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.
Dept. of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
Harvard Medical School
200 Longwood Ave.
Boston, MA 02115
e-mail [log in to unmask]
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,
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)