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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Capitalism, Nonscience and Science

I had a good discussion with my class yesterday regarding intelligent design creationism and science. The question posed by the student (and many ID'ers) is why don't we teach the concept of Intelligent Design along with evolution and just let the students make up their own mind. This sounds like a fair argument and particularly as couched by the student. The claim was made that science should be like capitalism and that the best idea, like the best product will win out in the end. Sounds very much like the rhetoric from the ID folk. The more I thought about this, the better it sounded to me, but for very different reasons. Here is the argument I would make. Science is capitalistic in some sense. Science does entertain a wide range of ideas and the good ideas last, are 'bought' and populate the marketplace. Bad ideas, like the Yugo, enter and leave a competitive marketplace quickly. So why not let a Intelligent Design enter the marketplace and let the 'consumer' decide?
The answer to that question is really simple. Forbes magazine reports:

Toyota--which has the best-selling passenger car in America with its Camry--is preparing to assault the American pickup market with larger, overhauled versions of its Tacoma (due out this fall) and full-size Tundra.

Note that Toyota does not say "Let's re-introduce the Yugo" because the marketplace has spoken and concluded that the Yugo just doesn't cut it. Instead, Toyota and other market leaders try to capitalize on what works and then work to improve that idea. Successful corporations do not even consider launching prototypes that show no market appeal. A true capitalistic venture is not patient with poorly formed ideas and ill-conceived projects. When a product works and continues to work well, changes to the product should be carefully considered or they will be doomed to failure (remember the "New Coca-Cola")?

So how does this relate to ID? Intelligent design is offering a new product without proper testing. ID is trying to convince us that a YUGO is better built and more dependable than the Toyota Camry. ID is trying to package itself as a 'new coca cola'. What's worse is that ID is trying to re-introduce us to the Yugo and new coca cola pretending that the market has never truly tested these products! The market already has a Camry and Coke Classic. It's called evolution and its a proven product with market value and 'star power'. Evolution is the Kleenex, Coke Classic and Xerox of biological science.
The problem for ID is not that the market is unfair because markets are inherently unfair in a true capitalistic sense. Evolution is a proven product and it's unlikely that the scientific market will drop rigor and research in favor of a proven inferior product. So, when the ID'ers make the argument that we should give them a chance ask them if they would invest in a Yugo dealership in the US or try to corner the "New Coke" market. ID is selling us RONCO science in an IBM world. They keep telling us 'but wait there's more, in addition to a new science, you're getting salvation from your sins'. I'm not buying it.


Joe Meert


At 3:45 PM, Blogger RBH said...

In his new book Living with Darwin, Philip Kitcher makes a related point. He calls ID "dead science" -- it was once 'science' (in the late 17th and early 18th centuries) but was killed off by Darwin's theory of evolution. So yeah, it's just like trying to resurrect the Yugo. In fact, Kitcher calls ID proponents "resurrection men".

At 2:05 PM, Blogger TheFallibleFiend said...

What "works" in one sense is not necessarily what "works" in another sense. The word "working" is ambiguous.

I agree that science - as a marketplace of ideas - is vaguely sort of similar to capitalism.

If we were a purely capitalist, parents might allow children to buy all the candy they wished - but parents know this is not a good idea. Students of science in general do not know more about the actual science of evolution than do the scientists themselves. Are there exceptions? Surely, but I think mine is a very reasonable and factually correct generalization.

Children - even older children - of college age often do not know how to reason very well. They do not know how to examine evidence critically. Probably most adults do not do this very well.

My point is that while in this vague sense science and capitalism are somehow about selecting the fittest, they do not necessarily use the same selection criteria.

Capitalism is a great thing. I admire it. It's useful as an engine for building societies. Unfortunately, we need to put that engine in the right chassis and provide it some sort of steering mechanism. Pure capitalism isn't about ethics or about searching for truth. It's about selling things, it's about marketing, it's often about deception.

I don't have a problem with college profs bringing up ID in their classrooms - particularly to demonstrate why it fails as science. I don't even have a problem with HS teachers doing it. I do have a problem with forcing teachers to bring it up in HS, except in advanced classes, for the same reason I'd have trouble if they spent too much time discussing phlogiston - particularly, if they were required to convey to the students that it were comparable to the theories that replaced it.

At 3:33 PM, Anonymous Les Lane said...

Nice analogy.

Time scale is a problem. People remember Yugos, but they've fogotten William Paley

At 12:31 PM, Blogger Mark said...

I think of marketing intelligent design as marketing homeopathic remedies. Such remedies are extremely popular these days (think creationism surveys) yet they have no active ingredients, they've never been shown to actually do anything, and they may lead to someone avoiding the real medical care that might help.


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