The Values of Science: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1997

By Wes Williams | Go to book overview

tific truths to ourselves? Not, typically, the people, but rather their self- declared spiritual leaders. It is they, not their flocks, who demand that their flocks be shielded from the corrosive and irreversible influences of our scientific culture of truth. Those people who work in "cultural studies" and others who fly the banner of multiculturalism should linger thoughtfully over the following suggestion: their well-meaning policy of tolerance for traditional policies that deny free access to the truth-seeking tools of science is often--more often than not, I would judge--a policy in the service of tyrants.

In Western culture, the idea of informed consent is one of the cornerstones of liberty. In other cultures, the very idea of informing the people so that they might consent or not is viewed with hostility. The next century will, I hope, sweep away this hostility. Indeed, I think it will become more and more impractical for political leaders to preserve the uninformedness of their people. All we need do is just keep putting out the word, clearly and with scrupulous concern for telling the truth. There is really nothing new in this suggestion. Institutions such as the BBC World Service have been doing just that, with tremendous success, for decades. And year after year, the elite in every nation in the world send their children to our universities for their education. They know, perhaps better than we ourselves appreciate, that the science and technology of truth seeking is our most valuable export.


Notes
1.
John D. Barrow, The World Within the World ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988) p. 257.
2.
The world of appearances for each of them has been vigorously biased by natural selection in the direction of their narrow best interests. Which facts do they find? Their sense organs--and their information--gathering behaviors using these sense organs--have been tuned to "narcissism" designed to exaggerate, smear, discount, and in other ways adjust or edit their gifts of meaning in favor of life-preserving interpretations (see Kathleen Akin, "Science and Our Inner Lives," in Marc Berkoff and Dale Jamieson, eds., Interpretation and Explanation in the Study of Animal Behavior, vol. 1 [ Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1990], pp. 414-427). This does not prevent them from tracking facts. Rather, it determines that the facts they track are those with a built in perspective. Thus, they do not register "here is water" in the chemist's sense but in the thirsty organism's sense that glosses over the niceties of definition and ignores impurities up to the point at which they become a health issue. Exactitude of definition or the "transduction" of a "natural kind" has never been one of nature's goals. Failure to appreciate this point has led to a cottage industry of philosophical fantasy (about Twin Earth, XYZ, and other chimeras).
3.
Richard Dawkins and John Krebs opened up the field of theoretical investigation of this side of communication; see "Animal Signals: Information or Manipulation,"

-108-

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The Values of Science: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1997
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface to the Oxford Amnesty Lectures ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • 1 - Introduction: Nature, Values, And the Future of Science 1
  • Notes 10
  • 2 - The Values of Science And The Science of Values 11
  • Notes 37
  • 3 - Science with Scruples 42
  • Notes 55
  • 4 - What Shall We Tell The Children? 58
  • Notes 78
  • 5 - Is the World Simple Or Complex? 80
  • 6 - Faith in the Truth 95
  • Notes 108
  • 7 - The Myths We Live By 110
  • Notes 131
  • About the Editor And Contributors 133
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