Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The New Scopes Trial: Denial of Biology


Most people still think of human-science controversies in terms of nature/nurture. As a matter of real scientific dispute, that is all long gone. Nature/nurture arguments were at the heart of the sociobiology wars that roiled the human sciences through the last third of the 20th century. (The 2000 book Defenders of Truth, by the Finnish sociologist of science Ullica Segerstråle gives a full — and so far as I can judge, very fair — account.) The dust of battle has pretty much settled now, in science departments if not in the popular press, and nature is the clear victor. Name any universal characteristic of human nature, including cognitive and personality characteristics. Of all the observed variation in that characteristic, about half is caused by genetic differences. You may say that is only a half victory; but it is a complete shattering of the nurturist absolutism that ruled in the human sciences 40 years ago, and that is still the approved
dogma in polite society, including polite political society, today.

While those sociobiology wars were going on — while E.O. Wilson was having a jug of ice water dumped over his head at an AAAS symposium by people shouting “Racist Wilson you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide!” (1978); while Art Jensen looked set fair to be kicked out of the AAAS altogether following agitation by Margaret Mead et al. because of his 1969 paper on group differences in I.Q.; while Stephen Jay Gould was assuring his readers that “Human equality is a contingent fact of history” (1985) and Richard Lewontin was celebrating “the funeral of reductionism” (1983); while Charles Murray was being profiled in the New York Times Magazine as “America’s most dangerous conservative” (1994) — while all that was happening, research results were steadily trickling in, building up the water pressure behind the nurturist dam.

The Democrats do not want the genetic discoveries to lead to widespread knowledge about the truth about human differences. The Democrats are really more anti-Darwinian than the fundamentalist Christians who deny the origin of species.

National Review


He's telling half the story here.

Science is under assault from two directions:

(a) Liberals denying biological determinism. They hate the idea that intelligence is inherited, that the more intelligent succeed more in society or without it, and that there are measurable differences in biology between ethnic groups, social classes, genders and sexual orientations, etc.

(b) Christians, usually conservative, denying evolution and abortion. They want to impose traditional morality through abortion, since they feel defeated in every other way on this issue, and they don't trust science because it glibly parrots one aspect of a situation as the whole. They find the religious view more comforting.

These two threats not only hold us back from knowledge, but divide us internally over illusions.

The Liberal illusion is actually more threatening, since it has wider scope than abortion or evolution denial, both of which are easily circumvented.

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Subvert the dominant paradigm, don't be a solipsist.

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