Saturday, October 29, 2005


Behe Comes Down With Elephantiasis

William Saletan is at it again, with a hilarious article in Slate. In it he discusses the eerie similarity between Michael Behe’s testimony in the Dover School Board case and a certain classic comedy sketch.

Helpfully saving Behe the trouble of summing up his testimony, Saletan imagines him putting it this way:

So, this is my theory, which belongs to me, and goes as follows. All intelligently designed things are brought about by an intelligent designer through a process of intelligently conducted design.
Now if only Behe could learn to be so succinct.


Bucky in the Big City

Continuing to audition for the role of Curly Howard in the television movie about the Dover School Board, William Buckingham recently displayed on the stand all the acumen that made him such a valuable asset to those who are a part of the Intelligent Design "Movement".

In case you missed it, the truly unbelievable Mr. Buckingham was a member of the Board and one of the advocates for the policy intended to introduce the District students to ID in their science classes and recommending Of Pandas and People, an Intelligent Design "textbook", if they wanted to learn more about it.

In a deposition leading up to the present trial, Mr. Buckingham swore under oath that he did not know how 60 copies of Of Pandas and People came to be donated to the District. It turns out, however, that he stood up in front of his church congregation and told his fellow parishioners that "there was a need" for money to buy Of Pandas and People and if anyone wanted to give, they could. Moreover, he took the money collected at his church and wrote a check for $850 to the father of the president of the Board. But now he has testified at the trial, again under oath, that he did not lie at the deposition because he didn't know the exact names of the church members who had made the cash donations.

Mr. Buckingham is the same fellow who said something to the effect of: "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can’t someone take a stand for him?"

So when exactly did the gospel change to: "Come follow me . . . and become like unto the sleaziest of lawyers"?

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Antimodernism Stalking Science

Here is a perceptive, if somewhat depressing, analysis of the future of science that was posted in by John Wilkins.
The problem isn't creationism. It isn't Intelligent Design. It's every and all antimodernism that's ever been around from the antivaccination crowd to flat earthers to antigenetics to antiecology to antinuclear power to these two idiocies. It's the fact that most of the world can't cope with defeasible knowledge and change from comfortable certainties. Humans do not, as Aristotle wrongly thought they did, desire to know. Humans desire to be convinced they are right.
We managed for a few generations to convince those who made policy that knowledge gained honestly through toil, but which was tentative and reviseable, was to be preferred to faith and dogma as a way of knowing the world. We made great strides and were too convinced that the world was following us who thought science a good thing. But while the world likes the output of science, they don't like knowledge most of the time. They would be very happy for science to stop right where it is at any time. So far, as no further, would be fine, if the mullahs, priests and prophets had their way.
Since about 1970 the popular mood has shifted away from science in favour of technodazzle, from learning in favour of infotainment. Critics of science moved from legitimate concern to ideological objection (or else why is it that nuclear power is not regarded as a legitimate alternative to hydro-, coal- and the weak solar-power otptions?).
We are living in the post-scientific era. What we do here is to maintain an interest in real science (it happens that I care most about evolution and biology, but the same thing can be said in a host of other domains). We do this because learning is a Good on its own, but also because as ignorance and opinion overtake knowledge, some learning will be held in common to support the next generation when it needs it.
My fear is that we will see society in the west fall to pieces as the knowledge it needs is overtaken by real junk science for political and social reasons. My hope is that it will persist in societies that still see it as the way to improve their lot, in China, India, Russia, the rest of Asia. They may one day reseed the west after it has passed through the next dark ages. Historians will date it, I think, around 1970. I hope they set the end of it no later than 2100.
Oh, by the way, John has added a postscript at his own blog, Evolving Thoughts, but, for your own good, you have to go there to find it. Good reading!

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Methinks We Have a Weasel

I have reason to believe that the board did not think they were involved in illegal activity.

With that ringing endorsement of the ethics of the Dover Area School Board, Richard Nilsen, the Superintendent of the District, who worked to implement the Board’s decision to introduce the Intelligent Design Movement to students during public school science classes, let a little light onto his vision of his duties vis a vis the children during his testimony in the Federal Court trial on the Constitutionality of the Board’s policy. It seems that the Board’s attorney had "found no case law either way" on the propriety of what the Board intended to do and that was good enough to meet the standards of the Board and Administration as far as doing what is best for the children. And that was despite the fact that the Board attorney warned against the policy because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unfavorably on school policies based on religious motivations.

Mr. Nilsen didn’t see any problem. He wasn’t bothered even after he had more than one discussion with Board member Alan Bonsell about "creationism" at meetings intended to deal with school issues (though Mr. Nilsen’s memory of those occasions is now surprisingly vague). Nor did he see any problem when the Principle of the Dover high school, Trudy Peterman, wrote that a school board member wanted to require that creationism be taught equally alongside evolution. He just thought she "exaggerated constantly". Even after June 2004, when school board member Bill Buckingham complained that a biology book recommended by the administration was "laced with Darwinism", Mr. Nilsen couldn’t see any problem. "All biology books are going to be full of Darwin's theory. I didn't understand his point," Nilsen said.

And, of course, he was "frustrated" by teachers who wanted to disassociate themselves from the statement to be read in biology class, presumably by their refusal to read it, forcing Nilsen to be the one to have to keep the straight face. They were apparently so unreasonable as to also ask for direction for how to handle the curriculum change.

In short, Mr. Nilsen had (and still has) his eyes resolutely screwed shut and was prepared to do whatever the Board wanted without complaint. Why not? After all, he was just following . . .


It's Not Nice To Quote-Mine Mother Nature

I previously noted the Religious Right’s infatuation with March of the Penguins. The film’s director, Luc Jacquet, has also noted it . . . with some dismay.

Responding to claims that the movie supports "traditional norms" like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing, Jacquet is quoted in a London Times piece on the premier of his movie in England as saying:

The divorce rate in emperor penguins is 80 to 90 per cent each year. After they see the chick is OK, most of them divorce. They change every year.
He goes on to say:

It does annoy me to a certain degree. For me there is no doubt about evolution. I am a scientist. The intelligent design theory is a step back to the thinking of 300 years ago. My film is not supposed to be interpreted in this way. Some scientists I know find the film interesting because it can be a good argument against intelligent design. People should not jump on these bandwagons.
The article mentions an attempt by Andrew Coffin in World magazine to take just the opposite lesson from the movie, that it supports Intelligent Design. The interesting part of the review is:

That any one of these eggs survives is a remarkable feat -- and, some might suppose, a strong case for intelligent design. It's sad that acknowledgment of a creator is absent in the examination of such strange and wonderful animals. But it's also a gap easily filled by family discussion after the film. Talk of evolution is minimal, as is much scientific discussion of onscreen events, with Mr. Freeman's narration focused more on the poetic than Discovery Channel-style details.
One can't help but wonder what Mr. Coffin thinks the movie would be about if none of the eggs ever survived. And if it is obvious to Mr. Coffin how survival of one species makes a case for intelligent design, considering that somewhere around 98% of all species are extinct, he might deign to pass the information along next time.

But maybe the thing I found most amusing was the notion of the Discovery Channel as some sort of paradigm of "scientific discussion".

Sunday, October 16, 2005


Science Without Theory; Theory Without Science

Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club is a joint biography of the four people, Charles Sanders Pierce, William James, John Dewey and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who are most associated with founding the American school of philosophy known as Pragmatism.

A contemporary of these men, and a personal influence on William James, was Louis Agassiz, probably the most famous scientist of his day. Agassiz, had studied with some of the best scientists of Europe, including Georges Cuvier, and was friends with such notable figures as Alexander von Humboldt (much admired by Charles Darwin) and Charles Lyell (later Darwin’s mentor). Agassiz’s availability to become a professor at Harvard University occasioned the founding of the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard. Previously, scientific educations had to be obtained in Europe but the founding of the School marked the beginning of the professionalization of American science.

Agassiz, while not specifically a practitioner of Natural Theology, certainly was steeped in that tradition. He was an overt creationist, though not a Biblical one. He believed that the history of vertebrate life represented an unfolding of a divine plan leading to the human form. As Peter J. Bowler, in his Evolution: The History of an Idea, described Agassiz’s teleology:

God was a rational, almost an artistic, designer concerned more with the underlying symmetry of nature than with the details of adaptation.
In this, Agassiz’s views were all but indistinguishable from today’s Intelligent Design advocates, with the exception that Agassiz was more honest about who he thought "the designer" was. Needless to say, Agassiz was an opponent of naturalistic evolution. Indeed, he was probably the last holdout among major scientists, although there were some indications he had begun to change his mind just before his death.

With that introduction, Menand’s description of James’ reaction to Agassiz’s opposition to evolution is instructive and applicable to today’s Natural Theologians:

[F]or James, anti-Darwinian scientists like Agassiz were mistaken not because they ignored the facts in favor of preconceived theories, but for the opposite reason -- because they collected facts without a working hypothesis to guide them. When we look at Agassiz's work we think we are seeing a confusion between science and belief. But what we are really seeing is a disjunction between those things. This is what Asa Gray had meant when he said that Agassiz had no scientific explanation for the phenomena he observed; for Agassiz had only his observations on one side and his theory on the other. His science wasn't theoretical and his theory wasn't scientific. His ideas are edifices perched on top of mountains of data. Darwin’s ideas are devices for generating data. Darwin's theory opens possibilities for inquiry; Agassiz's closes them. (p. 141)
As Santayana said, "Those who do not learn from history . . . "

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Skimming the Subject

Apparently conservatives have fallen love with the nature documentary, "March of the Penguins". According to conservative film critic and radio host Michael Medved, quoted by Jonathan Miller in his New York Times article "March of the Conservatives: Penguin Film as Political Fodder" (still available as a pdf file):

[March of the Penguins is] the motion picture this summer that most passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing.
Except, of course, it doesn’t. As P.Z. Myers points out at Pharyngula, penguins only practice seasonal monogamy, getting a new mate every breeding season. Worse, as P.Z. goes on to explain:

It was a movie about pitiless Darwinian circumstances. Drop the egg, it freezes and the embryo dies. Newborn chick wanders away, it freezes and dies. One parent dies of predation or weather, the other has to abandon the young to starve, freeze, and die.
Emperor Penguins are beautiful birds and amazing examples of evolutionary adaptation but if my parents were planning on practicing penguin "family values", I’d be looking for a safer place to live.

John Wilkins, at his Evolving Thoughts site, has pointed out that this is:

. . . an old tradition in Christian treatment of nature. Ever since the classical period, there has been a tradition of drawing moral lessons from organisms. Of course, such people only read into the organisms, like the lion, the eagle or the fox, what they want to find there. It's not like they actually learn from nature or anything.
Or, as Bobby Bryant put it on, they are just quote-mining nature.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Small Gods

Although some Intelligent Design advocates deny it, it is clear that ID is actually Natural Theology (commonly associated with William Paley) decked out in modern garb. One hundred and thirty-five years ago John Stuart Mill pointed out that attributing design to God winds up making God not greater but less.

It is not too much to say that every indication of Design in the Kosmos is so much evidence against the Omnipotence of the Designer. For what is meant by Design? Contrivance: the adaptation of means to an end. But the necessity for contrivance -- the need of employing means -- is a consequence of the limitation of power. Who would have recourse to means if to attain his end his mere word was sufficient? The very idea of means implies that the means have an efficacy which the direct action of the being who employs them has not. Otherwise they are not means, but an incumbrance. A man does not use machinery to move his arms. If he did, it could only be when paralysis had deprived him of the power of moving them by volition. But if the employment of contrivance is in itself a sign of limited power, how much more so is the careful and skilful choice of contrivances? Can any wisdom be shown in the selection of means, when the means have no efficacy but what is given them by the will of him who employs them, and when his will could have bestowed the same efficacy on any other means? Wisdom and contrivance are shown in overcoming difficulties, and there is no room for them in a Being for whom no difficulties exist. The evidences, therefore, of Natural Theology distinctly imply that the author of the Kosmos worked under limitations; that he was obliged to adapt himself to conditions independent of his will, and to attain his ends by such arrangements as those conditions admitted of.
The apologists of design are so desperate to prop up their shaky belief in God that they would tear him down to install the shoring.

Monday, October 10, 2005


Epicureans of the World, Unite!

John Wilkins has proposed a FAQ for the Talk Origins Archive on logical fallacies frequently used (or should I say "abused"?) by creationists and asked for comments and examples. You can see it (and contribute) through Google Groups. The following is one of the fallacies, Poisoning the Well, and my suggested example:

Poisoning the Well - the fallacy of Guilt by Association

Form: A accepts X, therefore X is wrong (because A is a bad person or group)

Discussion: this is very popular among those who want to argue from history. Some reviled individual or group accepted an idea therefore the idea is false.

Examples: Hitler accepted evolution [or vegetarianism, or animal rights] therefore that idea is wrong.
There is a "nice" example of this fallacy in "Darwin’s Disciples: The Modern Epicureans" by Wayne Jackson, Christian Courier: Penpoints. The article not only cites to the "usual suspects" in Hitler, racists, sexists, pagans and "brutalists" (he just missed perfection by failing to call them "social Darwinists") but jumps on the less widely reviled Epicureans as well.

Understandably, given the nature of this fallacy, the article also totters on the edge of another fallacy, Ad Hominen, but the author doesn't quite say that Darwin was wrong because he was a sexist, racist, father rapist, etc. It comes close on Appeal to Consequences as well but just misses saying the bad consequences make evolution wrong.

First, the stage is set:

If the Epicurean/Darwinian dogma is accepted, and practiced consistently, it will lead humanity into a downward spiral that results in a despicable morass of violence and debauchery that is unimaginably horrible. Modern society is on its way in that "descent of man," and it has by no means reached the bottom of the abyss.
The examples are then given:

Charles Darwin was a sexist. Some moderns would label him a "sexist pig," were he not the darling of their biological fantasy. For instance, Darwin argued that the male is considerably superior to the female in intellect. Hear him: "...[T]he chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn [shown] by man attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than woman can attain – whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands" (The Descent of Man, London: John Murray, 1871, 2.327). Is it any wonder that the demeaning of womankind accelerated in the post-Darwin regime?

Darwin was a racist. He held that those "savages" beyond the pale of Caucasian boundaries would eventually become extinct – hopefully! "At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the savage races throughout the world ... The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as the baboon, instead of as now between the negro [sic] or Australian and the gorilla" (Descent, 1.201). It certainly was not through the influence of evolutionary dogma that the evil of slavery was abolished in civilized lands.

Darwin was a tooth and claw brutalist who lamented the fact that modern man seeks to preserve the lives of his sick and weak peers. For example, he bemoaned the medical reality that vaccinations have "preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind ... this must be highly injurious to the race of man." The foremost apostle of evolution criticized the construction of hospitals for the crippled, sick, and mentally handicapped. He felt it unfortunate that doctors labor so to preserve human lives down to their concluding hours. He protested laws that were designed to care for the poor. These facts are beyond dispute (see: Descent, 1.168). [Emphasis in original]
And the point is then driven home:

This was the philosophy that Adolf Hitler found so refreshing in his quest to eliminate millions of "inferior" folks in the days of his infamous regime. Modern advocates of evolutionary theory choke on this paganistic drivel from their philosophical father, but they do not know how to effect disconnection from him.


Darwinists, of course, loudly protest that they repudiate these conclusions. Of course they do; such premises are too hideous to advocate without resulting embarrassment and recrimination. ...
Not that much else is needed than to point out that the whole argument in this article is a tissue of logical fallacies, but simplistically calling Darwin a "racist" or "sexist" or "brutalist" based on attitudes and beliefs widely held at the time is, at best, disingenuous and "supported" only by quote mining.

Finally, just a word about the insult the author could not resist adding to injury: "It certainly was not through the influence of evolutionary dogma that the evil of slavery was abolished in civilized lands." If he is going to take that swipe at science, it is only fair to point out that, throughout the modern controversy over slavery up to and including the American Civil War, Christians fought on both sides of the issue. So the same can be said of it: "It certainly was not through the influence of Christian dogma that the evil of slavery was abolished in civilized lands."

Saturday, October 08, 2005


John F. Haught's Expert Report in Dover Trial

This is the expert report of John F. Haught, the recently retired Thomas Healey Professor of Theology at Georgetown University, submitted in evidence at the Dover Intelligent Design trial. All that has been omitted is part of the opening section outlining Professor Haught's qualifications. The entire report can be found in a pdf file on the NCSE website.
Georgetown University
Washington, D.C.
Report of John F. Haught, Ph.D.
Proceedings in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania: Tammy Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District and Dover Area School District Board of Directors.
I have read carefully the complaint and answer noted above. My qualifications for rendering the following opinions should be evident in the brief biographical sketch presented immediately below and in the complete CV appended to this report.
I am the Thomas Healey Professor of Theology at Georgetown University. My area of specialization is systematic theology, with a particular interest in issues pertaining to science and religion.
[A list of books and articles written, courses taught and awards received omitted.]
I am receiving no compensation for this contribution aside from my ordinary expenses.

My general opinion regarding the case mentioned above is that the plaintiffs are entirely justified in stating that the effect of the "intelligent design policy" adopted by the Dover School Board's October 18 resolution "will be to compel public school science teachers to present to their students in biology class information that is inherently religious, not scientific, in nature." What follows are my reasons for this opinion.

The main issue is whether the idea of "intelligent design" (henceforth abbreviated as ID) is inherently scientific rather than religious. It is my considered opinion that it is not a scientific but instead an essentially religious idea. I shall give the reasons for this judgment below, but first let me say very succinctly what I mean by "religion."

In a very general sense religion may be defined as 1) the surrender of one's mind and heart to whatever is considered to be ultimate in importance and explanatory power (see Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith); 2) Religion is also sometimes understood as a special sensitivity to "mystery," where mystery means an inexhaustible and incomprehensible presence that enfolds the ordinary world and is not fully accessible to ordinary or scientific experience (see Michael Barnes, In the Presence of Mystery); 3) Finally, in Western culture "religion" has usually taken the form of theism, belief in an ultimate mystery known as God. Theists (especially Jews, Muslims and Christians) consider God to be personal, responsive, liberative, redemptive, infinitely good, powerful, and intelligent. This God is thought of as transcendent, that is, as existing beyond; the realm of nature and history in such a way as to be unavailable to ordinary experience and scientific inquiry.

Science, on the other hand, is a self-limiting method of inquiry that seeks to understand the world in terms of physical rather than ultimate causes, inaccessible mystery and personal deities. "Intelligent design," for its part, functions not as a physical cause but as an ultimate explanation. Science explains events by first observing experientially available phenomena; second a forms hypotheses and theories to explain the observed phenomena in purely natural terms (for example, evolutionary theory seeks to explain the fossil record in natural terms, using such ideas as variation, natural selection, geographical isolation, and so on); and, third, science continually submits its hypotheses and theories to a process of empirical testing in order to determine how well they correspond to the observed data. For example, biologists and other scientists continue to ask how well Darwin's original ideas stand up to information that continues to come in from fields such as geology, paleontology, embryology, genetics and so on. Science understands the world, including life, without resorting to ideas such as God, mystery, purpose. meaning, values and intelligence. Appealing to any of these ideas in the laboratory or in science class would violate the fundamental rules by which science works.

It is clear to me that ID functions as a religious, rather than scientific, idea in ail three senses at the term "religion" provided above. First, for its devotees ID is ultimate in importance and explanatory power. The "master intellect" that the book Of Pandas and People (recommended to biology students by the Dover School Board) identifies as the explanation of living phenomena (pp. 58 & 85) clearly functions religiously as ultimate in importance and explanation -- since there could be nothing that surpasses a "master" intellect.

Science, on the other hand, has to be more modest. It can appropriately deal only with chains of physical causes or evolutionary mechanisms since it is not equipped methodologically to provide ultimate explanations. If a scientist were to claim (as some do) that purely material causes or evolutionary mechanisms are the ultimate explanation of life, then this too should be treated as a religious assertion -- at least in the first sense of the term "religion" as given above. In my opinion such a strong belief claim, itself unsupportable and unfalsifiable by scientific experiment, should have no more place in a biology classroom than appeals to ID or divine creation.

Second, ID functions religiously as an inaccessible mystery rather than an empirically specifiable cause. Referring to ID, the authors of Of Pandas and People ask: "What kind of intelligent agent was it? On its own, science cannot answer this question; it must leave it to religion and philosophy." (p. 7) Indisputably, then, even ID proponents cannot help thinking of ID in religious terms, regardless at what they may say to the contrary.

Third, ID explicitly endows its ultimate explanation of life with the attribute of supreme intelligence -- a quality characteristic of the personal God of classical theism, a point that I shall develop more fully below.

ID proponents claim that ID is a scientific explanation, but it is not. Its advocates seek to "balance" classroom discussions of evolutionary theory with ID by claiming that ID is a better scientific theory than is evolution. But to do so they have to make a case that the notion of ID is separable from religion. Such a case, as I have just pointed out, cannot be upheld plausibly. I shall now support this opinion further by showing that the "ID policy" endorsed by the Dover School Board is inseparable from religion motivationally, historically, logically and theologically.

a. Motivationally, it is impossible to ignore the fact that nearly all the proponents and defenders of ID are "theists" (believers in God) driven by a concern that contemporary culture is losing a sense or God and the values associated with traditional theistic belief. Moreover, the main advocates of ID admit explicitly that they are looking for a strategy to combat the encroaching secularism, materialism and "naturalism" that they see embodied most fully in Darwinian thought. Many of them do not even try to disguise the fact that they take evolution to he an inherently anti-religious set of ideas that needs to be countered by a more religion-friendly "scientific" alternative. Whether they are right or wrong in their assessment of the godlessness of
contemporary intellectual culture, the ID initiative cannot be understood apart from a deep desire to defend the integrity of religion against the invasion of secularism whose spearhead seems, at least to ID proponents, to be Darwinian evolution. In spite of their formal denials that ID is a theological notion, it is clear that a religious agenda underlies their attempts to give ID a "fair" hearing in the classroom.

(Let me just say that, as a Christian theologian I share the concern that people be exposed to intellectually plausible alternatives to materialist or secularist ideology. However, the public schools and especially science classrooms am not the place to do so. Nor is it appropriate in the context of public education that the ID proponents be permitted to push their own implicitly theological agenda as the only plausible religious "alternative," especially since many other theists find their theological assumptions to be deeply flawed.)

b. Historically, it is impossible to separate ID from the religious and theological tradition in which it was born and nurtured over the course of centuries. For example, the famous theologian Thomas Aquinas (13th Century) argued that the design in nature points toward a supreme intelligence. And this, he said, "everyone understands to be God." In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the Anglican cleric William Paley famously set forth a version of the argument from design, reasoning that the orderly arrangements of living complexity in nature point logically to the existence of a benign and intelligent God. The contemporary notion of ID is historically unintelligible apart from the religious agendas of Paley and Aquinas. When ID advocates today seek an "intelligent design" explanation far irreducible complexity in subcellular mechanisms, or when they emphasize the "specified informational complexity" in cellular DNA, no amount of explicit denial can disguise the fact that they am working in direct continuity with the tradition of "natural theology," a religiously inspired method of argumentation that attempts to affirm the existence of God by way of interpreting the design in the "book of nature."

Historically, the notion of intelligent design has persistently been taken to mean the Creator God of theistic faith. One is always free to redefine terms according to one's preferences, of course, but the weight of traditional meanings is witnessed to by the very fact that ID proponents choose the expression "intelligent design," rather than a less provocative label for what they take to be the best alternative to evolutionary accounts.

I am aware that some ID proponents still insist that ID is not necessarily theological. For example, in a compendium of ID essays tellingly titled Mere Creation, ID leader William Dembski writes that "intelligent design presupposes neither a creator nor miracles" and that the idea is "theologically minimalist" (p. 17). He also says that ID is not like Paley’s argument for the existence of a divine designer, since ID is based on empirical evidence more than on deductive logic: "The empirical detectability of intelligent causes renders intelligent design a fully scientific theory and distinguishes it from . . . natural theology'" (17). Nevertheless it is clear that Dembski wants his readers to embrace ID as supporting the classical design argument for the existence of God which, in simplified form, goes as follows:

Major premise: Complex design entails an intelligent designer
Minor premise: Nature exhibits complex design
Conclusion: Nature has an intelligent designer

Although Dembski denies that ID is natural theology, his purpose when taken in its full context is to uphold the classical argument of natural theology. In fact, he explicitly states that one prong of the ID program a "a sustained theological investigation that connects the intelligence inferred by intelligent design with the God of Scripture . . . " (p. 29). If there were ever any doubt about what ID really means, this statement should dispel it once and for all.

c. Logically, a sure indication that ID is not science lies in the fact that its chief architects openly present ID as an alternative to naturalism or materialism rather than solely as an alternative to a
scientific theory. In doing so they themselves rhetorically locate ID in the arena of belief systems rather than exclusively empirical science. Dembski, for example, explicitly states that ID is part of a program to defeat naturalism (Mere Creation, p. 29). "Naturalism'" here means the belief that nature is all there is and that God does not exist. But defeating philosophical belief systems is not what science is all about. No scientist would ever view theistic belief in a Creator as an alternative to the theory of gravity, for example. So likewise it is a logical error to make ID an alternative to evolutionary science.

Moreover. no good scientist would ever claim that scientific experiment detects intelligent causes, as Dembski claims. Nor would "intelligent cause" ever appear as a specifically scientific category of explanation within the logic of accepted scientific discourse.

Reflecting on one's private moments on the results of scientific inquiry, of course, one might conclude that something analogous to our own intelligence is the ultimate cause of natural phenomena, but that would he a metaphysical or theological claim, not a scientific inference or explanation. Contrariwise, a scientist may conclude in his or her private moments that the universe is grounded ultimately in dumb matter and utter unintelligence. But that too would be a nonscientific, metaphysical interpretation of nature, not a scientific idea strictly speaking. In my
opinion, that kind of belief (identifiable as "religion" in sense # 1 as discussed above) should also be kept out of the classroom.

ID proponents' claim that some biologists consciously or unconsciously import atheistic assumptions extrinsic to science into their books or into the classroom would not logically justify the actions of a biology teacher or the Dover school board in recommending ID as an alternative to evolution. My point is that the ID movement's call for "balanced treatment" is not at heart a request to balance one scientific theory with another (a goal that would certainly be appropriate to pursue in the classroom). Rather at bottom the ID movement is seeking to "balance" one belief system (scientific naturalism) with another, namely, their version of theism disguised as science. This is an illogical way of making its case, and the public school classroom is
not the proper forum for its misplaced rhetorical agenda.

Let me add that many philosophers and theologians have concluded that a divine intelligence is the deepest explanation of a universe in which there are instances of informational or biological complexity. But when they have done so it is not as scientists, but as persons who in addition to being scientifically curious are also philosophically and theologically inquisitive. Most scientists who are religiously committed to theistic belief are able to make the distinction between science and religion and are willing to let science be neutral on the question of ultimate explanation. For that reason most scientists who believe in God reject the proposition that ID is a scientific idea.

ID tries to squeeze what is undeniably a supernatural cause, intelligent design, into an explanatory slot where only natural causes are methodologically permissible. In doing so ID advocates are demanding in effect that science, cease to be science. Throughout the modem period scientific method has refused to use categories such as purpose, God, intelligence, value, meaning, importance, etc. and has attempted to understand all phenomena in a very limited, impersonal and indeed physical, way. So even It the concept of ID were separable from the idea of God, it would still be a supernaturalist idea. And introducing anything supernatural as an explanatory category in scientific understanding of nature, especially to propose ID as an alternative "scientific" theory, is completely inconsistent with the self-limiting way in which scientific method operates. So, as a theologian involved in the study of the relationship of science to religion, I would say that ID deserves the criticism it currently draws from the scientific community. For there is no way in which ID could be the subject of empirical investigation or submit to the verificational procedures science employs. Nor could it lead to new and fruitful scientific discoveries in the future.

4. Theologically, moreover, major traditions maintain that if God influences and interacts with the created world it cannot be in the same way that physical causes operate. From the point of view of the most prominent theologians, therefore, not only is ID poor science, it is also appalling theology. And here issues of religious liberty arise as an often ignored aspect of what is it at stake in the present case. For example, by encouraging their students to read books such as Of Pandas and People, science teachers would be implicitly endorsing a style of theological understanding that would he deeply offensive to members of at least some theological traditions.

To he specific, such a recommendation by biology teachers could offend those Protestants who want nothing to do with natural theology and who even consider proofs of God from nature to be the epitome of impiety. Such a policy would also be a violation of the theological sensitivities of Catholics, including myself, who distinguish carefully between ultimate explanations and natural causes. If a child of mine were attending a biology class where the teacher proposed that students consider ID as an alternative to neo-Darwinian evolution I would be offended religiously as well as intellectually. I would not want my child to get the impression that ID is a helpful way to understand either natural processes or divine creation.

In summary, I must conclude that ID is inseparable from religion because of: l) the motivations that underlie it; 2) the historical background out of which it arises; 3) the logical or rhetorical framework within which the argument in favor of ID is presented; and 4) the implicit theological assumptions about the relationship of God to nature that underlie it.

John F. Haught
Thomas Healey Professor of
Georgetown University

Thursday, October 06, 2005


Know Your Limitations

The put down of the day goes to Mike Argento in his coverage of the Dover Intelligent Design trial posted at on October 05, 2005:

One of the founding fathers of intelligent design, Jonathan Wells, went to school to study biology and dedicate his life to bringing down Darwin after being urged to do so by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

Couldn’t he have just sold flowers at the airport like the rest of them? It would have saved us all a lot of trouble.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Cardinals in the Woodshed

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, caused quite a stir with his New York Times Op-Ed piece, "Finding Design in Nature", that many people took as endorsing the Intelligent Design movement. Personally, I had my doubts at the time that the Cardinal was doing anything more than forcefully restating the "theistic" aspect of "theistic evolution", a position held by the Church for some time. Theistic evolution is the proposition that God works "behind the scenes" to direct the process of evolution in ways undetectable to the scientific method.

But the Cardinal’s apparent friendship with Mark Ryland, a vice president of the Discovery Institute, the leading advocacy group for ID, and the fact that the article was submitted to The Times by a public relations firm that also represents the Discovery Institute, certainly added to the impression that the Cardinal might be signaling a change in Vatican policy. The fact that major ID apologists have expressed considerable animosity towards theistic evolution would reasonably lead people to think the Cardinal’s actions indicated the Church was moving away from that proposition. William Dembski, for example, has written, in his article "What every theologian should know about creation, evolution and design":

Design theorists are no friends of theistic evolution. As far as design theorists are concerned, theistic evolution is American evangelicalism's ill-conceived accommodation to Darwinism. What theistic evolution does is take the Darwinian picture of the biological world and baptize it, identifying this picture with the way God created life. When boiled down to its scientific content, theistic evolution is no different from atheistic evolution, accepting as it does only purposeless, naturalistic, material processes for the origin and development of life. [Emphasis in original]
However, in what appears to be a rather complete renunciation of ID, Schönborn has now said "I see no problem combining belief in the Creator with the theory of evolution, under one condition -- that the limits of a scientific theory are respected." He goes on to say that scientists overstep those limits if they conclude that evolution proves there was no creator. While some scientists may hold that as a philosophical position, few, if any, would pretend it was a scientific theory. It is, in fact, the ID advocates, such as Dembski, who have a problem recognizing the self-imposed limits of science. In any case, holding that evolution proves there was no creator rather takes the "theistic" out of "theistic evolution".

After an uproar among Catholic scientists, an apparently chastened Schönborn was reduced to saying "Maybe one did not express oneself clearly enough or thoughts were not clear enough". Either that, or Cardinal Schönborn may just have been the victim of friendship and a certain naïveté about American politics.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


By the Short Hairs

Even if it wasn’t a good article, you would still have to love the title of William Saletan’s piece in Slate about Intelligent Design’s purely negative arguments: "Grow Some Testables".

Kicking 'em where it hurts . . .


CreationWiki Argues Against . . . CreationWiki

There is a most revealing entry in the CreationWiki about quote mining.
The CreationWiki entry cites to the Talk Origins Archive’s Index to Creationist Claims (edited by Mark Isaak) and its entry "Claim CA113: Quotes from many noncreationist authorities show that evolutionists themselves find many various failures of evolution." Noting that one source of the claim is the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society's book, Life -- How Did It Get Here? (1985), CreationWiki goes on to say:
Sadly in this case Talk Origins' criticism is somewhat justified. The source given is from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. This is the publication arm of the Jehovah's Witnesses. They are the source of 99% of all such quotes. Jehovah's Witnesses are a pseudo Christian cult. While they do take a young Earth position, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is not a good source of Creationist material.

Sadly most of those who use these quotes do not realise that they were lifted out of context by Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and they have seldom checked the original source.

Fortunately the use of such quotes is becoming more and more rare as creation science becomes more centered on real research.

Thanks goes to Talk Origins for helping creation science, by shedding light on this. They have helped to improve the quality of Creation literature by pointing out this mistake.
Set aside the fact that a perfectly orthodox Christian (or at least as orthodox as a Fundamentalist can be), Henry Morris, was the source of a bit more than 1% of these quote mines, publishing an entire book of them, That Their Words May Be Used Against Them.
Ignore the attempt, worthy of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson himself, to blame creationist usage of quote mines on the insidious machinations of "a pseudo Christian cult".

Instead, contemplate the amusingly schizophrenic manner that the CreationWiki immediately follows the above entry with one flatly denying that the creationists using these quotes either misunderstand or misuse them. And the evidence presented for this is a citation to the entry in the Quote Mine Project (modesty forbids mention of the brilliant editor) about the "extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record" quote from Stephen Jay Gould. But in doing so, CreationWiki completely ignores what Gould himself said and goes on insisting that the quote means something that Gould said it didn't. According to the CreationWiki, the "obvious lack of transitional forms in the fossil record is the salient fact recognized in this quote" but it stubbornly fails to acknowledge that Gould stated that "Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups."

A better example of grimly determined quote mining, even in the face of the author’s own objections, can hardly be imagined.



Nobels All Around!

In case you have not been paying attention, you are fortunate to live in the time of one of the greatest discoveries ever in science, which belongs to Michael Behe. In his book, Darwin’s Black Box, Behe modestly claimed:

The result of these cumulative efforts to investigate the cell -- to investigate life at the molecular level -- is [once you apply Behe’s notion of irreducible complexity] a loud, clear, piercing cry of "design!" The result is so unambiguous and so significant that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science. (p. 232-33)

Why, you may ask, hasn’t the Nobel Committee trampled down Behe’s door in its haste to recognize this milestone? Perhaps they are trying to work out the little question of priority, for it seems there is another claimant. William Dembski has said, in his article "Science and Design":

The greatest breakthrough in philosophy of science and probability theory of recent years has been to isolate and make precise this criterion [complexity-specification]. Michael Behe’s criterion of irreducible complexity for establishing the design of biochemical systems is a special case of the complexity-specification criterion for detecting design.
So it seems that Behe's "greatest achievement in the history of science" is merely the working out of some of the details of the really, really, really "greatest breakthrough" of Bill Dembski in coming up with specified complexity.

How will the Committee ever be able to choose?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

. . . . .


How to Support Science Education