The Black Adder: The Queen of Spain’s Beard
Percy: My Lord…
Edmund: Yes, what is it?
Percy: You know, they do say that the Infanta’s eyes are more beautiful than the famous Stone of Galveston.
Edmund: Mm! … What?
Percy: The famous Stone of Galveston, My Lord.
Edmund: And what’s that, exactly?
Percy: Well, it’s a famous blue stone, and it comes (points dramatically) from Galveston.
Edmund: I see. And what about it?
Percy: Well, My Lord, the Infanta’s eyes are bluer than it, for a start.
Edmund: I see. And have you ever seen this stone?
Percy: (nods) No, not as such, My Lord, but I know a couple of people who have, and they say it’s very very blue indeed.
Edmund: And have these people seen the Infanta’s eyes?
Percy: No, I shouldn’t think so, My Lord.
Edmund: And neither have you, presumably.
Percy: No, My Lord.
Edmund: So, what you’re telling me, Percy, is that something you have never seen is slightly less blue than something else you have never seen.
Percy: (finally begins to grasp) Yes, My Lord.
And from the current Times Higher Education Supplement:
…Newton presented his mathematical physics as the divine plan that was implicitly written into the Bible. He clearly thought he had got into God’s mind. In contrast, Darwin pursued the humbler path of William Paley’s analogy of nature’s order being like a watch found on a beach, which implied the existence of a watchmaker. Unfortunately, the fossil record revealed to Darwin only a lot of broken half-watches, nothing that could have been produced by a God worthy of human respect. Darwin’s humility remained, but his faith disappeared.
In today’s secular culture, Darwin is more readily embraced than Newton as a scientific icon although Newton remains unquestionably the greater scientist. The American Museum of Natural History has an exhibit devoted to Darwin’s life that includes a reconstruction of his home. This is not surprising. Darwin’s biography projects the politically correct image of a Christian who loses his faith through scientific inquiry. We are unlikely to see a similar exhibit for Newton because his life teaches that the Bible can provide a sure path to great science.
I don’t recall Darwin’s theory being strongly built on fossil evidence. In fact it has a chapter where he talks about the paucity of fossil evidence. Equally I don’t recall the Bible being a primer on basic mathematics, so I’m not convinced that Newton’s tale would be one of the Bible being a sure path to great science. At the end of his life Newton either turned from the Bible to fail at alchemy, or else the Bible’s chapters on alchemy are in error, or as a third option, Fuller is in error and the Bible is irrelevant to Newton’s scientific success.
Fuller goes on:
Contrary to popular accounts, Darwin never provided a mechanistic account of evolution because he lacked a credible theory of genetics. Indeed, by the time The Origin of Species reached its 50th birthday in 1909, Darwin’s theory was itself close to extinction. It could offer only “just so”
The popular accounts that I’ve read say that Darwin failed to provide a mechanistic account of evolution, and instead tried to argue for blending of attributes. I’m not aware of any evidence that Darwin’s theory of Descent with Natural Selection was on its way out before the Modern Synthesis with Mendel’s Genetics. Can anyone suggest some helpful reading to plug that gap?* Mendel’s work was re-discovered in 1900 (Steve Jones Almost Like a Whale 1999 p144). While the importance to evolution was recognised there wasn’t agreement on exactly how that mechanism worked. The discussion was rather vigorous and, I think the first paper to fully synthesise the two didn’t appear till 1918 but there were arguments aplenty before them. Indeed, arguments on the details of mechanism continue to this day, so I’m not quite sure how “close to extinction” is an accurate description. I would have thought a theory close to being discarded would have been ignored rather than debated.
I have to admit Fuller’s arguments are pretty convincing so long as you don’t actually examine the evidence. As a result I’m not that bothered about his opinion per se. What is interesting is the question “How does this stuff get published?”
Incorrect ideas are published all the time. The really interesting ones are the ones that people are still arguing are wrong decades later. If you’re writing on prehistoric Europe then Gordon Childe, who I think has been argued by various people to be wrong on almost every specific detail, is a good place to start. He may be wrong, but he’s interesting, intelligent and a thought-provoking departure point to discuss what may have happened in prehistoric Europe. If you want to argue that Childe was wrong about something you have to do quite a bit of work to show it. Fuller’s arguments on the other hand, when he presents them in clear language seem to be plainly erroneous, irrelevant or both. And these are not difficult things to show. If it’s not depth of thought, intelligibilty or interestingness that’s the reason for success in sociology then what is?
Speaking as a non-sociologist*, it would appear there’s no quality control in sociological peer-review. That doesn’t mean that all sociology is rubbish. On the contrary there’s some interesting material. Rather it means that if you want to know what the good material is, the last person you should ask is a sociologist. It would also suggest that if everything does go wrong I can move to Warwick and become a sage of science without having to do difficult stuff. Instead I can argue that someone’s work that haven’t really read is less scientific that someone else’s work that I haven’t read.
…and finally. The introduction says:
Steve Fuller argues that intelligent design shows how the Bible has been a powerful spur to science…
Well, I suppose he does, but he doesn’t provide any evidence that intelligent design is the least bit scientific. He does seem a little intent on trashing his own reputation.
* Update: Jonathan Badger and Bob O’H correct me on the eclipse of Darwinism in comments 3 and 5. Buridan understandably skewers the paragraph “Speaking as a non-sociologist…” in comment 7. I could pretend that the first half of that paragraph was satirical, but the reality is that it was typing without engaging the brain. As the saying goes: “When arguing with a stupid person, make sure they’re not doing the same.”