Race debate

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John Wilkins started a debate on race. I responded here & here. John responds to the response. Interesting discussion threads on Pharyngula, here & here. The Contingency Table adds his 2 cents. You all know about this topic, but I figured you might want pointers to the “discussion.” I’ve stated at least twice that I’m an instrumentalist on this issue, here is the definition from Wiki:

In the philosophy of science, instrumentalism is the view that concepts and theories are merely useful instruments whose worth is measured not by whether the concepts and theories are true or false (or correctly depict reality), but by how effective they are in explaining and predicting phenomena.

For the record, I’m close to an instrumentalist on the “species concept” debate too.

Update: My last response to John’s last response. Evolgen also offers his 2 cents.


  1. Is it appropriate, in your view, to be an instumentalist on evolutionary theory? The theory provides excellent explanations for a huge variety of phenomena, but is unproven in the realm of prediction as of yet.

  2. evolutionary theory 
    tell me what you think “evolutionary theory” is?

  3. Except of course when it’s correctly predicting where to find hypothesized fossil forms, etc, ad infinitum.

  4. Well, now I’ll have to toot my own horn as an “instrumentalist,” I guess. 
    What, in your mind, is the distinction between “correctly depicting reality” vs. “explaining and predicting phenomena?” I look at your two pictures above of the woman, and say to myself, “these depictions of reality are ‘correct’ insofar as they explain and predict phenomena.” “Correct” has no other meaning. 
    She looks dangerously unhappy.

  5. Interesting! It sounds like Instrumentalism is very close to Constructivism, with its emphasis on “viable/non-viable” (as opposed to True/False) claims.

  6. I prefer theories that describe reality AND are predictive. Those that describe reality and do not allow prediction are merely descriptive “stories”, and those that do not describe reality (or at least are isomorphic to reality, their predictive power is bound to fail as soon as questions are asked that veer significantly from prior experiment.

  7. Some examples, Jason? 
    Razib, can’t we agree on what constitutes ‘evolutionary theory’? After all, you use the term often in a very clear sense.

  8. This whole discussion reminds me of Popper’s explanation of why most philosophical activity is worthless. To paraphrase, “Philosophers care about the definitions of words, while scientists care about the truth of theories.” 
    Sometimes all this waffling comes off as a transparent attempt to disqualfiy a priori the testing of viable hypotheses. 
    Here’s something that some guy named Chris said about me on one of these threads: 
    I don’t think following sports would do me much good. I could watch a white Eastern European sprinter compete with black sprinters, and forget the racist belief that something about recent African anscestry makes you a better athlete, and even begin to wonder if black dominance in sports in America wasn’t largely cultural. 
    This guy Wilkens seems reasonable, but clearly talking to people who say like that is just hopeless.

  9. Not to disparage the contributions of Razib, Jason, and Steve Sailer, of course. The tenacious and eloquent defense of utter reasonableness is always appreciated.

  10. can’t we agree on what constitutes ‘evolutionary theory’? After all, you use the term often in a very clear sense. 
    if it’s clear, stipulate it. i’m being serious, i’m not going to answer a question if i don’t know if you are talking about the neo-darwinian synthesis rooted in wright-fisher models and single locus selection, neutral theory a la kimura and its successors, or vanilla origin of species selection upon heritable variation with concomitant assumptions of common descent. a response to your question would take time, why should i respond when i might be responding to the wrong question? (this clarification from me already took time, so clarify yourself if you want a real answer) my sense might be clear because my context is clear, your question is without context. i could for example point out that the findings of genomics vindicates the broad outline of the neo-darwinian synthesis supplemented by neutralism, but you could say “well, i didn’t mean that.” i could say that the findings of genomics vindicates the concept of common descent, but you could say, “well, that’s too broad.”

  11. darth, i think i got the idea of correlation structure out there to a lot of people. that’s worthwhile. remember, plenty of 3rd parties are watching. as for chris, well, i like him, but i disagree with him on a lot of issues :)

  12. You’re probably right, Razib. And, I guess it’s important to “witness,” as my evangelical friends would say.

  13. So, gang, would you mind sharing your collective wisdom with mere philosophy and English professors who are debating race v. racialization over at Objectivist v. Constructivist? And in ways non-specialists (including non-academics) can keep up with?