Friday, January 06, 2006

A Thought to Ponder

Here's a quote from the great Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.:
"The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market...."

I welcome everyone to post their thoughts on the quote or any related things the quote brings to mind.

As for me, this quote reminds me (as many things do) of the ongoing efforts of the intelligent design crowd to get their theory into public schools. ID proponents frequently analogize the current disfavor of ID with criticisms of the Big Bang theory. When the BB theory came to the intellectual marketplace, it was not immediately accepted. It took years of research, including making and testing predicitons, for BB to gain the favored status it has today.

The ID proponents cast themselves in the same mold, claiming mainstream biologists are trying to silence discussion of ID. However, there is an important distinction between ID and BB. When BB was initially disfavored, its proponents did not respond with massive lobbying efforts to try to force high school science teachers to teach the theory. Instead they went to their labs, their telescopes, and their chaulk boards. The theory they advanced came with some pretty big predictions. The most important prediction, in terms of the ultimate acceptance of the theory in the marketplace was the existence of a general background radiation which should have been detectable.

It took some years and ended up happening by accident, but the background radiation was detected. The BB theory had made a prediction, and scientists, using the scientific method and relying on observable phenomena, showed the validity of that prediction.

On the other side of the spectrum, the proponents of ID are not using their substantial resources to improve research in the field or to test the predicitons (are there any?) that ID provides. They are not trying to sell their ideas in the intellectual marketplace. Instead, the resources are going to lobbying local school boards, trying to convince laymen to disregard a theory that they don't understand (evolution) and embrace a "theory" that capitalizes on the fact that science is hard (ID).

Justice Holmes, I think, would not have been pleased with the actions of the Discovery Institute, the main backer of ID, in their attempt to circumscribe the marketplace of ideas.


Blogger Xeno said...

The thought that truth and belief are linked is disturbing. Having the mainstream accept an idea has no relevance on a face. This is a fundimental basis of science. For the great majority of history the majority of people believed that the world was flat. Poppular opinion != fact/truth.

5:15 PM  
Blogger freethoughtmom said...

Yeah, my example of a truth to test: the validity of the bible.

The masses have never championed critical thinking skills, methinks.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Xeno said...

Tring to prove religion is an interesting thought. If you have to prove it then how can a person call it faith? Regardless there have been many religious scientists that have followed the scientific method. We however in america have a hostory of functionalist thought.

10:08 PM  

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