Saturday, June 17, 2006


ID Has Left the Building

This is my reply to Part III of Casey Luskin's response to the New England Journal of Medicine article, "Intelligent Judging -- Evolution in the Classroom and the Courtroom" by George J. Annas about the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover School District. My reply to the first part: "New England Journal of Medicine Traipses Into the Kitzmiller Decision (Part I)" can be found here and the reply to Part II can be found here.

I admit I cannot work up much enthusiasm at this point but it does not appear that Luskin could either. The last part of his screed seems to have run low on steam. The sophistry is still there but the fire is burning down.

The first complaint Luskin makes is about how Mr. Annas reports the account Judge Jones gave of the evolution of the Intelligent Design "textbook," Of Pandas an People. The history of the testimony of Barbara Forrest on this issue is too familiar to go into here.
As is the case throughout these articles, Luskin's complaint is not really about Mr. Annas' reporting. This whole exercise is mostly an excuse to rehash complaints about the decision that the Discovery Institute has already made and which it hopes will gain strength by repetition despite the deficiencies of the arguments in the areas of fact and logic.

Luskin transparently whines that "the legal relevance" of the use of the term "creationism" by the various drafts of Pandas (previously entitled Creation Biology, Biology and Creation and Biology and Origin) is "murky at best" "[g]iven that this term was never used in the published version of the book." Well, as I noted in my response to Part I, one major issue in the case was whether or not ID was a sham, intended to improperly inject theology into public school science classes. Clearly, the motives and intent of the authors the "textbook" that was being recommended in a public school biology classroom as an alternative to evolutionary theory is relevant circumstantial evidence on that issue as well as on the motives of the school board that selected it.

Now, when John West of the Discovery Institute was rehearsing this argument back in the direct aftermath of the decision (as I noted, there is nothing new in Luskin's kvetching), he tried to distance ID from Pandas:

If this case were being argued in 1989, Pandas might be more dispositive as an authoritative guide to the theory of intelligent design. But there is now more than 15 years of scholarship by scientists and philosophers of science who think there are empirical means to detect design in nature. Pandas predates most of the major works of the contemporary design movement in science, including monographs by Cambridge University Press, and technical articles in peer-reviewed science and philosophy of science journals. The primary guide to the beliefs and views of intelligent design scholars today should be this record of scholarly and scientific and technical articles, not a supplementary high school textbook written more than a decade-and-a-half ago.
The problem with that stance, of course, is that it points out that there still is no textbook on the "theory" of ID, despite all the supposed advances over the last 15 years. The Discovery Institute, as late as November 2005 was still insisting that the proper way to deal with ID is contained in "Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook" by David K. DeWolf, Stephen C. Meyer, Mark E. DeForrest, which prominently says:

[S]chool boards have the authority to permit, and even encourage, teaching about design theory as an alternative to Darwinian evolution-and this includes the use of textbooks such as Of Pandas and People that present evidence for the theory of intelligent design.
So the Discovery Institute, still recommending the use of Pandas to school boards even after the testimony in Dover about the motivations that drove it, is in no position to pretend that those motives are irrelevant.

Luskin then turns to an attempt to show that the motive of Pandas' authors wasn't to advance creationism. He gives three "excerpts," supposedly from the "pre-publication drafts of Of Pandas and People" (without giving a hint of where they came from, any citation or page number or any other identifying information) though they seem likely to have come from the "early 1987" version that John West discusses in his article linked to above. It should first be noted that it can hardly be said that there were no indications at that point that "creation science" was in Constitutional trouble. There was more than enough circumstances at that time to suggest that "evasive maneuvers" were in order if you were intent on getting creationism into public schools by hook or by crook.

Luskin alleges that these three short sections somehow demonstrate "that the idea of "creation" discussed in pre-publication drafts of Pandas was "specifically NOT trying to postulate a supernatural creator." (Emphasis in the original) I would suggest that the proper emphasis would be that Pandas' authors were 'specifically trying NOT to postulate a supernatural creator,' even though that was the clear intent. That was the Judge's point in Kitzmiller: Pandas was a sham attempting to hide the authors' actual intentions.

All these excerpts demonstrate is that the authors present a formularistic denial that science can infer the supernatural, while still strongly suggesting just that inference by positing a "master intellect" at the same time as it makes several mentions of "the supernatural." Nor do these few snippets offset the effect that having about 150 mentions of "intelligent design" in the place of "creation" and its cognates must have on the children targeted by this cynical exercise.

Most damning is the last excerpt itself:

The point of clarification to be made is this. We can know from uniform sensory experience, and thus from science, about the material world. But there are two things about which we cannot learn through uniform sensory experience. One is supernatural, and so to teach it in science classes would be out of place. The other thing we cannot learn through uniform sensory experience is that there is no supernatural, i.e., that natural causes identified through sensory experience exhaust reality. (Emphasis in original) We cannot detect evidence for philosophical naturalism. To teach either of these two -- even by the presumption of excluding the other -- is to yield the classroom to apologetics, either the apologetics or (sic) theism of (sic) the apologetics of philosophical naturalism. Thus science can identify the intellect, but it is powerless to tell us that intellect is within the universe or beyond it.
These points are, of course, perfectly defensible philosophy and theology. But they have nothing to do with science unless the authors are trying to make the invalid philosophical argument that science is the equivalent of "philosophical naturalism." As an example of just such an argument and how invested in religious dogma it is, just go over to William Dembski's blog for his excoriation of his fellow theologian, Alan Padgett, for suggesting that science and religion don't conflict. Dembski says:

Science and theology are intimately related. People, for instance, by and large don’t reject the resurrection of Christ because the veracity of the biblical witnesses is in question (notwithstanding the Gnostic gospels, which are dated several generations later than the biblical witnesses and are rightly dismissed as not holding any historiographical weight). They reject it because science, we are told, views the world as a closed causal nexus and therefore precludes such miracles.
Dembski, of course, is the one making that assertion, not scientists or K-12 teachers. He and other ID advocates are free to make their arguments against science in their churches and homes but they cannot insist on taxpayer funding for their apologetics.

For similar reasons, Luskin's claim that Panda's definition of intelligent design is not a religious claim fails. Pandas defined ID in these terms:

Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly, through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact – fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc.
Luskin alleges that such a definition does not indicate a religious intent merely because it speaks of "abrupt" appearance of fully-formed biological structures. That is because, he says, that abrupt appearance "is simply a common observation about the fossil record." Much as Pandas does with the meaning of "naturalism," Luskin is conflating different meanings of the word "abrupt." The scientists Luskin quotes on that point have a definition of "abrupt" that means tens or hundreds of thousands of years and not the "instantaneous" meaning Pandas clearly tries to convey. And nowhere do scientists assert that the fossil record contains any empiric evidence that those structures are the result of "an intelligent agency." If ID advocates have any such evidence, they are hiding it well.

On top of that, Luskin, as the Discovery Institute has attempted all along, insists on trying to limit the decision in Edwards v. Aguillard to the narrowest possible definition of "creationism" as only including straightforward assertions of supernatural causation. Courts are not required to be so naive. To sum up, the best that Luskin can do is weaseling and quote mining.

Finally, as to Luskin's recital of Seth Cooper's denial of the Discovery Institute pushing Dover to pass its policy, we should remember that William Buckingham had a slightly different perspective. According to Buckingham, Cooper was at first enthusiastic about the policy but then cooled to the idea:

He was afraid we were going to lose the case. And he thought, if we did lose the case, it was going to set intelligent design back for years.

He just didn't think we were the proper people to be pushing this at this time.
But Buckingham isn't my idea of a reliable witness (though he was, no doubt, a fine pawn) and the Discovery Institute did come out as soon as the suit was filed as being against the policy. In fact, it so successfully distanced itself from the case, that its claims that it and its augments were improperly ignored by the Judge are false on their face.

The Discovery Institute fled from the case, knowing it could not be won, but hoping that the Judge would ignore the evidence enough to leave open a back door for its ploy, set forth in the article "Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula" above, of having individual teachers impose their religious beliefs on their students, with or without the complicity of the school board, by teaching ID outside of the official curriculum.

Somebody should have told the Discovery Institute that sometimes those who run away find out that there is no more fight to be had another day.
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