Monday, February 08, 2010

Steve Matheson pretty much nails the problem with Stephen Meyer (and the rest of the Discovery Institute fellows.)
Now, if you're not a biologist, you might think the error is trivial, purely semantic, a typing glitch induced by the proximity of the word 'virulent.' And that last part is probably right. But this biologist finds the error more significant, and I suspect others would agree. The difference, I think, is that I can't imagine mistaking a virus for a bacterium; it's like mistaking a pencil for a sequoia. A person who would make that mistake – and leave it in his awesome, groundbreaking treatise on 21st-century biological science – is a person who doesn't think very much about viruses or bacteria. A person who would make that mistake is a non-specialist. A layperson.

And of course, Stephen Meyer is a layperson. He's clearly not a biologist, or even a person who's particularly knowledgeable about biology. (That paper in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington became infamous due to political disputes; I thought it was most notable for being lame.) This is obvious from my reading of this book and his other work, and the mistake on page 66 just serves to remind me that despite the thunderous praise from fans on the dustjacket and in the ID-osphere, Meyer just isn't all that impressive as a scientific thinker. Call me a jerk, but I expect a hell of a lot more from someone who wants to rewrite science (and its history).

2 comments:

Crude said...

I'm not a huge fan of ID. I'm sympathetic, but not a fan. Line me up with the thomists rather than the people looking for "irreducible complexity".

First: Yes, Meyer is a layperson. I doubt Meyer would insist he's a scientist. So that revelation hardly comes as news.

Second, Meyer isn't trying to rewrite science or science history. At most, he's trying to argue about an inference science leads us to. Putting it otherwise makes it sound more bombastic than it really is.

But third and worst of all, Matheson is wielding a double-edged sword here. If he's going to play the layperson-versus-academic card, then Meyer can turn right around and regard Matheson as a layperson when it comes to matters of philosophy. Or history, for that matter. Which leaves Matheson in poor shape to judge Meyer.

Though frankly, if an indirect result of ID's efforts is to make it so biologists and scientists in general are regarded as utter laymen when they start talking about philosophical matters, then ID's contribution to science and knowledge has been a downright goldmine.

John Farrell said...

Second, Meyer isn't trying to rewrite science or science history.

I disagree. The entire purpose of the Discovery Institute--from the beginning--has been to attack the methodology of science. They can say the Wedge doc is outmoded all they want, but its stated aims and goals are still very much at the heart of the movement.

BTW--If Meyer is only interested in drawing philosophical conclusions from science, it hardly lines up well with the DI's and his repeated insistence that ID really is science.

I would have more respect for the whole movement if they explicitly stated: look, we're fine with the science as far as it goes, but we don't mind having the cheek to point out when scientists make bad philosophical presuppositions (like Dawkins, Provine, et al) and we think public science education needs to think more carefully about the implications of science.

They'd have a lot more parents and teachers on their side if they did. But for ideological reasons they decided that science itself has to be attacked. This forces them always to argue in bad faith.