It’s been fashionable to ignore and mock Steve Fuller (or, at least, his arguments) but rarely have I seen any good commentary that actually examines the content of his arguments (Judge Jones, in his Dover decision, briefly mentioned Fuller’s argument but didn’t engage it at all). I’ve written about Fuller’s argument for teaching ID in schools before, but I’m going to repeat it here for a couple of reasons. First, it has virtually been ignored despite the dearth of arguments against it (and if somebody knows of an argument against it, I’d love to know about it). Second, people have been talking about Fuller recently, due to his post at Crooked Timber. Third, a little controversy never hurt anybody. The answer to “What should be taught in science class?” most commonly seems to be a “Won’t somebody please think of the children?!?!?” argument where allowing ID into schools will mark the end of civilization as we know it. More charitably, this argument is that we should only teach good science (just the facts, ma’am) in science class because that’s what children need to know to be good, well-informed, modern citizens of the United States of America. Not only that, but how can we train the next generation of scientists if they are learning pseudoscientific garbage at an early age. As I mentioned in my other post, this is a very Kuhnian way of looking at things, where school teaches children to think within the current paradigm and solve the puzzles that are relevant to that paradigm.
Fuller’s argument is, roughly, that science benefits from a proliferation of theories. Fuller thinks that the purpose of school is to teach children to think critically about ideas and ought to “stimulate ideas.” And in order to think critically about ideas, we have to “see what a competitor might look like.” Now, as far as I can tell, Fuller isn’t advocating that current evolutionary theory and ID be presented as two theories that are on par with each other and that the evidence equally supports either. All he is saying is that by introducing something like ID at, say, a high school level, it might get students to think critically about some of the foundational ideas in current evolutionary theory and possible encourage them to pursue those ideas later on. And this, he says, will ultimately benefit science as a whole, for the reasons talked about in the above-linked-to article on proliferation.
Love him or hate him, Fuller’s argument isn’t bad. It is at least worth looking at and considering (although that hasn’t seemed to have happened much yet). It isn’t even predicated on the truth (or possible truth) of ID.