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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mark Anthony Signorelli Doesn't Like Darwinians

According to his blog posting Mark Anthony Signorelli is, "is a poet, playwright, and essayist." He has a very strong opinion about evolution and the "Darwinists" who promote it [The Jurisdiction of Science]. His main point is that anyone should be allowed to criticize modern evolution and I agree with him on that. However, just as there's good science and bad science, there's also valid criticism and not-so-valid criticism. The not-so-valid criticism often comes from people who don't understand evolution.

Here's how Signorelli ends his rant. Judge for yourself ...
The fact that our intellectual climate is such that so many merely scientific thinkers so consistently and so brazenly offer up their lame insights on the most momentous of topics does indeed constitute an essential aspect of our present barbarism. The attempt to understand the entirety of human existence in biological terms has less of philosophical seriousness about it, and more of professional pride. We would find ourselves in a very nearly analogous situation if a conclave of plumbers began writing books, asserting that water was the essential element in all nature, that our thoughts could best be understood as so many conduits to our actions, and that society itself is nothing other than a complex structure of pipes, aqueducts, and irrigatory canals, sending and receiving every life-giving benefit. Such a mode of philosophizing might be enjoyable for a while, but it could never be persuasive, and it could never be right. In both cases, we would recognize that the hard labor of authentic thought was being replaced by the facile application of a vocational jargon. In both cases, we would conclude that a form of knowledge, immensely valuable in its own sphere, had been distorted and falsified, by being rashly extended far beyond that sphere.

And this is why the Darwinians so constantly complain about hostile foreigners intruding into their sovereign territory of biology: in order to distract us from the reality of their own imperial ambitions. There is one enormous fact about the contemporary intellectual scene, and it is not the fact that non-scientists are relentlessly asserting their opinions on scientific questions; it is the fact that many scientists are now in the incurable habit of relentlessly asserting their opinions – their very dopey opinions – on a range of philosophical and cultural issues. And this is a situation that is infinitely more perilous and revolting than if the opposite were the case, because it means that those persons who, by trade and by training, are least competent to judge mankind’s most momentous questions are precisely the ones who are more and more commonly doing just that. We should not be distracted from this terrible reality by the Darwinians incessant howling about the rest of us critiquing their opinions; rather, we should recognize their noise for the rhetorical feint that it is, but one more tawdry polemical maneuver utilized by the proponents of an ideology that is false, ignorant, and dishonest to its core.
Let's be clear about my complaint. It's not that scientists are making foolish statements about evolutionary psychology—that's one area where Signorelli and I agree. My compliant is that he writes an essay on the more general topic of why poets should be allowed to criticize science—an essay that criticizes scientists (like me) who get upset when people misrepresent science in order to advance their personal agendas. The irony is that in this very essay Signorelli reveals a serious lack of understanding of the science behind evolutionary biology beginning with use of the creationist term "Darwinians" to describe all modern evolutionary biologists.

There are good poets and bad poets. It would be wrong to criticize all poetry just because you've read some bad poets. Right?

I agree with this ...
Yet if evolutionary theory does have broad consequences for the study of ethics or the study of the arts – as we have been told with greater and greater frequency of late – then it is a theory which may be fairly considered, and fairly criticized, by scholars in the fields of ethical philosophy or literary criticism. This should be a perfectly uncontroversial matter. To maintain that evolutionary theory needs to be taken seriously by humanist scholars, while simultaneously forbidding those same scholars, under penalty of the severest invective, to weigh the rational substance of evolutionary theory, is a piece of impudence so raw and ridiculous that it could only be performed in this most outlandish of ages. Whatever absurdities were perpetrated in the past by Freudian and Marxist theorists, they never retorted to objections towards their ideological reading of texts by saying, “you are no psychologist,” or “you are no economist.” If the Darwinians wish their theory to be taken seriously outside the laboratories of the biology departments, then they simply must accept the fact that it has become a fair subject of refutation to the entirety of the educated community.
Let's all try and distinguish between the proper science of evolution and evolutionary theory and the abuses perpetrated in it's name. Let's not make the naive assumption that "refuting" the worst abuses is equivalent to questioning what goes on in biology departments. That's silly.

We all have worldviews that shape our opinions. Here's one ...

[John Wilkins made me post this.]


  1. I put that link up just for you, Larry :-)

  2. This guy seems to be a bit of a doofus. Scientific hypotheses aren't true because they have math in them, they are true if they are supported by experiments and explain observations (or at least more likely to be true). Yes, scientific truths are more certain than theological truths or literature truths. Of course.

  3. Signorelli apparently does not understand the criticism of Fodor and Piatelli-Palmerini. (Note - I'll only mention Fodor in the rest of this, since it is shorter).

    He thinks reviewers are saying to Fodor "Hey, you are not a scientist, so keep out of our scientific domain." By contrast, I think reviewers are saying to Fodor "You got it all wrong - you would have been wiser to stay out of our domain until you understood it well enough to get it right."

  4. That video of Signorelli on relativism was very interesting. Needless to say, I think Signorelli has everything wrong.

    Here is my take on what his argument is actually implying:

    Once upon a time (i.e. before science), we were all adrift in a sea of relativism. But we never noticed that drift or that relativism, because we measured everying on how it was relative to our position. Science has now provided an anchor that firmly connects us to reality. And now that we measure relative to reality, the drift is all too apparent. So let's pull up anchor, so that we can go back to not noticing the relative drift.

  5. ideology that is false, ignorant, and dishonest to its core.

    Seems a smoodge broad. As a brilliant poet once said, "Bitter is as bitter does."

    Hey! Don't be jumpin' all up in my stuff about me not knowin' nuthin' about the gooder poetry. Damned elitist snob with your uppity ideology and disdain for the unread masses. For your information, I read the hip hop*.

    On a side note, don't they still teach in poet-playwright-essayist school that you should write about what you know? (Or at least know about what you write?)

    *a tribute to Barbara Billingsley, who....whom....who I understand spoke the jive.

  6. There is no question that both evolution and extinction occurred in the past. Today we witness only extinction without a new Genus in the past two million years. Long ago I issued the challenge to provide a documented instance of the appearance of a new species with its known immediate ancestor in historical times. To date that challenge has not been met.

    Just as ontogeny is a self-limiting process eanding with the adult, so, I believe, phylogeny has also been a self-limiting process which has ended with the present biota. In short -

    "A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable."
    John A. Davison

  7. Oh, everyone has the "right" to criticize science. They just don't have the "right" to have their criticisms taken seriously, especially if they don't know what they are talking about.

  8. Seriously. Is he complaining about relativism, or is he for it? He appears to be saying that historically, when science emerged and became predominant, it popularized the notion that some claims are more certain than others, which would run counter to relativism, where all ideas are essentially on equal footing. Yet, he later declares that if one believes that science has a sole claim to truth, this entails relativism, contradicting his initial claim's implication.

    I know what he's getting at, but he expressed it so poorly despite being an "essayist." He wishes to state that science's bid to end relativism on matters of fact leads to relativism on matters of values. Even though I consider myself somewhat of a moral relativist, this is still a non-sequitur and a silly argument.

  9. To John A. Davison,

    Come on. There is a list in an FAQ. Scroll down to section 5.

  10. gosh, Signorelli seems to simultaneously want to blame scientists for modernity and modernity for scientists. I think that means he really, really doesn't like us.