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Repeating Modernism’s Mistakes

Friday’s Opinion Journal from the Wall Street Journal had a great piece: “Under the Microscope: When science and politics become worlds in collision.” Among other things, this piece noted that “This was a banner week for American science.”

“The Nobel Prizes for medicine, physics and chemistry all went to Americans.” So despite what griping you may have heard at Darwinists’ cocktail parties and university lectures about America falling behind in science because of the outright rejection of science by the masses–perhaps the dreaded red-staters–be calm. Apparently good science can flourish in a country that largely rejects neo-Darwinism. Crazy, huh?

Noting that both government and private funding aid America’s dominance in the sciences, Opinion Journal wisely grasps the real wellspring of scientific accomplishment: “a society that encourages independent thinking, open debate and an unbounded spirit of inquiry.”

One new group, Scientists and Engineers for America (SEA), picking up Chris Mooney’s war cry

said that it is concerned about how the Bush administration has “compromised the integrity of science” with, among other things, its policies on global warming and stem-cell research and its (alleged) support for nonscientific “intelligent design” theories of evolution. SEA members have also cited a delay in making the “morning-after” pill, sold under the name Plan B, readily available over-the-counter as another example of a sustained government “assault” on science and scientists.

Opinion Journal rightly outs the SEA/Mooney assumption, namely that science is handed down from on high by people in (conveniently) white coats, writing,

The more disturbing disingenuousness here involves the suggestion in some SEA statements that there is such a thing as absolute, accurate science–a body of facts–that is beyond further investigation. And that certain subjects or findings are not open to interpretation or discussion by nonscientists, including policy makers. In other words, when Americans raise questions about the moral implications of, say, stem-cell research, they are trumping science with “ideology.” Presumably, those who disagree have no ideology or political agenda, only factual knowledge on a case that is closed.

Mooney and others are living out the modernist superstition–the idea that you can have science without subjectivism; that science is a divine rather than a human activity; that facts neatly assemble themselves into theories rather than human investigators getting their hands dirty in piecing observations together. The latter is reality, and it is only good scientific practice that scientists should be debating the adequacy of a range of scientific theories–including neo-Darwinism.

We should not be surprised then that Mooney, SEA, and the like are also repeating the ironic hypocrisy of modernism: they exempt themselves from their own rules. When Bertrand Russell, A.J. Ayer, and the rest of the logical positivist intelligencia said that all statements–if they are to be meaningful–must be either logically necessary or empirically verifiable, what they really meant was that all statements that their political and philosophical interlocutors make must be either logically necessary or empirically verifiable. (After all, the logical positivist criterion for meaning is itself neither logically necessary nor empirically verifiable.)

In the same way, what Mooney’s crowd means is that when they approach science it is without human motivations and assumptions. The science just jumps out of the lab and into the journals. There are no intellectual gatekeepers here. (Heck, for all purposes, there are no scientists in this vision of science.) But, when their political and philosophical rivals approach science, it is with the vilest of human motives. Somehow Mooney’s interlocutors’ philosophical commitments seep into their interpretations of science while those of his crowd do not.

Perhaps when Darwinists realize their mistake they will start to clean house. Perhaps Barbara Forrest will write a history of Darwinists’ personal motivations; and being a member of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association, she can begin with her own. And just perhaps Mr. Mooney will write a book called “The War on Scientific Dissenters” where he drops the modernist worldview for a moment, questioning his own philosophical assumptions and how they underpin both his blithe acceptance of majoritarian science and his clear disdain for scientists with whom he disagrees.

(For more on SEA, see Wesley J. Smith’s piece at The Daily Standard.)