Thursday, July 05, 2007

Shallow deep down ...

... and not so very deep down, either: Gut instinct isn't science. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Professor Barash, like M. Jourdain discovering that he was speaking prose, has discovered that appearance and reality aren't necessarily the same (though they are necessarily connected: Nothing is real that doesn't in some way appear to be, and every appearance, even a mirage, is in some way, to some degree, real).

"Our planet is round, even though it sure feels flat under our feet as we walk." Well, sort of. But scanning the horizon suggests otherwise, and the the roundness of the Earth was regarded by Thomas Aquinas, for instance, as a matter long settled.

The question, however, is this: Who exactly is suggesting that we substitute "gut instinct" for science? And how many of those counterintuitive insights of science started out as someone's gut instinct?

"Science, bless its innovative soul, constantly reveals new realities. Many of them — global warming, nuclear weapons, overpopulation, threats to biodiversity — are pregnant with immense risk. Others, like genomics or stem cell research, offer great opportunity. But nearly all are freighted with a lack of truthiness."

Does this mean genomics and stem cell research offer only opportunity, but no risk? And I am not the only one to think the jury is still out on global warming - or does Professor Barash think Freeman Dyson and others have been seduced by gut instinct? Moreover, I believe the population bomb turned out to be a dud.

Actually, that paragraph demonstrates perfectly the extent to which Professor Barash's thinking is confined to conventional pieties, which can be as much of a threat to science and truth as any gut instinct.

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