Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Towcestarian, in response to my last post on this subject, says Marilynne Robinson has 'no particular understanding of science'. This charge has periodically been levelled at me ever since I published Understanding the Present in 1992. That book, I now see, was a Robinsonian tract. Obviously, if this means I do not understand the maths of quantum theory or the finer aspects of plate tectonics, then I would have to agree. Usually, however, it means I do not understand some broader issue such as the scientific method and its freedom from ideological bias. With this I cannot agree and, indeed, I generally find I know more about these matters than those prominent scientists who refuse to take philosophy seriously or who lack a historical sense. The whole point of Robinson's position - and mine - is that it is often scientists who do not understand science. Dawkins bases his own position on a degree of certainty and finality about a scientific theory - Darwinism - that is utterly alien to the spirit of science. This is not to say Darwinism is or may be wrong, only that its primacy may well be relativised by later discoveries. In the case of Dawkins' specific interpretation of Darwinism as expressed in The Selfish Gene, this has alreay happened. The absolute centrality of the gene is now widely disputed if not wholly discarded. The greatness of Robinson's essay arises from, among other things, a very profound understanding of the scientific method. She also understands that the institution of science, being a human construction, frequently fails to live up to its own highest ideals. In a nutshell: the ideology of scientism is an affront to the spirit of science.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 9:52 am