Fuller full of himself

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The Guardian has a piece titled Steve Fuller: Designer trouble, in reference to testimony that the aforementioned professor gave to the Dover court. After reading the article I have to say that I’m not surprised that he testified, he seems to not be of any camp aside from that of Steve Fuller, and oh how he loves himself. Fuller notes that “It is not like people love you for doing this” in reference to his pro-ID testimony at Dover. Sure, but it gets you 1400 word write ups in The Guardian, along with putting “social epistemology”1 on the map that has to make you somebody.

Addendum: Fuller repeats the common assertion by many that monotheism is a necessary condition for the initiation of science (see Rodney Stark’s recent books for a strong form of this argument). I’ve seen this contention before, and I’m not convinced, though I don’t discount it. Of late my main problem has been the tendency of some historians and sociologists to make inferences from perceptions and assumptions about mental states when I sense that these scholars aren’t up to speed on the latest work in cognitive psychology which tells you to be cautious about conclusions you derive from introspective common sense.2 This sort of abduction should be treated with care, but my impression is that Fuller has used the Christianity ~ science connection in debates several times. That makes his defense of Intelligent Design all the more irritating, because the high standard of proof and certitude that he holds evolutionary theory to doesn’t extend to his own views, which in this case seem to be far more tendentious.

Update: Since I mentioned Rodney Stark’s work, here is a somewhat overwrought review in TNR of his newest book. Stark’s contention that the Greeks didn’t have science and that only Christianity has theology are provocative (depending on how you define “science” I could accept the former, though the TNR reviewer points out Stark’s tendency to vary the definition depending on how it fits his thesis that Christianity was directly, fundamentally and necessarily responsible for the modern world as we know it). Unfortunately, he has started to take a progressively more polemical tone recently. This does not necessarily invalidate his thesis exposited in his recent books (One True God and For the Glory of God make the same argument), but it does undermine his pretensions toward scholarship (as does dismissing those who disagree with him as believing in “nonsense!”). His claim to erudition was definitively burst for me on page 130 of For the Glory of God where he repeats established orthodoxy of the 1960s in regards to the great “stirrup controversy”, as if that is the state of knowledge presently, a few pages after claiming to have immersed himself in the historical literature and criticizing other scholars for relying on out of date models! (he could be selectively using this out of date material to back up his thesis of course, but then he is guilty of what he decries) Though I fully grant that the propogandistic arguments of secularist scholars (see David Gress’ critique of Will Durant in From Plato to NATO), there is no reason now to veer to the other extreme in the interests of “balance.”

1 – If Wikipedia is to be believed a lot of social epistemology is pretty sensible (and some not). Some of my more off the wall posts definitely assume a sort of social epistemology framed by a transhumanist teleology. It just goes to show you that it is how you use a tool, not the tool itself, that is problematic.

2 – Example (roughly adapted from Stark) – Chinese believe in an unknowable essence, Christians believe in a comprehendible personal God, ergo, Christian universe is comprehensible, making science possible. Chinese universe is unknowable, it just is, making science impossible. Leaving aside the assertions about the character of Chinese and European religious worldviews for a moment, I am skeptical that Chinese and European intellectuls really had a non-nominalist sense of what these terms meant and cognitively represented higher powers any differently. I believe in these generalizations as much as I do in Max Webers work where he predicted that East Asia would never develop economically because of Confucian values (now Confucian values are the reason for development!).


  1. Of course even if there were a causal connection between the Hebraic conception of God and the rise of science, that is not evidence for ID. But it is one more reason why we in the West ought to have a greater appreciation of the historical importance of the concept. History, not science, is the issue.

  2. Wber was trying to explain why capitalism first arose in Europe instead of somewhere else. He never argued that others wouldn’t adopt it once they saw it in action. Ditto for science. 
    What was distinctive about the Hebraic conception of God was that it had a vision of History which led to the idea of progress. To my knowledge no other civilization had that orientation, at least not until they saw what was being achieved in the West.

  3. He never argued that others wouldn’t adopt it once they saw it in action.  
    my point is that weber argued confucianism held the east back from capitalism. now confucianism is offered as a reason that the east succeeds. this sort of generalization (weber’s arguemnt, stark’s argument) is highly dependent on your a priori predispositions. as for the hebraic concept of god, as i’ve stated many, many, many, many times i want something more than patterns extracted out of the text. i am looking for cognitive evidence that this ‘forward looking’ mind set actually exists (even stark admits christianity isn’t sufficient seeing as eastern christendom never distinguished itself much from other civilizations). we have had this argument, you and i, many times. you found stark convincing from what i recall and when i pointed out he was not particularly well versed in the history he claimed to interpret you suggested i was protesting too much. so i don’t see the point of any discourse with you on this topic, we can’t really meet in the middle. you are amazed by the christian god, and i am less than enthralled.

  4. I think that monotheism is a natural intermediate step in the progressive deanthropomorphizing of our framing of the natural world. This is useful insofar as we fill in the cleared space with a conceptual map that correlates with the underlying reality. Without tools for surveying and recording what is reproducably measurable, anthropomorphism is a workable default. 
    Science begins with the Greeks, not the Hebrews.

  5. mark, 
    one thing, stark does not consider greek science “science” at all.

  6. Is Stark’s opinion on this topic of interest beyond potential use for target practice? I’m sure it’s possible to define science so as to exclude the accomplishments of the Greeks for the implicit purpose of excluding the accomplishments of the Greeks. What else is such a definition useful for?

  7. well, _one true _god_ is short and sweet. if you want a flavor of his argument you might check it out. stark’s talking points will be making it through the conservative religiosphere soon enough, so it might be worthwhile. the american enterprise institute generally likes his stuff too.

  8. Thanks for the pointer. I skimmed into a few reviews of Stark’s book, and while they shed no light specifically on how he frames science and the development of science, I got a general sense of where he is coming from. Not unreasonable on the surface. I generally agree with his “rational choice” theory for the growth of sects, the general preference of all but the intellectual elite for anthropomorphic gods and the unknowability of what is beyond knowing. 
    I think a case can be made that the Catholic Church created a nurturing environment for the reemergence of science after the Dark ages. However, a case can also be made that catholicism is polytheistic.  
    I think history could have taken a slightly different turn in the preChristian era with science as we know it growing directly out of Classical Greece, or emerging independently in China. Reasonable people can disagree on this sort of thing.

  9. Reasonable people can disagree on this sort of thing. 
    yep. i have problems with both sides, people like stark and michael novak that lionize religion (usually christianity) as the creator of all that is good, and those on the anti-religion side who hold religion totally and fundamentally accountable for all misdeeds or regressions. ideas and cultural systems have an influence on ppl, but we haven’t really quantified it, and it isn’t like humans are blank slates which cultures mold, there is a lot of reverse feedback (ie, perhaps christianity was rational because of other forces in the region where it took hold, everything didn’t become rational because of christianity, just as evil in the name of religion wasn’t due to religion, it was just evil that was going to happen and a religious pretense was handy).

  10. Stark’s and Weber’s arguments are, may I say, starkly different. Stark certainly does not discount the possibility of other cultures adopting real science after the kind of change of consciousness typified by the Meiji restoration. The thesis reminds me of Julian Jaynes’ arguments in The Emergence of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind – stimulating even if not bulletproof.