Sunday, July 01, 2007

Science: Real (EO Wilson), and Bogus (Al Gore)

"With sociobiology prospering, Wilson has carried his research into the full arena of human knowledge, publishing the hugely ambitious Consilience in 1998, in which he developed his ideas about gene-culture co-evolution further and resurrected CP Snow's efforts to conjoin the "two cultures". In fact, Wilson's arguments are more fundamental and persuasive than Snow's; works on evolution, like Sociobiology and Dawkins's The Selfish Gene, have been absorbed into western cultural life as neatly as any neo-Darwinist could have predicted.

"He is," says Ian McEwan, "a scientific materialist who warmly embraces the diversity of human achievement - including religion and art, which he sees in evolutionary terms. One of his tasks has been to further the Enlightenment project of absorbing the social sciences into science proper; another has been to find a sound ethical basis for ecological thinking. He is fundamentally a rational optimist who shows us the beauty of the narrative of life on earth. He is living proof that materialism need not be a bleak world view.""


I read Wilson’s Consilience a few years ago and was somewhat impressed, though he may over-simplify a few issues (in regards to ethics and the biological evidence for species-altruism, for one). While he offers quite a bit of support for his socio-biological ideas, he, like his colleague Dawkins (tho' Doc Dawkins a bit more strident in tone than EO), tends to a sort of reductionism which might irritate some political or ethically-oriented writers--(and few liberal hacks shrieking 24/7 about what they take to be "ethics" have troubled with Hume on the fact-value distinction, or Bentham 101, or the cliffsnotes to Plato's Republic for that matter). Most philosophical types who I am acquainted with who bothered to read Consilience objected to it, but they are rarely able to formulate their objections. Many philosophers tend to be sort of Kantian, if not theists, more often than they are materialists; thus, Darwin, if not biology as a whole, is taken to be wrong-- or at least questionable--owing to its materialist, deterministic grounds. Or they are Humean sorts of skeptics and subjectivists, and while generally supportive of the methods and ends of the physical sciences, they often point out the contingent and provisional nature of much inductive research, even that of biology and medicine.

We here at Contingencies, however, contend there are no good grounds for upholding Kantian idealism (or theology for that matter), nor for immaterial conceptions of mind, nor for the more extreme forms of Humean skepticism (--tho' in many situations, doubts about causality or any absolute inductive knowledge ARE more than warranted, as in the "social sciences"). And obviously Darwinian accounts of evolution and natural selection as well as Mendelian genetics and many other modern biological concepts have been established. Thus the burden rests on idealists to disprove Darwin, if not materialism, which they have failed to do; the Intelligent Design argument, however subtle and complex, being the latest theological fiasco--tho' the IDT people (who are NOT the same as the fundies or biblethumpers who have made use of IDT) raised one valid point-- Darwinism still has not provided a complete account of evolution: Father Darwin was no biochemist, for one. Yet there is a sort of naive Darwinian leftist, nearly as pernicious as the fundamentalist or dogmatic xtian (or muslim, jew etc.), who quotes Darwin and then some marxist-multiculturalist BS --or, Osiris forbid, Al Gore--as if they were equivalent. Hah. Darwinism does not offer any comforting assurances or utopian ideology for the liberal--or conservative--do-gooder.

and now for something completely different from Big Al:

"The climate crisis offers us the chance to experience what few generations in history have had the privilege of experiencing: a generational mission; a compelling moral purpose; a shared cause; and the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside the pettiness and conflict of politics and to embrace a genuine moral and spiritual challenge."

SO much for unbiased research, data-gathering, and the sound biological science that Wilson practices. By what means were the problems associated with biodiversity, justifying altruism, sustainability, global warming (and the big issue of proving "anthropic" cause---some evidence suggests global warming and ozone depletion are natural phenomena) converted into a "generational mission," a "moral purpose" or "spiritual challenge"? Maybe they became so in Gore's mystical vision of the protestant-buddhist Verde. Big Al unlikely knows nitrogen oxide from nirvana, but that doesn't stop the Gore-Bot liberal nurseys from worshipping him. Cactus Ed Abbey would hisself have had a effective solution for the pathetic phucks who take Gore to be some scientist---or philosopher: pocka pocka pocka.

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