Friday, December 02, 2005

Yes, fuzzy humanists can be wrong too

A nifty, vivid article by Margaret Talbot in the 5 December New Yorker on the Dover “intelligent design” trial. Kenneth Miller, a Brown University biologist, testifies that 99.9% of all the organisms that have ever lived on earth are now extinct: “an intelligent designer who designed things, 99.9 per cent of which didn’t last, certainly wouldn’t be very intelligent.” One moment ruffled my hackles in Talbot’s discussion of the pro-ID Discovery Insitute’s “teach the conflicts” approach:
The “teach the conflicts” rationale for working intelligent design into public-school science classes has a certain appeal. It sounds to most people like a healthy aversion to orthodoxy. Of course, most scientists don’t like it, because in science – as opposed to, say, literary criticism – interpretations can be wrong. (my italics)
Clearly Margaret Talbot hasn’t spent much time reading literary-critical journals lately, or marking undergraduate papers. Or for that matter attending student productions of Shakespeare plays. At a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream a couple-three years back at Our University, the fellow playing Lysander read the wonderfully sarcastic line, “do you marry him” (if you, Demetrius, are so beloved by Hermia’s father, maybe you should marry him rather than Hermia; ie, "do" as an imperative) – as a question: “do you marry him?” If that ain’t a wrong piece of literary interpretation, I can’t imagine what is.


Jehza said...

What a bizarre statement on her part.

Michael Peverett said...

I agree. If MT jumps to the conclusion that the 99.9% of extinct "organisms" i.e. I suppose species, were all in some sense failures, then she has a very hazy idea of how evolution works.

I am not so sure about your example from MND. This is a misunderstanding of 16th-century English and yes it is wrong. MT obviously doesn't have this in mind when she talks of "interpretations". Personally I wouldn't use the word "interpretation" in the context of understanding a word or phrase. When I once supposed that cuarto de baño meant a quarter of a bath, I didn't misinterpret the expression, I just didn't know Spanish. My own view is that value placed on an artefact cannot be wrong (or right), but leaving value aside there is many a true and false statement that may be made about an artefact - the leaves in the painting are really green not blue, for example, or Christ's rib-cage is short of a rib.