Saturday, December 29, 2007

A response to a scientific paranormalist

Would that everyone who attacked me called himself "Evil." I doubt, of course, that this is the actual name he was given by his mother at birth (what was her name, "Lilith"?), but someone by the name of "Evil Bender" claims to know what I am thinking, despite acknowledging that he doesn't know me at all.

Who is Evil Bender? According to his website, he "teaches in an English department, dabbles in science and enjoys calling out bigots, hate-mongers, liars and idiots." Can you feel the love?

The one thing he left out was "mind reading". Mind reading is apparently a common talent among the scientific mystics, who enjoy imparting motive to those with whom they disagree. Evil Bender did not like my observation that the question "What is science?" is not itself a scientific question. I made the remark in the context of ISU's decision to deny Guillermo Gonzalez tenure, a decision which, in light of e-mails made public by the Discovery Institute, appeared to have been made at least in part on the basis of Gonzalez's opinion that Intelligent Design is scientific.

The extent of his dislike of this observation seemed to be in direct proportion to his inability to refute what I said. And when the scientific mystics can't refute your argument, they simply raise their hands, squint real hard, and direct their paranormal powers in the general direction of your brain and, when contact has been made, determine something else you might believe that they feel more comfortable being able to refute.

In Evil Bender's case, he simply postulated that I thought that scientists should somehow be prevented from making decisions concerning tenure of science faculty:
But it seems Cothran does have one thing on his side: the ability to make disingenuous arguments. Take this one, where he’s eager to claim little old scientists shouldn’t be the ones discussing what is science ...See, the real goal is to insure that scientists don’t have a say in, say, the Gonzalez tenure.
Of course, what I actually said was that the question of what science is is not itself a scientific question and that, therefore, it was not within their realm of expertise as scientists, but was a question more appropriate to the philosophy of science. And if you look at the discussion in the comments section of that post, you will see that I made the point that I was not challenging the right of any scientist to make a judgment of what was or wasn't science, but simply pointing out that anyone's opinion of what is science does not depend on their competence as scientists but their competence as philosophers. In other words, it is neither necessary nor sufficient that a person be a scientist in order to answer the question, "what is science?", and, therefore, if a tenure committee for a scientific discipline makes such a judgment, they have an obligation to justify it on the basis of philosophical arguments, not scientific ones.

Evil Bender's first charge is that my comments were disingenuous. In other words, he is asserting that I am making arguments in which I do not myself believe. He offers no evidence for this claim, but then the scientific mystics never do offer evidence for their mind reading results (in fact, I am wondering if Evil Bender is really Uri Geller using a pseudonym). He then claims he knows my "real goal". Wow. Is this guy talented or what?

Does Evil Bender think that the question "what is science?" is a scientific question after all? And if he does, on what basis does he think it is? On the basis of science? And if so, can we ask the question, "Is the question 'Is the question "What is science?" a scientific question?' itself a scientific question?" And if we could, could we then ask what expertise Evil Bender brings to the question, since he is not a scientist?

No, we'd better not. He'll read my mind and conclude I'm asking the question just to be a smart alec.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I made the remark in the context of ISU's decision to deny Guillermo Gonzalez tenure, a decision which, in light of e-mails made public by the Discovery Institute, appeared to have been made at least in part on the basis of Gonzalez's opinion that Intelligent Design is scientific.



And what are the criteria by which ID is deemed to be scientific?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps commenters could leave more suitable remarks if Mr Cothran would clarify his opinions by answering the following:
1) What is science? (preferably with examples of how to determine whether something is science or not)
2) What is ID?
3) Is ID science? Why or why not?

Perhaps he will have more time once the holiday season is over. I definitely would rather see Mr Cothran address some of these issues rather than merely criticizing the style of other's writings.

jah

Art said...

Hi Martin,

You're confusing a definitional statement ("science is ...") with a philosophical proposition ("science is a valid way to learn"), all to prop up a failed career (Gonzalez', apparently).

There's no reason why a group of scientists cannot assess whether a new line of investigation is amenable to the process of hypothesize, test with controlled and repeatable experiments, and revise (that's science, in a nutshell). They're not passing judgement as to the utility of the scientific approach - that's a settled matter for a science department. They're also not performing a scientific experiment, and in fact it is amusing to see some twist and turn their thoughts in such a convoluted manner as to insist that each and every waking action is a scientific experiment.

ID is not science - that's not a conclusion grounded in a scientific investigation, it's a statement of fact, made possible because we have clear definitions of both ID and science, and we can see unequivocally that ID doesn't fit.

(OK, so maybe I'm being optimistic in the claim that we know what ID is. Let's grant that this is the case for the sake of discussion.)

Anonymous said...

I definitely would rather see Mr Cothran address some of these issues rather than merely criticizing the style of other's writings.

This, unfortunately, this seems to be the modus operandi for ID supporter's. It's all negative.

Shouldn't be that difficult for him to lay out the basic criteria which shows why ID ought to be treated as a scientific theory.

Evil Bender said...

All it would take for Mr Cothran to prove me wrong would be to demonstrate that he's not asking this question to try to get ID accepted as science.

But his continued refusal to explain what he thinks science is doesn't bode well for him on this point.

One Brow said...

Personally, I think this is an intriguing concept?

Want to know if a procedure is valid medicine? It's not a medical diagnosis, so you don't ask a doctor, you ask a philosopher.

Want to know if a certain law is a good idea? It's not a legal conclusion, so don't ask a lawyer, ask a philosopher.

Want to know what type of wiring to put in a room? It's not the process of connecting the wires, so don't ask an electrician, ask a philosopher.

If it weren't for the philosphers to decide all these things for us, who could we possibly ask?

Anonymous said...

Martin, Evil Bender's name is taken from a character on the TV show Futurama? He is not declaring himself "evil".