Tuesday, October 30, 2007 14 Comments

Professor Dawkins, Dr. Watson, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Professor Dawkins has redeemed himself.

Well, no, that's not quite true. But he has certainly taken the first step. And as Malcolm X put it, if you take one step toward Allah, Allah takes two steps toward you. (For many years after I first read Haley's so-called 'autobiography,' which I discovered at a shockingly tender age, I was a little worried that I might accidentally take my one step.)

Because Professor Dawkins has defended Dr. Watson. His people released this quote:
'What is ethically wrong is the hounding, by what can only be described
as an illiberal and intolerant "thought police", of one of the most
distinguished scientists of our time, out of the Science Museum, and
maybe out of the laboratory that he has devoted much of his life to,
building up a world-class reputation."
No one can defend Professor Dawkins' grammar. But otherwise, this is really unimprovable. It does the man great credit.

It doesn't mean he's not still pwned, though. Because dear God! That shifting moral Zeitgeist! I guess it's not so mysterious anymore! I guess we know how it shifts, now, don't we, Professor Dawkins? Who knew? An illiberal and intolerant "thought police"? My word. Why, I never should have guessed.

Someone needs to run, not walk, to the nearest copy of Richard Ellis's The Dark Side of the Left: Illiberal Egalitarianism in America. This can be chased with George McKenna's new, and really really excellent, Puritan Origins of American Patriotism. And if any doubts remain the whole regimen can be topped off with a good solid dose of Arthur Lipow's Authoritarian Socialism in America: Edward Bellamy and the Nationalist Movement. (If you are not a Plainlander and you wonder about the excessive appearance of the A-word in these titles, this is a normal attitude for residents of Washcorp's outer territories.)

Note that none of the above monographs is published by Regnery or Crown Forum. They are scholarly volumes by respectable historians, who would probably no more consider voting for a Republican than you or I would consider sodomizing a mongoose. Their print is a normal size and they use tasteful fonts. And they can be read by normal, intelligent, educated people.

As for Dr. Watson, he has not come out so badly at all. First, he who laughs last, etc. Second, if you read his book, you realize that he is (a) still sharp as a tack and (b) no less the ruthless, Napoleonic scientific bureaucrat than any of his critics. I can't believe he didn't at least to some extent know what he was doing. I find Larry Auster's criticism of Dr. Watson very cogent, and I'm sure he regretted a few tactical missteps. But if you assume that the man believes what he said he believed in the first place, I can't think of a more stylish way to retire.

What does Dr. Watson believe, anyway? As he put it in his eloquent, and widely-misquoted, non-recantation:
We do not yet adequately understand the way in which the different environments in the world have selected over time the genes which determine our capacity to do different things. The overwhelming desire of society today is to assume that equal powers of reason are a universal heritage of humanity. It may well be. But simply wanting this to be the case is not enough. This is not science.
Or, originally:
There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically.
That's twenty-four words by my count. Here at UR we are certainly familiar with this argument. But have we seen it so briefly and precisely put? Ha.

If Watson's formula is too brief for you, Larry Moran, who I don't believe has won any Nobel Prizes but is at least a professor of biochemistry, drags it out here:
We have a situation where there are distinct differences in intelligence between individuals within a deme. These within-deme differences have to be due to a number of alleles that are segregating within a population.

But somehow there's a special buffering system that prevents allele differences between demes, right?

How, exactly does this work? When one of the alleles in a given deme drops in frequency—say by random genetic drift—is there some kind of signal sent to the other deme to make an adjustment? :-)

Do you see the problem? As long as there are differences between individuals then it follows that these difference are due to differences in allele frequencies. (Assuming a genetic component.)

This means that there are a finite number of alleles segregating within the population. As long as that's the case then it's practically impossible for any two demes to have exactly the same frequency of alleles.

Hence, if there's a genetic component to intelligence then different demes will almost certainly differ in the distribution of the phenotype manifest by the intelligence alleles.

The only way to avoid this unpleasant conclusion is to advocate that there is no genetic component to intelligence and everyone has exactly the same potential to be as smart as Albert Einstein or as stupid as Paris Hilton.
Actually, Professor Moran - no. You're quite wrong. There's another explanation.

And its name is the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It is the FSM, whose limp, starchy tentacles needless to say reach into all earthly affairs, which conveys the signal from deme to deme, which juggles the alleles as if they were oranges. (And the Flying Spaghetti Monster can juggle a lot of oranges.)

Thus, Professor Dawkins and his honor are restored. Not that there is any scientific evidence that the FSM exists, or that it manipulates our DNA in this sly, gelatinous manner. But there is certainly no scientific evidence that it doesn't.

(What of Professor Rushton? What of him. The man is openly in the pay of the Elders of Albion. How he ever made his way onto NPR is quite beyond me. But perhaps the dark strength of the Elders has begun to grow again.)

We are all Pastafarians now. The continued existence of civilized society in 2007 depends utterly on the prophecy of Pas Tafari, and the Bland One Himself - sauce be upon him. RAmen. So watch it with those "hurtful comments," kids.


Anonymous dearieme said...

It's jolly good to know that one can argue these matters out by appealing to genetic science. Alternatively, one might grow up in the countryside and so hold these matters to be self-evident. Unless you're some sort of relgious nut who thinks that humans aren't just another mammal.

October 30, 2007 at 3:45 PM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

So, just to spell it out, the single factual belief that you attributed to the Universalists is not held by the man you held up as the epitome of Universalism. This lends support to my growing suspicion that if there is anything at all to this quasi-religion you call Universalism, it is merely a constellation of moral beliefs.

Is it fair to call someone pwned if he merely subscribes to a relatively popular conception of morality? Obviously, you can disagree with his moral beliefs -- for example, you may believe that an efficient, corporate government is morally superior to a democratic one -- but it seems like you've wasted a whole lot of words if that's your only point.

Is there something else?

October 30, 2007 at 4:10 PM  
Anonymous randy said...

Moral superiority and government... what an odd combination. I mean, I know that is what most folks believe and expect, but in all of history has there ever existed such a thing as a morally superior government?

October 30, 2007 at 5:20 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I'm really hoping Mencius will actually respond to Jewish Atheist on this thread in a substantive manner.

What I personally want to know however, on a topic where I suspect that Mencius actually may have insights I would find valuable, is what is to prevent anyone who is able to place a few dozen senators and a president with more or less their views in the proper positions in Fedco from changing national policies however they wish regardless of the preferences of the bureaucracy. I prefer EU style bureaucracy to Democracy, but it isn't at all clear to me that this is what we have here in the US.

October 31, 2007 at 9:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The overwhelming desire of society today is to assume that equal powers of reason are a universal heritage of humanity.

It is instructive to think of who benefits from putting that view about, and who benefits from distracting others with that view.

October 31, 2007 at 11:19 AM  
Anonymous George Weinberg said...

It appears to me that Dawkins is just distressed that such a prominent scientist is essentially being fired over his remarks in an informal interview. I don't see Dawkins defending the remarks themselves.

A pity Feyerabend is dead. He could say how Watson is indeed the modern Galileo, and then after he's criticized for defending the racist, remind his critics that in his narrative Galileo was the bad guy. Unfortunately nobody else could pull that off. Yet.

October 31, 2007 at 2:27 PM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

First off, careful what you wish for. Have you ever experienced EU-style bureaucracy first-hand for prolonged periods of time? Ever tried to run a small business in Fortress Europe? I think, you should. Most of the nice architecture and other things that make Europe such a lovely place to live have very little to do with Eurocracy. Actually, they are continually threatened by it.
Seconldly, I agree with MM in that this thing is a logical conclusion to any democracy. The US is not that far behind as far as I could judge. In some areas, it is actually years and decades ahead of Europe in bureaucratic control with no meaningful oversight.

October 31, 2007 at 3:52 PM  
Blogger drank said...


On the one hand, I'd say that the Watson Affair is quite the demonstration of MM's thesis about Universalism. Here you have a Nobel laureate who co-discovered DNA making empirically true statements about genetics and intelligence. And in something like 10 days, he's been pilloried by the press and the "scientific community", had his talks canceled at prestigious institutions, and been forced out of the laboratory that he founded and built.

It doesn't seem like much of a stretch to say that there are a lot of real people who believe false propositions about equality and intelligence, that these people have a lot of power in the real world, and that these false beliefs have been raised to the status of a religion doctrine, with their violation a sin punishable by excommunication. Score one for MM.

On the other hand, I agree with you that the Dawkins is a very poorly chosen representative of this. MM has spent more than a month trying to demonstrate that Dawkins has been "pwned", and really hasn't succeeded to any convincing degree. I think you're quite correct to say that many "smart Universalists" (as opposed to the "powerful Universalists") believe in moral and legal equality as a normative proposition, not a factual one. I don't think that MM has dealt with this in any substantive way, and I'd like to see him address it.

Trying to catch out Universalists in a few irrational beliefs seems to be a fools errand - as this post demonstrates - and seems entirely tangential to the real issues of political power and governance that MM has spent most of his time examining. Said differently, what's interesting in the Watson Affair is the quasi-religious power & punishment that are on display, not the false beliefs. I'm quite confident that every tradition ever followed by any human has its share of false propositions!

I'm desperately hoping we don't get Part VI this week, and finally move on to some other topic!

October 31, 2007 at 10:41 PM  
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February 12, 2009 at 2:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 2, 2009 at 9:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


March 6, 2009 at 8:55 PM  

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