I'm a new member and plan to post brainstorms related to language, linguistics, and evolution, but I thought I'd introduce myself to this list with this letter that I wrote to Scientific American in response to a 2/02 Michael Shermer piece. It does not appear that this letter was published, so I'd like to at least post it here.
Michelle Press, Managing Editor
415 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10017-1111
January 28, 2002
Dear Ms. Press:
Regarding Michael Shermer's February 2002 piece entitled "The Gradual Illumination of the Mind," I would like to suggest that Shermer receive a promotion from SCIAM's "Mr. Skeptic" to the more venerable "Mr. Metaphysics."
Why should he be worthy of such an advancement? As we learn in Philosophy 101, science has made wonderful progress by precsinding from questions of purpose. Then isn't it ironic that Shermer’s science has proven the nonexistence of purpose? What a paradox! Modern science, which is methodologically blind to purpose now disproves the existence of something it cannot even see. Maybe Shermer promotes a science comprising questions of purpose because he thinks science should advance in this way after all. Nonetheless, here is irrefutable proof that Shermer’s science is not the empirical--but the metaphysical kind.
The double irony of Shermer’s gravely defective logic appears to result from his earnestness to enforce rules of science while using rhetorical methods that break the very rules he calls us to keep. (What is it about metaphysics that tempts us to hypocrisy anyway?) For if it is against the rules of science to offer explanations for the existence of purpose in nature, then it is equally against the rules to give explanations for the nonexistence of purpose in nature. Shermer clearly wants it both ways, but only when such duplicity supports his views.
He then turns his metaphysical guns on “intelligent design” (ID), a potential derivative of purpose. But instead of engaging anything, he mocks and shows us Shermer Bytes: There’s nothing to it. ID did it. Class dismissed, while real skeptics like Michael Ruse say William Dembski’s work on ID is too rigorous to be ignored, and while real scientists like Stuart Kauffman indicate that Dembski’s ideas are worth grappling with. Hence, here is one more reason to conclude that Shermer deserves a different title than Skeptic. Not only does he fail to demonstrate true skepticism about the ideas he criticizes (ID in this case), he is also patently unskeptical of his own contradictory views.