Re: dealing with creationism and intelligent design and in
Agreed that Kitcher's chapter on the epistemology of science (I think it's called "Believing Where We Cannot Prove") is one of the book's strong points, although rather vague when it comes to criteria of theory choice. It is one of the few accounts of scientific evidence and confirmation that is neither painfully oversimplified, nor inaccessibly technical. These days, though, I just copy that one chapter and use it in conjunction with articles that deal with the recent debate, including the Orr article you mention below.

I teach this material in philosophy of science classes, where it's essential to "teach the controversy," but Kitcher's book actually provides one of the best arguments against trying to do this in biology classes, particularly high school biology classes. Essentially it comes down to what's the most important thing to do when time is limited and when your opponents are more like professional magicians than serious researchers. I don't say that Kitcher's arguments are decisive, but I have my students weigh what he says against arguments like Michael's (which was also made by Neil Postman in The Nation back in the 1980s).

Incidentally, while Kitcher would agree that science is uncertain, he wouldn't characterize it as non-objective, at least if that is taken to mean incapable of getting closer to the truth. See his more technical book, The Advancement of Science.


At 8:04 PM -0500 2/26/07, Jon Beckwith wrote:
Phil-  What I really like about Kitcher's book is how it simultaneously deals with "creation science" (and even ID, although it wasn't called that, there were arguments of the ID type at the time) and science.  Stating right off the bat that "science is an exercise in believing what we cannot prove" , but effectively goes on to delineate what distinguishes science from things like creation science etc.  I use it in a course I teach and it is really effective in that sense.   That is, I almost am using it more to give a more accurate picture of science than students have absorbed- its weaknesses as well as its strengths (which can be the same thing).  I really liked H. Allen Orr's (an evolutionist) article on ID a couple of years ago in the New Yorker.  I was really excited by Michael's article as I have been suggesting teaching both evolution and creation science together (e.g. a la Kitcher) as a way to achieve the two goals- exposing the non-scientific nature of the ct\reationists arguments and "exposing" the wonderful non-objectivity and uncertainty of science.

At 03:38 PM 2/26/2007, you wrote:
Kitcher's book is titled Abusing Science--it's good for the most part (although the chapter on science and religion is weak, and Kitcher himself has subsequently conceded that his "plea for peaceful coexistence [between science and religion] ... was too facile"), but it was written in 1982 and is out of date (the young earth creationism that is his main target is only one among many creationist views now being advocated). I've suggested to him that he should reissue it with his 2002 essay on ID theory ("Born Again Creationism", reprinted in In Mendel's Mirror) as a postcript. However, the best (meaning philosophically most sophisticated) monograph on these issues is still Robert Pennock's Tower of Babel (MIT, 1999), although I have several specific disagreements with it. The best collection is Pennock's Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics (MIT, 2001). --PG
On the issue of creationism., ID and evolution, I strongly recommend the book "Use and Abuse of Biology"m MIT Press, by Philip Kitcher- a philosopher at Columbia- an older but timeless book plus his recent article in his book "In Mendel's Mirror" Oxford Univ. Press.
Jon Beckwith
Dept. of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
Harvard Medical School
200 Longwood Ave.
Boston, MA 02115

Tel. 617-432-1920
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Recent books and articles:
My book, a memoir entitled: Making Genes, Making Waves: A Social Activist in Science, Harvard University Press, 2002.
Copies conformes ou copies qu'on forme ? J. Beckwith. Sciences et Avenir Hors-SÚrie #149, p.71 (2006)
Should we make a fuss? A case for social responsibility in science. F. Huang and J. Beckwith, Nature Biotechnology. 23:1479-1480 (2005).
Whither Human Behavioral Genetics, J. Beckwith in Wrestling with
Behavioral Genetics: Ethics, Science, and Public Conversation
, eds. E. Parens, A. Chapman and N. Press.  Johns Hopkins University Press (2005)