Dominique Lecourt, 1992 L'Amerique entre
la Bible et Darwin. Second edition with postface 2007.
The philosopher Dominique Lecourt is well known (by myself at least) as a passionate advocate for philosophy of science education for scientists (see Lecourt 1999). There, one theme in particular was that Lecourt has argued that it was philosophical naivety that caused scientists such as S J Gould to be led into a philosophical trap set by creationist arguments (1999 p.26).
This book therefore can reasonably be seen as Lecourt's attempt as a philosopher to explain creationism to scientists. In this it is very different to other philosophers' interventions on the issues raised by creationism, for example Kitcher's very angry 1984 book, which gave a point by point refutation of the philosophical and scientific issues raised by creationism. Instead, while it is throughout very clear that Lecourt argues from the evolution side of the debate, this book attempts something different, and more ambitious – it aims to understand creationism, where it comes from, how it sees itself, and why did it arise particularly in the US of all places. As such, the book goes beyond philosophy of science and becomes one of sociology and history of (pseudo)science instead. To my mind, Lecourt has correctly identified a sociological understanding of creationism as crucial for advancing the arguments in favour of evolution. We need to understand what we are arguing against.
The book was originally published in 1992
as a reaction to the “old-style” creationism as featured in the famous
After first giving a quick introduction to
creationism – the by now well known background of the
If I understood correctly, and this book is meant to be a sociological as well as historical look into the phenomena of creationism and intelligent design, then I think it may have been interesting to use some of the vast literature on sociology and the sociology of science to underline and develop Lecourt’s points and ultimately to understand the creationism movement better. For example I think that his arguments on creationist ethics would have benefited from a quick discussion of Mary Douglas’ ideas of purity and the body, and how symbolically unclean outside influences that disrupt the boundary between the body and the outside world (such as the idea that we are related to beasts) are resisted (Douglas 1966). Similarly the whole tone of the epistemological discussion on what is proper science and what isn’t can be analysed as the drawing of boundaries in the sense of Gieryn’s work (Gieryn 1983), or even as actors rhetorically positioning themselves as part of a wider social identity.
But these points don’t detract from the book itself, and I suppose merely point to where I would personally have developed the arguments. As a sober analysis of the history and sociology of the creationist movement from a philosopher’s viewpoint it is still surprisingly rare, and I keep finding myself wanting to recommend it to my scientist friends before remembering that it is only available in French, which is a shame.
Mary. 1966 . Purity and Danger.
Gieryn, Thomas F. 1983. “Boundary-Work and the Demarcation of Science From Non-Science: Strains and Interests in Professional Ideologies of Scientists.” American Sociological Review 48(6):781-95.
Philip. 1983. Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism.
Lecourt, Dominique. 1999. “Rapport au ministre de L’Education nationale, de la Recherche et de la Technologie: L’enseignement de la philosophie des sciences” [Web Page]. Accessed 23 June 2008. Available at http://pedagogie.ac-toulouse.fr/philosophie/ensei/rapportlecourt.htm. Extracts (in English) are to be found at http://www.pantaneto.co.uk/issue5/Lecourt.htm.