Galileo redivivus against a modern democratic pragmatist?

[Olaf Simons, Gotha, Germany] Your posting, Sören, raises two fundamental questions for someone interested in the theories of knowledge at stake here.

Is there a democratic way to decide what is right and wrong in the field of knowledge? And if there is not: Do democracies still defend the right of the defeated to articulate his or her point of view? The confusing thing about Ham and Nye is in your quotes that they are both ready to blend these questions into each other.

Ken Ham the modern Galileo?

Ham argues that minority positions have often turned out to be true. (Yes, as in the case of poor Galileo tried by the Catholic Church on the question of planetary movements, the lonly man was right against the majority position). The answer on the question of democracy and the sciences has already been given by 18th century authors. The sciences are persistently undemocratic. We write the history of scientific debates and note which argument was defeated in which experiment or by which refutation in which debate. We get historical winners in these narratives, so Nicolaus Hieronymus Gundling (footnote 1 of his Vollständige Historie der Gelahrheit published after his death in 1734). The sciences are not interested in the numbers of supporters. They can decide that an incredible theory is able to defeat all present theories – as you can solve a chess problem with a certain move or a mathematical equation with a certain transformation.

Ham’s problem is under this perspective not that he defends a minority position – he could in fact be the brave Galileo standing all alone on his trial. He is defending a position that was defeated in a debate, and he says: I do not care, since my clientele does not know this debate anyway. They believe that I could be right, so they might take me for the lonely man who will eventually be proven right.

Does Ham have a right to promote his position publicly? Yes, as much as the Catholic Church should have any right to reclaim the position it upheld against Galileo. We live in free societies. You can believe in anything you want, and you can publicly state your believes. There is one thing you do in a democracy and one thing you do in the sciences. Ham’s problem is that he enters the sciences with his lost causes. And Ham’s additional problem is that he will not promote the democratic decision at all. He promotes the right of his faith as a democratically guaranteed right in the sciences.

Bill Nye a pragmatist?

Your Nye quote is as intriguing. Is Nye a modern pragmatist? Does he want to say that knowledge is what is established as knowledge by the sciences and that we should teach our kids this knowledge so that they become compatible and productive within our societies? That will in fact not be the position of the sciences. They encourage the individual to leave the path of the Mainstream in order to conceive the next theory, the theory that will defeat all present theories.

The intriguing thing about this debate might be than, that we have two people with complex views on democracy arguing against each other. Ham the man of Religion will not defend democracy, Nye the self-styled science guy, makes the case for the mainstream in a confusing plea for majority views a pragamtist should always prefer.

Feel I am coming closer to the intriguing point of this debate.

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