Monday, May 22, 2006

Gandhi, Galileo, and the millions of people you never heard of

Northern Sun: Sure, I'm a Marxist
Every now and then, a crackpot will justify their crackpottery with the claim that people mocked Galileo, too. Or, as Billy Dembski reminds us, they'll trot out Gandhi's famous quip: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win"
Dembski asks "Which stage are we in with the ID debate and what will victory look like?"

I'd say somewhere between "ignore" and "laugh" (were they to produce science for publication in the peer reviewed literature, they'd be at the "fight" stage), and we'll never know what an IDC victory would look like. That Billy can't envision it is truly telling. There's no theory to it, no science, and it doesn't yield useful insights. If ID won, we'd all be sitting around gazing at our navels.

But the point that can never be over-emphasized about Gandhi and Galileo is that there are lots of people who were mocked, laughed at, ignored, and never heard of again. For every idea that won through those stages, there are millions which couldn't pass on to the next stage. What Gandhi is describing isn't some inevitable historical process, some sort of Marxist historical materialism, but a series of stages which are separated by shifts that might happen in public perception.

Yes, many great ideas started out being mocked, but so did many awful ideas. The ones that ultimately won were those that could marshal the necessary evidence and empirical support. The ones that couldn't never moved beyond mockery.

Remember, they laughed at Groucho Marx, too.