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From Matt Ridley, Smart Remarks on Scientocracy — and a Howling Irony

Photo: Matt Ridley, by Ian Smith from Ilkley, United Kingdom, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

There were some excellent comments about science and scientocracy from Matt Ridley in a weekend interview in the Wall Street Journal — but also a howling irony. Ridley, a self-professed “science critic,” distinguishes science as a “philosophy,” a way of seeking knowledge with roots in the Enlightenment, from science as a self-promoting, self-protecting “institution,” a “global guild.” 

Isn’t This the Truth?

No one in the intelligent design research community could have said this with greater punch:

Conformity,” Mr. Ridley says, “is the enemy of scientific progress, which depends on disagreement and challenge. Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts, as [the physicist Richard] Feynman put it.” Mr. Ridley reserves his bluntest criticism for “science as a profession,” which he says has become “rather off-puttingly arrogant and political, permeated by motivated reasoning and confirmation bias.” Increasing numbers of scientists “seem to fall prey to groupthink, and the process of peer-reviewing and publishing allows dogmatic gate-keeping to get in the way of new ideas and open-minded challenge.”…

In Mr. Ridley’s view, the scientific establishment has always had a tendency “to turn into a church, enforcing obedience to the latest dogma and expelling heretics and blasphemers.” This tendency was previously kept in check by the fragmented nature of the scientific enterprise: Prof. A at one university built his career by saying that Prof. B’s ideas somewhere else were wrong. In the age of social media, however, “the space for heterodoxy is evaporating.” So those who believe in science as philosophy are increasingly estranged from science as an institution. [Emphasis added.]

Isn’t that the truth? Science as a “church” policing its members for their obedience to “dogma,” pursuing and “expelling heretics and blasphemers.” That’s the experience of ID proponents in academia, tracked and punished by the Darwinists, in a nutshell. See more on that on the Free Science website.

A Dig at ID; Why?

And yet…Ridley needs to put in a dig at intelligent design, right in the middle of some smart remarks about what’s worrisome about the hankering of scientists to be put in charge of everyone, as in the present pandemic.

He asks: “If you think biological complexity can come about through unplanned emergence and not need an intelligent designer, then why would you think human society needs an ‘intelligent government’?” Science as an institution has “a naive belief that if only scientists were in charge, they would run the world well.” Perhaps that’s what politicians mean when they declare that they “believe in science.” As we’ve seen during the pandemic, science can be a source of power.

What Does He Mean?

I’m not sure what that even means. Because, in the evolutionary perspective, brilliant invention emerges from mindless material processes, therefore brilliance in a societal context will emerge readily even if unintelligent people run the government? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on the worldview, the values, of those in government more than on their IQ. People of low, average, or high intelligence, if they’ve got a faulty picture of reality projecting at the back of their thoughts, can do a lot of damage if you put them in charge.

What is the function of the dig at ID, though? It seems to me it is to provide self-protection. Science is a “global guild” and this “critic” is assuring readers that despite sounding like a “heretic” or a “blasphemer” — perhaps even like one of those intelligent design rascals — he’s really quite safe and tame. He is a member of the “church” in good standing…well, maybe not perfect standing, but good enough for a hearing by the mainstream media. Unfortunately, that undercuts the cogency of much of the rest of what he has to say.