Readers may recall that Steve Fuller is a University of Warwick sociologist who has studied ID as a movement in science and said some insightful things. In response to Nathaniel Comfort’s recent essay against “scientism,” Fuller noted in a letter to Nature:
In my view, it is a misuse of history to oversee the future. What counts as good and bad in scientific practice or in science-based policies can be understood only in retrospect, because our judgement depends on witnessing the consequences. As we move forward in history, those judgements will change. It follows that the moral character of any action is indeterminate at the time it happens. Science itself is a quantum phenomenon — and ‘scientism’ is its observer effect.Steve Fuller, “Science is a quantum phenomenon — ‘scientism’ is its observer effect” at Nature
Rob Sheldon, our physics color commentator and author of Genesis: The Long Ascent and The Long Ascent, Volume II, weighs in,
Steve Fuller is a historian of science, and as such, takes umbrage when others redefine the technical terms in his field. It makes it rather difficult to discuss the history of ideas, if the words constantly mutate, and this is what he is objecting to in his comment. The word “scientism” is older than 1979, and has had a rather defined meaning over the years. I would further add that the word carries its pejorative connotation because it says that the perpetrator of “scientism” has made science and/or the practice of science into an “-ism” by being ideological, and hence, irrational.
Fuller’s short comment is illuminated by their respective biographies.
Nathaniel Comfort, a BS in marine biology at Berkeley in 1985 but PhD in history from SUNY in 1997, is now a historian of biology at Johns Hopkins.
Steve Fuller, a BS in history at Columbia in 1979 and a PhD in the “history and philosophy of science” at Pittsburgh in 1985, is currently a professor of sociology and social policy at the University of Durham.
The first thing to notice is that Comfort got his history degree some 12 years after Fuller, which may account for their differing definitions.
A second thing is that Fuller has been in the field of history all his career, whereas Comfort moved from biology to history. Which is to say, that Comfort imbibed Methodological Naturalism long before he had a word to describe it, whereas Fuller learned the word before he encountered it.
And finally, a third thing that is now becoming more of a nuance, is that Comfort did all his history work in trendy North-East schools where Derrida is name-dropped in every lecture, whereas Fuller moved from a BS at a trendy NE school to a PhD at Pittsburgh (rather more gritty) and now is a prof at a prestigious British school (where Derrida is French, after all.)
So when Comfort launches into his “scientism” = bourgois-Derrida-racist-reductionism rant, he expects applause from his peers, whereas Fuller is quite annoyed. Not only does Comfort destroy the previous meaning of the word, but he hijacks it for a jeremiad against racist science masquerading as cognition research. That is, he glomms onto one of the great mysteries of materialist science—the sense of self—and proceeds to vivisect research programmes with self-righteous post-Modern ridicule.
Now I may be reading into Fuller’s short rebuttal, but I sense that Fuller detests post-Moderns because even when they have a valid point, they abuse it so shamefully that one hesitates to even agree, lest one be found complicit in the damage. Post-modernists, which Comfort seems to identify with, have a valid point about scientism’s ideological foundation on MN, but rather than rationally correct the error, as Phillip Johnson spent 29 years doing, they treat it as an ethical lapse justifying their own ideological, irrational behavior.
See also: Nathaniel Comfort, Fresh Off An Op-Ed In Nature, Skewers Pop Darwinian Steven Pinker
Is there life Post-Truth? (a review of Fuller’s recent book)