Modern conflicts over science, Darwin

Below is a transcript from a Georgene Rice KPDQ-FM interview with David Berlinski, a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and the author of several controversial essays and books, including his latest, “The Deniable Darwin”.

Georgene: Would Darwin be surprised at the utter loyalty many scientists have today toward his theory?

Berlinski: He was a man of considerable self-confidence, so he would be pleased but not necessarily surprised.

Georgene: You introduced the notion of skepticism in much of your writing, and I suppose one might ask: “What’s your beef with science?”

Berlinski: I don’t have a beef with science.  It’s just honest criticism.  I have great respect for the great theories.  It doesn’t suggest a lack of enthusiasm or devotion, quite the contrary.

Georgene: So is there a value to science?  Or is the approach flawed?  Or are the goals or areas of interest misguided?

Berlinski: Science is the great cathedral of our culture.  It’s our Notre Dame, a magnificent structure four centuries in the making.  But why do we assume that every cathedral is by definition complete?  Science is a great cathedral, but it’s radically incomplete…….

Georgene: What then should be the primary goal:  recognizing that it’s something of a conceit to imagine that we can know more than we actually do?  Or that we shouldn’t assume that we have discovered the full answers to the questions?

Berlinski: I think both, with the addition of a third maxim:  that in our collective undertaking we don’t rule out other approaches without very careful arguments and a defense of the position.  For example, religious approaches.  It just makes no sense to rule them out of court by definition.  Or to claim that, for example, intelligent design doesn’t count as a possibility in thought because it’s not science.

Georgene: One of the reasons intelligent design is rejected is because it is thought to be motivated by ideology……..and that Darwinism has no ideology and is unfettered from any influences that would be anything other than what raw science would reveal?

Berlinski: Everybody has a bias, a point of view and an agenda to execute, especially in the human and the biological sciences.  There’s no such thing as an unbiased point of view……People who are advocating intelligent design have a certain vision of things—a certain goal—and to argue them out of court because you’ve said, rather arbitrarily, “it’s not science”, is just to make science a much less interesting pursuit than it might otherwise be.

Georgene: Has there been an evolution in your thinking on the subject of science and some of these other issues you deal with over time? Are you seeing certain changes in the way you approach these issues?

Berlinski: I hope so………my thinking has matured, it’s evolved….I think I’m a good deal more skeptical now than I was when I began these essays….because I’ve seen too much that I regard as corrupt within the sciences.

Georgene: How do you account for the “increase in fraud” as you’ve just described it over time?  Is it because of necessity in order for science to move forward?

Berlinski: I think the polemical issues, the underlying ideological issues, have become so heated and so corrupting that people are now willing to make claims that they really would have hesitated to make in the 1960s and 1970s.  A sense of judiciousness has been under attack in many areas of biology, many areas of evolutionary psychology—even in physics, people are saying things now that they wouldn’t have said 30 years ago.

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