Brain vaccinations

I can’t resist adding one little bit to the dogpile on VanDyke. So far as I know, none of the many critics of the book review seized on the catchy conclusion to the article, which also managed to get something wrong. VanDyke writes that “the most ironic aspect of this debate is that Darwinists are even opposed to the inclusion of ID in the public school curriculum,” because evolution’s “fundamental tenet” is “that competition leads inexorably to progress[.]” Thus defenders of science ought not “fear. . .a little rivalry,” because the fittest argument will win. 117 Harv. L. Rev. at 971.

Of course, Dawkins and Dennett have written extensively on the question of just why false claims to truth manage to survive in this “competition.” This is the subject of memetics, which VanDyke does not mention or cite to. The fact is that the best argument does not always win. If a theory (or “memeplex”) is true, then it will have a competitive advantage, but other memeplexes have other advantages. Nazi bookburners had such a competitive advantage over Jewish scientists like Einstein or Szilard that they were forced to evacuate the country–but Nazism certainly wasn’t popular because of its truth value. Science has much to fear from “rivalry,” where that rivalry is based on methods and ideas which do not pursue and cannot reach, the truth. It has much to fear from dogma, superstition, coercion, censorship, ignorance, illiteracy, fanaticism, or blind adherence to tradition. These things all have their competitive advantages in the great cultural competition. But the simple fact is that evolution does not teach that “competition leads inexorably to progress,” if by progress we mean improvement, or the attainment of the good. The late Stephen Jay Gould spent a large portion of his life attacking that notion. Evolution leads only to the next step, not necessarily to a “higher” step. In seeking the truth, therefore, we must be constantly on guard for those memeplexes that “rival” the rational pursuit of the truth.