Philip Kitcher and I discuss “scientism”

Philip Kitcher is the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University in New York, specializing in the history of science. He also holds a chair in Contemporary Civilization and teaches courses on James Joyce. Philip is a past president of the American Philosophical Association and was the first recipient of its Prometheus Prize for achievements in the philosophy of science.  Along with Dan Dennett, he’s one of the two philosophers of science I find consistently cogent, readable, and thought-provoking.

In a recent issue of The New Republic (TNR), Philip wrote a critique of scientists’ unwarranted denigration of the humanities and unjustified extension into that sphere: “The trouble with scientism: why history and the humanities are also a form of knowledge.I posted some criticisms of that piece on this site, and there ensued an email exchange between us.  We realized that while we agree on most things, there were still a few points to iron out.  Philip then sent me the following mini-essay with permission to post it here. My own response follows his.



Philip Kitcher

My essay, “The Trouble with Scientism”, has aroused a number of responses. It has made me some unlikely allies, and, at the same time, has apparently frustrated some people whom I take to be my intellectual kin.  So perhaps it is worth explaining just what I said and what I didn’t say.

One of the things I didn’t mention was religion.  Oddly, though, some of my readers have supposed that, in defending the humanities and the arts, I was making a space for “special ways of knowing”, hence, perhaps, for special ways of religious knowing.  This is puzzling: why should anyone think that the areas of human inquiry whose virtues I sing are routes to knowledge of gods, spirits, or any other sort of transcendent realm?    It is not as though my writings have been entirely silent about the supernatural.  The last chapter of Living with Darwin argues that areas of the humanities and social sciences (whose contributions “The Trouble with Scientism” champions) play an important role in debunking the thought that any of the world’s religions provides knowledge of any supernatural being.  I do hold open the possibility that future inquiry might eventually disclose something we might recognize as “transcendent” – I don’t think it likely, but inquiry has surprised us before – although allowing that is consistent with my certainty that no extant religion tells us anything about the subject.  Unlike some contemporary atheists, I recognize the contributions of those religions that are not primarily doctrinal, but founded in commitment to important values (see my essays “Challenges for Secularism” and “Militant Modern Atheism”).  Nothing in my defense of the humanities contradicts any of these positions, nor, for that matter, supports them further.

I also didn’t mention any particular targets – and this has induced the thought that I am attacking a straw man.    In fact, scientism is alive and well and living all over the place (talk to any random sample of scientists or readers of science books for a general audience, and you’ll find some champions of the positions “The Trouble with Scientism” attributes).  But perhaps it’s easier to name names.    Despite my enormous admiration for E.O. Wilson as an advocate of sane conservation policies, and especially as the premier scholar of all time on the social insects, his writings, from Sociobiology on frequently defend scientism.    Similarly, a philosopher I greatly like and respect, Alex Rosenberg, has devoted a recent book (The Atheist’s Guide to Reality) to an explicit defense of scientism.

My intellectual ally Jerry Coyne develops a related objection. Allegedly my defense of humanities and the social sciences succeeds, to the extent it does, because the areas I point to deploy “the scientific method”. (People like Rosenberg and Wilson probably disagree: they think these areas would be radically improved if they got scientific.)    Much depends on what Jerry thinks this problematic phrase means. One possibility is to say that the method involves using uncontroversial human capacities: perception, memory, inference.   f that’s the view, the notion of “science” is so thin that the declaration that “science” is the only way of knowing is trivial – surely all human knowledge is obtained by using the capacities human beings have, and Coyne and I agree on the list.  A slightly more ambitious view is that the scientific method consists in framing hypotheses and testing them against evidence.  Depending on your ideas about what a hypothesis is, and what counts as evidence, you could see historians, anthropologists, and even dramatists, painters, and composers as doing this. My view is that, if you stretch the notion of hypothesis-testing in this way, the thesis again becomes trivial. If you don’t, you debar important modes of human knowledge.

During the past few decades the detailed study of different areas of natural science has convinced historians and philosophers of science that any common “method” is extremely thin.  The methodology practitioners acquire is very different in particle physics or genetics or earth science or psychology.   If you add cultural anthropology, social history, econometrics and creative writing to the mix, the idea of some shared “method” (one discovered in the seventeenth century??) is strained indeed. Introducing some allegedly universal “scientific method” that covers all respectable inquiry is simply a way of muddying the issues.

Jerry also overlooks a major contribution to knowledge furnished by the social sciences, the humanities and the arts.   Knowledge is sometimes advanced not by arriving at some new true statement, but by reframing concepts.   As my essay argues, particular kinds of history and anthropology are very good at generating this sort of cognitive advance (besides the people I mention, think of Levi-Strauss, Clifford Geertz, Natalie Zemon Davis, and Carlo Ginzburg). The same can be said for poetry, drama, fiction, visual art, and music. The great artists teach us to see the world differently, to divide it up in new ways.  That sometimes has profound consequences for our ways of living (witness my opening example) – and it sometimes affects the ways in which the sciences are practiced.

Perhaps in 2012, it’s worth ending with a recommendation, especially for those associated with the University of Chicago. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of a book that celebrated the role of history to change images, a book that also argued for the importance of reconceptualization and recategorization (sometimes stimulated by the arts, humanities, and social sciences) at moments of large scientific change. Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions is both a sensitive discussion of the achievements of the sciences, and a powerful antidote to the oversimplifications that fuel scientism.  Its lessons have, apparently, still not been thoroughly learned.



Let me first apologize if I gave the impression that Philip was, by critiquing scientism, somehow promoting religion as an alternate “way of knowing.” Philip makes clear in his essay that he doesn’t believe that, and has always pointed out the deficiencies of faith in that respect. He is, I think, an unbeliever himself.  The reason I went after religion in my original piece was not to criticize Philip, but because the “scientism” card is played much more often by religious people than by philosophers or scholars in the humanities.  Nearly all of the attacks on scientism I have seen have one intent: by showing that science has its limits, and grapples with questions inappropriate to the discipline—the so-called “why” questions—this validates the idea that there is another way of answering those questions. That way is, of course, religion.  But religion never has and never will answer those “why” questions, because there’s no way of checking whether any answer is correct.  But that is my bete noire, not Philip’s.

So let us take up the areas where, according to Philip, scientism truly does reign: in the attitude of scientists toward the social sciences and the humanities—especially the arts.  He gives some names of those who are guilty of this practice: Alex Rosenberg and Ed Wilson. While I agree with Philip about Wilson, who once said that evolutionary biology would ingest all of the humanities, I also tend to agree with most of what Alex says.  He states his views strongly and forcefully, and when you do that about things like free will you’re bound to suffer. But I don’t find Rosenberg’s writings invidious, nor do I see him as completely dismissing the value of the humanities. (It’s been a while since I read his latest book,The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, so I may have forgotten).  But in my experience (granted, this is anecdotal), many scientists do recognize the value of the humanities, and certainly appreciate the endeavors of historians, Biblical scholars, and archaeologists. In general, I find scientists are more conversant about art, music, and literature than most humanities scholars are about science. And many scientists love the arts; it should be obvious from this website that I am among them.

Further, I don’t see, as apparently Philip does, a wholesale drive on the part of scientists to wrest money from the already-impoverished humanities.  But then Philip and I have had different experiences.

And I agree with Philip that yes, some spheres of the humanities, namely the social sciences, do give us a way to find knowledge.  They do it by using the same techniques as do “real” scientists: observation, experimentation, testing of hypothesis and predictions, rational inquiry, and doubt. In fact, I have long called things like social science, history, Biblical scholarship (as opposed to theology), and archaeology “science broadly conceived.” In fact, I have said that even things like car mechanics and plumbing could be considered forms of science, for when fixing electrical problems or finding leaks, mechanics and plumbers use scientific inquiry.

Philip objects to my extension of science, saying:

One possibility is to say that the method involves using uncontroversial human capacities: perception, memory, inference.  If that’s the view, the notion of “science” is so thin that the declaration that “science” is the only way of knowing is trivial – surely all human knowledge is obtained by using the capacities human beings have, and Coyne and I agree on the list.

Well, I’m happy to reframe things like archaeology, history, and detection of leaks as “the use of secular reason,” and reserve the label “science” for “things done by scientists.” It doesn’t matter to me.  What is important is to draw a distinction between those ways of knowing that employ secular reason and the tools of science (the ones I’ve listed) and those “ways of knowing” that rely only on revelation, dogma and authority—i.e., superstition and religion.  It’s important to realize that religious people often claim that their methods are also ways of knowing, providing a portion of “all human knowledge” via “the capacities human beings have.”  In that sense, Philip is wrongly implying that I include religion as a form of “science.” After all, revelation involves perception, memory, and inference, too.

Here are a few quotes showing that theologians and believers really do think that religion can uncover objective truths about nature—often in the same way as science:

“The second mistake is about religion. The question of truth is as central to its concern as it is in science. Religious belief can guide one in life or strengthen one at the approach of death, but unless it is actually true it can do neither of these things and so would amount to no more than an illusionary exercise in comforting fantasy. . . .”

“Both science and religion are part of the great human quest for truthful understanding. . . . The claim will be that both are seeking truth through the attainment of well-motivated beliefs.” —two above quotes from John Polkinghorne

“On the contrary, religion is about the deepest of all realities. . . religion, to anyone who takes it seriously, is about what is Most Real.” –John Haught

“Both [science and theology] continue in the quest for truth.  Both continue to make claims and argue for them. A kind of alliance of stubborn truth-seeking is formed here.”   —Anna Case-Winters

“Just as scientific instruments are tested before being used in a laboratory, this ‘instrument’ for detecting the presence and activity of the Spirit of God might be validated for future first-order research on spiritual subjects.  Thus we could have scientific evidence for the reliability of religious experience.”—Nancey Murphey

It’s important, then, to realize that the faithful, both regular believers and theologians, often claim that faith is indeed a way of knowing—and one comparable to science. But their methods differ from those of historians, philosophers, archaeologists, and scientists. The “methods” of faith are not reliable ways to gain knowledge.

But I digress.  Like me, Philip doesn’t define science in either of his pieces. It’s hard for me to do that, since I see science as essentially continuous with things like history and archaeology.  I see science not as an area of inquiry that depends on a prescribed “scientific method”: as Philip and others note, there is no one “scientific method.” Science can proceed via induction or deduction, experiment or observation, or any manner of rational inquiry that produces reliable (i.e. generally verifiable and reproducible) knowledge. I prefer to think of science as an attitude rather than a method: a respect for the truth about nature and a determination to wrest that truth from obscurity by using methods that, according to most rational people, reveal what’s out there.

Philip makes much of the different ways that different sciences approach “truth.”  I agree that there is such diversity, but it means little to me so long as those methods respect honest inquiry, doubt, and the susceptibility of provisional “truths” to replication by independent observers. I don’t see what that has to do with scientism.

I want to make just two other points. First, Philip complained to me, in our email exchange, that I had neglected his emphasis on the value of the humanities in “formulating concepts”—presumably scientific ones.  As he said, concepts and hypotheses do not originate de novo, but always in a social milieu. And perhaps some of those concepts were helped along by things like the arts (Philip mentions “poetry, drama, fiction, visual art” and music”).  Sadly, he doesn’t provide a single scientific concept that was formulated with the inspiration of the arts, but I’m prepared to believe that they could be, at least in principle.  Suppose Kekulé had hit on the structure of the benzene ring by looking at a painting of a ring of monkeys holding onto each other’s tails, instead of, as the story goes, seeing that image in a dream. Then yes, the arts would have helped with concept formation.  Or suppose that Darwin, inspired by the beauty of the landscape during his famous carriage ride, came up with his “principle of divergence” (I’m making that up). Then science would again have been promoted by non-scientific ruminations.

But so what?  Those ruminations must still be tested by empirical observation, reason, and experiment.  “Concept formation” is not a way of knowing, but a way of stimulating the confection of hypotheses. Those hypotheses become knowledge only when one applies the methods of science or secular reason.

In the opening example of his TNR essay, Philip uses the bombing of Dresden as an example of how the humanities (moral philosophy) lead to some kind of “knowledge.”  But, I submit, realizing that bombing Dresden was immoral is not knowledge in any scientific sense (or even the car-mechanic sense), but a subjective judgment. Sam Harris nonwithstanding, I don’t think there’s any such thing as an objective morality: there are only things that conform to a morality that rests on subjective values (in Sam’s case, it is good to maximize well being). So no, it was not objectively immoral to bomb Dresden: it was immoral if you accept the premise—as nearly all of us do—that it is usually wrong to inflict unnecessary death and injury on innocent civilians in wartime (there is still the question of the inevitable and unplanned collateral damage that occurs in any war). Morality is not the same thing as the knowledge that science produces, though science can of course inform morality (e.g., finding out when fetuses appear to be sentient), and philosophy can help us arrive at sound moral conclusions (e.g., morality cannot come from God unless you believe that anything God deems as moral, however repugnant, is moral).

So I don’t see the humanities as of tremendous value in the formation of concepts that lead to real “knowledge,” though they could in principle inspire concepts. It would help if Philip had provided more examples.

Second, what about the arts: music, literature, and painting?  Do those provide “knowledge”? As I’ve said before, they can inspire the acquisition of knowledge, but I don’t see them as ways of knowing in themselves.  The arts are ways of communicating feelings between people, of affirming our common humanity, of making us see things in different ways.  But nobody has satisfied me that the arts actually provide real truths about the world in ways that don’t need verification by empirical observation. This argument has gone on and on, and some will disagree. Some, like Nick Matzke, think that the arts contain “truth” (his example is Handel’s Messiah). Well, perhaps the arts can convey truth that was already known by secular reason, but I’m not yet convinced that they themselves are ways of finding out anything.

In the end, I’m not sure how serious the charge of “scientism” really is. Philip gives few examples, either in his TNR piece or the essay above.  Yes, some scientists occasionally overreach, claiming that, for instance, human social interactions will one day be reducible to molecular motions (they must certainly be consistent with molecular motions, but of course also demand methods of inquiry distinct from those of physics). But my experience is that few scientists are guilty of this. Nor do I see pervasive dismissal of the humanities by scientists, and I certainly don’t hear scientists constantly denigrating archaeology, Biblical scholarship, or history.

I’d prefer to see the word “scientism” quietly shelved, replaced by more specific charges like “scientists sometimes overreach themselves” or “scientists denigrate the value of literature.” Those, at least, are charges that can be documented and discussed using evidence.  The general charge of “scientism,” slippery of definition, can’t be.  And worst of all, that charge is leveled most often by religious people, whose own methods of knowing are wholly incapable of conveying truth. But that is my issue, not Philip’s.


  1. Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that Philip Kitcher and Jerry Coyne are close to agreement on the essentials. As I see it, the realm of human knowledge is a uniform sphere without arbitrary demarcation zones. Methods of evaluating evidence and checking whether you are right apply everywhere, and there aren’t rigid boundaries where rules of evidence and reason stop applying if you cross them (though there might be differences of emphasis, style and practicality in different areas of knowledge).

    This view of knowledge as a unified whole contrasts with and rejects the idea of NOMA or “other ways of knowing”, as commonly touted by the religious.

    “Scientism” can be taken as the claim that there is only one way of knowing (namely, use evidence and reason, and try to check whether you are deluding yourself), but under that meaning it is not in any sense a denigration of the humanities or the social sciences, which are fully part of the unified whole.

    A much narrow form of “scientism”, rejecting history and the humanities as telling you anything, and insisting that knowledge can only come from a university science faculty, is essentially a strawman (I’ve not seen anyone serious defend it, though I have seen plenty of people attacking that version).

    • Posted May 30, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      Someone who seriously defends narrow scientism as you define it is Alex Rosenberg, see #13 below.

      • Posted May 30, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

        It’s interesting that the person cited as the most guilty of scientism is actually a philosopher.

        • Tyle Stelzig
          Posted May 30, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Permalink


  2. Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    Our view of non-evidence based knowledge is the following:
    – What are called other ways of knowing are merely experiences that are solipsistic and generate positive emotions — usually warm fuzzy emotions.
    – This is a personal and physiological response
    – It is shared verbally with others and is generalizable and accepted by others as similar — this is a rhetorical exercise and is metaphorical.
    – These feelings are unpredictive and unreliably correlated with future behaviors.
    – This “knowledge” is trivial, narrowly locally culturally and current language bound

    If anything, such knowledge is only of one’s own physiological/emotional responses. If a “truth” — it is highly idiosyncratic.

    The basis of science is that individual feelings are pretty much useless for predicting anything — even future feelings. Warm fuzzy feelings are the worst.

    So the defensive reaction that generates the false scientism charge is a response to the belief that “Your saying my feelings don’t matter!!! Waaaa…”

    Well, in fact they don’t.

    • Brent Meeker
      Posted May 30, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      I don’t think they engaged the important point. They argued about ways of knowing and ‘truth’. But the criticism implicit in ‘scientism’ is that science denigrates or simply ignores feeling. Great art is great because it stirs emotions, not because it has some ‘truth’. Comment #2 above summarizes this by showing why science neglects feelings (they’re anecdotal, personal, irreproducible…), but then goes on to say ‘they don’t matter’. But in fact nothing else matters. Truth and knowledge are instrumental goods. Feelings have fundamental value.

      Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.
      — David Hume

      • Posted May 30, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

        Feelings are trivial in terms of behavior and predictability – likely.

        However, in a consumer culture, in the richest country in the world and history of the wold, they are elevated to scared status because we can afford to delude ourselves such and saying individual feelings are everything is the best ideology to sell people stuff they don’t need. Ho hum.

        Generally, feelings are little more than stomach upset.

        • Michael
          Posted May 31, 2012 at 4:35 am | Permalink

          There speaks a true human being.

  3. Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    My only comment here is that I think you are being a little too narrow on your focus of religion as the only attempt to trump up the scientism charge to falsely legitimize “other ways of knowing”. Alternative medicine, astrology, magical thinking of all kinds… The elevation of intuitive thinking above a hypothesis-generating device and useful cognitive shortcut, to a means of knowing in itself that doesn’t require external validation… This is everywhere.

    If Kitcher has a blind spot, it’s the fact that while he’s right everyone agrees that “perception, memory, [and] inference” are useful ways of finding things out, many people think there are all sorts of other useful ways of finding things out.

  4. Myron
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    As for the concept of truth in art, see:

    * Zemach, Eddy M. “Truth in Art.” In A Companion to Aesthetics, 2nd ed., edited by Stephen Davies, Kathleen Marie Higgins, Robert Hopkins, Robert Stecker, and David E. Cooper, 578-580. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

  5. Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Even if a work of art inspires a hypothesis, that doesn’t mean art is a “way of knowing.” That the work of art got someone’s juices going is completely accidental. The increase of knowledge occurs with the testing of the hypothesis.

    And Matzke’s dichotomy is a false one. As a musician, I’d have no idea what to say in response to the question “what truth is contained in Händel’s Messiah?” But that doesn’t mean I must conclude that it’s crap – because it has a religious text. In fact, Nick, much of the music in the oratorio was culled from previously written, purely instrumental music Händel had written.

    Art, artifice, artificial, etc. Art is stuff we create. Stuff we make up! There are things to be known about art, sure, but the only way to answer the question above about the “truth” of a piece of music would be to make something up, a la theology.

    • Kevin
      Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      Little known fact: The Messiah was developed by Handel as a way to get around the ban on nonreligious musical performances during Lent.

      It was a way for Handel to continue to earn money for 40 days out of the year.

      I enjoy singing it — big major chords and all the rest. It’s fun. But that’s not “truth”.

      • Posted May 30, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

        Yes. This doesn’t specifically pertain to claims simply about “truth” in art, but I often wish people who claim art as evidence of something transcendental, that such magnificent beauty couldn’t result only from completely material human brains existing in a completely material universe, knew more about the lowly and very worldly circumstances surrounding the creation of much of that magnificent beauty.

        Getting back to Matzke’s claim, how could art serve as a method for discerning and verifying facts about the world? The claim that art contains truth is bizarre and meaningless. Not even the claimants know what they mean by it. What they’re really saying is that art can have profound effects on consumers.

        It makes no sense to ask “what truth is contained in this music?”

        The questions we want to ask are “what is it about this music that affects the listener?” and “what is it about our sense organs that respond to certain phenomena in certain ways?” etc.

        But to answer those questions you’ll need good old science.

        • Posted May 30, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink



      • Michael
        Posted May 31, 2012 at 4:47 am | Permalink

        Evidence for this “little known fact”?

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted May 30, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      You seem to discount the possibility that art itself can be a form of hypothesis testing. Many works of art are conceived as a kind of social experiment intended to provoke certain reactions. To the extent that they succeed, the artist’s hypothesis is validated, and yields real knowledge about people’s aesthetic sensibilities.

      Granted, there’s less rigor in this approach than you’d typically find in a psychology lab or formal sociological study, and the knowledge gained is correspondingly tentative. But it’s a matter of degree, not a difference in kind.

      • Posted May 30, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        OK. A few things to say about this:

        In such instances, why wouldn’t we describe what the artist is doing as science, especially considering Jerry’s broad definition which I think is the most useful and appropriate definition?

        As you say, such experiments are not rigorous (for instance, not positing a hypothesis about a specific reaction to specific stimuli, but only aiming for but some kind of reaction in general), but that doesn’t mean they’re not science; just that they’re bad science.

        Also, if you ask me, we run into problems with the definition of art. Does something that relies so heavily for its content on a consumer’s reaction qualify as art? I’m not so sure it does. The thing about completely notated music is that there is objective content, created by the composer independently of any consumers. John Cage’s (in)famous 4′ 33′ is not art, not music, by this standard.

        • Posted May 30, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          Please excuse my errant “but”, and in the last para, the confusing sentence is referring to art, the content of which relies heavily (sometimes exclusively) on a consumer’s reaction.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted May 30, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

          Maybe we should describe such artistic experiments as science by Jerry’s definition. But I don’t see why that precludes them from also being art.

          In other words, I’m not claiming that art is a separate way of knowing distinct from science (broadly conceived). I’m just disputing the idea frequently expressed in these threads that art is not a way of knowing at all, that it is incapable of generating new insights, but can only regurgitate insights already gained by other means.

          • Posted May 30, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

            Art always supports the accepted wisdom and status quo, by definition. It is always tied to wealth. It always plays to pop culture sensibilities of the moment — to make money.

            Heck, the very bloody warlords of the Renaissance Italy invented it as a way to brag.

            The truth of art is that money bullies everyone else.

            • Tim Harris
              Posted May 30, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

              Ask, say, Franz Schubert art or Edward Thomas about the support they got and the money they made from their respective arts. Ask, say, John Milton or Paul Celan or Paul Cezanne about the support they gave to the ‘pop culture sensibilities of the moment’. Ask, say, Christopher Marlowe or Peter Huchel about all the support they gave to ‘accepted wisdom’.

          • Posted May 30, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

            But insofar as the art is a way of knowing, it is also science.

            So no, “just art” is not a way of knowing.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

              OK, but it seems to me all you’ve done then is to define “just art” as that subset of art that doesn’t teach us anything. It’s not clear to me why this is a useful way to define art.

              • Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

                The point I’m trying to make is that where art does do something like verify a hypothesis, it is because of its scienciness, not its artiness.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

                Right, and when history does something like verify a hypothesis, it’s because of its scienciness. My point is that there are elements of scienciness in all of these endeavors, and art is no exception — although some people would like it to be.

              • Posted May 30, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

                “History is written by the winners.” It’s all ideology of the moment and usually wrong. Look at WWII history — way off base, it turns out after the records behind the Iron Curtain are translated.

            • Posted May 31, 2012 at 12:27 am | Permalink

              But what can art be a way of knowing about?

              It seems to me that art is only a way of knowing (in the fact-truth sense) about art itself. Ars gratia artis.


              • Posted May 31, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

                I would tend to agree with you. It was an Eddington concession. For the sake of argument, let’s grant that art is a way of knowing. Even if that’s true, it’s because if its scienciness etc…

                But I’m having trouble thinking of examples of art that reveal and vet (that’s the importantpart) previouslyunknown facts about the world.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted May 31, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

                Art is a way of knowing about ourselves. The facts it reveals are facts about human psychology and aesthetics, which (unless you’re a dualist) certainly ought to count as facts about the world.

                Whether these facts are previously unknown depends, I suppose, on how original the art is, although there’s a sense in which every artwork reveals a previously unknown (but perhaps trivial) fact: namely, the reaction of audiences to that particular work.

              • Posted May 31, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

                Nope, “The facts it reveals are facts about human psychology and aesthetics” — these are well studied by the neurocognition of aesthetics – in human and other animals.

                If art is such a useful and vital way of knowing facts about the world ,ie survival value, why don’t other species have it?

              • gbjames
                Posted May 31, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

                @Gregory: What fact about one’s self, other than the trivial one you mention, does art inform you of? When I listen to Verdi’s Requiem, and marvel at it’s beauty, what fact have I discovered other than that I love it?

                I can’t think of any. If I study it, and read history about it, I can learn about Verdi and his life and times. I can learn about how he came to write it. But what fact does the music itself provide me?

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted May 31, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

                I’m not claiming that there are facts encoded in Verdi’s Requiem that you can discover simply by listening to it.

                My claim is that there are facts worth knowing about human psychology that cannot be discovered except by studying art and people’s reactions to it. The fact that art elicits certain reactions (such as your love for Verdi) tells us something about human nature. These are insights that cannot be gained without art. Therefore, art is instrumental in discovering these facts.

                Now I admit I’m hard-pressed to come up with a concrete example of such a fact off the top of my head. I’m neither a psychologist nor an aesthetic theorist. But I’m certainly not going to rule out the possibility that such facts may exist and be worth knowing.

              • Posted May 31, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

                Well then, let’s not rule out knowledge from the tooth fairy — also a very emotionally compelling idea/experience.

              • gbjames
                Posted May 31, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

                Well, OK. What you are saying is that Psychology is a way to learn about how the human brain works and that one place to observe it working is when it is experiencing art. That’s fine, but miles away from art being a “way of knowing” anything. Viewing the Mona Lisa is no more a “way of knowing” about humans than driving a car is. Or hitting a golf ball. Or anything else humans might happen to do. A “way of knowing” has to be some process; some technique that results in information about stuff in the real world.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted May 31, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

                “Way of knowing” is not a phrase I’m particularly attached to. I’d call it a way of finding stuff out, a way of eliciting data about the world that you then have to think about and interpret — just as you do with experimental data obtained by more conventional means. If laboratory experimentation can be (part of) a “way of knowing”, then so can social experimentation in the form of art.

              • Posted May 31, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

                Gregory Kusnick says,

                My claim is that there are facts worth knowing about human psychology that cannot be discovered except by studying art and people’s reactions to it.

                Psychologists are fond of studying criminals and criminal behavior for the same reason.

                They also study all sorts of people with mental problems.

                Isn’t it odd that crime and insanity aren’t usually thought of as valuable ways of knowing?

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted May 31, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

                The difference is that criminals don’t(usually) commit crimes as part of a program of psychological inquiry.

                Art, in contrast, is frequently a deliberate exercise in psychological discovery (although the artists themselves might not put it in quite those terms). If an artist creates a work with the specific intention of learning something about himself or his audience, and does in fact learn something in the process, it seems perverse to say the art was not a route to knowledge.

              • Posted May 31, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                Idealizing anything is a projection of emotional needs — not met.

                Artists just make stuff and if enough people buy it — it’s called art.

              • Posted May 31, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

                @ Gregory

                “I’m neither a psychologist nor an aesthetic theorist.”

                You’re kind of hoist by your own petard, there!

                If art qua art truly was a way of knowing, you should’ve said, “I’m not an artist”!

                But what you did say reveals that it is psychology or (perhaps) aesthetics (or cultural anthropology or …) that are legitimate ways of knowing how people and society react to art, not art itself.

                Art for art’s sake / Science* for knowledge’s sake (ŵ apologies to 10cc).


                * broadly conceived

      • gr8hands
        Posted May 30, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        No. You can only ask about reactions, but you don’t know if someone is repulsed because of the social commentary, because of the overuse of the color red, or because they ate crappy Thai food that is making them feel like barfing.

        The people themselves won’t know the answer to that question.

        It isn’t a matter of degree at all. It is sophistry to suggest that art is conveying anything at all. You would have validity if you could get two art critics to agree on what the art is conveying. Or the same critic to give the same response to the same piece of art at two different times set apart by a year. It won’t happen.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted May 30, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

          When Marc Hauser tells people stories about trolley accidents in order to gauge their reactions, the subjects may not have the faintest idea why they react the way they do. But that doesn’t prevent Hauser from inferring true facts about our moral instincts from those reactions. The point of the stories is not to convey information; it’s to elicit information from the subjects (even if the subjects themselves are unaware of having such information).

          I don’t see how art is any different in principle from Hauser’s trolley parables. Whether any two critics have the same reaction is irrelevant; they’re both data points in the spectrum of elicited reactions.

          And for what it’s worth, your claim that critics will never agree is easily falsified by sites like Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic where you can routinely find critics in vehement agreement.

          • gr8hands
            Posted May 31, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

            Sorry, Gregory Kusnick, but Hauser’s inferences may be totally off the mark. The reaction might be to the fragrance of his breath, his accent, how close he stands/sits to them, his vocabulary/pronounciation, etc.

            In short, there is no logical reason to presume Hauser’s inferences are accurate.

            Also, how Hauser describes/annotates a reaction will probably be different from how someone else describes/annotates the same reaction.

            This is why lie detectors do not work.

      • Posted May 30, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        Hypothesis: If I paint this picture in this way, people will give me lots of money.


        • Posted May 30, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

          Who knew Thomas Kincaid was such an accomplished scientist?!

      • Posted May 30, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        C’mon, most art is incomprehensible and just dumb. The great works of art are just another form of emotionally cloying consumer goods.

        No ore about truth than a good meal or roller-coaster ride.

        • Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

          Great art is about so much more than eliciting emotional responses.

          If I had to choose between giving up having emotional responses to Bach’s music on one hand, and understanding the skill, intelligence and logic of its construction on the other, I’d give up the former. In a heartbeat.

          It doesn’t follow from acknowledging that art isn’t a way of knowing (I’m starting to get sick of that phrase) that art is a vapid, worthless enterprise.

          • Posted May 30, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

            It’s just pop culture that expresses popular emotions of the era, supported by the wealthy and power holders. By definition, if it doesn’t support the status quo fo the wealthy, it doesn’t get distributed – who else can pay?

  6. Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    art seems to be only communication, and it does that with varying degrees of success. it does not in and of itself reveal anything new. We already know about emotions, memorys, etc, and art seems to only convey that through symbolism, and even that only subjectively. There is no universal truth being conveyed, since I rather doubt that a Bushman would get the same meaning out of Handel’s Messiah as a western educated American.

    • gr8hands
      Posted May 30, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      It isn’t communication unless the sender and receiver get the same message. Me sending out “Red” and you receiving “Blue” isn’t communication.

      • Posted May 31, 2012 at 12:46 am | Permalink

        And yet it is not at all uncommon for users of art to get messages completely different from those the makers intend.

        I think especially of some recent confrontational pieces like “Piss Christ”, “Virgin in a Condom” (I was present when a museum showing that was exorcised) and the recent red cake with black icing, in the form of stereotypical “Hottentot Venus” whose head was the (black male) artist’s, which caused a scandal when the Swedish Minister of Culture, laughing, ate a slice from the cake “genitals”.

  7. Kevin
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    It all falls back to the definition of “truth”.

    Those in the humanities, the arts, and whatnot (especially whatnot) see “truth” as a shared emotional experience. Handel’s Messiah evokes the same emotional “truth” in people. (It doesn’t though; I belong to a singing group that lost a Jewish member because we chose that as part of our repertoire. What “truth” then, did the Messiah declare?)

    That’s a very “truthy” definition of “truth”, which can lead to charges of “truthiness” in the finest Stephen Colbert use of the word.

    Those who rely on empirical knowledge see “truth” as something altogether different. It’s better described as “reality”.

    Even in the field of morality, we use our empirical senses to determine what is moral and what isn’t based on our evolutionary history as social beings who thrive only in cooperative groups. We don’t call that “science”, though, lest we be charged with the crime of scientism.

    I agree that by and large the charge of scientism is leveled most-often by the purveyors of nonsense. It’s frankly used as a false dichotomy logical fallacy. If “scientism” doesn’t know everything, then “whatnot” must be “true”.

    Of course, science doesn’t know everything; if it did, it would stop. But the “whatnots” literally know nothing, all the while claiming extreme certainty in their knowledge of nothing. So, I think we should charge them with the crime of “nothingism”.

    • Posted May 30, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      +1 for the Dara Ó Briain reference.

      Before we get into discussions about “ways of knowing” we really need to agree on our definitions of, inter alia, “knowledge” and “truth”.


  8. Vishnya Maudlin
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Natural sciences provide the golden standard for evidence. It might be true that one cannot import the scientific method to the fullest to humanities and that might also be crazy (as Kitcher claims, but one cannot avoid the conclusion that humanities because of that are the second rate citizens. The evidential support for natural sciences is much stronger than the evidential support for other disciplines.
    He also sets up a completely false dilemma about the definition of scientific method. There is no problem of defining the scientific method and regard for evidence in such a way that it does not include composers as positing hypothesis and confirming them.

  9. TJR
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    I find it very puzzling that in Prof Kitcher’s original article and in the email above he discusses “scientism” without ever defining what he means by that term. Normally the good thing about (anglo style) philosophers is that they always define their terms and comment on variant definitions.

    It seems that Jerry uses a fairly maximal definition of “science”, i.e. anything based on evidence and reason, whereas Prof Kitcher uses a more minimal definition (the sort of stuff guys in white coats do?), and their definitions of “scientism” therefore differ too.

    I’m sure that most of us here would agree that scientism in the way that Prof Kitcher seems to define it is indeed a bad thing whereas scientism in the sense that Jerry means it is a good thing.

    Right, that’s sorted out, now we can all go to the pub.

    • Posted May 30, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Is going to the pub another way of knowing?


      • gbjames
        Posted May 30, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        I’m not sure. I’ll meet you there and we can find out.

      • TJR
        Posted May 31, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

        Yes, yes it is.

  10. gbjames
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:55 am | Permalink


  11. newenglandbob
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Knowledge is sometimes advanced not by arriving at some new true statement, but by reframing concepts

    This is a very slippery slope. “That sometimes has profound consequences for our ways of living…” is true, but this has nothing to do with knowledge, but with morality, as Jerry explains.

  12. eric
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    “Concept formation” is not a way of knowing, but a way of stimulating the confection of hypotheses.

    Absolutely. Dr. Kitcher should think about this in how it relates to religion. If he’s going to agree with JAC that revelation is not a way of knowing, then he’s implicitly agreening that concept formation is not knowing, since revelation (or whatever is going on in the mind that believers call revelation) can certainly form new concepts (i.e., provide new hypotheses for testing).

    Or, on the other hand, if he wants to stick with the claim that “formulating concepts” contributes to knowledge, then he’s going to have to backtrack on what he says about religion and admit that religion contributes to knowledge, the way he defines ‘contributes.’ Because religious belief certainly is used to formulate concepts.

    I’ll just provide one example of what I mean about hypotheses and concept-formation. Mormons believe that Jews settled the new world in the 100s AD. This is clearly a religious concept, coming from Smith’s “revelations.” This religious concept is used by Mormons as an impetus and justification for doing and funding new world archaeology – it is a hypotheses they have come up with via religion, which they seek to confirm via science. It also, arguably, provided them with a valuable “reconceptualization and recapitalization” of archaeology, just as Kitcher claims other humanities do. It certainly led them to believe in more complex mesoamerican civilizations than most westerners believed existed at the time…and they were right about that.

    So, I’d say Kitcher is currently being inconsistent in his conclusions about religion, the humanities, and the value of concept-formation. In terms of concept-formation, religion and the humanities (and dreams, and bath-tub-sitting, and apple-falling, and number-out-of-a-hat-pulling) all do the same job. Unless Kitcher has some evidence that one of the above methods consistently yields more accurate hypotheses, we pretty much have to treat their ‘contribution to knowledge’ the same. My own take on this is: since hypothesis formation seems to be fairly method-independent, the contributon of any particular method of hypothesis formation to knowledge is negligable.

  13. Posted May 30, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Anyone wanting to see what full blown, hyper-reductionist scientism looks like, contrasted with the moderate naturalism Kitcher recommends, should check out Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality. We can be good empiricists without denying, as does Rosenberg, the reality of such things as intentional states, reference, purposes, meaning, values and moral norms. Fortunately and unsurprisingly, I don’t see many secularists taking up Rosenberg’s cause. But unfortunately he incites the worries about scientism that are used to attack naturalism.

    • Old Rasputin
      Posted May 30, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      I cannot claim to be familiar with Alex Rosenberg’s work in general, but having read the essay you linked to (The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality), I don’t think he’s denying the existence of morality, reasons, purpose, meaning, and the rest; he simply denies that they are grounded in anything truly objective.

      I suppose it depends on what you mean by “morality”. Of course morality exists in the (comparatively) trivial sense that people adopt subjective notions of “right” and “wrong”. Nobody would deny that, but the complaint that Rosenberg has is that most people insist on going a step further and claiming some kind of Ultimate Origin of Meaning, Purpose, and Morality, some outside-of-the-system place where the buck truly stops. This (I wager) is what the “unwashed masses” usually have in mind when they invoke such terms – at least in reference to the so-called big questions. And even though most of us with an academic (or at least scientific) bent no longer actively subscribe to these old Platonic/Kantian/Cartisian notions of morality, free will, and so on, many of us still seem desperate to justify our own personal conceptions of these ideas as, in some sense, really really actually Real™. Unless I’ve misunderstood him, this is what Rosenberg is pushing back against.

      I’m sure he doesn’t deny the reality and usefulness of these higher order abstractions, just their Reality™ (wherein the capital represents the naively dualistic conceptions of these terms in which /most people actually believe/).

      • Posted May 30, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        I think you’ll see if you read his book that Rosenberg does deny the reality and usefulness of higher order abstractions (e.g. “history is bunk”). Over at Philosophy TV, Rosenberg claims that we are *under the illusion* that we have purposes, find meaning, and have intentional states like beliefs and desires, etc. since you can’t find such things in fermions, bosons, neurons, neurotransmitters and other lower level physical constituents of ourselves. This isn’t merely denying their Reality (TM) but their reality.

        • Old Rasputin
          Posted May 30, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

          Could be. I admit, that the back half of that essay (the business about linguistics and history) is more difficult for me to understand or defend. He didn’t sufficiently define his terms, and while I /thought/ I knew what he meant in some places, I was less certain in others, in areas where my own knowledge was lacking. I don’t want to get into hashing out strict definitions for terms like “real” or “illusory”, but merely wish emphasize that in discussions like these there is much room for confusion of someone else’s position. I suspect you and Rosenberg simply don’t approve of one another’s usage of words like “illusion”.

          I may well be wrong. Perhaps he makes his position crystal clear in the video and it really is as absurd as you say. I’ll probably manage to watch it tonight after work. However the position you attribute to him is rather an extreme one: to deny the reality of anything that is not a fermion, boson, etc. is to effectively deny the reality of, say, atoms, since atoms are nothing more than a convenient abstraction of interactions among their more fundamental constituent parts. And then of course, we’ll have to get used to a world in which molecules, dogs, and weddings are similarly barred from reality. Surely he’s not making this claim?

          • Posted May 30, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

            Any chance of a Marshall McLuhan moment?

            No? Ah, well…


            • Rocky Morrison
              Posted June 1, 2012 at 2:30 am | Permalink

              I am always amused when Moral Relativists, which atheists are, start making judgments bout what the “religious” should or should not be doing.

              • Posted June 1, 2012 at 5:45 am | Permalink

                Was that addressed to me? Where was I making such a judgement?

                Besides, I’m an immoral relativist! 😛


            • Posted June 3, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

              Ah… eventually, @ #39.


    • Lyndon
      Posted May 30, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      From my reading of Rosenberg, perhaps confused or overly charitable: He does not deny that there are structures to the brain/mind that help us navigate the world (beliefs, choice making capacities, desires and emotions), what Rosenberg is calling an illusion is how we have defined and conceptualized and think about, for instance, “belief” as it comes from our naïve phenomenological view, from our bare psychology, from the “natural” Cartesian picture.

      It is similar to the vast discussions on this blog about free will. “Choice” happens as brains and computers take the body or machine in certain ways; that can’t be denied, the brain and chess computer “chooses” a move. But the phenomenological image of choice making as our consciousness feels it, unconstrained from the past and completely open, is an illusion. And thus if the self believes in libertarian free will, if it believes its choice making is completely open, then it has a false belief and a faulty concept.

      Where we have defined and conceptualized intentional states from our (bare) phenomenological image of our self, such things are illusions or are poorly conceptualized. And that in the end touches upon most of our psychological conceptions and intentional vocabularly.

      For instance, in his book, he denies original intentionality but not derived intentionality. But more importantly, he accepts that because of the transparency of brain structures to our conscious mental life (for one reason), our selves and society consistently posit original intentionality; even though like free will original intentionality is an incoherent concept.

  14. Posted May 30, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Fantastic exchange.

    Thanks so much for posting it.

  15. Peter Beattie
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    As Kevin above said, it is rather unfortunate that Kitcher doesn’t even see the need to delimit the terms he is talking about—most importantly ‘scientism’ and ‘knowledge’. As to the latter, he’s got nothing: ‘knowledge’ about the truth of the theory of evolution by natural selection seems for him to be substantially the same thing as some ‘knowledge’ imparted to us by the “to be or not to be” soliloquy. Any philosopher should know better than that, and bestss has made the distinction above: there is objective knowledge, and then there is something that is subjective, which shouldn’t really even be called knowledge.

    As to the former, ‘scientism’, Kitcher gives only an implicit definition of what he means be the term: first, “blundering over-simplification”; second, deeming the accomplishments of history, the humanities, etc. as “inferior” to those of the natural sciences, or “even worthless”. Both ideas assume a reductionist view of science. The first complaint is actually about nothing but what Dennett called “greedy reductionism” (in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea). There is no need whatsoever to invent a new word for the phenomenon, least of all one that obscures what is going on. The complaint is, in fact, not about some putative over-application of science but about bad science. And as to the second complaint, a few words from David Deutsch (The Fabric of Reality, 19-20):

    Reductionists think that all scientific exlantions, and perhaps all sufficiently deep explanations of any kind, take that form [of analysing things into components].

    The reductionist conception leads naturally to a classification of subjects and theories in a hierarchy, according to how close they are to the ‘lowest-level’ predictive theories that are known.

    But that is not how science really works:

    Thus to recuctionists and instrumentalists, who disregard both the real structure and the real purpose of scientific knowledge, the base of the predictive hierarchy of physics is by definition the ‘theory of everything’. But to everyone else scientific knowledge consists of explanations, and the structure of scientific explanation does not reflect the reductionst hierarchy. There are explanations at every level of the hierarchy. (TFoR, p. 21)

    What Deutsch instead calls the Theory of Everything (in contrast to the small beer, lower-case ‘theory of everything’ of the reductionist) is a theory “that will not explain every aspect of reality” but that “will encompass all known explanations, and will apply to the whole fabric of reality in so far as it is understood.” (TFoR, p. 17) The first such Theory of Everything will be “neither perfectly true nor infinitely deep, and so will eventually be superseded” (p. 18).

    It would behove a philosopher of Kitcher’s standing to grapple not with the caricature, for which a perfectly good term already exists, but to engage the serious concept of a Theory of Everything, as for example lucidly laid out by Deutsch.

  16. Posted May 30, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    I have advocated, for some time, that we think of skepticism when we are talking about scientism. As Jerry Coyne has argued on this blog for a while now, the terms ‘science’ can be stretched over areas of inquiry that use secular means of reasoning and rational thought.

    The wide net of skepticism, which certainly is founded upon the scientific method, is the thing that we are doing when we apply rational thought to any subject, and using ‘scienticm’ only seeks to bring to mind those times when “scientists sometimes overreach themselves” or “scientists denigrate the value of literature.”

    The rest of my argument can be found here:

  17. Peter Beattie
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    And then, one or two other things. Kitcher says, “E.O. Wilson … frequently defend[s] scientism”. That’s fantastic to know, but what actually are his arguments and what exactly is he arguing for? Is it really asking too much to expect the critic to quote as much as a single paraphraph of the heinous scientismist’s own words? That way, one could actually judge whether those guys are just (greedy) reductionists or whether something else is going on. To assume that your own implicit definition of ‘scientism’, which is basically a term of abuse, must be accepted, is to appeal to your authority—which you should expect no rational person to respect.

    Then there is this: “My view is that, if you stretch the notion of hypothesis-testing in this way, the thesis again becomes trivial.” Which, kind of obviously, cuts both ways. Look: My view is that, if you stretch the notion of ‘knowledge’ in this way, the thesis again becomes trivial. Jerry actually does define ‘science’: basically, the conjecturing of explanatory theories that are tested against evidence. That definition serves a purpose, namely to demarcate activities that potentially lead to objective knowledge from those that don’t. Unfortunately, Kitcher does not define ‘knowledge’, nor does he display any awareness of the need to do so.

    And lastly: “any common ‘method’ is extremely thin”. Again, if you rarefy the notion of ‘method’ in this way, the thesis becomes trivial. Of course biologists do not (as a rule) use the same experiments as do particle physicists, but their methodology is indeed the same: that of conjecturing explanatory theories, testing them against evidence, and arguing about their relative merits. Because they pursue the same goal: objective knowledge. In his original essay in TNR, Kitcher is also remarkably confused about what he wants to say about the differences (if any) in different disciplines. First, he says: “The enterprises that we lump together are remarkably various in their methods, and also in the extent of their successes.” Barely five paragraphs later, he apparently reverses course: “The contrast between the methods of the two realms, which seems so damning to the humanities, is a false one.” The apparent contradiction seems to me to point to an equivocation on ‘method’.

    • Posted May 31, 2012 at 5:06 am | Permalink

      Yeah, one of the things I’ve found exasperating about many contemporary philosophers is the unwillingness to see the big picture commonalities that do exist, and hence can be called “scientific method”. Moreover, by allowing a many-factored method, one can see it comes in degrees, too. Both of these are discussed in Bunge’s _Finding Philosophy in Social Science_ (and elsewhere, but there most usefully).

  18. Caroline52
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I may be missing something, because I’m not a trained philosopher or scientist. But it seems to me that here we have the ironic spectacle of a brilliant philosopher and brilliant scientist arguing about whether there are different ways of knowing, without either of them defining what they mean by “ways of knowing.”

    Does “different ways of knowing” mean “two different kinds of facts about the world — supernatural ones and material ones”?

    If so, I expect Kitcher and Coyne would agree that the answer is no: there are no “supernatural” facts.

    Does “different ways of knowing” mean “different methodologies for discovering facts”?

    If so, I expect Kitcher and Coyne would agree that the answer is yes: there are different ways of discovering facts about the world, all of which are consistent with the scientific method.

    For example, any college textbook on research methods will tell you there’s observation, experiment, quasi-experiment, individual case studies, and so forth.

    Does different ways of knowing mean “different ways the brain uses to process information and arrive at conclusions”?

    If so, this is true: research in cognitive psychologists and behavioral economics has shown that the brain has more than one way of processing information. There’s, roughly speaking, the slow, conscious, effortful kind usally called “reasoning,” and the fast, unconscious, effortless kind usually called “intuition.” Either method may produce correct or incorrect conclusions. See Daniel Kahneman’s recent book, Thinking Fast and Slow, for a terrific summary.

    Does “different ways of knowing” mean “knowledge of what it is like to have different internal experiences common to human beings”?

    If so, I expect Kitcher and Coyne would agree that the answer is yes, because there are different kinds of internal experiences about which one can have knowledge. One can be said to have “known love,” “known beauty,” “known what it is like to be certain you are right,” “known a little bit more clearly what it must be like to be as poor as an orphan in 19th century London from reading Dickens novels,” and so forth.

    This last category is what I suspect most people mean when they say there are “different ways of knowing,” some of which can only be mediated by the arts.

    • Myron
      Posted May 30, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      I read “way of knowing” as “way of acquiring knowledge”.

      • Caroline52
        Posted May 30, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        Well, that’s a reasonable interpretation — It’s the second of the four possible interpretations I described: “different methodologies for discovering facts.”

        And maybe you can’t see how anyone else could reasonably interpret it differently from you, so you assume both Kitcher and Coyle are using your interpretation. But the arguments they make dont sound like that’s

        The phrase “ways of knowing” doesnt have a single, objectively “correct” meaning. It’s ambiguous. Reasonable people can reasonably interpret it to mean different things.

        The only way to avoid talking past each other is to first define one’s terms.

      • Posted May 30, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        But then you have to deconstruct the different meanings of “knowledge”, which takes you through Caroline’s analysis again.


        • Caroline52
          Posted May 30, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

          Good point, Ant. Define knowledge first, then ways of knowing. Cleaner still.

    • Posted May 30, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink


  19. Krishan Bhattacharya
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I sent Jerry Coyne an email about this, but I will post a comment here as well.

    At the top, he mistakenly refers to Kitcher’s essay “The Trouble With Scientism” as having been published in The New York Review of Books. But it was published in The New Republic. Coyne repeats this mistake in his response, referring to “NYRB”, when it should be “TNR”.

    Not that big of a deal, but I thought I’d mention it here, in hopes that Jerry fixes it before getting an angry call from Leon Wieseltier…

    • Krishan Bhattacharya
      Posted May 30, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      looks like its fixed!

  20. Myron
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    There is a trivial sense in which there is truth in art. For example, when a fictional story contains the statement “The sun is a star”, then this true statement is part of it. In the nontrivial sense, truth in art is a matter of the realistic content of works of art. If a work of art is realistic, if it bears a resemblance to what is or can be real—there being different degrees of resemblance to reality and thus of realisticness—, then it can serve literally, analogically, or metaphorically as a model of (a part of) reality. That is, by reflecting upon a realistic work of art, we can learn something about actual or possibly actual states of affairs and connections between them.

    • Posted May 30, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      I made similar points over at Choice In Dying, where Eric takes Jerry to task:

      Over on WEIT, one commenter made the distinction between ”fact-truth” and “art-truth”, that “knowledge” that arises solely from art is of a different kind that that that comes from science (and other logical, rational, inter-subjective, evidence-based disciplines, like history, that are broadly like science). So, there is an equivocation error, calling both kinds of truths “knowledge”. Furthermore, apart from imparting any art-truths, art can communicate fact-truths, in more than one way.

      Firstly, there is the trivial and mundane literal communication of scientific, historical, &c. fact-truths, in plain language or imagery.

      Secondly, there is a more subtle and sophisticated form of communication, where art uses narrative and emotion, simile and imagery, metaphor and symbolism, and so on, to convey insight into scientific, historical, &c. truth-facts, enabling someone to apprehend, understand and accept these fact-truths where that someone might just not have “got it” from plain language and imagery. (I think that the best science, and other, communicators use these artistic techniques!) Here, I think, there is a significant source of confusion, that such fact-truths communicated in an artistic way, are erroneously regarded as art-truths.

      And then there are the veridical art-truths, those insights into “about being human, about being in relationship, and about the many experiences of being human” which are not (yet) provided by any logical, rational, inter-subjective, evidence-based discipline, be it science or history or something else. This view is, I think, rather well established. For example, in Wizardry and Wild Romance, Michael Moorcock asserts: “[Fantasy fiction]’s prime concern is … with the evocation of strong, powerful images; symbols conjuring up a multitude of sensations to be used … as a means of achieving self-awareness.”


      • Caroline52
        Posted May 30, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        Oh, hey, cool! I hadn’t read this post of yours before my reply above to another. In your last paragraph you say it better – with terms of art from that discipline.

        I’m coming more from a cognitive psych perspective, re the recent work on the neurophysiological basis of the experience of empathy, and how art — especially (but by no means solely) narratives about fictional characters’ lives — can increase our empathy for others who live in vastly different circumstances to ourselves, by enabling us to enter imaginatively into those characters’ experiences.

        It’s not just that we are “imaginining what it must be like” based on learning the facts of those characters’ experiences. It’s that we actually experience what it’s like to be in those circumstances.

        The hypothesis, as you and others here may well know, is that this is made possible by a particular class of neurons in the brain that have been dubbed “mirror neurons.”

        Empathy is certainly a “way of knowing” what others’ experiences are like. But, of course, there’s nothing woo about it.

  21. Posted May 30, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I am pretty sure art and music are based on empiricism, which is a necessary component of doing science.

    There are art techniques that are taught that are based on the way the eye perceives colors and shades, and this effect can be used to generate emotions in the viewer.

    The same is true for music. There’s music theory which teaches you which notes will sound good over certain chords, which chord progressions generate certain emotions, etc.

    The thing is that these are hypotheses that are generated, and are tested and repeatable. If you tell someone to play the E minor scale over an B minor chord, and that this “sound” will be the B Phrygian mode, anyone can go out and reproduce it. There is no “other way of knowing”; I’m not sure I understand the disconnect or why music theory cannot be considered a science. Ironically, I think people who don’t understand music only think that way. There is a crap-ton of scientific analysis that goes into the study and construction of music. Ratios, logarithms, etc.

    • gr8hands
      Posted May 30, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      Except, J. Quinton, that your comment about art is incorrect. You may claim that “there are art techniques that are taught . . . to generate emotions in the viewer.” However, there is no reliable way to verify that this is actually happening.

      Red may “mean” something to YOU, but it will most certainly not “mean” the same thing to me, if anything. Not the least reason is that every human being does not have the same visual or color perception.

    • gr8hands
      Posted May 30, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      And if your art is in the media of autostereograms (holisions, stereoptigrams, etc.), then people with only one eye are physically unable to see the images, and so it is impossible to convey anything to them.

    • Posted May 30, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

      Of course you mean if you play an E minor scale beginning and ending on B you’ll have played the Phrygian mode. Nothing to do with chords.

      Certainly we can examine music scientifically. But music itself does not do what the scientific method does.

      Would you say that automobiles or atomic bombs are ways of knowing? After all, scientific endeavors resulted in those artifices.

      • Posted May 30, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

        Autos and A bombs are a LOT more predictive than any art. “Autos and A Bombs”! Good rock band name!

    • Posted May 31, 2012 at 5:08 am | Permalink

      But science is no more empiricist than it is rationalist – invention of hypotheses, theories and concepts is the heir to rationalism.

  22. Jonathan Houser
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I think, like others here, that a key problem is that “knowledge” isn’t defined by either party, so they can easily talk past each other when they talk about “ways of knowing” or obtaining knowledge.
    I think Jerry and others run the risk of running right into practicing “scientism” by defining “knowledge” as only things that can be ascertained by use of the scientific method. I don’t think scientism is the act of declaring that the humanities don’t matter or that art and philosophy don’t have a purpose, few if any scientists espouse that view. Rather scientism is the insistence that “knowledge” is whatever is obtained by applying the scientific method, and everything else is, as one poster above said, “warm fuzzy feelings” that don’t matter.
    Rather than saying there are “other ways of knowing” which runs into the prejudice of sounding like something a religious person would say, how about claiming there are other types of “knowledge?” Philosophy doesn’t tell you anything about the electromagnetic spectrum, but Wittgenstein helped us realize how language defines our view of reality. That is knowledge. Philosophers like Hume gave us a logical framework that excluded miracles as an explanation for how the natural world works, and that would should rely on independent verification, empirical inquiry, in addition to rational methods like deduction. That is knowledge. The fact that we even rely on the scientific method is a type of knowledge that has nothing to do with the natural world. Is our insistence that the scientific method is useful and revelation is not a kind of knowledge or is that just fuzzy feelings and subjective communication? Is it true?
    The real problem as Jerry points out is that religion claims to have knowledge about the natural world using methods that have produced no results and have no way to actually be checked for accuracy. I think that some in their disdain for religious thought, throw the baby out with the bath water. Rather than capitulate that there are in fact “other ways of knowing” and there are other kinds of knowledge that are obtained through avenues such as philosophy and literature, they simply claim that naturalism is the only kind of real knowledge, and science is the only thing that can give us this knowledge.

    • Jonathan Houser
      Posted May 30, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Sorry for the lump of text, I don’t post often and didn’t realize how it would format my text upon posting. Many apologies.

  23. ManOutOfTime
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Since I am not terribly invested in the debate – as interesting as this particular exchange has been – I am not very well read on it outside of this and some freethoughtblogs posts. From 40,000 feet, scientism sounds to me like the shorthand for something a pseudo-intellectual friend likes to say just to piss me off: “science is the new religion.” Believers and New Agers like to say that because it elevates woo and brings science down to some equivalent plane where it’s all just “stuff people choose to believe.”

    So what I choose to believe is that Dr. Coyne has got it exactly right, and to the extent that there is a quibble or debate, the most one can say in critique is that language yet comes short in expressing it. It may well be that biblical scholarship is not “science” by most people’s concept of that word, but the other side of the argument falls even further short – sensation and emotion ar not “knowledge” by any reasonable definition of those terms. Describing experiences – and creating be ones – with abstractions like music or architecture evoke a personal, visceral satisfaction in a way that a scientific fact can. But a scientific fact can explain a personal experience – neurons, hormonal reactions, whatever – but the fact of a human reaction does not itself constitute a separate knowledge. So at the very least, advantage science.

    And like the man said, scientism is a feeble word for what these two are hashing out.

  24. Myron
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    “Philosophers have long held there to be something special about science that distinguishes it from non-science. Rather than a shared subject-matter, the distinction is usually taken to reside at the methodological level. What sets the sciences apart from non-scientific pursuits is the possession of a characteristic method employed by their practitioners. It is customary to refer to this characteristic method of science as the ‘scientific method’. Those disciplines which employ the scientific method qualify as sciences; those which do not employ the method are considered not to be scientific. While most philosophers agree that science is to be characterized in methodological terms, they disagree about the nature of this method. Many take the fundamental method of science to be an inductive method. Others belittle induction or deny its use altogether. It was once taken to be virtually axiomatic that the method of science is a fixed and universal method employed throughout the sciences. Yet, at the present time, it is not uncommon to hold that method depends on historical time-period or cultural context, or that it varies from one field of science to another. While it was once widely believed that there is a single scientific method characteristic of all science, it is now more common to hold that the method of science consists of a multifaceted array of rules, techniques and procedures which broadly govern the practice of science. Indeed, some have concluded that there is, strictly speaking, no such thing as the scientific method.

    It is possible to distinguish a number of different levels at which methods may be employed in science. At the ground level of data collection and experimental practice, there are methods which govern the proper conduct of an experiment or the correct employment of a piece of equipment. At a slight remove from experimental practice, there are methods of experimental design or test procedure, such as the use of random trials or double-blind tests in clinical trials. At a more remote level are methods for the appraisal, or evaluation, of theories, and possibly theory construction. The methods described in what follows tend, for the most part, to comprise methods of theory appraisal which are designed to provide the warrant for theory choice or theory acceptance. For it is at this level that the bulk of the philosophical debate about scientific method has been conducted.

    Philosophers sometimes distinguish between two contexts in which a method might be employed in science. The first context, in which a new idea emerges in the mind of a scientist, has been called the ‘context of discovery’. The second context, in which the idea receives scientific validation, is known as the ‘context of justification’. The bulk of methodological discussion relates to the second context. This reflects the once-dominant view that the process of having a new idea is an inscrutable matter of individual psychology, rather than a matter of logic or method. Contemporary philosophers of science place less weight on this traditional distinction than was previously the case. Indeed, many would be prepared to grant a role to method in the context of discovery.”

    (Sankey, Howard. “Scientific Method.” In The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science, edited by Stathis Psillos and Martin Curd, 248-258. Abingdon: Routledge, 2008. pp. 248-9)

  25. laughsoutloud
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    The arts and humanities explore the mental models we holds of reality. In this way, the arts and humanities help us make value judgements about those models. A song, a novel, a work of history provides a mirror in which we can see our times, the structure of our interior universe, and in so seeing, refine and mold that interior universe in a way that is, to our way of thinking, a better and more accurate model of the world.

    This is what happens when we judge a solution beautiful or elegant. Our aesthetic judgements both reflect and refine the way we model the world- valuable, but what the arts and humanities teach is are not facts but ways of relating to, and ways of coming to terms with, facts.

  26. bachfiend
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I first became aware of Philip Kitcher’s essay a week ago when Michael Egnor (a conservative catholic neurosurgeon IDiot) linked to it and commented on it, describing it as ‘magnificent’ and ‘brilliant’, promising follow ups to come (which hasn’t happened yet), but not realizing that it doesn’t support his worldview at all.

    Actually, I was quite grateful to Michael Egnor. It’s the first time I’d heard of Philip Kitcher. Since then I’ve read his ‘Living with Darwin’, which is very good, and as fine a critique of ID as I ever have seen, am about 2/3 of the way through ‘the Ethical Project’ and I have also bought his discussion of the Wagner Ring Cycle (it’s coming to Melbourne in 2013).

    • Posted May 30, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      Not a lot of truth in those projects. Beware the word “ethical” — playing to the cheap seats, in all our brains.

    • Posted May 31, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      Since then I’ve read his ‘Living with Darwin’, which is very good, and as fine a critique of ID as I ever have seen …

      Be careful. Kitcher is a philosopher, not a scientist. His view of evolution is not correct.

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted May 31, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

        Now I’m curious: what does Kitcher get wrong about evolution?

        • Posted June 1, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

          He doesn’t seem to understand the difference between the FACT of evolution and evolutionary theory.

          He seems to think that the Theory of Natural Selection (Darwinism) is the same as the Theory of Evolution.

  27. stevenjohnson
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Knowledge is a justfied belief that corresponds to reality. This is the root of the confusion. Below is merely detail.

    We have discovered that direct perception is often unreliable, therefore simple perception is not regarded as science, because it is not justified, i.e., tested against reality. Simple perceptions we have discovered to be reliable are thus part of our scientific knowledge. Obviously most of us rely upon authority instead of personal experiment, or even personal examination of the experiments done by others. Therefore it may seem that simple perceptions cannot be a part of science. This is an illusion: Simple observation may be scientific.

    We have discovered that generalizations about the world require that our knowledge acquired by simple perception must first be organized. We have discovered that the generalizations are not just inductions about the course of events (A is followed by B) but deductions from abstract ideas we call concepts. In each field of study the appropriate methods of organizing the information at hand, and of testing generalizations and the deductions from the concepts are different, because of the difference in what is being studied. We tend to seek a common method in this but, as noted, it is hard to find THE method. The sweet science will not be studied in the same way as the composition of matter. Here too, the foundation, the orderly accumulation of evidence, overlaps strongly with parts of everyday life.

    The commonalities in the particular methods in each field of study are so basic that we have historically called them metaphysics. What we have found is that the postulates of metaphysical materialism are the ones that correspond to reality. Materialism includes the notions that there is something that we can briefly tag natural law; that there are no causes outside nature; that explanations can be nested in a hierarchy that is neither an infinite regress nor a circular argument; that there is indeed something we can rightly call an explanation, as opposed to an act of will. These are the hallmarks of scientific explanation, the aim of all particular scientific methods.

    The social sciences seem to me to suffer in apparent scientificity because there are practitioners who deny materialism, in whole or in part. There is a constant struggle between those who scientifically study society and those who don’t but they are all lumped together. There is an analogy in biology, the periodic recrudescence of religion in various forms such as scientific creationism, intelligent design, vitalism, evolutionary psychology (sorry but that’s my judgment.)

    As for other parts of the humanities, it is not at all clear to me that they accept the notion that truth corresponds to reality, much less want to find any knowledge about it. Philosophy in particular seems to hold to a coherence idea of truth and does not even aspire to knowledge about reality.

    • Posted May 30, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      This is pretty simple — it’s all about prediction or measurable stuff.

      Not much else needed. Explanations that lead to accurate, measurable predictions are next best. But, frankly, most predictions have no explanations or are metaphorical or post hoc.

      However, the human brain is horrible at stats and predictions and logic. So all this other nonsense clutters up our brains and talk.

      • stevenjohnson
        Posted June 1, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        It seems to me that predictions without explanations aren’t the essence of science. Mere predictions about repetitive phenomena can’t be falsified. You can only suggest that the success thus far is provisional. You might want to try to use the failures to falsify to measure the probability of the hypothesis. But doesn’t this just put difficulties in probability theory (Bayesian vs. propensity and a bunch more) into the foundations of epistemology?

        Really, it seems to me that explanation is the essential part of justification, without which we don’t have science, justified belief corresponding to reality. I personally object to ad hoc explanations but I don’t understand the dismissal of post hoc explanations. These seem to be inevitable in all historical sciences, including geology and biology.

        I don’t understand how we communicate without metaphor. It is inadequate for all purposes, hence the essential role of mathematics in so many fields of study.

        • Posted June 1, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

          The fact is that the human brain is very limited in it’s ability to explain and truly understand.

          It is better equipped, as are all animal brains, for Bayesian predictability.

          So there are many patterns of experience and predictability with ad hoc explanations.

          The problem with metaphor is mistaking the heuristic, local language/signaling value of verbal behaviors, eg metaphors, with anything real/predictable.

          Mainly they are just local and current verbal/ideological conventions.

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted May 30, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      » stevenjohnson:
      Knowledge is a justfied belief that corresponds to reality.

      If you believe, that is, that any belief can in fact be justified. I haven’t seen any good arguments that they can be—and very good ones, by Popper et al., that they cannot possibly be justified. Hence the need for falsifiability etc., etc.

      • stevenjohnson
        Posted June 1, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        I think Popper’s initial rejection of evolution as scientific or his World 3 conjectures are closely related to fundamental flaws in his philosophy of science. It seems to me that his philosophy is antimaterialist and rejects the notion of a unity or intelligibility or coherence of nature.

        He therefore does not see the enormous corpus of knowledge, accumulated over the centuries, as constituting evidence that this notion is correct, even though none of these centuries has provided even the simplest sketch of how it could be otherwise.

        I would have thought that even in his terms, this failure would signal the falsification of antimaterialist hypotheses. But I can’t be surprised because I don’t think falsification is a useful principle, not even for falsificationists.

        For what it’s worth, I think that if scientism is the belief that science (which overlaps with simple perception and ordering of facts,) has been the only way that both aims to find knowledge and has succeeded consistently in finding it is “scientism,” then I’m guilty of scientism. If believing that every field of study must analyze its elements and relate these elements to those of other fields is reductionism, then I’m guilty of reductionism. If believing that testing the evidence of the senses provides knowledge is empiricism, then I’m guilty of empiricism.

        I understand that these are offenses against philosophy but feel no remorse.

        • Peter Beattie
          Posted June 1, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

          » stevenjohnson:
          I think Popper’s initial rejection of evolution as scientific or his World 3 conjectures are closely related to fundamental flaws in his philosophy of science. It seems to me that his philosophy is antimaterialist and rejects the notion of a unity or intelligibility or coherence of nature.

          Well, if you think that, you think wrong. And frankly I don’t see how you could have got that idea from Popper’s writings. His “initial rejection of evolution as scientific” was relatively quickly revoked, hence “initial”, so I fail to see how that can possibly be relevant. But do tell us what those “fundamental flaws in his philosophy of science” are, would you?

          • Posted June 1, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

            We have read that his propositions were highly idealized and naive of the hard, dirty and messy work of real “science.”

            There is a polemical goal of portraying the idealized, and politicized, nature of research as something far more pristine — what we all want to believe.

            Apparently, find the whole enterprise of philo of science and Poppers and Kuhn’s work useless.

            • Peter Beattie
              Posted June 1, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

              So it’s useless, and you know that from second-hand sources. Brilliant.

              Re “highly idealized and naive”: you have literally no idea what you’re talking about. Go read a book, preferably The Logic of Scientific Discovery or Conjectures and Refutations.

              • Posted June 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

                We have. They are naive and suggest an ideological goal of propagandizing for human knowledge being logical, neat and tidy — to the contrary of reality. However, that reality will not sell books.

                Like all ideology it’s wishful thinking promoting the false promise of “mind” (logic) over matter (the real world.)

                It turns out real evidence-based knowledge is uniformly filled with errors, sloppy and a mess of silly ideas.

                “All science is wrong, some is less wrong.”

                With all that messiness however, it is, by far, the best way we have to predictability which is all that counts.

              • Peter Beattie
                Posted June 1, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

                As I say, you have literally no idea what you’re talking about. My mistake to try and engage.

          • stevenjohnson
            Posted June 2, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

            I mentioned one in the second sentence of your citation. It’s true that I read The Open Society and its Enemies over forty years ago, but it most certainly gave me the powerful impression that he rejects the notion that society can be studied scientifically because it doesn’t have laws that allow prediction. Which, as I specifically stated, I regard as an antimaterialist tenet, namely, rejecting “the notion of a unity or intelligibility or coherence of nature.”

            Elsewhere in this thread, I said “It seems to me that predictions without explanations aren’t the essence of science. Mere predictions about repetitive phenomena can’t be falsified.” That too I regard as a fundamental flaw in his philosophy of science.

            I might add that I believe Popper to be fundamentally a dishonest and dishonorable man, who distorts his opponents’ positions in order to knock down straw men, then award himself medals of valor, so to speak. I believe he does this in pursuit of a reactionary political agenda. The well-known problem of auxiliary hypotheses (the Duhem-Quine criticism I think) was quite obvious from the very first, and I firmly believe that Popper was quite clever enough to know this, but simply did not give a damn, because he had political fish to fry.

            The mountain of evidence from biogeography and taxonomy and embryology counted for nothing because Popper does not regard the universe as a coherent place, therefore this evidence was irrelevant. Only his little schema mattered. That’s crazy but it follows directly from his views as I remember them. Really, I’m not even sure how Popper and his supporters rationalize admitting biogeography and taxonomy as sciences at all. But I do know that if you’re not doing them (whether first or second hand,) you’re not science.

            Even if you somehow manage to convince yourself such a huge mistake is somehow trivial, WORLD 3 remains as a dead giveaway.

            As best as I can judge, Popper is right down there with the evolutionary psychologists.

            • Posted June 2, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

              Many medical conditions are treated, successfully, ad hoc without coherent explanations. Anyone who wants to avoid those treatments is welcome to it.

              Most medical treatments for heart disease, brain diseases, etc are thus.

              Of course, humans suffer all the time for their ideological beliefs

            • Peter Beattie
              Posted June 2, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

              » stevenjohnson:
              That’s crazy but it follows directly from his views as I remember them.

              That much is undoubtedly true: what you “remember” of Popper’s views is indeed crazy. But as I have said before, you don’t know what you’re talking about. A case in point: your completely ignorant conspiracy theory with respect to an imaginary “reactionary political agenda”:

              The well-known problem of auxiliary hypotheses (the Duhem-Quine criticism I think) was quite obvious from the very first, and I firmly believe that Popper was quite clever enough to know this, but simply did not give a damn, because he had political fish to fry.

              As I said in this comment, Popper was not only aware of the “problem”, he explicitly treated it in his first book on the subject. (See especially section 4, “Falsifiability”, of LoSD). Your accusation is completely bogus.

              As to Popper’s “agenda”, here are his own words: “if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist” (Unended Quest, p. 36). That accusation of yours too is completely bogus.

              • stevenjohnson
                Posted June 2, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Permalink


                Popper’s first book on the possibility of scientific knowledge and its nature was The Open Society and Its Enemies, not The Logic of Scientific Discovery. It’s two volumes carry vastly more weight in expressing Popper’s political agenda than the single quote you cite.

                It may offend your notion of the proprieties that a nobody should dare to call someone so eminent a liar. But a conspiracy is by definition some crime plotted by a number of persons. There’s no way to confuse an accusation of dishonesty laid against a single person with an accusation of conspiracy. It’s your accusation that is completely bogus.

                It was Rich and Co. whom you accused of not knowing what he was talking about, not me.

                I had seen the material you linked to when it was first posted and correctly dismissed it. Perhaps the original argument was at least coherent and cogent, but what you cite was not. It is not clear what “conventionalism” is supposed to be. Nor is it clear whether it even applies to Duhem and Quine anywhere besides Popper’s imagination. It is not even clear when you are quoting! Some of my thoughts on Popper can be found by that same link.

                It is not good enough that some people managed to devise experiments that would meet Popper’s narrow schema for scientificity. Evolution was good science, had been for over a century yet Popper’s philosophy of science was so impoverished it misled him into a grotesque error. Of course he retracted quickly, it would have completely ruined him reputation had he not. I note that you have ignored World 3.

                In a larger sense, the fact that Popper has such a problem with induction shows how badly Popper has confused the issues in philosophy of science.

              • Peter Beattie
                Posted June 3, 2012 at 3:28 am | Permalink

                » stevenjohnson:
                Popper’s first book on the possibility of scientific knowledge and its nature was The Open Society and Its Enemies, not The Logic of Scientific Discovery.


                I really should have noticed the nose and the shoes—so, my mistake, I guess.

  28. Marjorie Spencer
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    There is no objective morality?
    Then there is no morality. When Phillip and I were at Princeton this was a matter of hot contention but relativism, or socially-specific morality, does not count as a way of knowing by scientific principles. So morality is not a way of knowing? If we accept that, morality goes the way of free agency – a conclusion many atheists find inevitable.

    The argument that the difference between right and wrong is a social truth but nothing more is notable if only for the fact that many intelligent theists use it to argue that there is no morality/social order without God.

    • Posted May 30, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      The accumulated brain research evidence shows no free will it has nothing to do with theism “a-” or otherwise.

      It’s all about data, the rest is chit chat.

      • Marjorie Spencer
        Posted May 30, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        My comment wasn’t about theism “a-” or otherwise; it was about Jerry’s extrapolation to morality. Data isn’t going to help there.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted June 1, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

          sorry, but your initial contention actually doesn’t address whether data addresses this or not.

          I’d like to comment on this though:

          So morality is not a way of knowing? If we accept that, morality goes the way of free agency – a conclusion many atheists find inevitable.

          for good reason.

          it’s not just atheists that think this, btw, there is a very long tradition of pragmatism involved in ethics debate.

      • gr8hands
        Posted May 31, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        bestss, “the accumulated brain research evidence shows no” such thing. Dr. Coyne and Harris may believe it demonstrates no free will, but that is not the concensus in the scientific community.

        As evidence of that, review any number of threads on that topic on this website.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted June 1, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

          what was in evidence in those threads was more a disagreement over the definition of free will, than whether the cognitive data from the experiments described was accurate, or the results interpreted correctly.

          I think you are misrepresenting how the discussion actually went.

    • gr8hands
      Posted May 31, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      No, there is no objective morality. There is no objective personal experience. There are no objective dreams.

      Notice the pattern? It is a personal experience of individuals.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted June 1, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

        No, there is no objective morality. There is no objective personal experience.

        the latter does not follow from, nor is it equatable to, the former.

    • MAUCH
      Posted June 1, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      The idea that morality is grounded in god is one of the most pernicious falsehoods that religous people make. It’s a non sequitur that morality is a result of god. The more accurate statement is that gods cannot be good without the moral groundings of humanity.

  29. Posted May 30, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I found this exchange most interesting. Unsurprisingly, of course, I find myself solidly in Coyne’s camp. I think his position should be thought of as, “The Magic of Reality: The Enlightened Realist Edition.”

    I’ll be reading the exchange several more times; there’s a lot to absorb in such a short exchange. I hope also to see the dialogue continue for a while.

  30. jbg
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Unreal. Take a few quotes from some selected seminarians and then make an absurd generalization about “the faithful” both regular believers and theologians. Not to mention the somewhat faithful, the unfaithful along with those blessed by grace, providence and being well bred. Well how about deal with a really major influential author/seminarian like Miguel De Unamuno or author/swami like Vivekananda. The UofC just got the Vivekananda chair program started by the nation of India after all so we really should examine his writings about theology, religion and science. But let’s start with Unamuno. We can get to Vivekananda and author/layman Solzhenitsyn later. Tragic Sense of Life is a bit more substantial text than the collected output of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Chris Hitchens in my estimation: “Lucretius wished to arrive at a conclusion, a solution, and, what is worse, he wished to find consolation in reason. For there is also an anti-theological advocacy, and an odium anti-theologicum. Many, very many, men of science, the majority of those who call themselves rationalists, are afflicted by it.”

    Unamuno, Miguel de (2005-01-08). Tragic Sense Of Life (p. 59). Public Domain Books.

    So militant atheists are now acting exactly in this manner of anti-theological advocacy with the usual odium anti-theologicum. They also fall into various degrees of mendacity given the goal is not just to advance acceptance of science and reason, as if this is really a vital current issue, but to vanquish all religion and whatever is regarded as irrational belief and practice.

    • Posted May 30, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

      Sure, everyone likes stuff that panders to their simplest emotions. Science and data never does.

      Evidence-based knowledge will destroy just about every delusion we hold — because they work!

      • jbg
        Posted May 30, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

        “Evidence-based knowledge will destroy just about every delusion we hold — because they work!” Speak for yourself, my delusions tend to be indestructible.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 31, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

          No social isolation is perfect. You may die with your imperfect knowledge of nature, but your children will have many opportunities to interact with knowledge.

          In that sense delusions will eventually yield.

          [Actually there is a paper on arxiv that shows religions may go extinct some day, precisely because they are at odds with (today) robust social phenomena like science.]

          • jbg
            Posted June 1, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

            Sure each generation should advance in knowledge but there are notable retrograde and stasis periods. I look at it as a goals of education issue and from a marketing perspective. You will have a difficult time selling anything by odium, ridicule, arrogance, and a general warfare militancy model. That is known in marketing as the Drink Bud or I’ll kill you approach. In historical terms that is the same as following the French Revolutionary methods of teaching rationality. Certainly you can argue that many religions do exactly that which is way way too simplistic and just leads to more militancy and tedium. Yes, we know that, it is being repeated ad nauseum. It does not provide intelligent people with any greater
            insights and just alienates them against the messengers. Particularly when they use tactics like the rhetoric of genocide and shameless war mongering.

            • Ichthyic
              Posted June 3, 2012 at 3:41 am | Permalink

              That is known in marketing as the Drink Bud or I’ll kill you approach.

              I’m so tired of this strawman.

              just like your example approach doesn’t actually exist in marketing beer, likewise the so called “new atheist manifesto” nowhere actually contains any issues where there is any attempt to force lack of belief.

              your schtick is old and tired, and should be put down.

              oh wait, did I just say put down?

              surely that means you should die.


        • Ichthyic
          Posted June 3, 2012 at 3:37 am | Permalink

          Speak for yourself, my delusions tend to be indestructible.

          There’s treatment available for even that level of denial.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 31, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Anti-theology is easy, clean fun since as “just so” stories goes theology tries to defend the indefensible. It is crucial for mental health to reveal such idiocy for what it is.

      Speaking of mendacity, no atheist is on record as trying to eradicate religion any more than they are on record for militancy.

      Vanquish on the intellectual and political arena certainly, as religion should be a personal matter. In that respect atheists
      support religion, as a theocracy would harm many religious of different faiths.

  31. Mark Joseph
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    Aren’t you forgetting another source of knowledge, namely revelation? As evidence, I present the following:

  32. JonG
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    I wish I had seen this post earlier.

    These arguments about art as some kind of “way of knowing” on par with science (including social sciences) have always struck me as bizarre, and I say this having been a classical musician in college. In my experience and understanding, art is a powerful tool of communication, not fact-finding. A skilled artist can convey meaning on an intellectual and emotional level, but I do not know of an example of that meaning arising spontaneously from the art itself. The artist is trying to communicate a previously formed opinion, judgement, value, etc.

    Even Prof. Kitcher’s examples in the original New Republic piece follow this formulation. Benjamin Britten was trying to express an opinion and feelings about warfare he had previously formed (he was a long time pacifist). Writing “War Requiem” did not grant him some new knowledge about WWII that he could not have known previously, as the “ways of knowing” argument seems to imply.

    • gr8hands
      Posted May 31, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Art is about expression, not communication.

      • JonG
        Posted May 31, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

        I would argue that the the difference between expression and communication is more semantic than substantive.

        Feel free to substitute “expression” for “communication” in my comment though. Either way, my point still stands.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted June 3, 2012 at 3:44 am | Permalink

        yeah, I too was thinking expression is a subset of communication.

        maybe gr8hands is not expressing themselves clearly though?

  33. emmageraln
    Posted May 31, 2012 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on emmageraln.

  34. Brian
    Posted May 31, 2012 at 2:52 am | Permalink

    About Alex Rosenberg, I think it is important to recognize that he is trying to capitalize of a strategy from the gay rights movement of reclaiming labels previous used as insults. Gay people reclaimed the term gay. Rosenberg is trying to reclaim scientism. Certainly this is one of several reasonable strategies. With all the people, often motivated by religion/spirituality and/or natural vs social sciences territorial disputes, bashing scientists and atheists for adopting scientism, eventually we were going to respond. Most have responded by denying the charge (rightfully so). But someone was bound to say “Darn right I’m espouse scientism!” and reclaim the charge.

    It is a bit annoying that Rosenberg chose this unpopular tactic, as it basically takes away the retort that no one believes this scientism rubbish. They don’t for the most part, Dawkins, Coyne, etc don’t and Rosenberg is mostly reclaiming the term. Nonetheless someone explicitly proclaiming scientism hurts the more popular strategy. We should have had a unified front on this, not multiple conflicting strategies in denying the scientism insult. It is also a shame that Rosenberg goes as far as he does in denying history as bunk for instance. He may have a point and certainly something can be said about the social sciences in comparison to the natural sciences in how they work and how successful they have been. I personally think the social sciences work on problems far harder than physics, so obviously physics has better results, but the social sciences still have fascinating results and might one day be as excellent as physics is now. I don’t bash people for taking on hard problems. And clearly history is not bunk! Rosenberg has taken a different strategy, but I think has done so by saying insightful things too hardline and thereby looking like a fool.

    Regardless, Rosenberg is just taking a different strategy in rejecting the same scientism insult as myself and many others. To suggest he espouses scientism where I do not is frankly absurd.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 31, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      You can’t herd cats. More importantly, you shouldn’t try to herd cats. It is neither here nor there if it takes away a retort, then that claim was obviously weak or false anyway.

      FWIW, I find that “scientism” can be defined in defensible ways. I often use “the observation that science works better than any other sets of methods to find out viable knowledge.” This seems to be the claim the levelers of it are implicitly reaching for, and explicitly it is a good claim.

      More strongly, it is a testable hypothesis on science.

      • Brian
        Posted May 31, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        The fact that we are like cats makes us EXTREMELY vulnerable. There are times when you need to put further a cohesive front and work with others, even if it means you don’t like some of what that entails. Going at things our own individual ways doesn’t always work and at some very important times fails catastrophically.

        The fact of the matter is Rosenberg isn’t espousing scientism, not in the sense that our opponents claim. He even says as much. But by explicitly saying he espouses scientism and by deliberately going to far, he gives the impression that he does not only espouse scientism but espouses precisely the form of scientism the opponents accuse us of. And when he does this so explicitly and says so in books with “Atheist” in the title, he makes it that much harder to explain that atheists including Rosenberg are not guilty of the charge of our opponents. What Rosenberg failed at was not only going with a cohesive front but also in pursuing a remotely sensible strategy in the first place.

        I would agree that science is the most successful way currently available for studying the real world. That is, opposed to for example mathematics which is highly successful at studying concepts and the social sciences which are less successful but still have important results. But I try to avoid reclaiming the word scientism for such a position. When opponents accuse me of scientism, they don’t mean the view I just describes. Actually, they mostly mean some shrewd pseudo-philosophical insult as a counterargument of sorts. I should simply not pander to such nonsense and work to get them to understand what I really think rather than taking up a label, especially redefine scientism.

  35. TJR
    Posted May 31, 2012 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Good to see so many people saying “define your terms”. I’ll certainly continue saying it whenever a topic like this crops up.

    Ah, but what do you mean by “defining terms”?

  36. Posted May 31, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    BBC 4 podcast — Joanh Lerher pandering to silly pop ideologies — again. He seems actually dishonest:
    – Says he’s covering neuroscience
    – But actually is constantly trying to accommodate the usually pop art-ism and human exceptionalism.

    His approach seems to be: “Gee, look at the cool research! But, of course, all of our naive, pop culture and self-flattering and solipsistic ideas are truer than ever!” NOT

    BBC 4 interview. Sweet jesus he says some silly things:

  37. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 31, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Despite the consensus, I find myself in agreement with Coyne and at odds with Kitchner.

    Coyne’s description of science as observation and rational inquiry is easy to agree with.

    So let me list the problems I have the Kitchner:

    – The puzzling of Kitchner over being tied to religion I see as a tedious figure of speech.

    – I don’t think holding to hypotheses and testing means that “you debar modes of human knowledge”.

    Observation and rational inquiry is part of learning new stuff but will only lead to contingent, relative knowledge defined of where you have observed and learned thus far.

    Hypotheses and testing can lead to universal, absolute knowledge. (Say, of universal and maximal speed of light in vacuum.) Laws can be found as the strongest, most parsimonous hypotheses.

    Famously, Feynman describes in one minute how to find out laws. It is hypotheses, prediction and testing.

    In the same lecture Feynman describes unscientific methods. Key sentences on vague descriptions of love: “It is usually said that, then this is pointed out: – When dealing with psychological matters, you can’t define matters precisely. – Yes, but then you can’t pretend to know anything about it.” [@ 6:30.]

    – Kitchner discuss “different … methods [of science] and claim that they are studied. He also puts Kuhn here.

    I would point out that any systematic empirical study of these methods have never been presented. Specifically Kuhn is claimed to never define matters precisely by some who have read him. Both goes to Feynamn’s “but then you can’t pretend to know anything about it.”


    “Scientism” is either as Coyne says a too vague concept, or it is simply the observation that science works better than any other sets of methods to find out viable knowledge. I am fine with both, and use them as appropriate.

    • Posted May 31, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      Consensus is always wrong = lowest common denominator.

      Scientism is just the standard bullying tactic of name calling to avoid facts and a real discussion.

      Let’s look at this from what may be the real driving force here — why are these folks trying to prove the validity of what they study as “as good” as science.

      Why not just say — “It’s nothing like facts and evidence and proof and science.” ? Just carve out a completely different domain of activity?

      Probably has to do with funding. Science gets more funding — they are seeing less.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted June 3, 2012 at 3:50 am | Permalink

        Why not just say — “It’s nothing like facts and evidence and proof and science.” ? Just carve out a completely different domain of activity?

        they did.

        remember NOMA?

        why hasn’t it worked?


        people want results.

        science works to produce useful and useable results.


        …has had a much longer time to produce anything, and has not and will not.

        people see this.

        the only way religion hangs on is to lie about its own importance.

        and get others to lie for it.

  38. MAUCH
    Posted June 1, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    It intrigues me that those who appreciate science are given the rap that they are so into reality they don’t have time for the humanities. Go to your city’s local production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and do a polling of the audience and I bet they will have a greater affinity to Neil deGrass Tyson then they will to Ken Ham. You might even find some Jerry Coyne groupies there as well.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted June 3, 2012 at 3:51 am | Permalink


  39. Posted June 3, 2012 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    Most people, including several who have posted to this thread don’t appreciate (both senses) my rejection of history as bunk and the humanities as innocent of knowledge. Let me explain briefly.
    As for history being bunk, the point is easily understood, and there is a wealth of evidence for it. What is more it has important implications for the limits to the human sciences.
    History is bunk means simply that it does not provide predictively useful knowledge. Of course most good history gets the facts right about the past. A little of it even gets the causes of past events right too. The trouble is getting the past right is no guide to the future. That’s why history is not useful (predictively useful) knowledge.
    Evidence: the track record of history. Historians’ predictions are rarely right and when they are it’s by accident. As the wag said, “Generals are always preparing for the last war.” They do so by studying its history. Then they get the next war wrong.
    Analysis: the reason history is bunk is not just that it usually trades in narratives about people’s aims and beliefs that don’t even accurately track the causes of their own actions. Even if intentional explanations identified causes in the right way, human affairs, like biological processes, are continually being moved away from momentary local equilibria by arms races. And as Jerry C or any competent biologist can tell you, owing to random variation and the size of the “design space” variation operates in, no one can predict the onset of an arms race. As to its direction and end point, even these are hard to project.
    Implications: The arms race character of human history is accelerating, as it becomes more and more contingent on that most random of all processes of variation: technological change. History offers doubtful hindsight and no foresight. The same thing that deprives history of any foresight makes the social sciences myopic. They may have a bit of predictive power, but even their best macroscopic predictions are likely to be overtaken by events—ones driven by arms races.
    I am the last to deny anyone the delights of history. It’s the only thing I read. Like every one else I love stories, and the truth about the past can be woven into at least as satisfying a story as any historical novel. But stories seduce us into thinking we understand. That’s where the humanities come in, entertaining us so well that we mistakenly treat them as contributions to knowledge when they are really to be prized as sources of pleasure, emotional spurs to action, and perhaps even psychological springs to invention. None of these three attributes qualifies the humanities and the arts as sources of knowledge, merely wisdom.

    • Posted June 3, 2012 at 5:59 am | Permalink

      Humanities “prized as sources of pleasure, emotional spurs to action, and perhaps even psychological springs to invention.” This is a platitude. How would we know?

      In fact, it seems that the humanities is mainly composed of the most popular ideological tropes supporting the current, local status quo — falsely sold as something “universal” and more.

      Just basic false marketing tactic.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted June 3, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

        Rich & Co, Bestss, Sleepwalking… what a profusion of names to be coupled with the same tired tropes: why do you not attempt to actually make a case for what you are asserting? – that is surely the responsible thing to do.

    • Posted June 3, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      So, in short: The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.


  40. David Nyman
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Heather Harper is a “Russian Soprano”? First I’ve heard of it.

  41. Joseph
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 2:59 am | Permalink

    The Trouble with Scientism, Philip Kitcher, May 4 2012 TNR

    Great essay but economically there is no income in the humanities and that is the great challenge to its contemporary relevance…

    It comes as no surprise that the objectifiable sciences are increasingly gutted of philosophical perspective and questioning [The Trouble with Scientism, Philip Kitcher, May 4th 2012] when humanities training is becoming so endangered. Today’s competitive and frenetic world is enamoured of quantifiable outcomes; with escalating economic and employment uncertainty, living a life of the mind and learning to discern meaning in the scientific enquiry and lives led appears fraught with risk. With humanities graduates facing dismal job prospects and the professions (medical, law, engineering and the sciences) established as reliable paths to security and status, is it any wonder that history and the humanities face grave threat? No matter how adaptable, transferable and potentially competent across jobs humanities training confers, the reality remains that of a cut-throat race for suitable jobs within academia. Although history and the humanities are incontestably a form of knowledge, declining job security will consign them to burgeoning irrelevance.

8 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] at Why Evolution Is True, Philip Kitcher defends his essay (which I talked about here) against the criticisms it received […]

  2. […] Philip Kitcher and I discuss “scientism” ( […]

  3. […] at Columbia, published a piece on scientism in The New Republic,leading to a lengthy exchange with Jerry Coyne. I want to reply to this exchange soonish, as it is a question I’ve been involved with for […]

  4. […] of course, there are Jerry Coyne’s comments on Kitcher’s essay, which you can access here and here. (And, while I do not link to them, Massimo Pigliucci has a number of posts on scientism […]

  5. […] of Science without being assumed to be a religious Believer at war with rational thought. (Jerry Coyne’s rejoinder to Philip Kitcher, referenced before, feels the need to bring in religion several times even though Kitcher’s […]

  6. […] their own ways of knowledge production, but as Jerry Coyne has astutely pointed out in two articles responding to Philip Kitcher, all the methods that work that can be reasonably described as […]

  7. […] Finally, these two entities collapse into one. As Jerry Coyne, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, says very […]

  8. […] my most recent post on this subject I quoted the following from Jerry Coyne (my […]

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