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Friday, April 10, 2009

Michael Ruse: 90% 0f Scientists Are Selectionists

I'm at the Center for Inquiry 12th World Congress in Washington D.C.

Last night I attended a session on "The Influence of Darwin." The four panelists were: Michael Ruse, a philosopher, Barbara Forrest, a philosopher, David Contosta, a historian, and Edward Tabash, a lawyer.

Ruse presented his usual distorted view of evolutionary biology only this time he added a comment in his defense. He said, "90% of scientists are selectionists, and the other 10% are selectionists 90% of the time." This was obviously a response to people who have criticized Ruse for being too much of an adaptationist.

Incidentally, Ruse made it clear that he is an atheist, even though he is strongly opposed to the idea that science/evolution leads to a loss of faith. I mention this because I've seen numerous references to Ruse implying that he is religious.

I asked the panel why there was no scientist on the panel and whether they thought that they could represent science accurately. I added, provocatively, that in my opinion three of the four panelists did not do a good job of describing science

The panel didn't think this was problem. I assume Darwin had a great influence on law, philosophy, and history but not much of an influence on science.


  1. To be fair, I'm a student biologist, and evolution's not come up once, but when I studied law it was an overriding principle which was the foundation of all legal understand.

    Oh, wait...

  2. Michael Ruse doesn't have a clue what he stands for. He has done more than any "scientists" to lend legitimacy to the creationist IDiots - chiefly Dembski. He has helped maintain the myth that there are two sides to evolution and science. The Chamberlein epithet doesn't come close to describing his role


  3. Now we have to guess who the fourth one would be.

    I'd suspect Barbara Forrest...

  4. The notion that scientists know Science (as an institution, history or set of practices) better than philosophers and historians is rather like the notion that novelists know literature better than literary scholars. Some scientists know Science, but they are few. Mostly scientists know the things they study: biochemists know about the structure of biomolecules and their interactions in the cell, etc., but they know very little about their own discipline and the way it works. (They know even less about their own universities and the way they work!) They can retail the orthodoxy concerning the way their institutions purport to function but they are at a loss when you point out that what they think happens and what actually takes place are quite different. Science isn't the undertaking they think it is.

    Ask a boxer about boxing and he will tell you about left jabs. Ask an historian and s/he will tell you about the ways various people have made money by marketing fights, or about the way masses of people have been influenced by watching fights, etc. etc. The boxer's point of view isn't unimportant (after all, he is a key element in the practice) but it is not the whole story.

    Ask a priest about his religion and s/he will tell you that s/he is saving souls; ask an anthropologist or sociologist and s/he will tell you another, much more convincing story.

  5. @anonymous (12:01)

    You think you are an expert on something. You go to a blog and make "arguments". However, I am an expert on dimwits. You may not realize this, since you are merely an "anonymous commenter", but you are not a bearer of wisdom.

    You are simply a dimwit.

    You would be better able to understand this if you were not hampered by the orthodoxy of dimwittery.

  6. The "godfather" of ID is a lawyer. Enough said.

  7. The meaning (consequences) of wars can't be known by those who fight them. To the general, the war is a series of battles lost or won. To the historian, war is about nations or their elites competing for control of resources, for power. The generals are small parts of the contest. For scientists, science is the (legitimate and important) study of nature. For the rest of us, science is an institution with considerable influence over our societies and futures. It is an institution that ought to be carefully studied so that we can learn to use it wisely. We can discuss the merits of Ruse's arguments, for example, but we should begin by recognizing the importance of supporting the study of science as an institution and social practice.

  8. Hm, 'tis a shame Ruse is saying things like this now. I liked him when he gave a talk at my university three years ago.

  9. "90% of scientists are selectionists, and the other 10% are selectionists 90% of the time."

    That might be the case for biologists as a whole, but I doubt that's true for those who consider themselves to be evolutionary biologists.

    Neutral theory?

  10. Scientists are not always the best people to talk about the nature of science, even their own science. Often scientists take their foray into the history and philosophy of science without the rigour that they would give to their own discipline: they don't look at the relevant literature and they don't consider the relevant conclusions and reasoning in the field. Now this is not to say that every historian and philosopher of science has things right.

  11. It is true that many scientists are crappy at knowing scoence, and further assume that because they are scietists, they MUST know sceince (the sad truth is that this is not necessarily so). But then those philosophers who have never actually done scientific research are also quite crappy. Their "great understanding" rarely leads to scietific achievements

    A few great men/women are BOTH philosopher-historians and scientists. I'm talking about Einstein, Gould, Mayr. All of them made great contributions to science (The kind that shifts the way of thinking and sets new topics for entire scientific communities).

    And no, Ruse is not one of them (or Dawkins, for that matter)

  12. Behe comes to mind as a perfect example of someone who has generated acceptable (publishable) scientific research yet does not know what science is about.

  13. Anonymous said...

    Michael Ruse doesn't have a clue what he stands for.

    I myself think that Ruse has fallen in love with the sound of his own voice, and no longer knows what he thinks until he hears himself talking out loud.

  14. I happen to agree that most scientists are not especially knowledgeable about Science as a whole, and philosophers of science are probably better placed to discuss Science.

    That said, evolutionary biologists are extremely well placed to discuss the impact of Evolution. Because, though I agree that scientists are often useless outside their field, we're lucky to have a whole field devoted to the products of Darwin's work.

    In addition, though there are not a great abundance of scientists that are also knowledgeable of Science, there are *certainly* enough of them to get wrangled into a big panel. They're not that hard to find, given that they tend to be the most vocal and popular science bloggers. They may not constitute a significant majority of scientists, but they're certainly abundant enough to contribute 1 or 2 members to a four member panel.

  15. "philosophers of science are probably better placed to discuss Science"

    Michael Ruse certainly is not. If you can't even get your science right...we send guys like that to go fry monkeys.

    ONLY A FEW have made both great scientific AND philosophical contributions.

  16. I am reminded of a comment from "Dr Ramat", a character in the BBC series "Rumpole of the Bailey", who stated that (miedical) doctors are at a loss more often than they like to admit, and I'm inclined to think that of scientists too.

    In fact, I'm inclined to think that scientists are also often happy to admit that their knowledge is imperfect, and that is perhaps what makes them good scientists - the desire to know more, and to recognise that they don't know enough.

    I was always led to believe that there is no conflict between religion and science, as seems to have developed here. The difference is that whilst religion tries to explain what happened, science tries to explain how it happened. Hence, the human being was created, but the religious leaders of yesteryear really had no idea, through lack of training and lack of equipment, how people were created. Hence, evolution is a theory that explains how creations took place. This of course does ignore the purist's definition of 'creation' but it at least eliminates the argument.

    ... and it has some validity, albeit only form a logical perspective.