What do I think of Ronald Numbers’s and Kostas Kampourakis’s book published by Harvard University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
This is an excellent book looking at a number of claims that have been made about science throughout the centuries. Many of these claims are taught even in textbooks today, but they really don’t bear any semblance with reality. Some are complete nonsense. Others have a grain of truth, but they’re mixed in with a great deal of error.
I knew the book was going to start off well when it had the first myth being that Christianity held back the progress of science. To give an example of someone postulating the myth, they quote someone and I won’t say who he is, but I will say he’s a certain unemployed polyamorous prominent internet blogger who’s banned from Skepticon. At that point, I knew I was going to like this one.
The book also deals with other myths I found personally interesting such as that Columbus refuted the idea that the Earth is flat or that science and religion have always been at conflict. These are myths that have so permeated our society that it’s hard to find people who disagree with them and consider it something that all educated people know. Well, no. A lot of educated people know just the opposite.
Others that caught my attention were the idea that there really is no scientific method. So many people claim to go by one, but there are vast and different fields in the scientific enterprise and no one method works for all of them. Get in a room with ten scientists and ask them to describe the scientific method they use and you’ll likely get eleven different opinions.
Another one was that there is not a wide gap between science and pseudoscience. Many ideas have been popular in science history and are pseudoscience today. It’s hard to really set out a line on what constitutes real science and what doesn’t. Even if you have falsifiability as one, then many end-times speculations and faith healings and such could be considered real science. (I do believe that there are actual miraculous healings, but I think many of the so-called faith healers are frauds.)
Another interesting aspect was a chapter about Paley. Paley in his watch was pointing more to teleology than internal make-up. Darwin only mentioned Paley once in his massive work and even then it was favorable. Much of what we call ID today would not be at all what Paley had in mind.
Other readers will find many other aspects interesting, especially if they’re interested in the sciences, but if you’re not, those chapters can be confusing. Some are historically enlightening, such as that the launch of Sputnik did not create a battle cry to start upping our science education. I recommend those who are curious to just look at the book on Amazon and see what myths are covered in there and if that is something that is of interest to you.
It’s also amazing how many scientists fall for these myths. Many scientists are great at science, but they are not great at history and philosophy and they went through school likely being taught these myths and it wasn’t the main focus of their education and they saw no reason to question them. Unfortunately, now they are propogators of those myths and it’s up to the historians and those of us interested in science to set the record straight.
This is a very enjoyable read. I often enjoy reading not so much about science itself, but the philosophy and history behind it. Ronald Numbers has had his hand in a number of great books like this and I look forward to more coming.