Response to John Calvert

This past Tuesday (April 6, 2004) I gave a short 25 minute speech at a luncheon sponsored by the student activities program at the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC). The other speaker at the event was John Calvert, founder of the Intelligent Design network (IDnet). Calvert is a primary spokesperson for the central ID argument that science, by seeking natural explanations, essentially embraces materialism and atheism; therefore censors the evidence for design and unfairly excludes design inferences; and thus unconstitutionally indoctrinates our children in materialism when they are taught "evolution only" in our public schools. Calvert has taken this argument to boards of education, legislators and the public all over the country since 2000. I directly addressed this primary argument, first putting it in the context of the Wedge strategy and then explaining how it misrepresents the nature of science and dismisses and insults the religious beliefs of millions of people. An outline of my talk, my presentation slides, and mp3 files of my speech itself are available at the Kansas Citizens for Science website here After my speech (I went first), Calvert prefaced his prepared remarks with the following statement: I would characterize Jack's argument against design as essentially an ad hominem attack. I don't see Jack really discussing the substance of the science relating to design. That's really where the rubber meets the road. I think you need to get there if you really want to understand intelligent design. Now in my speech I had quickly dismissed the subject of the "science" of ID in order to focus on what I considered the more important topic. While I would be glad to discuss Calvert remarks about science, I take strong exception to Calvert's remark that my argument was "essentially an ad hominem attack." It is that mischaracterization that I would like to discuss in this post.
As Ed Brayton pointed out in another thread, an ad hominem is a logical fallacy in which one "responds to a substantive claim by referring to an irrelevant personal trait of the person making the argument." It is common, however, to think that "ad hominem" refers to any argument in which the characteristics of people involved in the argument are discussed, and especially to one in which those characterizations are rude or insulting, or to arguments that are meant to substitute the arousal of emotion for civil, logical and substantive discourse. But these are incorrect uses of the phrase. Calvert was quite wrong, on a number of counts, to refer to my speech as "an ad hominem attack." In the first part of my speech I described the Wedge strategy and its stated goal of "overthrowing materialism" and of renewing society by creating a "theistic science." I quoted Johnson as saying that "we will discover that ‘in the beginning was the Word' is fact not fantasy. It's as true scientifically as it is spiritually or Biblically," and I supplied in my handout other quotes by Dembski and Wells to support my claim that this was a primary goal of the ID movement. I then quickly dismissed the question of the actual science of ID, pointing out that ID advocates had offered no testable hypotheses about what, when, where or how design has occurred; no empirical procedures for investigating those questions; and no published ID research. I made it clear that I was skipping quickly over this so I could concentrate on my main topic. I did not, in any way, state or imply that the ID arguments about science were wrong because of the stated goals of the ID proponents and their Wedge strategy - the ID arguments about science can be addressed and found faulty on their own merits. Furthermore, I did directly address the ID arguments about the nature of science and the nature of religion - I did not dismiss them by any appeal to the character or motivation of those who advocate them, including Calvert. And last, I was neither rude nor insulting to anyone. I did not commit any "ad hominem" fallacies in the proper sense, nor did I engage in "ad hominem attacks" in the more common but inaccurate sense. I also did directly refer to Calvert's version of the "science = materialism" argument, and offer refutations point-by-point. I certainly hope it isn't this direct discussion of his ideas that he considers an "ad hominem attack." And last, for what it's worth, I would like to point out that Calvert did not respond to any of my points in his speech, including my direct question to him as to how he explained the millions of religious people who reject his arguments about the nature of science. I would be glad to have further discussions with him about the "science of ID", but I also challenge him to address my claims about the flaws in his arguments about the nature of science. I engaged Calvert in substantive arguments about the politics, philosophy, and theology of ID. I made no ad hominem attacks. If Calvert would like to explain why he thinks I did, I would be glad to listen. However, unless he can provide some direct and accurate evidence, I will continue to think that his claims about ad hominems was actually just a response to the fact that I challenged his core assumptions rather than engaged in a "debate" with him about the "science of ID." Just because I didn't play the game he wanted me to play doesn't mean I was engaged in ad hominem attacks.


Fascinating, it almost seems to me that the ID proponents have gotten their training as to how to respond when the Wedge is brought up. Last night after Jay Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez finished their presentation of the Privileged Planet at the Pacific Science Center, a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science stood up and asked a question.

He first cited from the Wedge document and then asked, I have been urged by the staff to ask the following question: Will you promise that you will not use your presentation at the Pacific Science Center as promotional material?

The public around me seemed quite hostile to this unexpected intervention “what’s the question”, “loser” etc but he persisted.

Jay responded that such questions are known as ad hominem questions. Really Jay? As a philosopher I assumed that he would know better. It may have been an uncomfortable question to be facing, but the question itself was NOT ad hominem.

I wonder if the DI is coaching their staff and fellows on how to best respond to questions related to the Wedge?

More later on the lecture

From the DI’s spin on the Wedge Document

Instead, they (Darwinist colleagues and some sympathizers) have come to rely upon ad hominem attacks, motive mongering, conspiracy theories, guilt by association and other tactics of intimidation - thys distracting from a failing system of though.

Yep, following the guidelines to the letter it seems

I am unable to find the wedgeresp.pdf document on the DI’s web page as indicated. Even going back to their pages for 2001, 2002, and 2003, I can find no such link. Are you sure the URL is correct?

It’s called “What is the Wedge Document?” on the website under Top Questions. I had no trouble downloading it.

Calvert accusing his opponent of ad hominem attack is rather funny given Calvert’s own record. Just look up[…]41-news5.txt where Calvert compares the KSFS to Nazis. ID guys are a funny crowd.

Firstly, my congratulations (and gratitude) for such an excellent blog (and my first foray into the wide wonderful world of blogs).

Secondly, as for the ID crowd: I think those critical (or hostile) towards ID should focus as much on their suspect philosophy as on their suspect science. More specifically: are they correct in claiming that science ought to be metaphysically neutral? This premise underlies the “Wedge strategy”: science ought to be metaphysically neutral, but methodological naturalism is not metaphysically neutral, so we need metaphysical pluralism in the classroom (but why there? we aren’t told). (Apparently pluralism approximates neutrality.) And then–poof!–there’s the wedge.

On the one hand, I don’t think that methodological naturalism implies materialism; the IDalogues are wrong on that point. (Two easy counter-examples from the history of philosophy: Spinoza and Hume.) On the other hand, I do think that methodological naturalism influences the sort of metaphysics that one can commit oneself to.

Philip Kitcher (philosophy of science at Columbia) has argued that a commitment to naturalism (by which he means, I think, methodological naturalism) requires a rejection of all a priori reasoning. That point also extends to metaphysics. And here lies a large part of the problem: it is widely assumed that metaphysics must be a priori. If that’s right, then methodological naturalism must exclude all metaphysics.

However, I don’t think that is correct. Moreover, I fail to see why an a posteriori metaphysics is a contradiction in terms. If pressed as to what such a metaphysics could look like, I would respond that it would be something like Quine’s center-periphery model: at the ‘center’ are those concepts and methods that are most incontrovertible (the world is knowable, cause and effect is reliable, etc.), and at the periphery are particular experiments and observations. It is a metaphysical system–there’s no reason to deny that, since it consists of claims about what’s real and what reality is–but there is no a priori element in the system, since even concepts in the ‘center’ are potentially revisable.

I have further thoughts along these lines, but I’ll leave it at that.

(By way of introduction: I’m a graduate student at UCSD writing on naturalism and nihilism in Nietzsche. And I’m brought to you by the letter ‘N’.)

Jack Krebs is one of the most clear and accessible speakers I have ever known. I have enjoyed working with him on the board of KCFS, and having Jack available for talks like these is one of the best assets that KCFS has as a tool to educate the public on the real issues of ID. A few years ago Jack organized a 1-evening lecture series at a local college, and it was literally standing room only. People are interested in this subject, and we must all learn to speak to the public to pull the mask off the ID movement in accessible ways. Jack has excelled in taking a this tricky minefield of obfuscation “laid down quickly” by the ID ,movement and pulling the mask away for the audience.

Mark Perakh wrote:

Calvert accusing his opponent of ad hominem attack is rather funny given Calvert’s own record. Just look up[…]41-news5.txt where Calvert compares the KSFS to Nazis. ID guys are a funny crowd.

The Pratt Tribune got rid of free access to their archives and thus that URL is a 404 error. If one looks up the page at the Way Back Machine one finds a Krebs letter and not a Calvert one. Mark, did you accidently give the wrong URL? —- Email: Replace “usenet” with “harlequin2”

Hi Mike. You can see Calvert’s original letter, my reply to the Pratt newspaper, and a longer essay in reply to Calvert at my website at[…]e/index.html Click on Pratt letters.

And thanks to Brian for the kind words. As a high school teacher for over 25 years, I’ve worked to learn how to present short, concise explanations of things. I appreciate it that you feel that I am effective in making the problems with ID accessible to the public.

Apaprently the nazi reference doesn’t bother Clavert even in retrospect, as the letter is still accessible at


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This page contains a single entry by Jack Krebs published on April 9, 2004 10:01 AM.

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