Puck Reviews The Compatibility of Evolution and Design

So, the exposure to the strangeness of Kojonen’s article and the vagueness with which his positions were stated led me to just read the doggoned book. I’ve posted a review at Amazon, and it is attached here.

Basically there’s not a lot to see. The book is an evidence-free assertion that there is teleology and design in biology, not so much in the proximate but in closer to an “ultimate” causal sense. Since there’s no evidence which a fair-minded person could possibly consider supportive of that thesis, he hollers about “scientism” and raises some things that aren’t evidence of design or teleology but which, for reasons that are often unclear, somehow speak to him. My best guess is that he’s got a Behe-like confusion between function and purpose, and that this leads him to see a ghostly hand where others just see complex organisms.

There is, of course, nothing the matter with saying that you subjectively feel that the whole world is shot through with vague signs that there are creator-gods in whose creation we live. But to try to raise this to the level of a defensible, well-evidenced fact about biology is a farce; it will always be a farce, unless some body of evidence of which nobody today has the least hint comes to light.

And why can’t poetry stay poetry? Why must it be prose? I love Shelley’s To A Skylark. But if, after opening with “Hail to thee, blithe spirit! Bird thou never wert!” Shelley went on to go argue with @John_Harshman that, in fact, skylarks (and I’m assuming Shelley, writing when he did, did not mean to refer to Buicks) should not be classified as birds, one could only marvel at the silliness of the thing.

The “scientism” objection to using science to judge facts that lie squarely within science’s wheelhouse has yet, so far as I can see, ever to be raised by anyone who had a body of credible evidence to which to point. It is always raised as an excuse for not really having evidence that actually bears on the issue. The alternative is never “consider my compelling evidence for this proposition.” It’s always “the only reason you don’t accept my un-evidenced proposition is that you are an adherent to ‘scientism.’ And ‘scientism’ is really, really bad, and intellectually unsophisticated, to boot.” But the dissent here is not from “science” but from the need for evidence – not a need which is disposed of easily in any practical epistemology.

I do find myself wondering whether, if I were to propose that Rishi Sunak is a transdimensional being who, when out of public view, fights the mole-people who live under the earth with his invisible yogurt gun, and if I were met with the counterargument that my views are not supported by a great deal of evidence, these people would come to my aid against that sort of “scientism.” I think they wouldn’t. But I think it’s frankly a better and more plausible story than the design-reflected-vaguely-in-broad-themes-in-biology one. Sunak surely exists, for a start. And if the argument against evidence is sauce for the goose, it is certainly sauce for the transdimensional telepathic telekinetic shape-shifting gander.

Of course, by linguistic convention, one who is an adherent to scientism should be termed a “scientist.” And in practice, that’s who these people are railing against. “Scientism” is supposed to refer to giving science undue regard; instead, as used in the wild, it tends to mean refusing to give mountebankery the same respect as science.
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