Giving Thanks for Minority Opinions - Evolution News & Views

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Giving Thanks for Minority Opinions

When in the future they write the history of modern biology, if it turns out that contemporary ID theorists were onto something big, then Michael Behe's name will figure very prominently as one who helped launch the intelligent-design revolution.

When that history is written, whatever fate holds in store for ID, no one thinks that University of Toronto biochemist Larry Moran's name will figure prominently in any account as a thinker of great stature or influence.

So there's some irony in Moran's patronizing three-part series, at his Sandwalk blog, about meeting Mike Behe when the latter came to visit and speak recently in Toronto. Moran is full of condescension and, sticking to the science as always, carefully points out the discrepancy in physical stature between himself and Behe where Moran does have the advantage -- "He's a lot shorter than I imagined but otherwise looks just like his photos." Moran includes a photo of himself leaning over Behe with a smirk to prove the point. Well then!

For Moran, having attended a lecture by Behe, the "last straw" was Behe's noting that ID may be a minority view but the triumph of minority views is not exactly unknown in the history of science. Moran writes:

This is one of the distinguishing characteristics of kooks. If you have to defend your views by pointing out that many great scientific ideas were initially rejected by the scientific community then you've already lost the battle. No legitimate scientist does this.
Is that so? In his 1838 Notebook C, Charles Darwin wrote, while considering the likely opposition to his new theory of descent with modification:
Mention persecution of early Astronomers -- then add chief good of individual scientific men is to push their science in advance...of their age...
This phrase "persecution of early astronomers" refers of course to the Galileo episodes. So Larry Moran would impugn Darwin himself as a "kook" for Darwin's calling attention to the opposition his evolutionary ideas would face from received opinion.

Probably, a search of scientific history would reveal that most scientists involved in major theory change know well they are likely to face vigorous opposition.

To be sure, genuinely wacky ideas also face opposition. But the point is simple: being opposed by the majority of scientific opinion is not, and indeed cannot be, sufficient to rule out any idea. And thank goodness for that, otherwise science would grind to a halt overnight.