Friday, April 17, 2009


Heading to China

Dr. Egnor continues to display his ignorance, not only of evolutionary biology, but of the law as well. He's still trying to dig himself out of the hole he excavated in his attempts to counter Timothy Sandefur's demolition of his position and, naturally, is succeeding in only making it deeper. He does it this time by quote mining the Supreme Court in the case of Edwards v. Aguillard:

The Supreme Court, in Edwards v. Aguillard, ruled that it is permissible to "require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught." This is my view, again, stated succinctly, so Mr. Sandefur can grasp it:

We should teach and study the strengths and weaknesses of evolution, with public funds, without hindrance. We need more academic freedom, and more teaching and research on evolution, not less.

Mr. Sandefur believes that teaching public school children that evolutionary theory has weaknesses is unconstitutional. He's wrong on the law, and transparently so. If I didn't know better, I'd think that Mr.Sandefur was merely trying to silence criticism of Darwinism in public school classrooms, and he's grasping at any premise he can think of to do it.
Sandefur has never said that he opposes teaching scientific critiques of evolution. The obvious bone of contention is whether the "strengths and weaknesses" the Discovery Institute and its openly creationist allies on, say, the Texas State Board of Education, are promoting are, in fact, "scientific critiques." Notably, the only "weakness" Egnor made reference to in his latest round of babblings is the supposedly "large unexplained gaps in the fossil record." Does that count as a "scientific critique" in the sense advanced by the Supreme Court?

The concurring opinion by Justice Powell, joined by Justice O'Connor, goes deeper into the nature of the claims of "creation science" and why it could not qualify as a "scientific critique." In doing so, they favorably cite the decision in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. Judge Overton there found that:

The proof in support of creation science consisted almost entirely of efforts to discredit the theory of evolution through a rehash of data and theories which have been before the scientific community for decades. The arguments asserted by the creationists are not based upon new scientific evidence or laboratory data which has been ignored by the scientific community.
Egnor's "weakness" is the exact same claim that can be traced back at least as far as Henry Morris and his "classic" creationist book, Scientific Creationism. And it was carried into Intelligent Design Creationism by no less a "light" than Phillip Johnson. As I recently noted, geology and taphonomy have already addressed the reason for gaps in the fossil record and there is nothing new raised about this "weakness" since it was originally argued 30 years ago and more. The mere absence of evidence, especially when there are well-understood reasons for the evidence to be missing, is not a "weakness" in a theory. It is only when there is evidence that cannot be reconciled with the theory that there is a weakness. While there are many open questions and interesting issues in evolutionary theory, there are no weaknesses that call into question the basic fact that evolution has occurred ... as attested by the judgment of the scientific community as a whole.

In point of fact, there is nothing new in the "weaknesses" that have been proposed in the DI's campaign. All the IDers like Egnor have done is stripped their "arguments" of the overt claim that it is evidence for creation. And all Sandefur and everyone else who values good science education oppose is the attempt by Egnor and his ilk to bring "creation science" back into public school science classes through the back door.


P.S. In perusing these decisions, I'm reminded of some other similarities to the DI:

Judge Overton noted: "[Duane] Gish's book [Evolution -- The Fossils Say No!] also portrays the large majority of evolutionists as 'materialistic atheists or agnostics,'" which is certainly a constant theme of Egnor's screeds.

Justice Powell noted testimony to the effect that there were "recognized creation scientists in the United States, who 'numbe[r] something like a thousand [and] who hold doctorate and masters degrees in all areas of science,'" which rather puts the DI's list of 700 "dissenters from Darwin" to shame.

Update: Timothy Sandefur has now responded to Dr. Egnor's latest.

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