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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Thinkquote of the day: Preserving the status quo in science

Bill Dembski blogged this Koestler comment before I got around to it, but I am not letting that stop me:

Galileo’s conflict with the church could have probably been avoided if he had been endowed with less passion and more diplomacy; but long before that conflict, he had incurred the implacable hostility of the orthodox Aristotelians who held key positions at the Italian universities. Religion and political oppression play only an incidental part in the history of science; its erratic course and recurrent crises are caused by internal factors. One of the conspicuous handicaps is the conservatism of the scientific mind in its corporate aspect. The collective matrix of a science at a given time is determined by a kind of establishment, which includes universities, learned societies, and, more recently, the editorial offices of technical journals. Like other establishments, they are consciously or unconsciously bent on preserving the status quo  partly because unorthodox innovations are a threat to their authority, but also because of a deeper fear that that their laboriously erected intellectual edifice might collapse under the impact. Corporate orthodoxy has been the curse of genius from Aristarchus to Galileo, to Harvey, Darwin and Freud; throughout the centuries its phalanxes have sturdily defended habit against originality.”

- Arthur Koestler, The Act of Creation, 1969, p. 239

Last October, I was giving at talk at an adult ed meet at the University of Toronto, and a fellow panelist announced that scientists are humble compared to other people. I was taken aback because in all the years I have spent in journalism, I had never encountered any reason for believing that. Some scientists are humble and others are not, but I have never noticed any occupational tendency in that direction. Most scientists are not imaginative thinkers and they are as ready to think along certain well-worn tracks as pious old women. Their idea of an original thinker is often simply the best exponent of an existing tradition. There are, as always, a few exceptions, but it is surprising how often the exceptions need protection from their peers.

Also, more great Koestler lines.

My other blog is the Mindful Hack, which keeps tabs on neuroscience and the mind.

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

My recent series on the spate of anti-God books, teen blasphemy challenge, et cetera, and the mounting anxiety of materialist atheists that lies behind it.

My review of Francis Collins’ book The Language of God , my backgrounder about peer review issues, or the evolutionary biologist’s opinion that all students friendly to intelligent design should be flunked.

Lists of theoretical and applied scientists who doubt Darwin and of academic ID publications.

My U of Toronto talk on why there is an intelligent design controversy, or my talk on media coverage of the controversy at the University of Minnesota.

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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