Friday, June 23, 2006

Gutman on Science and Religion

From The Chronicle:

Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, warned today of the perils of extremist rhetoric, a topic on which she is writing a book. In a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in Washington, Ms. Gutmann said extremist rhetoric now saturates public discourse and is undermining democracy.

Ms. Gutmann cited the debate over intelligent design as an example of how such rhetoric spawns equally inept counter-rhetoric. She dubbed the view that all human understanding derives from scientific inquiry as “scientism,” which she said “treats religion with contempt just as creationism treats evolution as beyond the pale of reasonable understanding.”

It's that last comment that I disagree with. Now I'm not exactly sure what Gutmann means by "scientism" but if it's anything like what Dewey had in mind (and Dewey would argue that knowledge does derive from scientific inquiry, broadly construed) then she's just wrong.

Her saying this is too "balanced" and minimizes the real differences between intelligent design creationism (IDC) and science. IDC is intellectually bankrupt and dishonest and it isn't contempt to say so. That's not anti-religion, though it is anti-a-certain-kind-of-religiosity.

Gutmann's comment isn't constructive. It conflates defenders of science with hard core creationists. That undermines the merits of the former and the weaknesses of the latter. Furthermore, it sends a message (and for god's sake, she's a university president) that all these positions are the same. And that just isn't true.

Perhaps Gutmann is being misquoted, or there's more to her position than described in the Chronicle article. But as it stands her remarks don't help.

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