29
Jan 05

APPLYING OCCAM’S RAZOR

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 174 views

APPLYING OCCAM’S RAZOR — Part 2 of 2

(The first part of this post can be found at the Brown Wedge.)

While Martin Gardner’s book on Urantia’s crazy-quilt scheme of science (fiction) Christianity was a flawed mess, the impulse to review with suspicion attempts to square scientific conclusions and projections with previously held religious belief is to my mind something worth doing. Even a more popular journal like Discover is my idea of a good time rather than Hal Lindsey explaining why a shortfall in pork bellies is a sign Revelation is about to kick in. This isn’t to say that what constitutes ‘science’ itself, as well as the scientific method, can’t be reviewed with a gimlet eye in turn, but if it ever came down to Science vs. Social Text (all hail the wonderfuly crabby Alan Sokal) I’d take the former gladly.

Which is why I’ve been obliquely pleased by a few recent random posts over at a bastion of ‘right wing = right way’ thinking in the US at least, the National Review’s Corner blog. I am much more interested in reviewing these kind of blogs than most left-leaning ones because I figure knowing your enemy is always a good approach, and tracking their blend of wack-ass messianism (if you think W. is the messiah — and they do) and self-congratulation provides eyebrow raising and chuckles in turn. Every so often somebody over there decides to tweak the stereotype a bit, though, and that’s where ex-pat UK feller and Prime Obsession author John Derbyshire comes in — not that I want to be anywhere near the guy. On the score of gay-baiting alone, he’s a massive tool, while his flippant comments about the Abu Ghraib tortures and characters like Graner, who he said deserved only a 30-day sentence at most, got trashed even by the military readers of the column, who wrote in overwhelming amounts to say that Graner’s 10 year sentence was actually too short.

On at least one point, however, he’s been strongly on the side of science in the face of conservative fundamentalism, namely via his trashing of ‘intelligent design’ or ‘I.D.’ The idea is enjoyably simple, actually — given the continuing preponderance of evidence that the earth is millions of years old and genetic study and so forth, put God’s work in the mix of evolution to show that this best of all possible worlds was designed for us humans and that we ourselves were designed in turn to hold dominance over all, etc. William Jennings Bryan, however much he would have had to swallow hard initially, would have killed for this kind of talk back in the Scopes monkey trial days.

Derbyshire, however, regards this as a poor fig-leaf for ignorance and has no qualms about saying so. Most recently, he noted that he’s got a negative piece about I.D. folks like Michael Behe for NR subscribers while also inviting readers to consider another, essentially opposing piece from a former colleague, though an interesting one focusing more on a specific situation. Derbyshire’s response to some people e-mailing him about the latter article is priceless — in part:

Following my earlier post, some readers have e-mailed in arguing that David’s Opinion Journal piece demonstrates that there is a determination on the part of learned scientific journals to keep I.D. proponents out of their pages.

Well, I should certainly hope so! I hope they will also keep out of their pages proponents of the Flat Earth theory, the Hollow Earth theory, the phlogiston theory of combustion, the theory of the Four Body Humours, and the tooth fairy theory.

…Let me tell you, the world is teeming with lunatics armed with iron conviction and reams of theoretical justification for their crackpot notions. Scientists see themselves as working to expand a little clearing of light, of reason, in a vast chittering black jungle of superstition and madness. Is it any wonder they are defensive?

I could dryly note that the first part of that last paragraph could be applied to certain political and social conclusions Derbyshire himself holds — and I’ve just done. But regardless, this post is to be applauded — if Occam’s Razor seems a bit dull at points these days, some, in whole or in part, see its value.

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