Dr. Steve William Fuller, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, took the stand yesterday to discuss historical and philosophical perspectives on scientific methodology. His testimony ranged from economic oppression to the self-perpetuating scientific elite to prejudice and discrimination. He proposed affirmative action plans in the science community and advocated the recruitment of young people.
Yes, I was in the right courtroom. I didn’t see any black berets or “Free Huey” buttons, but he was definitely talking about revolution.
According to Dr. Fuller, scientific methods are inherently discriminatory and designed to shut out alternative ideas. For example: peer review. The reviewers are rarely a representative group but a “self-perpetuating elite.” By evaluating a scientist’s track record and publications, the process discriminates against young scientists with new or unpopular ideas. Dr. Fuller said that these same scientists might also have unequal access to grant funding. He suggested that an affirmative action program for scientists with alternative ideas might be one way to address this economic bias.
But Dr. Fuller put the most emphasis on the innate tendency of scientific method itself to favor the most popular theory. He said that our current methods persuade scientists to move in a unified direction, eventually creating a small number of widely accepted ideas or paradigms that are only challenged when they begin to self-destruct. Dr. Fuller said that these paradigms in science are so strong that, in order for an unpopular or alternative idea to have a shot at validity, a scientific revolution must occur.
Scientific Revolution FAQ:
How does one start a scientific revolution?
To gain acceptance as a science is to change the definition of science. Dr. Fuller explained that the boundaries between science and non-science are constantly being negotiated and policed. In Dr. Fuller’s world, the words “a well substantiated explanation” should be stricken from the definition of scientific method and that instead we should think of science as “an explanatory conception of a range of phenomena” in order to validate newer, less established ideas.
Should we test it first?
Testability, while important to the growth of scientific theory, should not determine whether or not an idea is science. The gist of the story…ID is not currently testable but, according to Dr. Fuller, testability relates to the longevity of an idea and does not effect whether or not something is science. Regardless of testability, a new idea should still be presented to school children. ID is not testable, but Dr. Fuller specifically supports teaching it in classrooms because ID needs “new recruits.”
What’s the motivation? Religion?
When asked whether the ID movement has religious motives, Dr. Fuller replied that almost all science “has religious roots.” ID has changed over time and “doesn’t know its own history” but Dr. Fuller is clear that the ID mindset assumes a creator exists.
Yet, whether ID introduces a supernatural aspect or not is moot because the term supernatural refers both to things that are “above” observation (for example, God) but also to things that are “below” observation – like atoms.
In short, he agreed that the ID movement’s motive was religious and that it may be considered “supernatural” in so far as it is not currently testable. But according to Dr. Fuller, that doesn’t mean it’s not science.
Evolution does not inspire people to practice science. According to Dr. Fuller, belief in genetic mutation and natural selection has a tendency to make people just “sit around and wait to die” instead of questioning, studying and testing ideas. On the flip side, he said that cultures in which people believe they were “crafted in the image and likeness of God” have historically been more inquisitive and have developed a larger body of scientific knowledge than other cultures. He suggested that these people felt “like God” and therefore had the confidence to believe that they could figure out how life works.
Or, Personal Preference?
The final reason to challenge evolution: Dr. Fuller doesn’t like it. While Dr. Fuller agrees that, evolution is a better biological science than ID, he still “has a problem with it” just as he has a problem with any explanation that is not being sufficiently contested or opposed.
But, what is the biggest threat to any revolution?
Perhaps the biggest threat to a revolution is dissention in the ranks. Or in this case…dissention in the witness.
The latter part of the cross-examination, redirect, and rebuttal focused on clarifying what appeared to be major contradictions in Dr. Fuller’s testimony and deposition.
In deposition, Dr. Fuller said that the word “theory” in the Dover paragraph was used in a misleading way. On the stand, he explained that he was only sympathizing with the fact that those less familiar with the concepts might find it confusing.
Like…ninth graders, perhaps?
In deposition, Dr. Fuller made several direct correlations between ID and creationism, for example:
“It [ID] is a kind of creationism.”
“What we now call the Intelligent Designer used to be called the Creator.”
“Intelligent Design is a way of interpreting creationism.”
And my personal favorite: “Intelligent Design (aka Creationism).”
On the stand, Dr. Fuller explained that each of those quotes was either an attempt to provide a point of reference for those less familiar with the term ID or just “unfortunate” choices of wording.
At the closing of his testimony, Dr. Fuller questioned the plaintiff’s assertion that the ID movement is approximately 20-years old. When it was pointed out that the term ID appeared in Of Pandas and People in 1989, Dr. Fuller interrupted and emphatically disagreed with the logic.
“You don’t use a high school textbook to determine what science is,” he said.
Submitted by Janeya Hisle, Director of Administration and Finance, ACLU of PA