In one of his essays in Philosophy and Social Hope, Richard Rorty noted the tendency of scientists to assume that they are best positioned to adjudicate questions on the philosophy of science. As Rorty compelling detailed, they are not. So I was reminded when reading Can Darwinism Improve Binghamton? in NYT’s Book Review.
The author starts off this way:
My undergraduate students, especially those bound for medical school, often ask why they have to study evolution. It won’t cure disease, and really, how useful is evolution to the average person? My response is that while evolutionary biology can explain, for example, the origin of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, we shouldn’t see evolution as a cure for human woes. Its value is explanatory: to tell us how, when and why we got here (by “we,” I mean “every organism”) and to show us how all species are related. In the end, evolution is the greatest tale of all, for it’s true.
It’s as simple as that. Conservative writer and entrepreneur Jim Manzi had an equally useful (get it?) take on science and pragmatism a while back.
He wrote: “I claim that the purpose of science is to create useful, reliable, non-obvious predictive rules.”
We would do well to heed these words.*
*Yes, that’s circular reasoning, if you really think about it. But as Rorty might say, what’s the alternative?