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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Quote For The Day

From Carl's favorite lefty blogger, Norm Geras, writing on Darwin: (Norm emailed to point that this is unclear - he is quoting from Cottrell Boyce):
It would also be a good read for everyone involved in the current tedious standoff between religious and scientific fundamentalists. Darwin's power of observation and his child-like curiosity are clearly fuelled both by his love of hunting and his reverence for what he thought of as Creation. As I hinted above, he wouldn't have been able to conceive his great scientific theory if he hadn't had a religious sense of eternity, and if his curiosity had not been intensified and focused by reverence. All fundamentalism is irreconcilable with both religion and science. Fundamentalism is a parasite that feeds sometimes on science, sometimes on religion, sometimes on economic policy, for its own ends, offering nothing in return.
It would be interesting to get Boyce's definition of fundamentalism. I think it may be something like "a state of mind focused on doctrinal statements removed from the context which properly provides their meaning". If so, he's correct in describing this as a state of mental parasitism.

My definition of fundamentalism is exactly the opposite of what I am guessing Geras' to be. When I speak of the "fundamental" basis of science, I am referring to scientific method:
Scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena and acquiring new knowledge, as well as for correcting and integrating previous knowledge. It is based on gathering observable, empirical, measurable evidence, subject to specific principles of reasoning.[1]

Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, there are identifiable features that distinguish scientific inquiry from other methods of developing knowledge. Scientific researchers propose specific hypotheses as explanations of natural phenomena, and design experimental studies that test these predictions for accuracy. These steps are repeated in order to make increasingly dependable predictions of future results. Theories that encompass wider domains of inquiry serve to bind many specific hypotheses together in a coherent structure. This in turn aids in the formation of new hypotheses, as well as in placing groups of specific hypotheses into a broader context of understanding.

Among other facets shared by the various fields of inquiry is the conviction that the process must be objective to reduce a biased interpretation of the results. Another basic expectation is to document, archive and share all data and methodology so it is available for careful scrutiny by other scientists, thereby allowing other researchers the opportunity to verify results by attempting to reproduce them. This also allows statistical measures of the reliability of these data to be established.
Geras both amused me and intrigued me with this post, so I bring it to your attention.

When he says "fundamentalism," a better word for the concept might be "dogmatism."

Andre Maurois, in his biography of Disraeli, shed some interesting light on the personality types inclined to dogmatism:

"Like all intelligent men who are not in any way creative, Sir Robert Peel was dangerously sympathic towards the creations of others. Incapable of formulating a system, he threw himself voraciously on those he came across, and applied them more vigorously than would their inventors. He would defend a policy long after the time when it would have been wise to compromise, and then, with a sudden understanding of his adversaries objections, would become an advocate for the Opposition."

I don't know enough about Peel to know if this is a fair comment about him specifically, but I do think it is a very insightful observation in general.

via Lead & Gold
Very interesting, thanks. We do seem haunted by dogmas of different types and sources.
What I really mean to say is that we are haunted by pieces of theories, pulled out of their proper context, and turned into dogmas defended without reason.
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