Steve William Fuller
12 July 1959
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Occupation||Academic philosopher and professor|
|Title||Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology at the University of Warwick, England|
Steve William Fuller (born 12 July 1959) is an American social philosopher in the field of science and technology studies. He has published in the areas of social epistemology, academic freedom, and the subjects of intelligent design and transhumanism.
Fuller attended Regis High School in Manhattan. Admitted as a John Jay Scholar to Columbia University, he majored in History and Sociology and graduated summa cum laude in 1979. Awarded a Kellett Fellowship, he studied at Clare College, Cambridge, and received an M.Phil. in History and Philosophy of Science in 1981. He earned his Ph.D. in the same subject from the University of Pittsburgh in 1985, where he was an Andrew Mellon Pre-Doctoral Fellow. Fuller's doctoral dissertation, "Bounded Rationality in Law and Science", explored the implications of the views of Herbert A. Simon for political theory and philosophy of science.
Fuller held assistant and associate professorships at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Virginia Tech and the University of Pittsburgh. In 1994, he was appointed to the chair in sociology and social policy at the University of Durham, England. He moved in 1999 to the University of Warwick, England. In July 2007 Fuller was awarded a D. Litt. by Warwick in recognition of "published work or papers which demonstrate a high standard of important original work forming a major contribution to a subject". In 2008, Fuller served as President of the Sociology section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In that capacity, he staged a play, "Lincoln and Darwin—Live for One Night Only!", at the BA's annual Festival of Science in Liverpool. The play was later produced as a podcast in Australia.
Fuller has been a visiting professor in Denmark, Germany, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden (where he held a Fulbright Professorship in 1995 at Gothenburg University), and the United States (UCLA).
In 2010 Fuller became a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Interdisciplinarity at the University of North Texas. In 2011, the University of Warwick appointed him to the Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology. In 2011, Fuller was appointed a Fellow of the UK Academy of Social Sciences. In 2012, he was appointed to an Honorary Professorship at Dalian University of Technology, China. In 2012, he was made a member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts in Division I (Humanities).
Fuller is most closely associated with social epistemology as an interdisciplinary research program. Social epistemology is a normative discipline that addresses philosophical problems of knowledge using the tools of history and the social sciences. Fuller founded the first journal (1987) and wrote the first book (1988) devoted to this topic. The most obvious feature of Fuller's approach, already present in his 1988 book, is that he rejects out of hand the Cartesian problem of scepticism.
Along with 21 books, Fuller has written 65 book chapters, 155 academic articles and many minor pieces. He has given many distinguished lectures and plenary addresses, and has presented to academic and non-academic audiences throughout the world, including over 100 media interviews. His works have been translated into fifteen languages. 23 academic symposia have been published on his work. He moved to the United Kingdom in 1994, the year he organized a conference in Durham on "Science's Social Standing".
Since moving to the UK, Fuller has increasingly oriented himself towards public intellectual expression, including television, radio and internet, which he interprets as a natural outgrowth of his version of social epistemology. Two of his books have been recognised in this regard. Kuhn vs. Popper was Book of the Month for February 2005 in the US mass circulation magazine, Popular Science. However, Rupert Read wrote: "I did not have to read far into this book in order to conclude that it is worthless. ... In sum: this book offers only a cartoon opposition of a fake 'Popper' to a fake 'Kuhn.'" Fuller responded, coining the word "Kuhnenstein" (Kuhn + Wittgenstein) to capture Read's view of Kuhn, which Fuller calls a "figment of Read's – and other's – fertile imagination." The Intellectual was selected as a Book of the Year in 2005 by the UK liberal-left magazine, New Statesman. He periodically contributes a column to the Project Syndicate, associated with George Soros' Open Society project, which appears in several languages in newspapers across the world. In 2006 he also taught a course on the epistemology of journalism at an international summer school at the University of Lund, Sweden.
Fuller believes (modeled on what he takes to be the German model) that academic freedom is a freedom reserved for academics, not a special case of freedom of speech. This includes the right to "cause reasoned offence", if within the terms of reason and evidence appropriate to the academic profession. He believes it important for academics to be able to express intellectual opinions for further debate which can result in progress. He also argues that students are equally entitled to academic freedom.
Fuller has made many statements about his support for intelligent design (ID) and authored two books on the subject. In 2005, in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, he testified on behalf of a local school system in the United States that required the teaching of intelligent design. The decision of the U.S. District Court held that intelligent design was a form of creationism and that its inclusion in the curriculum violated the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on the establishment of religion. The decision repeatedly cited Fuller's testimony to undermine the school system's position. Some of Fuller's critics within the Science and Technology Studies community described his participation in the trial as "naive" and suggested that the field needs further development before it can constructively engage the legal community on the nature of science.
Fuller has said that he does not support intelligent design "but feels that it should have a 'fair run for its money'". In his book Dissent over Descent, he says he sees religion in general as a motivating influence in scientific pursuits and believes that the difference between science and religion is more institutional than intellectual. Critics have called his views on science postmodernist, though others characterise them as more closely related to social constructionism.
On 21 February 2007, Fuller debated Lewis Wolpert at Royal Holloway, University of London on whether evolution and intelligent design should be accorded equal status as scientific theories. Fuller supported the proposition. Fuller endorsed a work in support of Intelligent Design, the Discovery Institute's textbook Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism (2007).
Appearing in the 2008 film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Fuller told an interviewer:
If you take seriously that evolution has to do with the transition of life forms, and that life and death are just natural processes, then one gets to be liberal about abortion and euthanasia. All of those kinds of ideas seem to me follow very naturally from a Darwinian perspective – a deprivileging of human beings, basically. And I think people who want to endorse Darwinism have to take this kind of viewpoint very seriously.
Fuller openly acknowledges that while some people simply do not like or accept either 'design in nature' or that human beings were created "in the image and likeness of God" (imago Dei), many people do and that it has been a consistent fixture in the progress, development and motivation for doing modern science.
Much of his work focuses on questions around technological enhancements and how they can improve the capacities of human beings. Fuller argues that the pursuit for enhancements is based on a need ″to create some distance between ourselves and the other animals.″  For Fuller, transhumanism offers humanity the prospect "to re-engineer the human body to enable us to live longer so as to work and play harder." 
He featured in the 2016 documentary The Future of Work and Death.
In 2007, Fuller wrote Science Vs Religion?: Intelligent Design and the Problem of Evolution. In addition to introductory and conclusionary chapters, it has chapters on the history of the relationship between religion and science, the thesis that modern science has its basis in an attempt by humanity to transcend itself and reach God, how Fuller believes complexity distinguishes ID from "other versions of creationism", legal issues, and the future of "Darwinism".
Professor of mathematics at Rutgers University, Norman Levitt in a review described it as "a truly miserable piece of work, crammed with errors scientific, historical, and even theological". Levitt took issue with the following points:
Levitt infers that Fuller's views arise from an "animosity to science as such and to its cognitive authority [that] still pervades academic life outside the dominion of the science faculty". Fuller later responded to these points, accusing Levitt of axe-grinding and questioning his understanding of the book, which Fuller claimed was less a defense of contemporary intelligent design theory than a demonstration of its rootedness in the history of science. Fuller also claims that Levitt misquotes one of the three passages Levitt cites from the book, making it mean the opposite of the original. Levitt subsequently responded at length to Fuller, concluding that "Fuller's misreading of the politics that generated and sustains the ID movement is so complete as to constitute a peculiar pathology all its own." Fuller has long been highly critical of the views of science of his opponents in the Science Wars, including Levitt, dating back at least to 1994.
Sahotra Sarkar, a philosophy professor and integrative biologist at the University of Texas at Austin also criticised Fuller's book for presenting an "analysis of the intellectual disputes over contemporary ID creationism [that] is almost vacuous". Sarkar further states that the book has an idiosyncratic interpretation of the history of philosophy, including of Kant, and of logical positivism; having a limited grasp of the history of science, including making claims about Newton, Cuvier, Agassiz, Lamarck, Mendel, Pearson and Galton that are not supported by their writings; failure to engage the "debate over naturalism that ID creationism has generated" with "remarks on supernaturalism [that show] him to be equally non-cognizant of the work of ... Philip Johnson"; and other scientific errors.
In 2008 Fuller's book on the intelligent design controversy, Dissent Over Descent: Intelligent Design's Challenge to Darwinism was published. Steven Poole of The Guardian wrote: "book is an epoch-hopping parade of straw men, incompetent reasoning and outright gibberish, as when evolution is argued to share with astrology a commitment to "action at a distance", except that the distance is in time rather than space. It's intellectual quackery like this that gives philosophy of science a bad name." Michael Ruse, Philosopher of Science at Florida State University wrote in the journal Science that Fuller's book "is completely wrong and is backed by no sound scholarship whatsoever. In at least one case, Fuller makes his case by an egregious misreading—of something I wrote about the role of genetic drift in Sewall Wright's shifting balance theory. For the record, Charles Darwin set out to provide a cause, what he called—following his mentors like William Whewell (who in turn referred back to Newton)—a true cause or vera causa. Darwin felt, and historians and philosophers of science as well as practicing evolutionary biologists still feel, that he succeeded…" In a "book of the week" review by retired Divinity Professor Keith Ward in the Times Higher Education Supplement, the book was praised for providing often overlooked information and provocative interpretations, but was criticised for a number of inaccuracies and misrepresentations.
A. C. Grayling, in New Humanist, wrote that the book contains a "mark of ignorance and historical short-sightedness on Fuller's part". In response, Fuller wrote an online response saying "if Grayling's grasp of the history of science went beyond head-banging standards, he would realise that our current level of scientific achievement would never have been reached, and more importantly that we would not be striving to achieve more, had chance-based explanations dominated over the design-based ones in our thinking about reality." To which Grayling wrote: "Steve Fuller complains, as do all authors whose books are panned, that I did not read his book properly (or at all)." He continued, "I'll take on Fuller any day regarding the history and theology of the various versions of Christianity with which humanity has been burdened. […] The same applies to the history of science."