Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Of Philosophers and Science

Professor Francis Beckwith, who I've described as "by far the most erudite and philosophical of the IDers or their fellow travelers" (by which I was -- mildly -- mocking Beckwith's suggestion that the scientific opposition to IDC may be a new McCarthyism), has renounced Intelligent Design Creationism ... sort of.

It is also important to note that Professor Beckwith has engaged me (an obscure blogger, who has not always been kind in my opinions of him) with intellectual respect. I, at least, owe him the same in return.

In a couple of posts at The BioLogos Foundation, "Intelligent Design and Me, Part I: In the Beginning" and "Intelligent Design and Me, Part II: Confessions of a Doting Thomist," he has, as the BioLogos introduction says:

... explain[ed] that he embraces certain arguments made by ID leaders against philosophical naturalism, but rejects the core ID arguments of irreducible complexity and complex specified information as formulated by ID leaders Michael Behe and William Dembski.
I still disagree with his proposition:

Could a public school require or permit the teaching of ID without violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? My answer, with a few caveats, was "yes," and I still think that conclusion is sound.
Unless those "caveats" include a clear statement by the school that these are "philosophical" arguments, rather than "scientific" arguments, there is still a tension between the Constitution and attacks on evolutionary theory. As I have long argued, it is perfectly constitutional to teach about the philosophy of science, including its limitations, but it is impermissible to confuse the philosophy with science itself. It is fine to criticize the underpinnings of science; it's quite another proposition to suggest that such undermining is, itself, science.

Professor Beckwith has kindly promised me a copy of his forthcoming article from the University of St. Thomas Journal of Law and Public Policy that he promises will expiate his views in detail. I will suspend judgment until I receive it.

No matter what, his clarifications are welcomed.

From Beckwith:

Could a public school require or permit the teaching of ID without violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? My answer, with a few caveats, was "yes," and I still think that conclusion is sound.

But nowhere that I've read does Beckwith (in common with every other ID proponent I know of) actually lay out what one would teach in the ID module, except for one sentence:

Sometime or other, some intelligent agent(s) designed something biological, and then somehow manufactured that thing in matter and energy, all the while leaving no independent evidence of the design process, the manufacturing process, or the presence (or even existence) of the designing and manufacturing agent(s).

Has he ever filled in any of the placeholders in that sentence? Meyer and Wells bailed out of doing so in their Ohio bait and switch.
RBH, that quote you claim is mine (the second one) is not. The first one, of course, is.

If you read me carefully, I am not suggesting that ID should be in a curriculum. In fact, I think there are many good reasons why it should not. But claiming that is not the same as saying it violates the Establishment Clause. The latter is question of jurisprudence, and not a question of pedagogy.

As I make clear in the BioLogos essays (or, at least, I think I make clear), my chief problem with the ID-violates-the-Establishment-Clause argument is that it relies on a notion of religious motive that I find pernicious to political and religious liberty. I am much more direct in this regard in a piece I published several years ago in the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, "The Court of Disbelief": http://homepage.mac.com/francis.beckwith/HCLQ.pdf

RBH, you raise a very good question of how ID could be incorporated into the curriculum, one for which you deserve a straight answer. But, happily, I am not interested in that question, since my project has focused on the jurisprudence and philosophical issues attendant to that.

Back to the wrongly attributed quote, would kindly either remove it or include the right attribution.

Thank you for your interest in my work.

RBH was being satiric about what ID actually claims, not attributing the "quote" to you or anyone else.
What John said. In fact, I have used that paragraph (which I wrote) a number of times. I've never heard an ID proponent or apologist fill in any of the placeholders except the first, where some put "God." A few, William Dembski and Philip Johnson among them, have suggested "space aliens" as the intelligent agents. But they don't sustain that claim; Dembski rapidly reverts to the 'logos of St. John' position.

The rest of the placeholders are still just placeholders.

And no one else is interested in how to incorporate ID into the curriculum since Meyer and Wells pulled their bait and switch in Ohio in 2002.

By the way, Francis, you may be interested in the only ID theory that's been offered that has any actual data at all in its support, as opposed to ID conjectures that depend on merely critiquing evolutionary theory. The theory is Multiple Designers Theory and the data are reported here.
Shucks. Pressed "Publish" too soon. This is from the Multiple Designers Link:

A non-negligible advantage of MDT is that it does not obviously contravene the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Because it does not posit a single intelligent Designer, there is no possibility that it can be construed to be a stealth form of Christian fundamentalist creationism. Multiple Designers Theory is therefore an ideal alternative to contrast with evolutionary theory in public schools.

That saves a lot of twisting around with Lemons and motives, rendering Francis' concerns moot and lifting the threat of lawsuits from local public school districts.
Ugh. I just looked at the 'data' post linked above. Apparently an upgrade in the Thumb's software sometime after it was published borked that post. Sorry.
I wish there would be a more concerted effort to teach the philosophy and practice of science in schools. It's pretty clear from ID, anti-vaccination, and anti-AGW arguments that there are a whole lot of people out there who have no idea how it really works. Teach that it's not going to be perfect, and that it will not always be right, but also teach how it tries to get it right.
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