Is biology one of the humanities

Humanity needs more humanity, but does it need a "New Humanism"? More education is needed, but is the "unity of knowledge" worth striving for? These questions form the background of a tangible science-political debate that is now facing a new escalation.

A man from Kassel, friendly, witty, charming in personal dealings, created a bang there. The evolutionary biologist Ulrich Kutschera calls on the humanities scholars to stay out of the "internal affairs and questions" of the only true, natural science and to acknowledge: "Nothing in the humanities makes sense except in the light of biology."

Kutschera is known for his sometimes brutal fight against the critics of the theory of evolution. He sees himself as a champion of an ideology-free natural science and has to fight back again and again accusations that he is running an ideological business, yes he wants to convert to materialism quite intolerantly.

Since Kutschera sometimes overshoots the target in his offensive against creationism, a historian recently referred to him as "McCarthy from Kassel" in a left-wing Berlin weekly newspaper. He threw himself on it Humanistic press service for Kutschera in the breach and referred, to a certain extent, to save his honor, to his attack on the humanities. The apologetic exercise, however, is likely to fail.

At the point in question, namely, in the latest edition of the specialist magazine Laboratory journal, Kutschera moves the entire humanities into the vicinity of private pleasure. He calls it "verbal science" and distinguishes it sharply from "real science".

This researches "really existing things, from subatomic particles to the biodiversity of regions", while the verbal scientist, as the name suggests, is at home in the realm of mere words and is therefore caught in a hermetic circle: "He prefers to deal with What others have thought and written about real issues, weigh up against each other, reinterpret and comment on. "

The result of such unreal word acrobatics, a "tertiary literature mostly disseminated in book form", is "by far not as important" as the findings of natural scientists - those "people who use enormous personal and technical efforts to research real phenomena of nature".

The defiant head in the man

Physicists have a hard time, philosopher, historian and literary scholar, not to mention theologian, make it too easy for themselves: this coquettish, plaintive creed is reminiscent of the child, of the defiant head in every man and therefore also in the man from Kassel.

It obviously offends him that in Germany, in contrast to the USA, the humanities are called science and not "humanities". It worries him that "verbal scholars are not subject to the compulsion of an experimental verification" and therefore imaginary gods are "conceptually equivalent" to them with the terms "bread and butter" and "street broom": all Hecuba.

Apart from private compensations, Kutschera, author of the autobiographical confession "Methodical naturalism and mindless evolutionary research", puts the spirit under general suspicion. Biology is to rise to the supreme discipline, to whose harsh judgment everything spiritual has to submit.

But this contaminates one's own thinking: Aren't Kutschera's omissions spiritual products to praise the distant spirit? Can his words be tested in an experiment? And what legitimizes him, who demands familiarity with the scientific "arsenal of methods" as a condition for every request to speak, to such a lecture in a recognizable foreign field?

In a previous edition of the Laboratory journals Kutschera had identified the original form of his thesis as a quote from the Russian geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky: "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." Now a new level of self-assurance has been reached.

Kutschera sees his own field of expertise as ripe for the jump to the judge's seat of science. Evolutionary biology is supposed to shed light on the word quarrel. Kutschera receives support from the chemist Peter Atkins. For the 69-year-old Oxford scholar, philosophy is nothing more than a "more primitive predecessor of science", by which Atkins also wants to understand exclusively experimental natural science.

Atkins and Kutschera are working towards a "new humanism". Its goal is the "unity of knowledge", a strictly naturalistic monism that the Pythagoreans tried their hand at, as did Descartes, Laplace, Haeckel, and Dawkins. However, all attempts to standardize thinking under scientific signs rebounded from the infinitely colorful reality of life - and from the internal contradictions: where is the Archimedean point from which a sub-area of ​​knowledge could be determined as its absolute ruler? There is no such thing as a science without preconditions.