Censorship

There’s a lot of discussion of censorship swirling around the ID/evolution/online world right now, which I find very odd.  Apparently the magazine Nautilus has closed a comment thread (without apparently deleting any comments) on the basis that “This is a science magazine, and our comments section isn’t the place to debate whether evolution is true”.

Accusations of “censorship” by “evolutionists” have been flying around for a while now, at least since the Expelled movie and it resurfaced regarding the withdrawal of the Biological Information: New Perspectives  book from the Springer catalogue. And now, recently, Jerry Coyne has been named “Censor of the Year” by the Discovery Institute.

My own instincts tend against censorship, and although I do not think that all censorship is bad, I would certainly rather err on the side of too little than too much.  Here, as I hope everyone knows, only a very narrow class of material is ever deleted, and only a very narrow class of offenses bring down a ban.

But what is censorship, and who, if anyone, is censoring whom in the ID/evolution debate?

Merriam Webster defines the verb to censor as

to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable <censor the news>; also :  to suppress or delete as objectionable <censor out indecent passages

So by this definition, any editing process that involves filtering out “objectionable” contributions or content amounts to “censorship”.  But that merely passes the definitional buck on to the world “objectionable”.

For censor as a noun, it gives as its first definition:

1:  a person who supervises conduct and morals: as
  • a :  an official who examines materials (as publications or films) for objectionable matter
  • b :  an official (as in time of war) who reads communications (as letters) and deletes material considered sensitive or harmful

So now we have the additional concept of material “considered sensitive or harmful”.  And if we check the definition of censorship, Merriam Webster gives as its first:

  • a:  the institution, system, or practice of censoring
  • b:  the actions or practices of censors; especially:censorial control exercised repressively

we find that being “exercised repressively” is also key to English usage.  So let me define, for the purpose of this post, to censor as:

  • [to examine in order] to suppress or delete anything the censor considers objectionable, sensitive, harmful, especially when exercised repressively.  

So to what extent, if any, are ID challenges to evolution actually subject to repressive censorship by pro-evolutionary institutions?  And to what extent, if any, are evolutionary challenges to subject to repressive censorship by ID institutions?

And while I realise this is a sensitive subject, let’s try to discuss it with as little rancour as possible!

219 thoughts on “Censorship

  1. petrushka:
    Murray. Science answers how questions, not why questions.

    Why didn’t you tell that to davehooke, who said:

    We know why entropy increases.

    And to which I responded:

    You haven’t explained why.

    You, see fit to address your rebuke to me? Exactly what I’m talking about here – you allow, accept and endorse the very same things from your own that you excoriate ID proponents for, even though it was your own that made the false claim, not I.

    I know that science doesn’t answer why. Ultimately, science doesn’t explain anything; it creates models that describe how things behave. Those who are sloppy with their thinking later reify those models as if those models are causal explanations rather than descriptions.

  2. It explains why the ink and water is likely to move toward a high entropy state. The SLOT does not forbid a temporary decrease in entropy. It is a statistical law.

    As petrushka said, science doesn’t explain why. It doesn’t even explain how, because a reference to a descriptive model is not an explanation of “how”. Statistical laws are not prescriptive, they are descriptive. Saying that A does X, and creating a model that describes that action, is not a cause for that action in the first place. You are reifying a model of behavior as the cause of the behavior the model describes.

    I can explain why entropy increases. I could explain why particles have stochastic motion.

    As petrushka said, “science doesn’t explain why”. This is part of your fundamental misunderstanding about what science is and does. Models of behavior are not causes.

  3. Bonus:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causality_(physics)

    “In physics it is useful to interpret certain terms of a physical theory as causes and other terms as effects. Thus, in classical (Newtonian) mechanics a cause may be represented by a force acting on a body, and an effect by the acceleration which follows as quantitatively explained by Newton’s second law.”

  4. Physical laws are not prescriptive. They do not cause anything. The are descriptive. They describe the regularities of matter, they do not cause them.

    That’s like saying that natural selection causes something. Or like saying that chance causes something. Or saying that entropy causes something.

    Gravity doesn’t cause anything.

  5. Do causes exist in Murrayland? Can you name 3?

    I don’t think this derailment is helping ID, but have at it.

  6. As petrushka said, science doesn’t explain why. It doesn’t even explain how, because a reference to a descriptive model is not an explanation of “how”. Statistical laws are not prescriptive, they are descriptive.

    Sometimes description is best observed as prescription.

    Such as a description of gravity at the edge of a cliff.

    Your rant simply doesn’t make sense. It’s a tantrum. You are wallowing in equivocation. You have a terminal case of science envy.

    Science doesn’t answer your kind of question, but it does lots of useful things, including asking questions that CAN be answered or researched.

    Give up science envy and accept the fact that ID bullshit is not going to be in science classrooms. It doesn’t do science.

  7. William J. Murray: As petrushka said, science doesn’t explain why.It doesn’t even explain how, because a reference to a descriptive model is not an explanation of “how”.Statistical laws are not prescriptive, they are descriptive.Saying that A does X, and creating a model that describes that action, is not a cause for that action in the first place.You are reifying a model of behavior as the cause of the behavior the model describes.

    As petrushka said, “science doesn’t explain why”.This is part of your fundamental misunderstanding about what science is and does. Models of behavior are not causes.

    The how/why distinction means little. It’s a soundbite. When talking of scientific explanations, “how” and “why” usually mean the same thing. “Why” does not of itself imply teleology. If you want to say that no scientific explanations are teleological, that is a somewhat moot point, and up for discussion.

    Causality is an established concept in science. Yes we can never say with 100% certainty what made the owl hoot, but we have a high level of confidence that smoking is a causal factor in developing lung cancer.

    Where are you going with this?

  8. William J. Murray: As petrushka said, science doesn’t explain why.It doesn’t even explain how, because a reference to a descriptive model is not an explanation of “how”.Statistical laws are not prescriptive, they are descriptive.Saying that A does X, and creating a model that describes that action, is not a cause for that action in the first place.

    I reject your (and Lizzie’s) implicit anti-realism, as it is cognitively unstable.

    If you like, I refute it thus.

  9. The how/why distinction means little. It’s a soundbite.

    It’s a necessary distinction when dealing with someone who ask why, as in who caused it.

    He’s not asking how planets acquire an atmosphere, or what history lead to the earth’s atmosphere. He’s asking about a creator god.

    He’s not asking about planetary accretion disks. He’s asking about a creator god.

  10. Those who are sloppy with their thinking later reify those models as if those models are causal explanations rather than descriptions.

    They are causal explanations. That’s the only way they can be descriptions that are meaningful to us–at least when using ordinary language (yes, we could skirt causal language if need be, but there appears to be no need, inclusive of William’s obscurantism). They use causes to explain regularities. In the end it doesn’t matter if any of this is real, it’s just that we’ve learned how to explain phenomena using “forces,” causes, and other terms that William misuses to obfuscate what is clear to those who understand these things.

    Models of behavior are not causes.

    Again, too bad William won’t use language propertly. Of course models of behavior aren’t causes, they incorporate causes to explain the behavior.

    And William’s sophomoric diatribes have nothing to do with science, regardless of whether we’re brains in vats, ghosts floating in non-space dreaming up what we perceive, or if “matter” behaves the way it does precisely because it simply wants to do so, or something we can’t even imagine. Causality is how we explain things, it is not an existential claim–for, causes aren’t even the same sorts of phenomena across the sciences. But science is an explanation for humans, thus it explains things causally (QM/Cosmology being arguable exceptions).

    Acausal pseudosciences like ID don’t deserve to be called explanations.

    Glen Davidson

  11. A demonstration of advanced clock-cleaning by means of a sophisticated version of the ‘yes, but why?’ game. 😀

    Hey ho. Time to cause the coffee machine to dispense some refreshing liquid. But first … move, muscles!

  12. William J. Murray,

    Also, from the UD perspective, a good many of you deliberately martyred yourselves to get banned, so that you could say “I got banned because of X” and contribute to the self-serving narrative that UD doesn’t allow criticism of ID or that the contributors are “scared” of open debate.

    Evidence?

  13. WJM’s haughty goading does make me laugh.

    The testing ground for scientific ideas, of course, is neither the internet nor live debate.

    An essential part of science is to try and shoot ideas down and see if they hold up. Scientists do it to their own theories, then hold them up to their peers and see if their tattered banners survive the onslaught. It can get heated. It’s not rubber-stamping. This happens throughout, from lunchtime seminars outwards. It has an analogue in software testing.

    Regardless of the relative composition and moderation policies of TSZ and UD, and the polemical nature of WJM’s recent output, it is in that willingness to be challenged that the asymmetry is most starkly revealed. WJM is, ironically, the exception that proves the rule.

  14. Also, from the UD perspective, a good many of you deliberately martyred yourselves to get banned, so that you could say “I got banned because of X” and contribute to the self-serving narrative that UD doesn’t allow criticism of ID or that the contributors are “scared” of open debate

    I repeat the call for evidence and note that this is a rather blatant violation of the TSZ rules. But it would be allowable if there is evidence.

    But think about this, William: Barry Arrington posted a question in the form, Have you stopped beating your wife, and banned anyone who tried to give an answer other than yes or no.

    He does this about twice a year.

    So the options for anyone who isn’t comfortable with this behavior of Barry’s is to self-ban, submit to the Looking Glass rules, or be banned by answering incorrectly.

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