Scientific Cenobites, part 2 of 9

This is part two of a nine part essay which merely seeks to present what scientists have to say about science and scientists. When all parts have been posted I will provide a PDF format of the entire essay.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9

Scott C. Todd, Department of Biology, Kansas State University made the following proclamation:
“Even if all the data pointed to an intelligent designer, such a hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic.”[i]

This is an example of scientific dogmatism whereby if the theory conflicts with the evidence one does not augment the theory but rather, proclaims that something is wrong with the evidence. If all the data (whatever “all” means) to an intelligent designer science would progress as ever and would develop new methodologies and would develop a new filed of research as it has done time and time again. I have dealt more specifically with Scott Todd’s statements in my essay Omni-Science, contextually his statement is somewhat sober, considering.

Richard Lewontin (Harvard University Professor of zoology and biology):
“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural…we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door….

scientists transgress the bounds of their own specialty they have no choice but to accept the claims of authority, even though they do not know how solid the grounds of those claims may be. Who am I to believe about quantum physics if not Steven Weinberg, or about the solar system if not Carl Sagan? What worries me is that they may believe what Dawkins and Wilson tell them about evolution…In the end we must trust the experts and they, in turn, exploit their authority as experts and their rhetorical skills to secure our attention and our belief in things that we do not really understand.”[ii] [read the full text here]

Lord Solly Zuckerman on the furor regarding Homo habilis:
“The debate in the press seemed to me less like a scientific discussion than a public auction of anatomical speculations.”[iii]

[Some of the greats of paleoanthropology in the 1920s and 1930s,] “considered themselves to have written scientific analyses of human evolution, they had in fact been telling stories. Scientific stories, to be sure, but stories nevertheless.”[iv]

“Scientists are generally aware of the influence of theory on observation. Seldom do they recognize, however, that many scientific theories are essentially narratives.”[v]

“Paleoanthropology, like all sciences, is an activity done by people and is therefore prey to the same kinds of subjective interpretations and personal interests that influence other activities done by people.”[vi]

Anthropologist, David Pilbeam wrote:
“A major change is a growing realization that many evolutionary schemes are in fact dominated by theoretical assumptions that are largely divorced from data derived from fossils, and that many assumptions have remained implicit.”[vii]

Misia Landau has made commented on the,
“usually unmentioned aspect of paleoanthropological description: ‘namely, that it is thick with interpretation not about what the fossils look like but also about what they mean.”[viii]

Michael Hammond, a sociologist of science at the University of Toronto, commenting on Piltdown:
“‘what could have led so many eminent scientists to embrace such a forgery?’[ix] How is it that trained men, the greatest experts of their day, could look at a set of modern human bones—the cranial fragments—and ‘see’ a clear simian signature in them; and ‘see’ in an ape’s jaw the unmistakable signs of humanity? The answers, inevitably, have to do with scientists’ expectations and their effect of the interpretation of data.”[x]

Paleontologist Marcellin Boule’s,
“interpretations of the Neanderthal fossils he was studying were entirely erroneous, powered as they were by a particular set of preconceptions of his own.”[xi]

“the weight of authority in any science, but particularly so in paleoanthropology, a science that is often short on date and long on opinion.”[xii]

“It is, in fact, a common fantasy, promulgated mostly but the scientific profession itself, that in the search for objective truth, data indicate conclusions. If this were the case, then each scientist faced with the same data would necessarily reach the same conclusion. But as we’ve seen earlier and will see again and again, frequently this does not happen. Data are just as often molded to fit preferred conclusions. And the interesting question then becomes ‘What shapes the preference of an individual or group of researchers?’ not ‘What is the truth.’”[xiii]

[Sir Arthur Keith] “considered the human brain to be so special that only a very long period of slow evolution could have fashioned it from a more a more primitive state. As mentioned earlier, his obsession with the idea led him erroneously to accept two modern skeletons, Galley Hill Man and Ipswich Man, as being of ancient origin. When Piltdown Man Came along, once more it seemed to offer evidence in support of his cherished theory. ‘By 1912, Keith was definitely looking for evidence in this regard, and was obviously ready to suspend much critical judgment on almost any fossil which gave more weight to his idea.’”[xiv]

“the power of preconceptions, of seeing in the anatomy what you expect to see. ‘Contrary to Simons’ and my original view, Ramapithecus itself does not have a parabolic dental arcade,’[xv] says Pilbeam. ‘I ‘knew’ Ramapithecus, being a hominid, would have a short face and a rounded jaw—so that’s what I saw.’[xvi] Pilbeam and Simons were not uniquely guilty of this error. It occurs often, such is the uncertainty of interpreting fragmentary anatomy in fossils….

The clearest message of the Ramapithecus affair, however, is the power of preconceptions, which in this case led competent scientists to ignore the evidence of other competent scientists because the conclusions drawn from the evidence were at variance with established ideas. All scientists are guided to some degree by a set of assumptions, usually implicit rather than explicit. ‘I try hard to detect them in my own thinking,’ says Pilbeam, ‘to isolate those assumptions that are not articulated because they are so ‘obvious,’ yet will seem so silly a few years from now. I am also aware of the fact that, at least in my own subject of paleoanthropology, ‘theory’—heavily influenced by implicit ideas—almost always dominates ‘data’…

Ideas that are totally unrelated to actual fossils have dominated theory building, which in turn strongly influences they way fossils are interpreted.’”[xvii]

[i] Scott C. Todd, “A View from Kansas on that Evolution Debate,” Nature, Vol. 401, Sep. 30, 1999, p. 423
[ii] Richard Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” New York Times, Book Reviews, Volume 44, Number 1 (January 9, 1997) reviewing Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
[iii] Roger Lewin; noted science journalist, Bones of Contention (New York, NY: A Touchstone Book published by Simon & Schuster Inc., 1987), p. 28 citing “Myths and Methods in Anatomy,” Journal of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, vol. II, no. 2, pp. 87-114 (1966), p. 91
[iv] Ibid., p. 32
[v] “Human Evolution as Narrative,” in American Scientist, vol. 72, (1984), p. 262
[vi] Lewin, p. 5
[vii] “Current Argument on Early Man,” in Major Trends in Evolution, edited by Lars-Konig Konigson, published by Pergamon Press, 1980, p. 262
[viii] “The Baron in the Trees,” a presentation to conference on “Variability and Human Evolution,” Rome, 24-26 Nov. 1983, ms., p. 9
[ix] “A Framework of Plausibility for an Anthropological Forgery,” Anthropology, vol. 3, p. 47 (1979)
[x] Lewin, p. 61
[xi] Lewin, p. 62
[xii] Lewin, p. 64
[xiii] Lewin, p. 68
[xiv] Lewin, p. 71 citing “A Framework of Plausibility for an Anthropological Forgery,” Anthropology, vol. 3, p. 51 (1979)
[xv] “Rethinking Human Origins,” in Discovery, vol. 13, pp. 5-6 (1978)
[xvi] Lewin, p. 123 citing an interview with the author, Harvard, 23 Oct. 1984
[xvii] Lewin, pp. 126-127 citing “Rethinking Human Origins,” in Discovery, vol. 13, pp. 8-9 (1978)


  1. Sigh. None of this demonstrates that Science is irrational or faith based or that evolutionary biology is on shaky empirical ground. Instead, it highlights the very human nature of scientists, and the wonderful error correcting mechanism of science as a whole enterprize. Unfortunately, if you really wish to cast doubt on the scientific enterprize, or on a particular theory (be it the germ theory of disease or common descent) it will require data and data analysis. You'll then need to formulate what that data reveals into a theory that better explains existing phenomena, and better predicts new phenomena, better than the existing theory. This is the way science works and what's beautiful about it is that it works (in the long run) regardless of the opinions and passions of the humans doing the work.

  2. You dont need to find a better theory and/or concept of ideas in order for the current and most accepted theory to be wrong. Flaws are flaws, and truth is truth regardless of whether we know it or not. Science works by testable, repeatable observation in order to come to factual and verifiable information and data so that we can know truth.