjective criticism and testing by thousands of domain experts?
The science community subjects interpretations to intersubjective criticism and ruthlessly discards the unworkable, meaningless, and counterfactual interpretations. Does that count for anything in the end product?

 

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We all view it through a different worldview. After all, if the data truly were conclusive–if we were all able to view it objectively–the proper interpretation should be plainly evident to everyone, not just a select few. (which brings us back to the stupid/ignorant/insane/wicked thing, I know).

Actually, with the fossil record, the interpretation of common descent is accepted by the great preponderance of those who have spent their lives gaining expertise in paleontology. Isn't it instead only a few hundred people with advanced degrees of any sort at all who insist on a different "interpretation", as in the DI "Dissent from Darwin" list?

Is post-modernism a field comprised of independent claims that don't have to be taken as any sort of coherent whole? Doesn't post-modernism espouse moral relativism? Don't some post-modernists deny an objective reality? Why do religious antievolutionists invoke select parts of post-modernism that conveniently immunize claims from criticism, but fail to adopt the rest of the post-modernist agenda?

I'm all for clearing up possible misunderstanding, so let's reduce this to practice. Let's recall that Kevin has tossed his hat in the ring as someone who has enough understanding of the fossil evidence to be able to justify his own "interpretation" of what it means (that pronoun "we" implies just that). So, Kevin, let's see your "interpretation" of what the evidence in the following reference to the peer-reviewed literature shows. I say it shows an instance of speciation, something that Ben Stein likes to imply doesn't happen.

 

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Pearson, P.N.; Shackleton, N.J.; and Hall, M.A., 1997. Stable isotopic evidence for the sympatric divergence of _Globigerinoides_trilobus_ and _Orbulina_universa_ (planktonic foraminifera). Journal of the Geological Society, London, v.154, p.295-302.

Happily, Don Lindsay has put various of the figures online for your viewing pleasure.

Someone claiming to be "working with" the evidence of the fossil record in some substantive sense should either already be familiar with the cited work or have no difficulty in locating and retrieving the actual paper for study.

Is there an alternative "interpretation" that follows from a principled examination of the evidence?

There are a lot of ways to argue to set aside this research that have nothing to do with the evidence at all. This is where religious antievolutionists shine. The following is from a challenge I make to people who claim that no transitional fossil sequences exist.

 

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Evidentiary and Non-Evidentiary Responses to Challenges

There are two main ways in which respondents can deal with the Transitional Fossil Existence Challenge. The intellectually honest and appropriate way is with specific discussion of the fossil evidence as described and discussed in the primary literature. This is by far the least common approach taken by those who have been given the TFEC, and typically only follows after a long period of non-response, the elapsed time apparently serving as an index of the claimant’s unfamiliarity with the specific evidence.

The other category of approach is to ignore, so far as possible, any mention or discussion of actual fossil evidence. These varied strategies are what I term “non-evidentiary” responses, since they are completely independent of empirical data. There are many routes to achieving this end. The simplest is non-response. The challenged person may decide that not saying anything further is the best option, sometimes in the hope that there will be no long-term penalty for this behavior, and that eventually few, if any, persons will remember the abandonment of the original claim. Another common non-evidentiary response is digression. Bringing up a different topic as if it held some relevance to the TFEC allows someone to give a semblance of a reply, even though few will be fooled by it. Yet another strategy is to discuss theoretical issues as if theory did away with the need to actually look at the empirical data. A variant of the theory strategy is the quote-mining of those people who expound theory. Usually, though, quotes reveal nothing about the specific data at hand, and often come from sources whose opposition to anti-evolutionary action is otherwise well-known. Still another variant upon the theory strategy is the definition game. One can construct connotations of “transitional” such that no real-world evidence can satisfy all the piled-on conditions. It is useful to know when an anti-evolutionist simply defines evidence out of existence, though. Another possible tactic is to dismiss the taxonomic category from which the cited example comes. A respondent can claim that they really meant no transitional fossils in some other taxonomic hierarchy, but they often seem to forget that this means that the “no transitional fossils” claim is then self-admittedly false. A particularly brazen non-evidentiary response is to play an “even if” game, as in, “Even if this is true, it doesn’t mean anything.” That ignores that if the cited sequence does contain transitional fossils, it at least means that the claim of no transitional fossils is false.

The following is a short form for response to the TFEC, if a challenged person wishes to ignore the evidence and simply adopt one of the non-evidentiary tactics for their own. Simply indicate which one or more of the following Non-Evidentiary Response Items (NERI) fits what would otherwise involve a bunch of redundant typing.

Non-Evidentiary Response Items:

Let me note that each of the following items follows a pattern of being like a response that I have actually received from challenged religious antievolutionists at least once, and for many of these I've seen that same sort of dodge from many different antievolutionists. They span the gamut from ignorant through stupid to insane, and maybe some wicked thrown in to boot. None of them comes anywhere near the thing that would put that statement from Dawkins in any danger, a principled denial of evolution based on the evidence.

 

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A. You have your faith; I have mine.

B. I meant that no vertebrate transitional fossils exist.

C. I meant that no transitional fossils above taxonomic rank  (fill in blank), which means that none can exist.

D. I have quotes from  (give list of names) that say that no transitional fossils exist.

E. My understanding of _ theory (fill in blank) is that transitional fossils cannot exist.

F. My connotation of “transitional fossils” is __ (fill in blank), which means that none can exist.

G. I have a cool rebuttal of _ (fill in blank). What were you saying about transitional fossils?

H. Even if the cited example does show transitional fossils, it doesn’t mean anything.

I. I cannot be bothered to support my claim, so I will not be giving you a reply.

J. I promise to support my claim Real Soon Now. I will be in touch. My reply will be devastating to you and completely and utterly convincing to everyone. Just you wait. It’s in the mail.

K. Provide the fossils for the transition from X to Y, which will let me ignore these fossils that actually exist. (Courtesy of “edwin voltaire” aka “evossler” 20030210.)

L. Person X says this challenge is bogus, therefore I don’t have to provide any response to actual evidence of transitional forms.

Kevin has the opportunity to prove Dawkins wrong the right way, by making a principled argument against evolution having occurred that is based upon the specific evidence at hand. Will he do that?

Miller came back with this:

Wesley: You could probably have saved yourself a lot of time (and a lot of words) by simply saying, "I'm going with the majority." But you of all people should know that consensus science is like patriotrism–the last refuge of a scoundrel.

By your logic, it was right for Galileo to be persecuted for his views, because the overwhelming majority of astronomers were certain that geocentrism was right and heliocentrism was wrong. The evidence was just so overwhelmingly obvious.  The same goes for virtually any other scientist that revolutionized his discipline.

On a related note, on my blog, Kristene said, "Try this on for size: It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet someone who claims not to believe in heliocentrism, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that.)"

I think she believes this refutes my point. But she's merely proven it instead. Prior to Copernicus, no one would have agreed with her statement, even though they were studying the same body of evidence that led Copernicus to conclude that the earth orbited the sun and not the other way around. Heliocentrism was just so obviously wrong. Wrong, because even though people were examining the same data as you, they brought a completely different worldview to their study and completely different methods, which led them to completely different conclusions.

So, as I said earlier, just because something seems obviously true to you does not mean that it is. Who knows when new information will shed new light on our observations? Isn't that what science is about? Looking for new information so we can understand the world better? Or is it merely about confirmning our pre-existing dispositions?

And I had a reply:

Quote (kevinmillerxi @ April 05 2008,01:35)
Wesley: You could probably have saved yourself a lot of time (and a lot of words) by simply saying, "I'm going with the majority." But you of all people should know that consensus science is like patriotrism–the last refuge of a scoundrel.

By your logic, it was right for Galileo to be persecuted for his views, because the overwhelming majority of astronomers were certain that geocentrism was right and heliocentrism was wrong. The evidence was just so overwhelmingly obvious.  The same goes for virtually any other scientist that revolutionized his discipline.

On a related note, on my blog, Kristene said, "Try this on for size: It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet someone who claims not to believe in heliocentrism, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that.)"

I think she believes this refutes my point. But she's merely proven it instead. Prior to Copernicus, no one would have agreed with her statement, even though they were studying the same body of evidence that led Copernicus to conclude that the earth orbited the sun and not the other way around. Heliocentrism was just so obviously wrong. Wrong, because even though people were examining the same data as you, they brought a completely different worldview to their study and completely different methods, which led them to completely different conclusions.

So, as I said earlier, just because something seems obviously true to you does not mean that it is. Who knows when new information will shed new light on our observations? Isn't that what science is about? Looking for new information so we can understand the world better? Or is it merely about confirmning our pre-existing dispositions?

Kevin appears to be delusional. By his logic, science either must accept every hare-brained counterfactual notion that anyone posits, or it is equivalent to the Inquisition. News flash: this not only is not true now, it wasn't true when Galileo advocated heliocentrism. It wasn't his empirical-minded colleagues that Galileo ran into trouble with, because Galileo backed up his arguments by reference to the evidence. It was, in fact, the Inquisition that caused trouble for Galileo, and they had no use for science, consensus or otherwise. The only scoundrel here is Kevin for implying that I'm casting myself as part of the Inquisition. Nothing I've written even implies that science can't get behind a new idea that comes with evidence and tests of relevant hypotheses.

Let's go through this step by step.

 

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Wesley: You could probably have saved yourself a lot of time (and a lot of words) by simply saying, "I'm going with the majority."

This wasn't about what *I* thought. The exchange was about what *Kevin* thought. Kevin claimed that I misunderstood him. I asked questions to figure out in what way I might have misunderstood him. Kevin chooses to skip over clearing up misunderstanding and goes directly to bait and switch, trying to make this about me instead. I'm not buying it, Kevin.

 

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But you of all people should know that consensus science is like patriotrism–the last refuge of a scoundrel.

That statement alludes to facts not in evidence. The scoundrels I'm familiar with in the developing story of the forthcoming propaganda film are the producers, and it appears, the writer. The evidence speaks clearly that false claims are made in the movie and that false claims are made in promotion of the movie. It's not just one "interpretation" that John Lynch was told that the Tempe, AZ screening had been cancelled when the promoter knew full well that the screening would proceed.

I'm not talking, as Kevin has to be, about "consensus" imposed artificially from the top down. We scientists know what that looks like. It looks like the Inquisition that harassed Galileo. It looks like Lysenko's discarding of genetics and the evolutionary biology of the west in favor of a Stalinist form of Lamarckism. (Scientists died for standing up to Lysenko, by the way.) It looks like a socio-political movement that will do anything and call its arguments by any label to force them into public school classrooms without having passed muster via the scientific process.

What I was pointing out is that a scientific consensus is different, it proceeds from the evidence through hypotheses that are tested, and a community that criticizes the arguments until what convinces that community is the consilience of evidence and theory, not the personal authority of either any one individual or even the collective authority of the community. The process doesn't always proceed smoothly, as Kuhn noted in discussing paradigm shifts. But what happens even then is driven by the various and sundry individuals of the scientific community, each of whom by Kevin's earlier (and apparently abandoned) argument having their own separate worldview and thus without any expectation under Kevin's argument that they could possibly agree upon some one view, and yet that is exactly what the history of science shows us has happened time and again.

 

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By your logic, it was right for Galileo to be persecuted for his views, because the overwhelming majority of astronomers were certain that geocentrism was right and heliocentrism was wrong. The evidence was just so overwhelmingly obvious.  The same goes for virtually any other scientist that revolutionized his discipline.

No, Kevin, that's your logic and your sublime ignorance of history, not mine. The fact is that it wasn't any "overwhelming majority of astronomers" who put Galileo under house arrest; it was the Inquisition. Nor is there any evidence cited that Galileo's secular astronomical colleagues had any particular fondness for geocentrism. In other words, the folks without a predisposition to a particular religious doctrinal view were open to the evidence and arguments Galileo produced for heliocentrism.

 

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On a related note, on my blog, Kristene said, "Try this on for size: It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet someone who claims not to believe in heliocentrism, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that.)"

I think she believes this refutes my point. But she's merely proven it instead. Prior to Copernicus, no one would have agreed with her statement, even though they were studying the same body of evidence that led Copernicus to conclude that the earth orbited the sun and not the other way around. Heliocentrism was just so obviously wrong. Wrong, because even though people were examining the same data as you, they brought a completely different worldview to their study and completely different methods, which led them to completely different conclusions.

Again, this is historically inaccurate. Copernicus himself was influenced by Greek and Muslim scholars who developed either heliocentric models or at least posited motion of the earth, a stance at odds with the geocentrism espoused in particular religious doctrines. The fact of the matter is that in doing science, what is commonly accepted can and does change, when the new concept comes with evidence and convincing arguments (testable hypotheses that aren't found false when tested).

Robert Park cast this in terms of Galileo, and it is relevant to this discussion: "To wear the mantle of Galileo, it is not enough to be persecuted by an unkind establishment. One must also be right."

Copernicus was right on at least some of his propositions. Galileo was right on at least some of his propositions. Both of them were willing to put in the work needed to collect evidence and attempt to convince the scientific community of the worth of their ideas. The IDC community, on the other hand, does not propose to convince the scientific community. They are actively seeking to evade scrutiny by the scientific community, to promulgate their conjectures as if they were science, but without doing the work needed to justly do so. Your movie, Kevin, seeks to disestablish the scientific community as a body worthy of respect by falsely imputing the sort of top-down enforcement of edict that characterized the Inquisition. There's a word for that; it's called projection.

Kristine is right.

 

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So, as I said earlier, just because something seems obviously true to you does not mean that it is. Who knows when new information will shed new light on our observations? Isn't that what science is about? Looking for new information so we can understand the world better? Or is it merely about confirmning our pre-existing dispositions?

Again, projection is a wholly satisfactory description for this note from Kevin. What is IDC except a long-running attempt at confirming pre-existing dispositions? IDC was taken up and discussed by the scientific community. We call that "the 19th century". It was given a fair hearing and discarded. IDC is not itself "new information". The four major arguments of IDC proceed directly from precursor arguments found in the Rev. William Paley's 1802 book, "Natural Theology". That includes "irreducible complexity", "specified complexity", various arguments about anthropic principles, and the argument about observability popularized in "The Privileged Planet".

Science is open to genuinely new information. Evolutionary biology has seen quite a few new ideas arise, be criticized, and then be accepted when the proponents did the hard work of collecting, analyzing, and presenting evidence along with tests of hypotheses to establish that what they were saying had scientific merit. This happened for transposons. This happened for the endosymbiotic hypothesis. This happened for the neutral theory. This happened for punctuated equilibria. Also, evolutionary biology since Darwin has cleared away a number of once popular theories that simply didn't measure up to the evidence. Bathmism is gone. Darwin's own pangenesis was discarded. Orthogenesis and aristogenesis? Gone. The notion that evolutionary biology is a closed shop with a fixed top-down enforcement of doctrine is demonstrably poppycock. Only someone who is either ignorant of the actual history, or who is willing to lie to spread a false view of that history could say otherwise.

Now, back to stuff Kevin skipped right over. Kevin said something about the fossil record and working with the data. I brought up a particular piece of research that presented evidence of speciation and asked Kevin to expound upon it.

 

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Kevin has the opportunity to prove Dawkins wrong the right way, by making a principled argument against evolution having occurred that is based upon the specific evidence at hand. Will he do that?

The answer, it appears, is "No."

Kevin Miller then made this short reply:

Once again, like a good reductionist, Wesley misses the forest for the trees. Despite his apparent fisking of my post, all he really did was throw up a lot of smoke in order to avoid my main argument, which is that no one approaches the evidence as a blank slate. All of us interpret the evidence through a different worldview. What is clearly evident to one person is not so to the next. Why? Because we all bring something different to the data. Are you denying this, Wesley? Because if you are, why aren't we in agreement on this matter?

With my reply, that brings us up to date:

Quote (kevinmillerxi @ April 06 2008,02:26)
Once again, like a good reductionist, Wesley misses the forest for the trees. Despite his apparent fisking of my post, all he really did was throw up a lot of smoke in order to avoid my main argument, which is that no one approaches the evidence as a blank slate. All of us interpret the evidence through a different worldview. What is clearly evident to one person is not so to the next. Why? Because we all bring something different to the data. Are you denying this, Wesley? Because if you are, why aren't we in agreement on this matter?

Apparent fisking?

I do not disagree with Kevin on the simple observation that people do come with different worldviews. I never have disagreed with that. What I have disagreed with is the assertion that this diversity of worldviews means that those disparate people with their disparate worldviews will not, in fact, agree on various issues when approached via the scientific method. We can see that over and over again in the way that scientists of almost all cultures and traditions do come to agree on matters where the evidence and arguments demonstrate consilience.

Kevin is again trying to make this exchange be about me, apparently to distract from the fact that his assertions do not survive the slightest scrutiny. Of course, we have reports that this distressing tendency to give up on trying to grapple with concepts and instead cast everything in terms of persons extends to Kevin's movie. And even in trying to attack me, Kevin is incompetent.

Nothing I've said so far here touches upon the issue of reductionism. My master's thesis, though, explicitly argues for an increased role for a synthetic approach to artificial neural system modeling, so the scattershot accusation Kevin makes is rather wide of the mark. Kevin, just so you don't have to go down yet another wrong turn in your next reply, I'll note that I'm not an atheist, either.

And, no, I have not "avoided" Kevin's main argument. I have directly addressed the contention that the mere existence of individual worldviews means that the scientific process cannot pick out a superior explanation from a field of candidates.

Kevin started with an assertion that post-modernism meant that everybody will come to a different conclusion about an issue in science because of worldview differences:

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In response to your question, Ellazim, I think you are a reasonable person. You other guys, however, need to take a primer on post-modernism. There's objective reality, and then there's our subjective experience and interpretation of that reality. All knowledge is perspectival, there's no way around it. No one can experience reality objectively, only from his or her limited point of view. That's why, when presented with the same body of evidence, people will arrive at such different conclusions. How we interpret the evidence depends on the worldview through which we view the evidence.

I pointed out that this wasn't true, that people with widely divergent worldviews actually often come to the same conclusion in science:

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The value of pi is not socially constructed. People with all sorts of "worldviews" agree on pi, just as they agree on the findings of evolutionary biology. How can that happen if the social solipsism of dilettante post-modernists were true?

Kevin then claimed that he was misunderstood, and referenced a discussion where he had muttered some selective statements about post-modernism. And I responded again to the point that differing worldviews must lead to differing conclusions by reference to what we actually observe happen, which does not support Kevin's "point".

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I think what's also getting missed here is the point that I'm not saying reality is socially constructed.

Don't various post-modernists say exactly that? Is that not in the recommended primer on post-modernism?

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But our interpretation of that reality certainly is.

Not *all* interpretations are socially constructed, thus my reference to the concept of pi. If pi is an exception, then so can other things be…

And again I pointed out that despite wide differences in worldview, those examining the fossil record through the scientific method have overhwelmingly settled upon one "interpretation":

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Why is that? Because each person brings something different to the evidence.

Why then does the scientific community, comprising millions of individuals from almost every culture in the world, have just one broad consensus that the fossil record shows the history and diversity of life evolving by descent with modification showing common descent from one or a few original forms? Is that "interpretation" of only equal value to the "interpretation" of the long-dead people who didn't even believe that fossils were anything but odd mineral deposits? Or can there be "interpretations" that can be demonstrated to be superior to other "interpretations" by consistent criteria? Whether Dawkins notes it or not, ignorance is common. Do the "interpretations" of people who are ignorant count just the same as the interpretation hammered out over decades of intersubjective criticism and testing by thousands of domain experts?
The science community subjects interpretations to intersubjective criticism and ruthlessly discards the unworkable, meaningless, and counterfactual interpretations. Does that count for anything in the end product?

And I hit upon this point again in my next reply:

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What I was pointing out is that a scientific consensus is different, it proceeds from the evidence through hypotheses that are tested, and a community that criticizes the arguments until what convinces that community is the consilience of evidence and theory, not the personal authority of either any one individual or even the collective authority of the community. The process doesn't always proceed smoothly, as Kuhn noted in discussing paradigm shifts. But what happens even then is driven by the various and sundry individuals of the scientific community, each of whom by Kevin's earlier (and apparently abandoned) argument having their own separate worldview and thus without any expectation under Kevin's argument that they could possibly agree upon some one view, and yet that is exactly what the history of science shows us has happened time and again.

I'm afraid that I simply cannot fathom how my responses from the start have not addressed Kevin's point. Maybe Kevin would like to pretend I never said these things, but the simple fact is that I did.

Why is it that Kevin has chosen to ignore the fact that I did address his point, several times over in fact, and instead simply asserts that I have "missed" that point? I think it is because Kevin has discovered he has no argument that would support his position, and yet doesn't want to admit error. Unfortunately for this tactic, there is not an "infinitely plastic past" that he can reshape into a course of history where he could possibly be winning on the merits. The history clearly shows that I *have* addressed his point, such as it is, over and over again.

Kevin brought up the Galileo incident, arguing that Galileo couldn't have successfully argued with his colleagues in scientific endeavor about heliocentrism given that a pre-existing explanation of geocentrism was commonly accepted. I noted that there is no evidence that those approaching the evidence and arguments of Galileo empirically had, in general, any difficulty seeing the consilience between evidence and the inference of heliocentrism. The new explanation not only explained the old data, but also made sense of Galileo's new evidence collected via telescope observations. It was, in fact, the Inquisition of the Catholic Church whose "worldview" forced them to reject Galileo's arguments, based not upon consideration of the available scientific evidence, but rather upon a commitment to a pre-existing religious doctrine.

In the current discussion of IDC, it is the advocates of IDC who regularly skip over the hard work of examining the relevant evidence. Consider, for example, Kevin Miller, who recently claimed:

Quote

Take the fossil record, for example. We're all working with the same body of data. There's no question that the fossils are out there, and that these are the calcified remains of creatures that were once alive. But over the years, people have interpreted this body of evidence in vastly different ways.

And so I said, fine, let's do work with the same data, here's a paper that presents evidence of speciation in the fossil record; what is your considered reason on the evidence that we shouldn't consider it to be just that?

Quote

Quote

Pearson, P.N.; Shackleton, N.J.; and Hall, M.A., 1997. Stable isotopic evidence for the sympatric divergence of _Globigerinoides_trilobus_ and _Orbulina_universa_ (planktonic foraminifera). Journal of the Geological Society, London, v.154, p.295-302.

Happily, Don Lindsay has put various of the figures online for your viewing pleasure.

Someone claiming to be "working with" the evidence of the fossil record in some substantive sense should either already be familiar with the cited work or have no difficulty in locating and retrieving the actual paper for study.

Is there an alternative "interpretation" that follows from a principled examination of the evidence?

When Kevin failed to address this other "point" that he himself introduced into the discussion, I said this:

Quote

Now, back to stuff Kevin skipped right over. Kevin said something about the fossil record and working with the data. I brought up a particular piece of research that presented evidence of speciation and asked Kevin to expound upon it.

Quote

Kevin has the opportunity to prove Dawkins wrong the right way, by making a principled argument against evolution having occurred that is based upon the specific evidence at hand. Will he do that?

The answer, it appears, is "No."


I think the following bears repetition:

One can almost feel empathy for Miller. He’s in a bad spot. His conclusion about “Big Science” goes ‘poof’ if he admits that the conclusions of science proceed from evidence and tested theories convincing the scientific community rather than “Big Science” issuing an edict from the top-down that things must be so. It is so obviously the case that the bottom-up view of consensus is the one applicable to how science works that Miller can’t keep to a topical discussion, and instead has found it convenient to trash-talk me.

23 thoughts on “Flunked, Not Expelled: And a Big Round of Plain Old Defamatory Speech from Kevin Miller

  1. ellazimm

    My empathy for Mr Miller is rapidly evaporating. A couple of weeks ago he seemed like the one person associated with Expelled that was open to discussion and criticism. I’m beginning to think he just enjoys the attention. I’m going to try and hang around until he answers the question posed to him regarding which aspects of evolutionary theory were essential for the Nazis. Hopefully it will be soon but I’m not holding my breath.

  2. NP

    I think it’s clear that Kevin probably hasn’t done much research into the actual science of evolution, or how science is generally done. He was probably too caught up reading the Discovery Institute manifestos and Weikart’s From Darwin To Hitler. He has admitted in correspondence with me that Expelled‘s main purpose is entertainment. It emphasizes that fact-checking and accuracy is probably less of a concern than evoking an emotional response from a target audience that knows little about science and considers atheists to be Satan’s minions. In a way he’s right; it’s not a PBS documentary. It’s not going to be as successful as other films targeting the evangelical population if it offers an actual survey of the scientific aspects of the debate. It’s going to be more effective if it can employ sensationalism and exaggeration, rather than pointing out that dissent and debate occurs routinely at symposia and conferences. After all, if they wanted to give a fair assessment, they would not have left out Alan MacNeill’s comments out for simply being “boring” or pointing out that ID advocates are sometimes invited into evolutionary biology courses to give talks.

  3. PvM

    Well done Wesley, Kevin is another example of someone convinced not by the evidence but by his faith and thus has to insist that his interpretation is somehow equally relevant as the one found through the scientific method. ID cannot survive unless personal faith is raised to the same level of relevance as scientific evidence when discussing the most objective interpretation of facts.

  4. Troy Britain

    Indeed, well done. So while reading Miller’s responses how many times were you tempted to bang your head on your desk or throw your keyboad/laptop across the room? :)

  5. Austringer Post author

    Sadly, none. I suppose it is commentary enough to say that I appear to no longer even manage to feel disappointment over the poor behavior of IDC advocates, much as disappointment would be out of place when confronted with messes at the start of housebreaking a puppy. It’s not that they couldn’t do better, but I seem to now have no expectation that they will do better.

    The only way that folks like Kevin Miller will step away from IDC is if they spend the effort to actually check the basis for their claims. If they determined to do that, they would likely follow the same sort of path as Glenn Morton, who went from being a published author of young-earth creationist research articles in various of the YEC journals to being a trenchant critic of YEC and other forms of antievolution. But that process essentially cannot even be urged from without, and folks like Kevin who are massively ego-invested in their current stance are quite unlikely to start checking their work on their own.

    That doesn’t mean that pointing out their errors is wasted, though, since there are still the various readers who haven’t decided upon the issues touched upon, and they might learn something from the exchange.

  6. Amadán

    “I just noticed the category into which Miller placed the post in question: “Mofos”. I have exalted company there: Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and Christopher Hitchens. Although I have disagreements with them on the relationship of science and religion, I’m thinking that I’d far prefer their company to that of Kevin Miller.”

    As they say, Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company!

  7. Karen

    “One can almost feel empathy for Miller.”

    Wesley, you’re a far more generous person than I am, and I suspect far more generous than most of us who might comment here. My take on Miller is that he’s been associated with this film, he knows about the lies inherent in the film itself, and the lies told to get the footage. He’s not an idiot, he’s scum. Lying, lie-promoting, scum.

  8. John Pieret

    The Army has a term: “defeat in detail,” which refers to bringing a great force to bear on portions of the enemy’s forces, one by one, until the entire enemy army is destroyed.

    I think that’s what you just did to Miller’s arguments.

  9. Kevin Miller

    Hey Wes: I’ve also put myself in the mofo category, so don’t take it so personally!

  10. Kevin Miller

    Wes: Here is a longer response which I’ve also just posted on After the Bar Closes:

    Hey Wes: For the record, I’m not ticked off with you. If you’ll notice, I also put myself (and all other Kevin Millers on imdb) into the mofo category. It’s a tongue in cheek thing. I may not agree with a lot of what people like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers have to say, but I still admire their chutzpah, and I’d gladly have a beer with them (and you) any time. So wear it as a badge of honor. I’m just trying to have a little fun here.

    As for your responses to my statements, despite appearances to the contrary, I’m not coming into this discussion with the assumption, “Everything Wes Elsberry says is wrong.” I am listening, and pondering. And I am open to revising my views in light of new and better information. So you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t dive into a line-by-line response to your posts right away. It’s not an admission of defeat. I just need time to process the various arguments. (Plus, it’s been a busy weekend, we have a new baby in the house, and I’m just plain tired.) But even if it turns out that everything you’ve said is right and everything I’ve said is wrong, I’m okay with that, because for me, this has never been about winning or losing. It’s about learning. The only thing that really matters to me is getting at the truth, because the truth benefits everyone no matter what side of the debate they’re on. Contrary to how some critics have depicted the film, Expelled is not about promoting a singular point of view, namely, Intelligent Design. It’s about ensuring that all points of view receive a fair and adequate hearing. We made this film because we had good reason to believe that this was not the case with ID, and I stand by that assertion. In addition, my hope is that the film will prompt people on all sides of the issue to engage with one another. Because what I’ve observed over the past two years is complete polarization. The various camps sit in their respective corners cackling about how stupid the other guys are, but they rarely talk to each other—except to hurl insults. Very few people engaged in this debate seem open to an honest pursuit of the truth. Most are more interested in scoring debating points, looking clever, and promoting their own agenda.

    So what I’m trying to do both here and on my blog is engage. In the process, I may say some things that come off as stupid, ignorant or inflammatory. I may hurl a few insults from time to time, and I may needle a few people who need to be needled. After all, I’m only human. But the learning process is often messy and confused. So you’ll have to excuse me if I cack up the joint from time to time.

    In light of the above, I do want to ask Wes (and anyone else who cares to respond) a couple of questions:

    1) How does science distinguish between a paradigm problem and a research problem? In other words, when a researcher encounters an anomaly, how does he/she determine whether the anomaly is a result of a problem with the data rather than a problem with the theory under which the data is being examined?

    2) I understand that you’re a Christian, Wes. And yet I get the sense that you believe divine influence is not something that should be factored into your study of the natural world. Fair enough. So my question is, if God doesn’t influence the world through natural processes, such as evolution, how does he engage with nature? For example, I assume that you pray. How does God answer your prayers? Does he do so in any scientifically detectable way? Or do you take the Ken Miller approach and say he influences things on the quantum level in a way that we are unable to observe?

  11. gabriel

    Kevin,

    Is it a fair comparison to suggest that if God didn’t nudge/guide evolution along the way that He doesn’t interact with His creation in a personal way now? Do you really think God would allow Himself to be detected scientifically? He might (as is His decision) but I doubt He would, based on His desire for free will in His followers.

    In my mind, there is nothing about understanding the mechanism of creation that belittles the creator. Personally, I find the notion of a self-contained mechanism of evolution more theologically satisfying than a partially-functional mechanism that needs divine help along the way.

    Consider Psalm 137 in the context of molecular biology – do you think understanding the molecular details of embryogenesis challenges the notion of God’s hand in the process? If so, why? If not, why do you think understanding evolution challenges God’s role as creator?

  12. Austringer Post author

    I think something that all of you–and Mr. Elsberry–are missing here is that there’s a big difference between experimental science, which tends more toward empircism, and historical science, which tends more toward rationalism. So of course, it’s ridiculous to say that if there is a scientific consensus that 2+2=4, we should immediately hold such an equation suspect. That’s because this is an empirical statement. No interpretation required. Worldview doesn’t play a role. But when we’re talking about an historical science, such as paleontology, it’s all about interpretation of evidence. And in such cases, our presuppositions going into the investigation will have a significant effect on the conclusions we come out with.

    Posted by: Kevin Miller | April 07, 2008 at 09:20 AM

    I heard YEC Norm Geisler in 1987 saying much the same thing. It doesn’t seem to have improved since then; not making sense doesn’t usually get better on its own.

    Back in 1987, I was Mr. Elsberry. Now, though, I’m either Wesley or I’m Dr. Elsberry.

    Now, this part is really interesting:

    But when we’re talking about an historical science, such as paleontology, it’s all about interpretation of evidence. And in such cases, our presuppositions going into the investigation will have a significant effect on the conclusions we come out with.

    I take it that Kevin hasn’t yet bothered to get and read the reference I’ve been asking him to expound upon:

    Pearson, P.N.; Shackleton, N.J.; and Hall, M.A., 1997. Stable isotopic evidence for the sympatric divergence of _Globigerinoides_trilobus_ and _Orbulina_universa_ (planktonic foraminifera). Journal of the Geological Society, London, v.154, p.295-302.

    This is a paleontological research paper. In it, there is a test of a hypothesis that I think one would have to strain quite a bit to come up with excuses not to call it an experiment. But Kevin apparently knows as little about this paleontologic research as he does about pre-screening decisions for the movie he wrote.

    Concerning (1), part of the paradigm-describing business is pretty much that one only sees it in retrospect. I already addressed this, though; look for “Kuhn”.

    Concerning (2), I take it Kevin is unfamiliar with discussion of primary and secondary causes and the work of theologians such as John Haught. I don’t recall having requested an Inquisitorial house call.

  13. gabriel

    sorry, that should read Psalm 139, not 137. mea culpa.

  14. Pineyman

    Hi Wes!

    Been following your comments over at PT and Pharangula for a while and just started lurking here a couple weeks ago. Great work!

    I see that Kevin in #10 has pulled out the “we’re all buds” ploy. I was kinda expecting it. Trying to drum up a little empathy by making like “one of the guys”. The next step, if I recall, is the knife in the back if you fall for it and lighten up a bit….

  15. Pineyman

    Oops. Should’ve been “Pharyngula”.

  16. 386sx

    i>Or do you take the Ken Miller approach and say he influences things on the quantum level in a way that we are unable to observe?

    I don’t think Ken Miller said that god influences things on the quantum level in a way that we are unable to observe. I think he gave that as an example as one possible way that god could do things without being observed. I could be wrong but that’s how I remember it anyway. I dunno why god wouldn’t want to be noticed, but hey that’s a different story!

  17. Austringer Post author

    I grew up in the South, and I don’t know how many times I’ve experienced the insincere “Jes’ funnin'” response when someone is justly caught out in an inappropriately hateful statement. But I took the lesson.

  18. James Hanley

    Kevin wrote,

    Contrary to how some critics have depicted the film, Expelled is not about promoting a singular point of view, namely, Intelligent Design. It’s about ensuring that all points of view receive a fair and adequate hearing. We made this film because we had good reason to believe that this was not the case with ID, and I stand by that assertion.

    Kevin, ID is receiveing a fair and adequate hearing. It’s the same hearing natural selection recieves. Do biological research that provides evidence, not just assertions, and publish the results. The problem with ID is that its proponents want it to be taught in high school as an alternative to natural selection, when it hasn’t proven itself–in the fair and adequate process that exists–to be a viable alternative.

    In addition, my hope is that the film will prompt people on all sides of the issue to engage with one another.

    Is that why PZ Myers was prevented from seeing the screening of the film? Is that why the film is being marketed so heavily to religious schools? It’s really easy to have a reasoned debate on this issue–do real biological research that provides evidence. Of course that’s a lot more difficult and time consuming than making a movie where you rehash old claims that still don’t have any actual evidence supporting them.

    How does science distinguish between a paradigm problem and a research problem? In other words, when a researcher encounters an anomaly, how does he/she determine whether the anomaly is a result of a problem with the data rather than a problem with the theory under which the data is being examined?

    OK, this is actually a reasonable question. However it’s a question that anyone reasonably educated in the sciences would know the answer to. So it’s clear that you are making claims that natural selection is a faulty theory despite not being reasonably educated in the sciences. So maybe you should stop critiquing natural selection, and focus on asking these types of reasonable questions.

    Here’s the answer, in a nutshell: when the anomalies start piling up, scientists begin to suspect there’s something wrong with the theory. One anomaly is a problem to be further explored within the theory. Two anomalies are problems to be explored within the theory. Lots and lots of anomalies are problems to be explored within the theory.

    But there are two things you are obviously misunderstanding about natural selection and the process of scientific research: First, there just aren’t any real anomalies within evolutionary theory. There are things that aren’t yet understood, but that’s not the same as an anomaly. An anomaly is something that we can’t provide a good explanation for, despite lots of effort, without making ad hoc assumptions that technically violate the theory. We just don’t have any of those in evolutionary theory, and the people who are telling you we do aren’t people who are actually doing biological research. Why are you so eager to believe the non-researchers over the researchers?

    Second, if anomalies start piling up, some young turk scientist, all full of himself and thinking the old guys are full of shit, is going to propose an alternative that explains everything the theory explains, and in addition also explains the anomalies. (Go read, as Wes has mentioned, Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.) There is no grand conspiracy, because scientists who resolve the anomalies make themselves famous. But we don’t see that here, and that in itself is some real evidence.

    The scientists doing evolutionary theory don’t see real anomalies, and no-one doing real biological research is claiming to have found a solution to the anomalies. What we have are mostly non-biologists claiming “God did it,” which is a wholly non-testable hypothesis, so it can’t be a good scientific solution to the problem of anomalies, even if they do exist and scientists have just overlooked them.

    This isn’t so hard. Not if you’re honestly asking questions. And, sorry to be personally critical, but if you’re involved with Expelled in any way, I’m dubious you really are.

    But don’t claim nobody could answer your questions, because I just did.

  19. BarneyB

    Is it a fair comparison to suggest that if God didn’t nudge/guide evolution along the way that He doesn’t interact with His creation in a personal way now? Do you really think God would allow Himself to be detected scientifically? He might (as is His decision) but I doubt He would, based on His desire for free will in His followers.

    Maybe, Yes, Nonsense. Your choosing just one of a multitude of religions to base that baseless assertion.

    In my mind, there is nothing about understanding the mechanism of creation that belittles the creator. Personally, I find the notion of a self-contained mechanism of evolution more theologically satisfying than a partially-functional mechanism that needs divine help along the way.

    Then I would suggest you haven’t thought about the real ramifications of what you just typed above.

  20. Raging Bee

    In addition, my hope is that the film will prompt people on all sides of the issue to engage with one another.

    How do manufactured self-pity and phony stories of victimization “prompt engagement?” Anyone with any common sense and decency can see they have exactly the opposite intent. Your persecution stories and phony victimhood are nothing but a lame excuse for ID’s total failure to produce any real science.

    Because what I’ve observed over the past two years is complete polarization.

    Which has been caused by deliberate ignorance, outright lies, and bigoted, hateful, scapegoating rhetoric from the creationist side.

    The various camps sit in their respective corners cackling about how stupid the other guys are, but they rarely talk to each other—except to hurl insults.

    Honest scientists have been “talking” by means of peer-reviewed papers describing research, experimentation, and logic that refines and reinforces the present-day theory of evolution. The creationists have done no such talking; they have, instead, responded by ignoring all that work, making up pseudoscientific rubbish and repeating it after it’s debunked, crying ever more hysterically about “persecution” by a “dogmatic Darwinist establishment,” and, in some cases, threatening the lives of their critics (as the Dover plaintiffs were threatened, and as many Turkish professors were threatened by followers of creationist Harun Yahya).

    Very few people engaged in this debate seem open to an honest pursuit of the truth.

    See my above point about all those peer-reviewed papers.

    Most are more interested in scoring debating points, looking clever, and promoting their own agenda.

    OUR agenda is honest science, freedom of speech and religion, and public school education uncorrupted by religious intolerance and con-artistry. What’s yours?

  21. Robert O'Brien

    Back in 1987, I was Mr. Elsberry. Now, though, I’m either Wesley or I’m Dr. Elsberry.

    You are being facetious, I hope. No one is obliged to address you as “Dr. Elsberry” outside of an academic setting.

  22. Austringer Post author

    If someone insists on calling me by a title, I can insist that they use the correct title. I did offer the familiar alternative, you should note.

  23. Dreamer

    Kevin Miller’s argument that cultural backgrounds could result in two people using the same data to come to different conclusions, is reasonable on face value… and on some level it is true in science. The only problem, is that he is not talking about the natural debates that run back and forh regarding analysis of data, a process by which a common theory is arrived at. Instead he is preposing that it’s reasonable if two seperate cultures, by parallel means, arrive at two mutally exclusive theories; to take his tired example, heliocentricity and geocentricity.

    What he is advocating is the validity of bias in constructing a world view, not the formation of theorems. All fine if you keep your world to yourself, but not pleasant if you feel it deserves a place in a curriculum. Humans may not be truly objective, but if your bias is showing in your theory, you’re doing it wrong.

    I was reminded of a Reynolds quote in a paper that laid the foundation for lubrication theory, describing his bemusement at how common knowledge “that a little grease will enable any surfaces to slide for a time”, obscured the true nature of an action that was required for machinery to even operate.

    A general ignorance that would have been unsurprising in 1786, but in 1886 (after over a century of the industrial revolution, by some measures) it’s a lot more of an indictment on hubris and intellectual incuriousity. Both of these things are what Kevin Miller is really advocating.

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