Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Job opportunities for philosophers: a data point.

In a guest post at Panda's Thumb, Steven Thomas Smith reports on a debate at Harvard Law School about whether teaching Intelligent Design (at least, as science) in the public schools is constitutional. The ID proponent seemed to have had the rhetorical edge, if not the weight of the scientific evidence. In response to this, Smith notes:

This is not a scientific debate — this is a rhetorical conflict, and the Wedge does a much better job with rhetoric than scientists, who are trained to convince each other with facts and evidence alone.

Because there is no scientific debate about the validity of evolution, or the fatuity of Intelligent Design creationism, scientists must not debate these subjects on the same stage as creationists because they will only serve the creationist rhetorical end of being taken seriously. But that does not mean that scientists and supporters of scientists cannot attend discussions where nonscientific issues are the focus, and employ the same rhetorical methods used by our opponents.

(That bold emphasis? You know it's mine.)

There are two ways to read Smith's worry here. You could decide the best thing to do would be to bring scientists up to speed on rhetoric. But, maybe that would end up undermining the purity of scientific dialogue, where scientists are trying to establish publicly verifiable facts and to resolve disagreements by appeal to those facts. (Yes, I know. I've read scientific papers. I've written grant proposals. Scientists are not innocent of rhetoric. But most of them aren't trial lawyers, either.)

The other option, the one that would be less of a threat to the purity of scientific dialogue? Make friends with some philosophers.


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