February 22, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Darwin-Loving Democrat Takes Helm of AAAS

Former Congressman Rush D. Holt gave his inaugural editorial in Science Magazine on Feb. 20.

Nature had called it a bad move that would only deepen the entrenched political divide. In December, Daniel Sarewitz said that science should stay out of partisan politics (see 12/07/14):

Two weeks after US voters installed a Republican majority in the Senate and expanded the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) made its own political statement: it named a former Democratic member of Congress as its new chief.

Once, these events might have been unrelated. But in today’s poisonous partisan atmosphere, the AAAS’s choice of Rush Holt, a physicist and political centrist just finishing a 16-year stint in Congress, looks every bit as political as the election itself.

Now, Rush D. Holt is leader of the AAAS and publisher of Science Magazine. His opening editorial, “Why science? Why the AAAS?” reeks of scientism:

Among the various ways of thinking and knowing about the universe and ourselves, science is special. Asking questions that can be answered empirically and engaging in open communication so that others can collectively review and verify possible answers lead to the most reliable knowledge—a knowledge that is powerfully applicable in daily life. Science is, as physician and essayist Lewis Thomas wrote, the “shrewdest maneuver” for discovering the world. This grand and clever enterprise, while surely not removing all worldly woes, brings beauty, wonderfully fulfilling intellectual pleasure, and cultural enrichment. It can lead to improved human interaction, more constructive commerce, and a better quality of life. Science helps bring what I think is a deep human need—a sense of progress.

The problem is that the same claims can be made of theology, or of any other social enterprise performed with integrity and clarity of thought. At best, science only partially fulfills these benefits; at worst, it can lead to decades or even centuries of regress. “Science” itself—contrary to Holt’s simplistic description of it—is far too big a tent for each sub-branch to score equally well (compare scandal-ridden evolutionary psychology, empirically-challenged string theory, or fringe sciences like political science, economics, and cosmology where some wild and wacky ideas conflict with other wild and wacky ideas). Scientism is not an empirical discovery by science. It is a statement of philosophy about science. Holt knows a lot about physics and fund-raising for science, but it is not clear he knows much philosophy of science.

Holt holds out an olive branch to those outside his cloister:

The organization will build its publications and communications ability to meet the modern needs of the scientific community and the general public. AAAS will enhance its programs in public affairs, education, law, and international relations, and continue to explore constructive relationships between science and religion, art, history, and other disciplines. I am committed to raising the necessary resources to do these things. Especially, AAAS intends to remain the world’s most effective advocate for science.

Some theologians could well question his sincerity. In 2013, according to the Huffington Post, Holt issued a resolution in Congress calling for a celebration of Darwin Day (see 2/12/15):

Charles Darwin [is] a worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge,” Holt wrote in the resolution, which promotes evolution and warns against the “teaching of creationism.”

In a statement from the American Humanist Association, Holt lauded Darwin’s legacy, calling him one of our “greatest thinkers.”

“Only very rarely in human history has someone uncovered a fundamentally new way of thinking about the world -– an insight so revolutionary that it has made possible further creative and explanatory thinking,” Holt said. “Without Charles Darwin, our modern understandings of biology, ecology, genetics, and medicine would be utterly impossible,* and our comprehension of the world around us would be vastly poorer.

The NCSE, of course, was thrilled. If this represents Holt’s view of exploring “constructive relationships between  science and religion,” then artists, historians and members of other disciplines can well be afraid. Holt’s view of a constructive relationship may resemble the compromise between a hungry bear and a freezing man: both got what they wanted: the bear, a meal, and the man, a fur coat. Judging from his scientism, Rush Holt’s idea of a constructive relationship with any other discipline would be for the AAAS to swallow it.

*As for whether Darwinism increases understanding, see the Stuff Happens Law in the Darwin Dictionary. As for Darwinian medicine, see 12/16/11 and its embedded links, and also a post on Evolution News & Views by Dr. Michael Egnor. As for ecology, genetics or any other sub-discipline of biology, Darwin’s contributions are not without controversy.

So here we go again. This is like ISIS replacing Al-Qaeda. Expect a big order of pom-poms for Darwin cheerleaders and demands for budget-busting increases for Whatever Big Science Desires. Given the growing dissatisfaction with Darwinist reductionism (even among scientists), there might be a bright side. This could be scientism’s last hurrah before it implodes. We must keep the heat on.


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  • Russell says:

    These science organizations must be suicidal. To totally wed “science” to the Democratic Party and it’s political agenda is to cast off any hope of respect.

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