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Phillip E. Johnson


The Emperor's New Theories

The Social Misconstruction of Reality: Validity and Verification in the Scholarly Community

By Richard F. Hamilton

Yale University Press

289 pp.; $32.50

The German biochemist Bruno Muller-Hill tells a memorable story to illustrate his thesis that "self-deception plays an astonishing role in science in spite of all the scientists' worship of truth":

When I was a student in a German gymnasium and thirteen years old, I learned a lesson that I have not forgotten. . . . One early morning our physics teacher placed a telescope in the school yard to show us a certain planet and its moons. So we stood in a long line, about forty of us. I was standing at the end of the line, since I was one of the smallest students. The teacher asked the first student whether he could see the planet. No, he had difficulties, because he was nearsighted. The teacher showed him how to adjust the focus, and that student could finally see the planet, and the moons. Others had no difficulty; they saw them right away. The students saw, after a while, what they were supposed to see. Then the student standing just before me-his name was Harter-announced that he could not see anything. "You idiot," shouted the teacher, "you have to adjust the lenses." The student did that and said after a while, "I do not see anything, it is all black." The teacher then looked through the telescope himself. After some seconds he looked up with a strange expression on his face. And then my comrades and I also saw that the telescope was nonfunctioning; it was closed by a cover over the lens. Indeed, no one could see anything through it.

Muller-Hill reports that one of the docile students became a professor of philosophy and director of a German tv station. "This might be expected," he wickedly comments. But another became a professor of physics, and a third professor of botany. The honest Harter had to leave school and go to work in a factory. If in later life he was ever tempted to question any of the pronouncements of his more ...

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