Thursday, October 06, 2005

Evolution, schmevolution

This New York Times article takes on the creation/evolution debate by way of the Grand Canyon--specifically, the creationist rafting trips that one can take down the Colorado river. This quote is absolutely priceless:

"Diana Panes began questioning evolution, which she had studied in school like most everyone else, seven years ago when [her ten-year-old son] Andrew came home from school asking whether Genesis was fable or history, and about dinosaurs dating back millions of years. "I was gobsmacked," Mrs. Panes recalled. So she started reading, attending lectures, watching creationist videos. "I don't want to believe in fairy tales. I'm interested in truth," Mrs. Panes said."

So how did she answer those questions?

There is one philosophical point that I would like to make. Different thinkers (among them Hilary Putnam and Karl Popper) have pointed out different criteria for good science. One criterion on everyone's list is always coherence--that our beliefs should not contradict each other. Coherence has even been been made into a theory of truth, albeit a deflationist one, by relativists like hans who have given up on absolute truth. Since there can be no such thing as correspondence of beliefs with reality, the coherentists say, the best we can hope for is to generate as many beliefs as possible that don't contradict one other. We can't test them against something else, something external, so as we pick them up we just see if they fit.

The point that I want to make is that despite the fact that (1) we should aim for coherence, that (2) we often do aim for coherence, and that (3) coherence is an end of science, coherence has still never stopped anyone dead in their tracks. Nothing in your mind short circuits when you're presented with a belief that contradicts another of your beliefs--you have several options at this point, and there's no algorithm that tells you what to do. So, this is to say that even if a creationist's belief system is incoherent AS WELL AS in opposition to established science, there is still nothing that forces them to change their minds. They will only change their minds when...they decide to.


At 5:35 PM, Blogger RedHurt said...

What's so priceless about that quote?

Nice work on coherence. I believe that everyone one except only the most brainy of philosophers are really in the "correspondance camp." They believe what fits their sensory experience of the world. We might agree that this experience could be flawed, but at the end of the day we don't stop to wonder if our eyes are deceiving us when they advise we step out of the way of oncoming traffic or side step a hole. Jordan Cheney made a great point at homecoming - he said that 20th century philosophy was amazingly beautiful and generally useless, and I think things like non-correspndance theories of epistemology tend to fall into this camp.

At 8:38 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

It's priceless because she said:

"I don't want to believe in fairy tales. I'm interested in truth," Mrs. Panes said.

Who DOES want to believe in fairy tales and ISN'T interested in the truth? My point was that those two statements do not distinguish her from the rest of us. Plus, gobsmacked is a funny word. Look, that punnard's carrying a gobsmacked hackenstar!

Yeah, I think I'm back in the quasi-realist camp with Simon Blackburn, Hilary Putnam et al.

Re: useless philosophy: I don't know. I'd make two points to respond to that. One, lots of 20th century philosophers (William James, Charles Peirce, Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein, Alfred Whitehead, Karl Popper, to name just 6) contributed to other disciplines, like logic, math, physics, sociology, psychology. Two, is poetry useless? Because that's what Continental philosophers are--poets.

At 10:14 AM, Blogger RedHurt said...

I see and grant you your pricelessness.

I see philosophy as different from poetry in the respect that philosophy has the potential to be more useful than it is, and often is assumed to be (perhaps incorrectly?) If philosophy were more seen as a discipline of reason for reasons sake, and less as the foundation of other disciplines (sociology, art, even science), I wouldn't complain. Poetry rarely has the ability to guide and direct culture the way philosophy is alleged to. I don't know - I feel like I'm waiting for j. morgan to drop a 200 pound cannon on my head with this one.

At 11:27 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

I'll leave "Poetry rarely has the ability to guide and direct culture the way philosophy is alleged to" to j. morgan.

As far as "philosophy has the potential to be more useful than it is," I think you need to remember that analytic philosophy is a serious discipline that, as I said, has helped to further math, logic and physics. There is some good contemporary analytic philosophy happening as well. For philosophy that IS reaching its potential, you should check out Daniel Dennett, Hilary Putnam, and Thomas Nagel.

I don't see philosophy as the foundation of anything.

At 9:49 PM, Blogger Jackscolon said...

philosophy schmosophy... I'm durnk... go ahead and elete this...

At 5:25 PM, Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

Woo! Didn't see this post and the coherantist jab! Nice quote though.
Continental Philosophy all poetry? Tell that to Nietzsche! Also, I think poetry is probably the best way to explain reality, judgment by beauty according to Kant, right?
Secondly, analytic philosophy is a bunch of bean counting. "Let's reduce every statement to a tautology!" Sounds great! Let me try: Eagles are birds? Yes! Sweet predication! What about "whales are mammals." Awesome! More truth! Come on. Stop the atomizing nonsense and step into the beauty of the infinite.


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