State science standards and ID

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A common tactic of the ID movement is to try to insert ID-influenced statements into state and local science standards, such as in Ohio and Darby, Montana recently. The argument is that science standards are biased towards philosophical naturalism and towards dogmatically teaching “evolution only”, and therefore standards should include statements that question these “biases, such as “teaching the evidence for and against evolution” or “teaching alternative theories of origins.”

Kansas is currently reviewing its science standards, and it is likely that these issues will once again arise here. As a member of the state standards review committee and as a former curriculum director, I am interested in whether these types of ID-influenced statements have a proper place in state standards.

Rather than immediately address the question of whether these kinds of statements are appropriate, I would like to first talk more generally about what standards are, what they are not, why they are important, and how they are established. Having a proper understanding of how standards relate to the overall subject of teaching science in the public schools should help put the activities of the ID movement into perspective.

What are Standards?

Standards are an outline of the most fundamental and essential things a student should know in a subject area. They are arranged in a hierarchy of increasing specificity. In Kansas, the most general statements are Standards, each of which includes a number of Benchmarks; Benchmarks include a number of Indicators, and Indicators can include even more specific details. Much of the standards is directly related to content. For instance, here, in a slightly edited form, is the start of the Kansas 9-12 Biology Standards:

STANDARD 3: LIFE SCIENCE - all students will develop an understanding of the cell, molecular basis of heredity, biological evolution, interdependence of organisms, matter, energy, and organization in living systems, and the behavior of organisms.

Benchmark 1: Students will demonstrate an understanding of the structure and function of the cell.

Indicator 1: cells are composed of a variety of specialized structures that carry out specific functions.

Indicator 1a: Each cell is surrounded by a membrane that controls the flow of materials into and out of the cell.

Other examples of topics included in the standards would include the structure of the atom, the nature of chemical bonding, the history of the earth and life on it, and so on.

Science standards also contain statements about other aspects of science, such as:

• statements about the nature of science as a process of inquiry about the natural world, the scientific methods used and the nature of the knowledge obtained, • statements about the application of science to technology, including such areas as engineering, medicine, agriculture, and so on, and • statements about areas that require both scientific knowledge and social and personal value judgments, such as bioethics, environmental policy, genetic technology, and so on.

What are Standards Not?

Standards are not a comprehensive list of everything that will be taught. Teachers cover additional details in order to strengthen and enhance students’ understanding of material in the standards They also cover additional topics either for their intrinsic value (this is a local choice), for their value in integrating topics, or for their value in illustrating the relationship of content to more general areas such as the nature of science or the relationship of science to broader human concerns. It is always the teacher’s task to try to genuinely engage the students in learning science and to give the students a sense of what it means to do science, and many curriculum decisions (beyond just addressing what is in the standards) are made in order to do this.

Standards are also not a curriculum guide, a scope-and-sequence document, nor an instructional guide: they do not dictate how content is to be organized, the materials that are to be used, or any particular pedagogical style.

Why are Standards Important?

Particularly since the recent advent of high-stakes accountability testing, it has become increasingly important that curriculum be aligned with the state and national standards upon which those tests are based. Assessment results are critical these days, and therefore local districts must take state standards into account when they develop their local standards. State standards give local districts a framework with which to start - without state standards, each local district would be faced with the task of “reinventing the wheel” in determining what was essential to teach.

Standards also bring national and state uniformity to the public education system. We live in a mobile world, and we have a system of education dedicated, at least in theory, to both excellence and equity. Standards work to ensure that all students, no matter where they are educated, will learn the essential fundamentals that will allow them to be well-prepared as a citizen, and possibly a future student of scientist.

How are Standards Established?

Curriculum in general and standards in particular are established by expert educators in the subject matter - people who are knowledgeable about the content and applications that students should learn to be successful in the world as well as about what is developmentally appropriate and pedagogically feasible in the classroom. For instance, the 2001 Kansas standards which are currently being reviewed were written by a committee of high school teachers, college professors in both science and science education, and people from the community who had a science background. This committee studied the national standards as well as other documents about what all students should know.

The ID Movement and State Standards

Since state standards are the framework of public science education, it is clear why the ID movement wants to influence them, but in fact their attempts to do so are inappropriate and the statements they wish to insert have no place in the standards. Let me explain why.

The first and foremost reason is that standards describe mainstream fundamental content and concepts that are well-established and accepted worldwide. The concepts and statements offered by the ID movement do not meet these criteria. It is not the place of state standards committees nor Boards of Education to be making judgments about whether a particular challenger to accepted science, no matter what it is, should be elevated to a place in the standards without convincing the worldwide community of scientists first.

For instance, the ID movement wishes to redefine science so as to include the possibility of supernatural intelligence agency, but the vast majority of scientists hold strongly to the idea that has prevailed for 500 years - that, in the words of the current Kansas standards, science seeks “natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us.”

The ID movement claims that empirical evidence for such intelligent agency exists, but the scientific world is not at all convinced, and has in fact either ignored such claims or shown the substantial flaws in the ID movement’s arguments.

The ID movement, in wanting to teach “the evidence for and against evolution,” implies that there is some doubt about whether evolution (in the sense of descent with modification) has even happened. This claim has virtually no support in the science community.

The ID movement, in wanting to teach “alternative theories of origins,” implies that ID is an “alternative theory,” but ID is no theory at all - there are no testable hypotheses about what, when, or where ID has happened exist; no empirical methods, even proposed, as to how to establish results of the purported intelligent agency; and no published or even informally reported ID research.

And last, in arguing that science is dogmatically biased towards philosophical naturalism and against theism and other non-materialistic religions, the ID movement ignores the extremely large number of people in the world, scientists and otherwise, who are religious in some way and yet accept that science as currently practiced is perfectly appropriate and does not conflict with their religious beliefs. While this issue is obviously outside the scope of science itself, it does show that ID movement’s concern about the nature of science is a narrow sectarian issue, and not a fundamental one that belongs in the state science standards.

So the short summary is this: the ID movement needs to convince the scientific world that ID has something to offer. If they can do that, and if ID or some part of it then becomes accepted science, then ID will move into state science standards. That is how all the other science in the standards got there. Trying to get ID and ID-influenced concepts into the standards now is asking for special privileges, and there is no reason to grant them. ID needs to earn its way like everything else. The ID movement’s attempts to manipulate the system by “jumping to the head of the line” deserves the strong resistance of all who value the processes and purposes of establishing standards in public education.

58 Comments

The argument of IDers that science standards are biased towards philosophical naturalism is incited by the fact that “in the words of the current Kansas standards, science seeks ‘natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us.’” The word “natural” here should be struck from the standards and the word “best” substituted such that we have something like: “science seeks the *best* explanations for what we observe around us, according to its methods.”

The simplest, quickest, and most honest way to deflect the charge that science is biased toward naturalism is to say, accurately, that science makes no philosophical or ontological assumptions in its methods or explanations. It simply seeks the cleanest, most productive explanation, using the fewest assumptions about entities/forces which themselves have no empirical support. Such explanations, inevitably, unify phenomena into a single explanatory whole, that which we call the natural world. So science doesn’t presume naturalism, rather it leads to naturalism *if* one takes it as one’s preferred mode of knowing about the world.

This basic acknowledgement, were it adopted within the scientific and teaching community, would go far in undercutting the perennial charge that science is biased in favor of naturalism, and therefore needs “balancing” in the classroom by supernaturalist competitors. This gets explored in detail at http://www.naturalism.org/science.htm.

Regards,

Tom Clark Center for Naturalism www.naturalism.org

From some IDiot quoted on Tom’s site:

You claim that science as it’s usually presented presumes naturalism as a philosophical starting point, and so rules out intelligent design (ID) on grounds that ID is supernatural. If only science and scientists would rid themselves of this naturalistic bias, then the design hypothesis could compete with Darwinian accounts on an equal footing, thus lending scientific support for the existence of divine intervention in human affairs.

There are other varieties of this fairly stupid idea. For a few decades now, some postmodernists thought they could discover the underlying biases and prejudices in science relating to gender, money, etc, which supposedly were foundational to how science was ‘constructed’. Then they could remove those, and reformulate science. From Steven Weinberg:

Feyerabend [P. Feyerabend, “Explanation, Reduction and Empiricism”] called for a formal separation of science and society like the separation of church and state, reasoning that “science is just one of the many ideologies that propel society and it should be treated as such.” The philosopher Sandra Harding [The Science Question in Feminism, Cornell University Press, 1986, p. 9] calls modern science (and especially physics) “not only sexist but also racist, classist, and culturally coercive” and argues, “Physics and chemistry, mathematics and logic, bear the fingerprints of their distinctive cultural creators no less than do anthropology and history.” Theodore Roszak urges [Where the Wasteland Ends, Doubleday, Anchor Books, 1973, p. 374] that we change “the fundamental sensibility of scientific thought … even if we must drastically revise the professional character of science and its place in our culture.”

In moments of delusion matched by few creationists, morons like Harding bragged that they had rebuilt science. No such thing has happened, and the steam has mostly run out of that movement. On occasion, a pomo philosopher will even admit they were wrong about it. Here’s Bruno Latour, from Critical Enquiry:

” The mistake would be to believe that we too have given a social explanation of scientific facts. No, even though it is true that we have at first tried, like good critics trained in the good schools, to use the armaments handed to us by our betters and elders to “crack open”—one of their favorite expressions, meaning to destroy—religion, power, discourse, hegemony. But, fortunately (yes fortunately!), one after the other, we witnessed that the black-boxes of science remained closed and that it was rather the tools that laid in the dust of our workshop, disjointed and broken. Put simply, critique was useless against objects of some solidity. You can try the miserable projective game on UFOs or exotic divinities, but don’t try it on neurotransmitters, on gravitation, on Monte Carlo calculations.

Those who want to remake science in light of their religion, will succeed about as much as those who want to remake it in light of radical gender politics. They’ll do about as well as Lysenko did–people who ignore them will be unaffected, people who follow them will be retarded.

Tom writes,

The argument of IDers that science standards are biased towards philosophical naturalism is incited by the fact that “in the words of the current Kansas standards, science seeks ‘natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us.’”  The word “natural” here should be struck from the standards and the word “best” substituted such that we have something like: “science seeks the *best* explanations for what we observe around us, according to its methods.

This is a good point, although the kicker is in the last phrase. The Kansas science standards goes on to discuss the methods of science - based on observations, testable hypotheses, etc. , so our standards acknowledge this aspect of things.

Science studies what it can using the commonly accepted methods at its disposal - methods that have been quite successful in many ways and freed empirical study from its pre-modern entanglement with extraneous metaphysics.

A problem we have is that the IDists would be glad to substitute “best” for natural and gloss over the “according to its methods part,” as they believe (this is Dembski’s central claim) that the evidence does point to design. Dembski says “there are things in nature that are not of nature,” and he’s got the evidence to prove it. They want the door left open for ID, and changing “natural” to “best,” no matter what disclaimers are offered, would lead to that, I think.

But I agree with you that the issue of what is “natural” is one that we should work to clear up.

Tom also writes,

So science doesn’t presume naturalism, rather it leads to naturalism *if* one takes it as one’s preferred mode of knowing about the world.

This, of course, is exactly what bothers the IDists. They (Johnson, et al, for instance) will claim, as part of the Wedge strategy, that science has become not only the culture’s “preferred mode of knowledge,” but in fact the only one that counts. Now I and many other non-IDists disagree with that, but it is a rallying cry for the IDists, as philosophical naturalism is in fact the ultimate target of the ID movement.

It is not the job of the science standards to imply in any way that science is the preferred mode of knowing but rather, perhaps, that is the preferred way of knowing certain types of things - again leading to the circular but honest point that science studies what it can using the methods it has at its disposal.

Tom Clark Wrote:

The simplest, quickest, and most honest way to deflect the charge that science is biased toward naturalism is to say, accurately, that science makes no philosophical or ontological assumptions in its methods or explanations.

I don’t know that this is a defensible statement. Science does make some philosophical assumptions in regards to its methodology. I think it’s best to say that the underlying assumptions of science are minimal (certainly when compared to the assumptions made by your average religion, for example), and are usually noncontroversial. More importantly, they are justified by virtue of being conducive to successful inquiry, of having facilitated great progress in learning about the natural world – useful progress that is clear for all to see. In a way, science is a self-recursive process which validates its methodology in the same way it validates its details, through testing against the empirical world. The method has passed the test.

The IDists ultimately have to show how and why changing the underlying assumptions of science is likely to maintain or extend its usefulness as a mode of inquiry, and they have thus far failed to do so. (It would be a monumental task, but that’s what they’ve set themselves up for.) Instead they attack science for merely having assumptions, as if all assumptions should be considered equal, or even if it’s possible to have an assumption-free mode of inquiry. It’s a kind of muddle-headed relativism that they peddle. The way to answer them, I think, is to point out that the truth is not relative to your point of view, and that there are some ways of answering questions that are better than others. The ID movement ironically postures itself as a defender of absolutism, yet they gladly invoke relativism when it suits their purposes. Force them to defend it in a consistent manner if they can.

Science definitely makes assumptions about knowledge. It embodies the rejection of faith and idealism, in favor of empiricism. Once knowledge started to come from data, rather than religion, the modern world arose.

I have no problem with presenting evidence for and against evolution as long as it is required that evidence for and against competing claims such as biblical revelation is examined with the same rigor. On an even playing field,unencumbered for once by charges of church bashing,the basic assumptions of each could be examined in a fair and open academic environment.How refreshing! No inquisition.

I agree that in theory presenting evidence for and against all ideas should be encouraged, and of course we see that all over the internet and in the popular press.

However, this is not the attitude that can be taken in public schools. Schools have very limited time with student, with a great deal to cover, and schools owe it to students to teach them the most fundamental and essential ideas - that is the point of standards. We don’t have the time, and it wouldn’t do our mission justice, to spend the time comparing the evidence for and against every non-mainstream idea out there that some group of people wanted addressed.

Steve Reuland wrote: “Science does make some philosophical assumptions in regards to its methodology. I think it’s best to say that the underlying assumptions of science are minimal (certainly when compared to the assumptions made by your average religion, for example), and are usually noncontroversial.”

Steve, could you give a few examples of *philosophical* assumptions science makes? Science certainly places its money on empiricism, not faith, but this isn’t a philosophical assumption, but a practical commitment to a way of knowing about the world, the way that gets us the most reliable knowledge. I’ve outlined 10 basic characteristics of scientific explanation at “Why intelligent design isn’t science” at http://www.naturalism.org/science.h[…]yintelligent, and none of these seem to me particularly philosophical or ideological. Certainly none of them assume naturalism. Rather they are simply the ways of going about constructing explanations which produce the leanest, meanest, most predictive and unifying explanations. My guess is that if one considers any ID-based “explanation” of phenomena, it will violate one or more of these characteristics (I’ve given examples of how ID does this generally). Of course we can’t force anyone to play by the rules of science, but if they claim to be doing science, they have to play by the rules. Otherwise, stay out of science class, except perhaps as an example of failed, wannabe science.

Tom

I think that the article above illustrates my thoughts about the peer pressure in science very nicely. What I see happening is an establishment of scientists manipulating the flow of information into journals and the upbringing of future scientists. The states’ science standards are one wing of that. It is simply not right that in one sentence we demand that our children learn how to discern and reason, while on the very next page we dogmatically insist that they be taught one view of biology above others, even of those more intellectually defensible. The suggestion that the goings-on in the natural world have natural causes cannot be equivocated with the postulate that they have purely natural origins, nor can it be equivocated with the suggestion that science has always proceeded with such an assumption. Yet state science standard are written as if all those things were equally true.

Admonitus, both here and in the thread on critical analysis, represents the problem we face - despite the fact that it is true that the vast majority of scientists accept the theory of evolution as firmly established in its major tenets, there are those who claim that really this support is weak and that arguments against evolution are gaining in force every day.

To repeat a main them, it is not the job of science standards and the people who write and adopt them to assess these claims - it is the job of the science community. If ID really breaks out and becomes mainstream, then it gets into the standards. That’s how it works.

Tom Clark Wrote:

Steve, could you give a few examples of *philosophical* assumptions science makes?  Science certainly places its money on empiricism, not faith, but this isn’t a philosophical assumption, but a practical commitment to a way of knowing about the world, the way that gets us the most reliable knowledge.

I would say that the empiricism is certainly a philosophical assumption. It may be purely for practical reasons, but that doesn’t keep it from being an assumption. A few others that come to mind:

1. The rejection of solipsism.

2. Belief in a law-like universe.

3. Acceptance of repeatability over personal testimony.

And I’m sure there’s plenty more.

I’ve outlined 10 basic characteristics of scientific explanation at “Why intelligent design isn’t science” at http://www.naturalism.org/science.h[…]yintelligent … , and none of these seem to me particularly philosophical or ideological.

Not ideological, but I believe they fit the bill of philosophical. Again, I’ve got no problem with those assumptions, and consider them defensible for probably the same reasons that you do, but I see no reason to act as if there aren’t any assumptions. Better in my opinion to defend them as more useful and less controversial than the assumptions that IDists would like us to adopt.

Also, I think most philosophers of science would probably take issue with many of the things you list. I’m not widely read on people like Lakatos, but they have taken issue with concepts such as parsimony being integral to science. I don’t always find their reasoning persuasive, but again I haven’t explored the issue in-depth enough to make an educated critique. It’s generally a much more complex issue than most people think though.

Glancing at Tom Clark’s 10 features of science, I can think of at least one major item he misses there: Science assumes the existence of a consistent objective reality, including fundamental rules which are constant over time and space. Without such an assumption, there would be no point in expecting experiments to be repeatable! (If this be “naturalism”, then so be it.)

But then, that’s part of the point.… “Admonitus” talks about scientists using “peer pressure” to “control the flow of information”. Such claims reveal that he simply doesn’t understand how science works. Yes, there is a “hegemony of scientific truth”. But it’s not produced by some conspiracy or cabal. Scientific agreement comes from reference to objective reality, by way of observation.

If you hope to add your pet theory to the (sc)rolls of “scientific truth”, that’s not a matter of politicking with some “High Bishop of Cantabridgia”, or producing a properly jargon-loaded paper, or even performing your experiments in correct ritual form. It’s definitely not a matter of having your “theory” enforced by the secular powers! (q.v. Lysenko, Marx, Copernicus.)

The true core of a scientific victory can be summed up as follows: Design an experiment which “anyone” (properly equipped, etc) can perform, in order to convince themselves of the truth of your theory. It is a matter of both courtesy and discretion to first perform the experiments yourself, and verify the results. Otherwise, you may make a fool of yourself by announcing claims that fail the test of repeatability. ID is not science because no possible experiment can demonstrate it. Bullying its way into the schools by political scheming, does not make it science.

On a calmer note:

Science also has a number of other characteristics which don’t seem obviously necessary, but they certainly seem to be present, even obtrusive. I wonder what place there is, or ought to be, in these educational standards for such issues as consilience, or the technological fecundity that has transformed our world? What of the sense of interdependence? That last one even answers the folks who moan about science’s “lack of moral values”. It warns us that there really are capital crimes under natural law – and collective punishment is usual. ;-)

Thanks Steve and David for your responses re the philosophical assumptions of science. Some of them, such as the belief in a law-like universe, the assumption of the consistency of physical law over space and time, and the acceptance of repeatability over personal testimony, seem to me to be *outcomes* of applying the scientific method, not a priori assumptions. That is, the reason we assume and accept such things is that science as a practical method *vindicates* them as reasonable assumptions in the quest for reliable knowledge. Others you mention, such as the rejection of solipsism and the assumption of an objective reality, I don’t think are strictly necessary to conduct science, since they have no material bearing on experiment, analysis, and theory building. But of course many suppose that science must posit an external reality that it refers to, otherwise it loses it’s claim to objectivity. Whether this assumption does any real work is a vexed question, as Richard Rorty likes to remind us.

But keeping our eyes on the prize, the question really is: what if anything are working scientists assuming that makes science a philosophically or ideologically *partisan* business, in need of balancing in the classroom? None of the assumptions above, even if philosophical, are the issue; rather, IDers claim that mainstream scientists make an a priori natural/supernatural distinction in their day-to-day work of explaining the world. And this is simply not the case. Unfortunately, many of those on our side provide ammunition for the opposition by saying that science is methodologically “naturalistic,” but the scientific method in its stripped down essence assumes nothing about the natural vs. the supernatural, it simply operates on proposed phenomena. What’s happened is that the naturalism that follows (validly) from taking science as one’s preferred mode of knowing about the world is used by both sides (invalidly) to characterize scientific method. Very unfortunate, since that unnecessarily burdens science with a supposed ideology that the opposition has used and will continue to use against it. To effectively blunt Johnson’s wedge, we should state clearly and up front that science assumes nothing regarding the natural/supernatural distinction.

Jack Krebs Wrote:

To repeat a main theme, it is not the job of science standards and the people who write and adopt them to assess these claims - it is the job of the science community. If ID really breaks out and becomes mainstream, then it gets into the standards. That’s how it works.

And it is certainly not the job of high school students, especially those to whom current scientific theories are systematically misrepresented.

Also, if anything about ID becomes mainstream, it certainly won’t be Admonitus’ YEC fantasy. The only “alternatives” that have the remotest chance will include at least an old earth and common descent. Some IDers have admitted that much. But of course they still mostly refuse to challenge YECs. You know, the “big tent.”

Tom questions whether consistency/ repeatability is a priori, or an “outcome” of scientific method. I agree this is a toughie, but I like Steve’s view of considering it as both at once:

  • the use of SM yields strong indication that natural law is constant
  • in turn, the constancy of natural law supports the utility of SM
  • the pragmatic utility of SM and its products (technology) provides additional reason to accept the above, and rescues us from circularity

However, there’s one more point to consider here, which is that the above is *not* how real scientists think.

Now, I have some quibbles with Tom’s theories of mind, but I think we can agree on the following: Most humans do have some low-level assumptions which they rarely if ever examine, and often defend from examination. These faiths can be developed during infancy or later in development, but they they surely make a great difference in how someone deals with the world around them. In itself, this is neither good nor bad, it’s merely an observable part of the structure of human minds. I propose that faith in the constancy of natural law, is a predisposing factor toward developing a scientific viewpoint. Of course, that particular assumption happens to be pragmatically useful, as above.…

Tom Clark Wrote:

To effectively blunt Johnson’s wedge, [??? – dmh] we should state clearly and up front that science assumes nothing regarding the natural/supernatural distinction.

Were any modern scientist to encounter, (e.g.) a genuine ifrit, dryad, or sphinx, they would probably interview it within an inch of its life, before they even thought about tissue samples and the like! (Good reason for them to stay hidden? :-) )

Frank J Wrote:

Also, if anything about ID becomes mainstream, it certainly won’t be Admonitus’ YEC fantasy. The only “alternatives” that have the remotest chance will include at least an old earth and common descent. Some IDers have

Well, there are a few explorations in science fiction… ;-) Jack Chalker’s Well World novels, and Terry Pratchett’s thin novel Strata, come to mind. Of course, in both those cases, the late creation eventually becomes verifiable, as the Universal Control Center is discovered, embedded within consensual reality.

Tom Clark Wrote:

To effectively blunt Johnson’s wedge, [??? – dmh] we should state clearly and up front that science assumes nothing regarding the natural/supernatural distinction.

Were any modern scientist to encounter, (e.g.) a genuine ifrit, dryad, or sphinx, they would probably interview it within an inch of its life, before they even thought about tissue samples and the like! (Good reason for them to stay hidden? :-) )

Frank J Wrote:

Also, if anything about ID becomes mainstream, it certainly won’t be Admonitus’ YEC fantasy. The only “alternatives” that have the remotest chance will include at least an old earth and common descent. Some IDers have

Well, there are a few explorations in science fiction… ;-) Jack Chalker’s Well World novels, and Terry Pratchett’s thin novel Strata, come to mind. Of course, in both those cases, the late creation eventually becomes verifiable, as the Universal Control Center is discovered, embedded within consensual reality.

Tom Clark Wrote:

To effectively blunt Johnson’s wedge, [??? – dmh] we should state clearly and up front that science assumes nothing regarding the natural/supernatural distinction.

Were any modern scientist to encounter, (e.g.) a genuine ifrit, dryad, or sphinx, they would probably interview it within an inch of its life, before they even thought about tissue samples and the like! (Good reason for them to stay hidden? :-) )

Frank J Wrote:

Also, if anything about ID becomes mainstream, it certainly won’t be Admonitus’ YEC fantasy. The only “alternatives” that have the remotest chance will include at least an old earth and common descent. Some IDers have

Well, there are a few explorations in science fiction… ;-) Jack Chalker’s Well World novels, and Terry Pratchett’s thin novel Strata, come to mind. Of course, in both those cases, the late creation eventually becomes verifiable, as the Universal Control Center is discovered, embedded within consensual reality.

Tom Clark Wrote:

To effectively blunt Johnson’s wedge, [??? – dmh] we should state clearly and up front that science assumes nothing regarding the natural/supernatural distinction.

Were most *modern* scientists to encounter, say, an ifrit, a dryad, or sphinx, they would probably interview it within an inch of its life, before even thinking of tissue samples! (Good reason for them to stay hidden? :-) ) The implications of a first encounter with nonhuman intelligence would be enough to make its particular origin almost incidental.

Frank J Wrote:

Also, if anything about ID becomes mainstream, it certainly won’t be Admonitus’ YEC fantasy. The only “alternatives” that have the remotest chance will include at least an old earth and common descent. Some IDers have

Well, there are a few explorations in science fiction… ;-) Jack Chalker’s Well World novels, and Terry Pratchett’s thin novel Strata, come to mind. Of course, in both those cases, the late creation eventually becomes verifiable, as the Universal Control Center is discovered and exploited/fought over.

I apologize for the triple-posting above. I was getting a “cannot post” page that clearly (and wrongly!) stated that my earlier versions had *not* been posted, (due to the site’s rate-limiting system) and that I should repost later, which I did. I hope that the editors will remove all but the last version of the piece in question.

Maybe I’m missing the thrust of some of the philosophical arguments here. What the scientific method presumes, a priori, is that natural phenomena have natural causes, which can be discovered through observation. Conversely, ID is based on definition – the designer is defined as existing, and life is defined as designed. Observations are accepted or rejected based on their accuracy, repeatability, etc. Definitions are accepted or rejected based on their utility for some purpose. IDists propose their definitions in support of religious purposes, which are perhaps valid purposes but they certainly aren’t scientific purposes.

It’s rather inappropriate to equate an observation-based approach with a definition-based approach (as some here seem to be doing), with the notion of presenting these two approaches as “alternative theories”, and then using the presumption that observation is the proper method of examination, to compare them. Clearly, this stacks the deck in favor of an observational approach. ID is correct because its proponents SAY it’s correct, take it or leave it as you please, but we have no conceptual or methodological tools for examining it.

Science approaches accuracy in a unified fashion, presuming there is one and only one underlying reality which is being approached. Religious sects continue to split endlessly, according to interpretation of doctrine, by defining one another as wrong. The fundamental distinction between observation and definition simply isn’t appropriate to address in a science curriculum; these two ways of knowing lack enough common ground.

Flint Wrote:

What the scientific method presumes, a priori, is that natural phenomena have natural causes, which can be discovered through observation.

I don’t think this is quite accurate. This is not so much an a priori presupposition as it is an a posteriori consequence of the scientific method.

I liken it to scoring 5 runs in a single play in baseball. It can’t be done. But this is not because there is a priori a rule in the books against scoring 5 runs in a single play; it’s just the way things work out when the game is played according to the agreed upon rules.

I don’t think so. The scientific method *presumes* natural causes; this comes first, and is not a result of the method only finding natural causes as applied. By prior definition, supernatural “causes” (whatever that might mean) cannot be detected by this method.

However, I think your example is a good one. If a given result is necessarily implied by a set of rules, but not made explicit, does this mean the result is *built in* to the rules? Clearly, it does.

I don’t think this is entirely off the topic, either. There seems (at least to me) to be a tacit assumption here that different methods of knowing can be compared using only one of these methods of knowing, which just happens to be the preferred method of those making that assumption. And I think this is inappropriate. Definitions simply cannot be examined based on investigations of evidence, because definitions are not based on evidence. They are based on preference; your preference either matches or it does not. You can’t use observation to show that someone else’s preference is “wrong”.

So the claims that ID can’t be falsified, or has no research program, totally miss the point. ID is not a theory, and definitions can’t be falsified. They are right by definition. They can be rejected, but not falsified. Asking for a research program to generate evidence to support a definition is a serious conceptual error.

The scientific method, then, is designed and intended to apply to the objective universe of observation and evidence. By definition (Not as a side effect, but by prior intent), this method can’t be applied to the supernatural. Which is not to say that there are no supernatural phenomena, only that if so, they must necessarily remain invisible to a method incapable of addressing them.

Flint,

Having said that, where are you on including ID in the high school Biology curriculum?

Flint writes

The scientific method *presumes* natural causes; this comes first, and is not a result of the method only finding natural causes as applied. By prior definition, supernatural “causes” (whatever that might mean) cannot be detected by this method.

and also

By definition (Not as a side effect, but by prior intent), this method can’t be applied to the supernatural. Which is not to say that there are no supernatural phenomena, only that if so, they must necessarily remain invisible to a method incapable of addressing them.

Flint, you speak of “intent” and “presumptions” as if we have a historical record of the invention of the scientific method. I’m not a historian of science, but I think that’s incorrect. The scientific method, in some form or another, is the ONLY way to productively study the physical universe and its history, including the best way to tie one’s shoes, the best way to pick one’s nose, and the best way to get laid.

Perhaps you and I agree that a lot of this philosophical hooey about how to precisely define and describe “science” is beside the point and won’t be found terribly compelling to a judge faced with the issue of whether ID should be taught in schools or not. I can sort of read that into your posts, I guess.

But can we take off our tweed sweaters, remove the pipe, and step outside of the musty library for a moment?

Here are the facts: there is no evidence for a group of intelligent beings capable of designing all the life forms on earth which have existed throughout time. Nada. Zilch.

Whether these beings are “supernatural” or “natural” is meaningless. There is no evidence for their existence. At that is reason numero uno why ID creationism is a sick joke.

The forces behind ID creationism would LOVE to have EXACTLY the discussion you are having take place in public school classrooms: here is science, but science is limited to investigating natural phenomena. But about supernatural phenomena? How can we understand and study supernatural phenomena, like miracles? Blah blah world view blah blah God blah blah Jesus blah blah blah.

If people want to pretend to “study” supernatural phenomena, there are quite a few institutes (including the Discovery Institute) that still induldge themselves. John Edwards, the well-known medium, has written books and maintains an entire website on supernatural phenomena.

Can John Edwards’ supernatural claims be studied scientifically? Of course they can. What will we find? That John Edwards is a fake, like every other self-proclaimed medium throughout history. Can the claims of Christianity be studied scientifically? Of course they can. What will we find? When miracles or supernatural events described by Christians are investigated, they turn out to have uninteresting explanations (unless you find the fraudulent and manipulative behavior of morally weak humans interesting).

The alleged “value” of religion to our society’s discourse is already acknowledged in the form of favorable taxation programs for churches and the like. In the absence of any unique tangible benefit provided by religion, that seems exceedingly generous already. The idea promoted by the GCECCs that our society could somehow be saved by decreasing the amount of rational discourse in favor of more discussions along the lines of “What does the Bible say?” is pure stupidity and emblematic of religion at its ignorance-promoting worst.

The scientific method - roughly: observe, formulate a hypothesis, test, clearly includes no presumption of any murkily defined type of cause or explanation. And ‘presuming’ that natural phenomena have natural causes is redundant; that is the dfn of natural phenomena.

Artificial explanations & causes are quite fine. You just have to have evidence. Ask any anthropologist.

ID is irredeemably, and I think intentionally, antiscientific. Its core principle is the argument from ignorance, aka the explanatory filter. A favored explanation is exempted from the requirement of evidence.

The scientific method - roughly: observe, formulate a hypothesis, test, clearly includes no presumption of any murkily defined type of cause or explanation. ‘Presuming’ that natural phenomena have natural causes is redundant; that is the dfn of natural phenomena.

Artificial explanations & causes are quite fine. Ask any anthropologist. You just have to have evidence.

ID is irredeemably, and I think intentionally, antiscientific. Its core principle is the argument from ignorance, aka the explanatory filter. A favored explanation is exempted from the requirement of evidence.

OK, a couple of points to be made.

I’ve read arguments that ID should be presented in high school science classes, as a pedagogical tool to serve two purposes: first, to draw into the discussion those who otherwise would “sit at the back of the room, hold hands and pray” rather than expose themselves to evolutionary theory. Second, as a way to introduce the philosophy of science itself, the notions of crafting explanations to fit evidence rather than vice versa, of falsifiability, and hopefully eventually reaching the point I’m proposing here: To address the fundamentally different ways of knowing anything that observation and definition represent.

I’m not entirely convinced - hell, I’m entirely UNconvinced by this argument. ID isn’t science, it’s not a theory, it’s not based on evidence. It is a matter of faith and dogma. There are those who would prefer to be absolutely certain, and there are those who would prefer to be (probably, tentatively) correct. You can’t have both; ID is suitable for the former group, science for the latter. I count myself among those who would far rather be probably correct than absolutely certain.

And this difference carries over into the politics of the situation. Science in our culture has great cachet; it’s known to produce fabulous technology. Religion has always been skilled at co-opting existing belief sets for its own purposes, and (like it or not) most ordinary citizens regard science as a competing religion, casting more successful spells. The goal is to piggyback on that cachet, using “science” mostly as a magical codeword to buttress religious dogmas. Certainly addressing ID in high school science classes, EVEN IF it’s presented in the class as an example of everything science is NOT, will be trumpeted by creationists as ratification of their claims. “See”, they will crow, “we TOLD you it was science, and now the authorities are finally admitting it. They’re teaching it in science class!”

Great White Wonder writes “Here are the facts: there is no evidence for a group of intelligent beings…” and I find this approach frustrating. OF COURSE there is no evidence. Life being designed is a DEFINITION. No evidence need apply. I can only repeat: empiricists and Believers are talking past one another, and these threads are filled with crossed signals. To the scientist, creationism is Bad Science because the evidence fails to support it, it makes no predictions, it allows no research program, etc. To the creationist, evolution is “wrong religion”, generally depicted as Yet Another Arbitrary Belief Set which perversely contradicts received wisdom as written in the True Word of God (our interpretation division). So the scientist tries to use evidence to “disprove” a definition, and the creationist (to whom evidence is irrelevant) attempts to undermine wrong Belief by defining it as wrong. Each side has a single tool, which each side considers to be the Ace of Trumps.

Even the goals of the groups are profoundly different. The scientific goal is to understand how the universe works, the creationist goal is to proselytize Right Thinking as God directs. The scientific types wish to instill in their children lifelong curiosity, the creationist wishes to save immortal souls through the kind of belief best imparted as young as possible.

GWW writes “Can the claims of Christianity be studied scientifically? Of course they can.”

Arrrgh! No, of course they can not. The claims of Christianity are not based on evidence, and evidence cannot be used to examine them. They are definitions. You could invent a time machine, take any random creationist back and show beyond any possible doubt that Christ never existed except in the imaginations of some authors generations later, and you would not dent the power of that creationist’s belief. The evidence DOES NOT MATTER. What matters is that he has the Truth, he knows this, anything that indicates otherwise is a trick of Satan, with you as Satan’s minion. He has defined this to be True.

There is something important to be said about the importance of homogeneous values in the management of large groups (like nations). We may all disagree about the details, but we have absolutely critical meta-agreements for the most part. We fight in courts, but agree to abide by the court’s decision. In other words, to get along we accept The System, which is founded on shared values. Nations look at one anothers’ practices in horror or contempt as being strange and wrong, and others’ systems certainly wouldn’t work for us. But they work for THEM, because of shared values, which are largely religious.

I’m not opposed to religion per se. The conflict arises when religion attempts to make definitional statements about natural history, which is as inappropriate as it would be for science to apply the scientific method to determine if (for example) failure to say grace condemns one in the eyes of God.

Flint is making some points worth thinking about here, I think.

RBH

Pete:

ID is irredeemably, and I think intentionally, antiscientific. Its core principle is the argument from ignorance, aka the explanatory filter. A favored explanation is exempted from the requirement of evidence.

This is only what ID looks like through a scientific set of filters. If one starts by assuming that evidence matters, then ID can only look either silly or dishonest. From a scientific perspective, the essence of ID is “I don’t accept that this happened naturally. Therefore it DID NOT happen naturally. Therefore God did it.” And this is the basic argument from incredulity.

But through creationist eyes, the view is quite different. They KNOW that their God is Out There, doing essential stuff, answering prayers, creating life, pulling the strings of fate and whatnot. The problem is, God’s methods are exceeding subtle. He’s invisible, he only reaches into the hearts of those whose hearts he was ingrained into long since, and a mountain of accumulating (and cumulative) evidence and knowledge has resolutely explained the universe without recourse to the supernatural. How can this BE? God MUST be hiding out there somewhere!

ID is a rather interesting approach toward this conundrum, because its proponents are educated enough to grasp that even disproving evolution does not prove creation, anymore than proving a house is not white proves its green. So ID is a kind of positive search for God directly, by (hopefully) showing AT LEAST that design is a plausible and parsimonious explanation for life, as well as trying to demonstrate that proposed natural explanations are hideously unlikely.

Yes, yes, yes, the “specified information” specifies the Christian God, the numbers are finagled, selection is omitted from odds calculations, and ultimately the entire enterprise is another tired example of starting with the conclusions and forcing reality to fit even if it doesn’t come particularly close. But the goal isn’t to be deliberately unscientific; the goal is to *find God* whatever it takes. And any effort to find ANY god(s) cannot be scientific. That’s part of the definition of science – if science can investigate it, it’s natural. If it’s natural, it’s not supernatural.

Yes, I appreciate the quality of the discussion that has gone here. I won’t have time to respond for a few days, but I hope to read through all these comments and try to digest a few things.

I will also be reporting on the speech – the Q&A especially can be interesting at these kinds of events because it gives some time to respond for fully to ideas that were just touched on in the speech.

So thanks for all the comments here.

Good luck Jack!

Good post Flint. We should try more often to see things from the creationists’ perspective. Note, though that the Wedge says little about finding God and much about defeating science (which they call materialism – they get into a tizzy over anything ending in -ism, and conversly add -ism to anything they want to decry).

(sentences from the Wedge)

Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.

Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.

We will also pursue possible legal assistance in response to resistance to the integration of design theory into public school science curricula.

What’s really sad IMHO is their evident conviction that one must reject science in order to be properly religious. None the less your comment captures the essential screwyness of ID. They so badly want *evidence* of the kind of God they desire, and to convince themselves that they have the needed evidence they start by rejecting the requirement for evidence.

I can’t go along with your ‘definition’ of science. Again, anthropology. As for defining ‘supernatural’ as that which cannot be successfully investigated by scientific methods, the nice thing is how well that dfn works historically: when we become able to understand something, it isn’t supernatural anymore. Could the same happen to God some day? You say God is supernatural by dfn? Wait, only terms, not things, may be defined.

Flint

I agree with much of you what you say but I would like to see if I can articulate where we disagree and where I find your positions somewhat contradictory (dare I say “self-refuting”?? NO I WON’T!)

You say

There is something important to be said about the importance of homogeneous values in the management of large groups (like nations).

and I agree with you here. I would also claim that one of these homogeneous “values” is universal and that is the value of using logic to solve problems. Every human and quite a few animals on the planet rely on the scientific method or some variation of it to help them make decisions about what to do with their eyes, limbs, mouth and bowels. No Christian can plausibly assert that their “world view” doesn’t include this value unless they are stuck in a hole on the side of a mountain somewhere starving themselves to death.

So I don’t agree that the creationist versus scientists argument is necessarily a case of two groups arguing past one another, as you claim. Rather, it is a case of one group (creationists) refusing to acknowledge that we (meaning ALL OF US, including THEM) live in a society where their particular religious beliefs are, as a matter of FACT and SURVIVAL, largely irrelevant. WHy do they refuse to acknowledge this? I propose two answers: they are zealots on the one hand, and ignorant on the other (i.e., they simply can not accept or understand the fact that their “world view” is 99% as “naturalist” or “materialist” as the average atheist’s).

Now, you and I may be arguing past another … that is a different problem. ;)

Great White Wonder writes “Here are the facts: there is no evidence for a group of intelligent beings … “ and I find this approach frustrating. OF COURSE there is no evidence.

Here is where I see a contradiction in your statements that I find frustrating. On one hand, you say “Of course there is no evidence,” but on the other hand you say

I count myself among those who would far rather be probably correct than absolutely certain.

My mind is completely open to the *possibility* that alien life exists on other planets. And it is trivial for me to imagine all kinds of evidence that would satisfy me and most other scientists that alien life exists. In fact, it’s a common argumentative practice of creationists to accuse me of “religiously” believing in an evolutionary explanation for all life on earth because no evidence could convince me otherwise. This is also nonsense. The same holds true for evidence that people can come back to life after being dead for several days. Or that people can heal leprocy by touching lepers. Or that a great flood covered the earth with water for 40 days and an ark held all the animals who couldn’t swim (in salt water or fresh water? whatever)? Or that the eart is 4000 years old. These claims are certainly scientifically testable and this is what I was referring to when I mentioned the “claims of Christianity.”

Each side has a single tool, which each side considers to be the Ace of Trumps.

The conflict is not as irreconcilable as you make it out to be, for the reason I described above. To reiterate my earlier point, the fact is that Christians and Muslims and Jews and Buddhists also hold the scientists’ “trump card,” i.e., the use of logic and reason and past experience to solve problems, and all these religious groups play that trump card every frigging day of their life in all sorts of other contexts but when it comes to evolutionary biology the evangelical Christian creationist types whip out their zealot costumes and pretend (1) that it’s all about differing “world views,” discrimination, persecution, etc., and that (2) the “world views” of scientists prevent them from seeing that their data is really just a huge pile of crap that they will never ever be able to explain.

Is this a sensible position to take when the goal is to encourage “critical thinking” or to improve discourse relating to religious matters? I can’t see how it could be. Is it hypocritical? Hell yes. Does that matter to these conservative evangelical Christian creationist types? No, because what is indisputable it that they believe the world will be a better place if we thought less and payed much more attention to their holy book and their deity (aka “God”). I think the ideal America for these folks is, minimally, for everyone to be a Christian and go to church on Sunday and pray every day before every meal.

But let’s be clear: they don’t REALLY want us all to stop thinking about how to design better bombs or faster racing cars or tastier fast food. “All they ask” is that we shouldn’t be such sticklers about evidence and logic when it comes to evolutionary biology because THAT particular branch of science is just a bunch of philosophical materialist crap.

A couple other thoughts re the creationist perspective: I have found in my discussions with evangelical Christian creationists (ECCs) that some of them describe their “faith” in a way that is quite different from the Kierkegardian concept (at least, it’s different from my understanding of the Kierkegardian concept – feel free to correct my understanding or my spelling).

Specifically, I have encountered ECCs who have defined faith explicitly as “incontrovertible evidence” (!) or who implicitly argue from that position. For some people, a big chunk of this evidence consists of “all the people who believe that the stories in the Bible are true,” but others are quite eager to justify their belief in God using logical arguments which “prove” that without God, humans lack any basis on which to behave morally and so the fact that we can think and we aren’t all cannibals “proves” His existence.

Another argument goes something like this: if there is no God, then there is no free will because everything is determined by chemical reactions and physical laws and so, well, if you believe that you might as well just be a cannibal or blow yourself up – what’s the difference?

From my perspective, this sort of “faith” is appropriate for those of little faith. It’s faith with a backup battery.

Getting back to Flint’s point about ECCs trying to find God, what is interesting about these positions held by many of these ECCs – nearly all of whom support ID creationism – is that they don’t need ANY additional evidence that God exists. There is ample proof for his existence already and, from their perspective, the logical arguments for God’s existence are already bulletproof.

And the fact that already have incontrovertible evidence of God’s existence begs the question as to why they are trying to find more. The answer, I believe, is that at the end of the day they could really care less whether ID is a science or not. What is far more important is to discredit the institution of science and the objectivity of scientists as a whole. To the extent they can accomplish that goal, they greatly increase their chances of passing laws regulating other areas of our daily lives, where the laws are consistent with their religious beliefs but which are worthless or harmful to our society (or subsets thereof) when examined scientifically.

Since I’m brand shiny new here, I had not expected any responses, much less such energetic and thoughtful ones. I’ll try to address each of them because it’s discouraging to be ignored. This takes time, unfortunately…

Pete:

Note, though that the Wedge says little about finding God and much about defeating science

I hope we understand here that creationists have already found God (at least, they have found the God of their particular set of doctrines. There are over 10,000 sects of Christianity (and multiple sects of other faiths as well) at least in part because the gods they postulate are qualitatively different). Their goal is to help YOU find THEIR god. This is best done (In My Arrogant Opinion, IMAO) before the age of 6, but the younger the better. Creationists are ultimately in the business of saving immortal souls.

What’s really sad IMHO is their evident conviction that one must reject science in order to be properly religious.

Here, I agree, but only partially. Their particular flavor of faith includes a fairly long list of non-negotiable requirements, primary among them the literal interpretation of (a few selected) Biblical tales. Remember that these tales are DEFINED as correct; what is inerrant isn’t exactly the Bible itself, but rather the interpretation imposed on it by the Creationist sects. Since there is a prima facie conflict between these inerrant interpretations and sciences best-fit explanations of evidence, science must have somehow missed the Truth. Again, I emphasize that science is DEFINED as wrong. If the evidence conflicts with interpretation, the evidence is DEFINED as wrong. And this is necessary because if these (carefully selected) interpretations are incorrect, obviously this could call ANY OTHER interpretation into question. Creationist faith is above all else brittle.

You say God is supernatural by dfn? Wait, only terms, not things, may be defined.

I can’t determine what this means exactly. A definition is anything one decides to SAY is true. If I define the earth as flat and sitting on turtles, then the earth is flat and sitting on turtles by definition. I think I am using a more inclusive meaning of “definition” than you are, and perhaps there is a superior term? I intend a statement not subject to question, irrespective of evidence, congenial to sheer preference. A definition can be accepted or rejected; it can NOT be tested or falsified in principle.

GWW:

So I don’t agree that the creationist versus scientists argument is necessarily a case of two groups arguing past one another, as you claim. Rather, it is a case of one group (creationists) refusing to acknowledge that we (meaning ALL OF US, including THEM) live in a society where their particular religious beliefs are, as a matter of FACT and SURVIVAL, largely irrelevant. WHy do they refuse to acknowledge this? I propose two answers: they are zealots on the one hand, and ignorant on the other.

Well, I guess the only way to communicate here is to iterate until our wavelengths mesh. Scientists and creationists use different methods to achieve different goals, driven by different motivations owing to different appreciations of reality. You are continuing to view creationists as addlebrained fanatics unable to do good science, and I regard this as wearing blinders. They are out to save your soul, and failing that to save the souls of your children. As Martin Luther said (very roughly speaking) God approves of lies that bring people to Christ.

The rest of your point is worth addressing in more detail (forgive this massive missive, eh?) Anyone who wishes to survive for more than a few minutes implicitly recognizes that eality MATTERS, that it MUST be respected lest we suffer severe penalties. This lesson has been learned since infancy; it is not abandoned lightly. In my view, this leads to some serious cognitive dissonance. The religious doctrine is known to be true, inviolable, not subject to question or doubt, the direct literal Word of God. Note that in general, these doctrines are derived from very ancient writings, but still writings based on human experience. They were (as far as anyone knew) correct until the application of science eventually cast some of them into strong doubt. My point is that these doctrines are not in-your-face obviously wrong, they just conflict with the preponderance of non-obvious evidence collected subsequently to the writing of the tales.

And so it IS possible to maintain BOTH a respect for reality and a rigid belief in the literal Truth of God’s Word, but just barely, and only by rejection NOT of the evidence itself, but of the conclusions that best fit that evidence. These conclusions MUST be wrong, because if they are correct, GOD is wrong, and that is defined as impossible. These people are NOT ignorant fools, but they are as incapable of thinking their god is wrong as they are of (for example) voluntarily changing their sexual orientation and response patterns. The Beliefs are an aspect of human learning IMAO - that neural pathways hardwired by training from infancy can not be unwired later despite the application of any kind of logic, anymore than the intellectual conviction that a leg is not broken, can repair the leg. Note especially that it is belief of THIS STRENGTH that creationists are attempting to impart to everyone else, for our own good. How could they think otherwise?

Here is where I see a contradiction in your statements that I find frustrating. On one hand, you say “Of course there is no evidence,” but on the other hand you say I count myself among those who would far rather be probably correct than absolutely certain.

I’m afraid I don’t see the contradiction here, but I may have expressed myself poorly. Defnitions need no evidence. Your claim that creationist doctrines are unsupported by evidence (or often indeed contradict it) only reflects your conviction that evidence is the final arbiter of Truth. I agree with you that this works best for me as well. From my perspective, the creationists have fabricated a god, put words in its mouth, and then piously find inerrant and beyond question the words they themselves put there. For me, this approach is fundamentally dishonest. For them, the Word of God is divine and final, period.

These claims are certainly scientifically testable and this is what I was referring to when I mentioned the “claims of Christianity.”

Sigh. IF these claims are regarded as statements about the objective universe, then they can be tested to the satisfaction of those for whom the objective universe is paramount. IF, on the other hand, and as is actually the case, these claims are regarded as articles of doctrine, then they are definitions, not subject to falsification. If the objective universe disagrees, then the objective universe is WRONG! God said so!

The conflict is not as irreconcilable as you make it out to be, for the reason I described above.

I hope we have covered this to our satisfaction (ahem). If God says you are wrong, no amount of evidence, no matter how unambiguous, extensive, or obvious, can stand against this in the mind of a Believer. Logic and reason are certainly useful tools, sufficient to solve any problem on which God has not Spoken Truth, in which case logic and reason become irrelevant.

Does that matter to these conservative evangelical Christian creationist types? No,because what is indisputable it that they believe the world will be a better place if we thought less and payed much more attention to their holy book and their deity (aka “God”).

This strikes me as an important misunderstanding. We aren’t supposed to “think less” at all. We may have to think even more, to find out exactly WHY our understanding of reality has missed the boat. What I’m not communicating very well is that their holy book (actually, their inerrant interpretation of some of it) is TRUTH, it is NOT subject to question, reality either matches or reality is wrong. This indelible conviction is where scientists’ efforts to communicate hit the wall. Scientists are left sputtering “but the evidence…look at the evidence” because that’s their single tool.

But let’s be clear: they don’t REALLY want us all to stop thinking about how to design better bombs or faster racing cars or tastier fast food. “All they ask” is that we shouldn’t be such sticklers about evidence and logic when it comes to evolutionary biology because THAT particular branch of science is just a bunch of philosophical materialist crap.

This is petty. Perhaps it would be more helpful if you regarded them as being normal people except for a very clearly delineated “blind spot” where their minds simply cannot penetrate. Like someone who has had a stroke, after which the direction “left” no longer even exists for them. From all I have read about this (thousands of hours at least), I’m increasingly convinced I’m dealing with physical, organic brain dysfunction. The human brain is endlessly malleable at an early age, and the changes are irreversible later.

What is far more important is to discredit the institution of science and the objectivity of scientists as a whole. To the extent they can accomplish that goal, they greatly increase their chances of passing laws regulating other areas of our daily lives, where the laws are consistent with their religious beliefs but which are worthless or harmful to our society (or subsets thereof) when examined scientifically.

You are looking well downstream of the underlying cause here. The sequence is more like

this: 1) (My interpretation of) the Bible is infallible. God Has Spoken. 2) God told me to spread the Good News, by any and every means feasible. 3) Science blasphemes against (my interpretation of) scripture, and is therefore wrong. 4) In teaching False Beliefs, science is endangering the immortal souls of all those it is brainwashing. God requires that this be stopped. 5) I can control the home and church environments; the State (through the public school system) remains to be controlled. It is teaching blasphemy. God says so. 6) The public school system is best manipulated through the political process. This process entails directing whatever funding I can raise toward political purposes - public relations campaigns to convert and mobilize the populace, lobbying efforts in the legislature, backing right-thinking candidates for state school board positions, etc. Correct Believers can always be persuaded to fund this Godly effort. 7) When I’m successful, God’s Will Shall Rule on Earth. In my efforts, I shall never tire nor flag nor doubt, because God is with me and my cause is purely righteous.

Note that the attempt to discredit science is simply a side-effect of the ultimate goal of imprinting Truth into young minds. It’s a necessary tactic because the Religion of Science has made so much progress, generated so much technology, that people respect and admire it. Therefore we must call what WE do “science”, and what scientist do as error, where doctrine is at stake. God says so!

My compliments, Flint. I have long realized and accepted - and been dismayed at - the unbridgeable gulf between “evolutionists” and creationists, but never seen it as clearly, extensively and non-judgmentally examined and explored. You’ve obviously spent some quality timeon it.

Bob:

Thank you for your compliments, but in reading over what I’ve written, I can see that I have been guilty of an excess of rhetoric in at least one important way. Creationists do not ever (to my knowledge) expressly reject observation, evidence, or reality as being in violation of doctrine. Creationists realize as surely as scientists that reality is what it is, and that there is only a single copy of it accessible to us.

What we actually have here is dueling interpretations, between creationists’ interpretation of the bible and scientists’ interpretations of (or even making) observations. If scientific interpretations conflict with creationist interpretations, then clearly *someone* has made an error. On what basis can we determine who’s at fault?

Well, this is clearly a no-brainer. Scientists base their claims on nothing stronger than the chimera of arrogant and hubristic humanism, because scientists (at least of the evolutionist persuasion) are all atheists or at best Christians guilty of apostasy. By denying God, they have fallen into the error that ALWAYS follows such a denial.

By contrast, the creationists are armed with the literal word of God. And support just simply does not get any firmer than that.

But wait, you may say, aren’t there other possibilities here? Perhaps the creationists have misinterpreted the Bible. There’s a great deal of evidential support for this. Perhaps the Bible was written by men without God’s guidance. There’s a great deal of support for that as well. Perhaps there are no gods at all. There certainly is no evidence that there ARE any gods. Why can’t these possibilities be considered as well?

But even ASKING those questions shows that you are suffering theological pathology of the worst kind, and powerfully in need of the very Good News creationists are pushing. The Bible is the word of God; we know this because God says so Himself right there in the Bible!

The evidence itself must necessarily support (their interpretation of) God’s Word. If it seems to indicate otherwise, it can only seem this way to those of wrong belief, all the more reason to get cracking on their children.

Flint, there’s very little to disagree wrt to your description of evangelical christian creationists. But you seem to want to play down a point I tried to make which I believe is the most essential characteristic of ECCs and which must be exploited when confronting them re the ID issue: all humans, including ECCs, rely on materialistic and naturalist thinking every day, and for a good reason. It works. Why must this characteristic be exploited? Because it shows the emptiness and hypocracy of the creationists’ claims that materialistic thinking is the end of civilization. In fact, it’s the beginning of civilization and only an evangelical Christian judge will disagree. Thankfully, there’s not too many of those at the Federal level of our judiciary.

Just as a quick aside, here’s a post from an actual evangelical Christian creationist which appeared moments ago on the Evangelical Outpost website. Note the absence of any reference to the Bible, the appeal to logic and reason, the hypocritical dissing of “materialist” thought, and the allusion to the blindness of evolutionary biologists to the allegedly self-evident flaws in their theory. I can assure you this post is very typical.

———————- Empirical materialism CANNOT explain, and CANNOT HOPE to explain, much less VALIDATE the evolution of the human brain or eye. They are too irreducibly complex to be explained by purely materialistic origins. Now, I am not arguing that by this simple statement Supernaturalism is vindicated. I am arguing that you and all your vaunted Empirical Materialist ilk haven’t one shred of the humility which the Catholic Church has displayed by their eventual disavowal of pre-Copernican cosmology. It would never occur to you arrogant b***ards to examine your own assumptions. You are as arrogant as the Catholic Church was during Galileo’s day. You just won’t f***ing admit it. A pox on your house. And don’t think that God hasn’t known your arrogant thoughts.That He doesn’t take you up on your dare is only evidence of His Mercy, and not a little acknowledgment of your triviality. —————————————

GWW:

I thought I had addressed this, in writing:

The rest of your point is worth addressing in more detail (forgive this massive missive, eh?) Anyone who wishes to survive for more than a few minutes implicitly recognizes that eality MATTERS, that it MUST be respected lest we suffer severe penalties. This lesson has been learned since infancy; it is not abandoned lightly. In my view, this leads to some serious cognitive dissonance. The religious doctrine is known to be true, inviolable, not subject to question or doubt, the direct literal Word of God. Note that in general, these doctrines are derived from very ancient writings, but still writings based on human experience. They were (as far as anyone knew) correct until the application of science eventually cast some of them into strong doubt. My point is that these doctrines are not in-your-face obviously wrong, they just conflict with the preponderance of non-obvious evidence collected subsequently to the writing of the tales. And so it IS possible to maintain BOTH a respect for reality and a rigid belief in the literal Truth of God’s Word, but just barely, and only by rejection NOT of the evidence itself, but of the conclusions that best fit that evidence. These conclusions MUST be wrong, because if they are correct, GOD is wrong, and that is defined as impossible. These people are NOT ignorant fools, but they are as incapable of thinking their god is wrong as they are of (for example) voluntarily changing their sexual orientation and response patterns. The Beliefs are an aspect of human learning IMAO - that neural pathways hardwired by training from infancy can not be unwired later despite the application of any kind of logic, anymore than the intellectual conviction that a leg is not broken, can repair the leg. Note especially that it is belief of THIS STRENGTH that creationists are attempting to impart to everyone else, for our own good. How could they think otherwise?

Perhaps I didn’t understand your point, but if that’s the case then I confess I still don’t. I wrote that creationist beliefs are brittle; they can’t tolerate doubt about ANY of their doctrine, because the historical consequences have been schismic atomization, as each creationist individually decides which absolute scripture should be doubted and which should not. Where scripture is defined to have spoken, and what scripture is interpreted to have said, is the highest of all possible authorities to the creationist. Any other interpretation of evidence MUST BE WRONG. There are no other viable options at all. I can’t regard an inability to compromise on definitional matters as hypocritical. A mental strait jacket to be sure, but not hypocritical.

However, when we’re talking about political and public relations strategies, this is something a bit different, at least in my reading. In this arena, anything goes. Talk.origins calls this “lying for Jesus” here and there, and with good reason. Duane Gish was asked directly in a debate why he had just argued a point that he had publically admitted (when backed into a corner) the previous week he KNEW to be incorrect. And his answer boiled down to: This week’s audience doesn’t know I said that, and THEIR souls can still be saved. So long as I bring them to Jesus, it DOES NOT MATTER what I say. It doesn’t need to be correct, or even plausible. It only needs to work.

You argue in defense of naturalistic thinking that it works, but you take for granted that everyone agrees that what it works FOR is worthwhile. I’m trying to explain that the goal of the creationist is to bring you to Christ. If lies work, lies are good. If misquotes work, if distortions work, if misrepresentation works, if appealing to profound ignorance works, if brainwashing children works, then these are all GOOD THINGS, because if Jesus wins, the game was played right.

The evangelical you quote is denying what is an incredibly long, complicated, incremental, multifaceted, highly specialized, and (above all) *proposed* sequence of past events. Yes, for most people the more depth of your understanding, the more inevitable our model of these events becomes, and certainly predictions based on that model form the foundation of much of modern biology, genetics, and the like. But we are not fighting a battle of logic and evidence here, but rather a battle of preference and perception. Jonathan Wells has testified that he got an advanced degree in biology with the unflagging intention of destroying Darwinism. Clearly, we are not necessarily dealing with ignorance here either. Once you Believe, your Belief is self-evident. Whoever disagrees is of the wrong faith, and needs to be converted. Badly.

Someone on one of these forums wrote “Belief is not a notion the mind possesses, but rather a notion that possesses the mind.” I can’t say it any more succintly.

Flint

Re your point about creationists religious beliefs: I got the message. I got it the first time. No offense, but I got it before I read your first post here!

You wrote

But we are not fighting a battle of logic and evidence here, but rather a battle of preference and perception.

Sorry, but that is not true. We are fighting a battle of logic and evidence for all the reasons I gave above. Do preference and perception play a role? Sure, particularly in the court of public opinion. But public opinion isn’t going to decide the issue, thankfully.

Again, the issue has been framed for scientists *by the CECCs* as one of logic and evidence. Wherever their beliefs about creationism come from, they are not asserting that ID be taught because the Bible says so. They know that is a losing strategy. Using reason and logic, they have chosen to pursue a different strategy which makes arguments based on scientific evidence. Given that their stated goal is to “turn the train around” and put the breaks on rampant materialistic/naturalistic thinking in our society, their reliance on scientific thinking is hypocritical. Blatantly hypocritical. Pulling the carpet out from under hypocrites is an effective way to undermine their arguments. I’m sure you agree.

Note: I could care less whether these creationist types will ever believe in evolution. I agree with you that trying to convince them is a lost cause. Thankfully, it is also irrelevant to the issue at hand which is only to convince them that they they are wasting their time trying to get their religious propoganda taught in science classrooms.

As for the goals of creationists, you give them to much credit when you take them at their word. Why do you believe them when they say that they want to bring people to Christ? Many of these people are reciting from a script. I have had numerous evangelicals tell me to go fxxk myself. Is that surprising? No. They’re human beings. Human beings first. Christians later. They can pretend it’s the other way around but unfortunately it’s going to be extremely difficult for them to find a Federal Court of Appeals that relies on the same “world view” to reach their conclusions.

As for the intelligence of creationists, I don’t doubt that some of them are articulate and have IQs which are moderately high. But rest assured that many of their followers are dumb as stones when it comes to (1) their understanding of biology and (2) when it comes to appreciating just how much more intelligent the average genuine scientist is than the typical ID poster boy and (3) when it comes to understanding the lunacy of railing against a “materialistic” and “naturalistic” using fake science as their weapon.

Take Jonathan Wells. He got a Ph.D. for the purpose of destroying Darwinism. He’s also a Moonie who believes that he knows more about evolution than 99.9% of the world’s evolutionary biologists. Is this combination of features a sign of “intelligence”? On the contrary. They’re a sign of megalomania, arrogance to the nth degree, and blindness.

Let’s be frank: the people who eat up and propogate this ID bogusness are not impressively intelligent. Rather, they are clueless and desperate. The sheep at the bottom (e.g., evangelical Christian parents in midwestern and southern communities, mostly) are ignorantly adopting an empty slogan which was created by some powerful and desperate people and fed to them through bookstores and the internet. Is the choice of the slogan clever? Nope. I don’t think it’s a novel strategy to co-opt the other side’s own terms and use those terms against them.

Bottom line: don’t give the ID pushers credit where it isn’t deserved. I would guess that half of them don’t believe the crud they spew but just look forward to sitting in the limelights of cable TV and have the bigwigs in the Christian right (Pat Roberts, Falwell, etc.) kiss their gigantic brain-swollen heads, buy them dinner, present them with awards, and maybe set them up with a nice hooker after the show.

BWW:

I despair of communicating with you sometimes, but I’ll keep trying.

We are fighting a battle of logic and evidence for all the reasons I gave above. Do preference and perception play a role? Sure, particularly in the court of public opinion. But public opinion isn’t going to decide the issue, thankfully.

It’s hard for me to understand your position. This is solely, entirely, and deliberately a public opinion battle, it is nothing else. All this scientifical noise is simply a distraction, a political and public relations ploy to gain exclusive access to young minds. So long as you think logic and evidence are important, you cannot win this battle. The public school curriculum is a political hostage, and logic and evidence have only a tenuous hold on it; change a few judges and schools are *legally* instruments of the Church! And if this causes the US to fall into a state of Third World ignorance and poverty? God’s Will Be Done, Hallelujah! The idea that we needed any steenkin’ allopathic medicine was an atheistic humanistic plot to begin with.

Again, the issue has been framed for scientists *by the CECCs* as one of logic and evidence.

And your reaction shows exactly why this strategy was chosen. Your opponents are NOT idiots. If the current legal climate only allows “science” into the schools, then repackage religion as science. If scientists are debating the scientific merit of creationist claims, this can only mean those claims HAVE scientific merit. At least, as far as PR campaigns are concerned. This is a battle for hearts and minds at the highest level, but a battle to package religious doctrine as worthy of study at the tactical level. GWW, creationists can see as clearly as you and I that once a Belief takes hold, whether in the efficacy of evidence or the primacy of God, it never lets loose. If there were some way you could just REACH OUT and GRAB creationists by the mind, and MAKE THEM SEE the glories of the scientific method and the sheer jubilant VALUE of basing conclusions on evidence rather than selecting (or fabricating) evidence to fit foregone conclusions, wouldn’t you do it? But that’s just what they think they’re trying to do.

Given that their stated goal is to “turn the train around” and put the breaks on rampant materialistic/naturalistic thinking in our society, their reliance on scientific thinking is hypocritical. Blatantly hypocritical.

Sigh. I tried to explain, honest I did. If hypocrisy achieves the desired goals, then God approves!

Thankfully, it is also irrelevant to the issue at hand which is only to convince them that they they are wasting their time trying to get their religious propoganda taught in science classrooms.

Are you kidding? Please tell me you are kidding. We are dealing here with Believers. No amount of energy or effort, no matter how futile, is wasted if you are a Believer. If the schools are closed to God today, then maybe not tomorrow, or the next day, or whenever. The effort is never wasted, when God Wills! The goal is to get Truth into the classrooms, and propaganda (that is, any other interpretation of selected scripture) out. And a fanatic does not EVER get convinced he’s wasting his time. He only redoubles his energy.

Re your point about creationists religious beliefs: I got the message. I got it the first time. No offense, but I got it before I read your first post here!

By all indications, you haven’t got it at all yet. THEY see a sincere effort to save souls; YOU see an insincere effort to do Bad Science.

As for the goals of creationists, you give them to much credit when you take them at their word. Why do you believe them when they say that they want to bring people to Christ? Many of these people are reciting from a script. I have had numerous evangelicals tell me to go fxxk myself. Is that surprising? No.

Groan. I really don’t want to go into this, because it would take too long and be a distraction. Yes, they are people. Yes, they are unusually self-serving. Yes, they are demographically significantly undereducated, Southern, older, and rural. Yes, their tactics generally make a mockery of the teachings ascribed to Christ. But their leaders are sharp, they recognize that science is irrelevant except tactically, as a barrier (and the nature of that barrier really isn’t important) between them and the minds of children nationwide.

As for the intelligence of creationists, I don’t doubt that some of them are articulate and have IQs which are moderately high. But rest assured that many of their followers are dumb as stones when it comes to (1) their understanding of biology and (2) when it comes to appreciating just how much more intelligent the average genuine scientist is than the typical ID poster boy and (3) when it comes to understanding the lunacy of railing against a “materialistic” and “naturalistic” using fake science as their weapon.

There’s enough meat in there so that I may need to break it down a bit more than usual. Understanding of biology is irrelevant to them. Intelligence is irrelevant. Science is irrelevant. Have you attended any fundamentalist churches, and listened to the sermons? If not, you should. They don’t rail (often) against humanism or atheism or evolutionism or any of the evilisms we see on these blogs; they see visions of deliverance, and eternal life, and returning this country to the Christian nation God wants like it used to be (and PLEASE don’t try to use evidence to show that this never was. It used to be because THEY SAY it used to be. Definitions rule. For the religious, things become true because they WANT them to be true. That the US was once a devout Christian (their flavor) nation isn’t a statement of fact, but of faith. Faith guides the “vision thing” -it tells the faithful where to aim each step in the trip through the travials.)

I really don’t know how to emphasize this enough. What we’re dealing with here is a vision of God’s Will on Earth, and the second coming, the rapture, the immediacy of Christ, the end times, the urgent necessity of preparing every heart to the veriest infant for all of this. Your petty scientific blather is important only in the sense that it brainwashes young minds against God and condemns souls to eternal torture and must be destroyed. If popular will (through the political and judicial process) is how our system channels this destruction, then political races and judicial races and school board races are where the funding must be focused. The goal is TRUTH, not facts. Facts are lies. GOD is truth.

Is this combination of features a sign of “intelligence”? On the contrary. They’re a sign of megalomania, arrogance to the nth degree, and blindness.

And you are somehow different? You don’t sound different. Wells has found God. As I wrote, his mind is possessed. Belief is like suicide; it is not reversible. Wells has had an epiphany; he follows the highest calling his mind can conceive. But so do you. Which of you is insane?

Let’s be frank: the people who eat up and propogate this ID bogusness are not impressively intelligent. Rather, they are clueless and desperate.

GWW, let me try a different tack here. Intelligence is not what we’re concerned with. The people you hold in blinding contempt (and YOU are blinded by it, not them) are NOT desperate, they are Called. Many of them (in the sense that such trustworthiness is not underrepresented in their numbers) are people you would be happy to know and willing to stake your life on. They tend to be reliable, loyal, patient and honest. You (and I, for that matter) may regard them as brain-damaged and selectively deluded, but their conviction and determination are admirable in their strength if not in their direction.

Your depiction of an army of automatons mindlessly reciting memorized slogans exudes an arrogance I find hard to tolerate. GWW, we’re talking about sincere but in certain ways misguided people here. They are not stupid (see above demographics), they may well be victims.

As for the leaders, the Falwells Robertsons and televangelists, yeah, I agree with you. These people have raised cynicism to an art form, they live what even I regard as dissolute and degenerate lives, by siphoning the life savings of the devout poor. And I HATE them for it, but I don’t hate those who have found solid and satisfactory answers to questions we must all deal with sooner or later. No, these are not your answers or mine, but they work.

And I STILL can’t get you to understand how belief affects the mind, even though I can see that you are not immune either. Can you not realize that your contempt is reciprocated, and for exactly the same reasons? For most people, your answers do not work; they take too much time and education, and they require that one spend one’s entire LIFE plagued by doubt and uncertainty. This is at best an acquired taste.

GWW, Flint is saying here what I have tried to say – less clearly and certainly less eloquently – elsewhere. And the ID Movement knows it. Heed the words of Robert Lattimer, leader of the ID creationist forces in Ohio, speaking to an ID conference in Minneapolis late last year:

This is basically a political struggle. It is in any state, it’s a political struggle. Science will have very little to do with the arguments on what science standards will look like. Education will have little to do with it. It’s basically how the politics will work in a particular state.

To be blunt, scientists are lousy politicians because we believe that logic, empirical evidence, and rational discourse are the appropriate tools and that scientific understanding is the goal. They’re not.

RBH

RBH:

To be blunt, scientists are lousy politicians because we believe that logic, empirical evidence, and rational discourse are the appropriate tools and that scientific understanding is the goal. They’re not.

Amen! Politics is almost entirely, if not 100% entirely, emotional just like any aspect of sales. FIRST, you pick what appeals to you at the most basic level, THEN you rationalize justifications foregone conclusions using 4-bit words and paying lip service to the inverse - as though the conclusions were derived from the evidence. Even in science, this is almost never true. Practicing scientists work by leaping intuitively from unjustified assumptions to foregone conclusions without first traversing the intervening conceptual space, then work backwards from the insights to the evidentiary support. I’m quite sure that an scientist who THINKS he based his conclusions initially on evidence is kidding himself. What he did was leaped to what *felt right* to him based on his existing knowledge and understanding, and then attempted to verify his intuition. Sometimes (probably usually) it fails; sometimes it succeeds. But science is not a logical and incremental process at this level.

Creationists are very good politicians because their underlying and driving beliefs are essentially political. They know to aim at a visceral level, like a lawyer saying “this is the face of a killer!” Yep, he’s a killer, let’s make the facts fit, thinks the jury. Until DNA evidence shows otherwise, sometimes. And when the Kansas or Louisiana or Ohio school boards decide creationism is an “alternative theory” (which they don’t, of course. They are trying to teach Truth) scientific explanations are worthless in that political battle; much better to tell the electorate that the world is laughing at their backwoods illiteracy. The battle is won using shame, not knowledge; perception, not facts.

In the US, evolution is taught in schools not so much because it’s the best-fit explanation of observation, as because most voters realize that if science and the Bible seem to disagree, almost surely BOTH are correct, and the problem must lie in incorrect interpretations of scripture! So teach evolution in school, teach the Bible at home and in church, and find scriptural interpretations that follow the path of least resistance. If evolutionary theories have no serious competition, then this must be what the Bible says, somehow. Make it so, as Captain Picard said.

Flint

Perhaps if you would accept that you and I can disagree on certain issues without taking it personally you would have an easier time understanding what I am saying.

As I have said, I don’t disagree with your characterization of most evangelical christian creationist brains, although I still believe that, as a group, you give them way to much credit. You think I’m arrogant when I say that a whole lot of them are buffoons and numbskulls reciting from a script whose number one obsession is keeping gays out of their town? Fine. You’re entitled to think that. I think you’re naive. You see? We disagree. And that’s … okay. Really. It’s not a big deal.

This is solely, entirely, and deliberately a public opinion battle, it is nothing else.

Nope. False. There is a huge legal component, as I have been trying to get you to understand for many paragraphs. One of the architects of this nonsense – an avowed “hero” to many of evangelical christians – is a law school professor at Boalt Hall named Phillip Johnson. That is not a coincidence.

Does public opinion affect the outcome of court cases? Sometimes. But often court cases are decided based on evidence and solid legal arguments. Thus far, I see no reason to expect that a Federal Court will rule in the favor of the christian creationists with respect to ID. If the ID creationists could show evidence that “naturalistic” and “materialistic philosophy” was, in fact, leading to the downfall of Western Civilization, why then we’d have a REAL battle. I highly doubt such evidence exists, Flint. Do you?

I tried to make this point above. I’m sorry if it was not clear to you.

Again, I repeat for the record: I am not saying that there is no public opinion battle taking place. Of course there is.

However, in my posts above I was not focusing on converting evangelical creationists into scientists. I also thought I made that clear. My apologies again if I was not clear. I am interested in preventing children from being brainwashed, but that is another topic entirely.

To repeat and summarize (again) my point is that there are plenty of non-evangelical christians and evangelical christians on the fence who can be persuaded by reason. And above I was trying to describe how such appeals to reason can be made and how the argument can be framed, both in the courtroom AND in public forums everywhere. That is all. The fact is that everyone one of us cherishes reason and logic and the scientific method. These strategies are an essential part of what makes our society work and an ideal that helped our country to become one of the best places in the world to live. We really don’t want to live in world where “materialistic” and “naturalistic” philosophies are disparaged. That is the world of the Taliban.

Another line of attack is to show what a bunch of frauds, liars and (yes) incompetent jokers are behind the ID “movement.” I know that christians find these people distasteful for many of the same reasons that evangelical christians find Swaggart distasteful. And the strategy of impeachment works well in the legal setting and in political settings.

The people you hold in blinding contempt (and YOU are blinded by it, not them)

I admit to having contempt for quite a few evangelical christians, Flint, but it is not blind contempt by a long shot. It’s contempt rooted in personal experience. I know a few evangelical christians very well and we get along just fine, thank you.

GWW:

You think I’m arrogant when I say that a whole lot of them are buffoons and numbskulls reciting from a script whose number one obsession is keeping gays out of their town? Fine. You’re entitled to think that. I think you’re naive. You see? We disagree.

I don’t mind disagreeing, but I prefer to know exactly what we’re disagreeing about. I think I might understand, but since both of us take for granted that our opinions are obvious, perhaps we don’t express them as well as we might. I could with equal justification say that I am ignorant about biology, do none of the research myself, and must therefore limit myself to what biologists write that I find accessible. From my perspective, I really must take it on faith that biologists know what they’re talking about and that they are being honest in what they write for popular consumption. I suppose you could say that in learning this material, I am memorizing a script; that in not having an in-depth understanding (yet still agreeing with what biologists say) I have become a numbskull and a buffoon.

And what I’m trying to communicate is that in this respect, I am no different at all from a creationist: both I and the creationist have selected a position we find congenial, have learned what laymen can from those who take the position we prefer, and who lack enough first-hand knowledge to do more than express a basically uninformed preference. Of course, I don’t like to think I’m an idiot, I like to think I’ve made an intelligent choice. But why would a creationist feel any differently?

But often court cases are decided based on evidence and solid legal arguments. Thus far, I see no reason to expect that a Federal Court will rule in the favor of the christian creationists with respect to ID.

I sincerely hope you’re correct. I agree that there is a legal component involved, but I am also not a lawyer. I know that yesterday Justice Scalia gave a speech saying decisions like this one (teaching ID as science) should not be made by judges, but rather by the people through legislative action. Now (despite your claim), I’m not naive enough to miss Scalia’s agenda - he is lobbying to shift the locus of decision-making authority to where decisions will be made more to his preference. He knows (and I hope you do as well) that left to a national plebescite, ID would replace evolution altogether in the high school science curriculum (and gay marriage would be banned, Mexicans would be deported, abortion would be outlawed, and Scalia would be dancing in the street).

But you yourself say that “often” legal cases are decided on the basis of the facts. It’s not a slam dunk, and it’s no accident that Johnson leads the ID stratists. As a lawyer, he knows that which judge you get matters, and who appoints judges matters as well. Johnson himself has said that one of his tactics is sheer bulldog determination; that scientists will soon return to their ivory labs, but creationists will continue the fight forever. And he’s right. Eventually one Federal judge will follow his faith rather than his intellect, Johnson will have been instrumental in getting that judge on the bench and getting a case before him.

If the ID creationists could show evidence that “naturalistic” and “materialistic philosophy” was, in fact, leading to the downfall of Western Civilization, why then we’d have a REAL battle. I highly doubt such evidence exists, Flint. Do you?

This is a slippery question. Culture never holds still; for nearly everyone, the “good old days” were in the past. Yeah, they’re invariably an artifact of selective memory, but the desire is there. The general creationist (and probably more broadly speaking, but I’m not sure) line is that (1)We have undergone many cultural changes in the last N decades; (2)Most of these changes have been for the worse, morally speaking; (3)It is no coincidence that the spread of secular humanism correlates highly with these changes; (4)Proper Christian values would have prevented this decline, etc. blah blah. When we’re talking about something as broad as the downfall of civilization, you can build just about any case your heart desires, and back it up with encyclopedias of evidence. All of which will convince everyone who WANTS to believe it, whatever it is. So one of Johnson’s tactics is to get such people onto the bench.

there are plenty of non-evangelical christians and evangelical christians on the fence who can be persuaded by reason. And above I was trying to describe how such appeals to reason can be made and how the argument can be framed, both in the courtroom AND in public forums everywhere. That is all.

I hope this is a viable approach, but I sometimes have my doubts. The creationists are fighting an emotional sales campaign, appealing to a common denominator WAY lower than science and scientists can reach. As I tried to say on another thread here, the appeal of ID is that these fence-sitters KNOW their God is everywhere, even in science. They also know that substituting religion for science is a blueprint for disaster, because there are too many religions. But ID is deliberately non-denominational, it sounds like science even to the intelligent layman, who WANTS science to find God.

I admit to having contempt for quite a few evangelical christians, Flint, but it is not blind contempt by a long shot.

Well, as I said above, I’m aware that I accept much that scientists say simply as an appeal to authority; I certainly can’t replicate every result or learn every field. I can understand why intelligent people can sincerely disagree. I simply can’t regard those people as being all ipso facto buffoons and numbskulls. For ME, faith such as theirs would be sheer superstition. For them, I don’t know. And I’m not going to substitute contempt for ignorance.

Flint wrote

I sincerely hope you’re correct. I agree that there is a legal component involved, but I am also not a lawyer. I know that yesterday Justice Scalia gave a speech saying decisions like this one (teaching ID as science) should not be made by judges, but rather by the people through legislative action. Now (despite your claim), I’m not naive enough to miss Scalia’s agenda - he is lobbying to shift the locus of decision-making authority to where decisions will be made more to his preference. He knows (and I hope you do as well) that left to a national plebescite, ID would replace evolution altogether in the high school science curriculum (and gay marriage would be banned, Mexicans would be deported, abortion would be outlawed, and Scalia would be dancing in the street).

Do have a reference for that, please?

Thanks. RBH

RBH:

Here you go:

http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/09/29/s[…]p/index.html

The specific topics Scalia mentioned were abortion and assisted suicide, but I think this issue “falls within the penumbra” is some judge wrote.

Flint

OK let’s talk strategy. First, one last comment re knowing your enemy:

I’m aware that I accept much that scientists say simply as an appeal to authority; I certainly can’t replicate every result or learn every field. I can understand why intelligent people can sincerely disagree. I simply can’t regard those people as being all ipso facto buffoons and numbskulls.

First, re your “appeal to authority” – it’s not really a blind appeal, is it? I mean, there’s a reason that you trust the integrity of scientists, by and large, right? Historically, isn’t it the case that the scientific way of understanding natural phenomenon is, in fact, reasonably accurate and self-correcting to a large extent?

Also, consider this: to the extent you give the appearance of placing these characters and their “world view” on equal (but opposite) footing compared to scientists, you are effectively doing their public relations work for them. Just something to chew on.

For myself, I am not aware of a single non-christian scientist who has articulated an intelligent alternative to evolutionary theory. On the other hand, I am aware of many christian and non-christian scientists who understand and do not question the utility and viability of evolutionary theory or the fact that animals on earth evolved and continue to evolve. And I have seen christians, non-christians, scientists and non-scientists quickly and succinctly destroy the bogus pseudoscientific theories and arguments of the ID apologists, hundreds of times. Do these facts speak to the relative intellectual capabilities of the two camps? Or we could look at more “petty” issues: Big Bill Dembski, the “Isaac Newton of Information Theory” is leaving Baylor to teach whatever his crap is at a rinky dink christian college that has produced Nobel laureates in medicine or chemistry or physics. Relevant info? I report. You decide.

I know that yesterday Justice Scalia gave a speech saying decisions like this one (teaching ID as science) should not be made by judges, but rather by the people through legislative action.

Oy, what a character that Scalia is. I read the summary of his speech on CNN. I didn’t see where he mentioned teaching ID as science as one of the issues that is too ‘fundamental’ for courts. Frankly, I’m all for governments passing laws which prohibit teaching religious propoganda to children, but at the end of the day they need to pass Constitutional muster. Mr. Sandefur has thought more about these issues than just about anyone else who posts here, as far as I can tell, so he perhaps he’ll weight in on Scalia’s thought processes (I hope he does, anyway!)

Johnson himself has said that one of his tactics is sheer bulldog determinat

Undoubtedly. He reminds me of another well-regarded fundamentalist Christian power player: Tom DeLay. Such vile excuses for human beings tend to receive their comeuppance in some form or another, eventually, and I suspect Mr. DeLay, at least, is reaching the end of his rope. I don’t think Phillip Johnson is nearly as clever (or ruthless) as Mr. DeLay, for better or worse.

The creationists are fighting an emotional sales campaign, appealing to a common denominator WAY lower than science and scientists can reach.

Provided we have a group of articulate scientists who are also Christians to explain to these fundamentalist bozos how far off base they have strayed, we will be fine. And I don’t think there is a severe shortage of such scientists. There are several who post here, as I understand. Then these christian creationists will have to attack the religious beliefs of our scientists. Not wise (but you can be sure they will do it if backed into a corner).

GWW:

OK, I’ll talk strategy too. I really don’t have one, but (as you’ve noticed) I’m plenty opinionated.

First, re your “appeal to authority” — it’s not really a blind appeal, is it? I mean, there’s a reason that you trust the integrity of scientists, by and large, right? Historically, isn’t it the case that the scientific way of understanding natural phenomenon is, in fact, reasonably accurate and self-correcting to a large extent? Also, consider this: to the extent you give the appearance of placing these characters and their “world view” on equal (but opposite) footing compared to scientists, you are effectively doing their public relations work for them. Just something to chew on.

Uh, not off to a good start. I’m not trying to do PR work for creationists; I’m a devout atheist whose hypothesis is that they have organic brain damage, remember? However, I’m not completely incapable of wearing the other guy’s shoes. Yes, there’s a reason I trust the integrity of scientists, and you nailed it. But there is a reason why creationists trust the integrity of the ICR also: they share a faith in their God, which informs their lives more powerfully than any other influence. Science is reasonably accurate, self-correcting, cumulative, and fascinating. For a Believer, doctrine is far superior: it is Truth! Yes, science proposes equivocal Truths, but they are subject to change, incomplete, tentative and generally shoddy beacons to ward off the evils of fate and change.

If you deny that religion fills a very real, very pressing need for the large majority of people who have ever lived, then we will never even come close to agreeing. Science is an acquired taste; even Richard Dawkins has speculated that it’s a survival characteristic for slow-maturing humans to accept as Gospel everything they’re told as infants. This characteristic (if true) has a side effect - garbage is internalized as indelibly as anything else, and most people reach the Age of Reason unable to apply reason anymore as a result. But the need is there. For the creationist, his notion of God is the core of meaning to his whole life, and sometimes those who are disillusioned don’t make it. Certainly science can provide no reasonable facsimile as a substitute.

I regard as two entirely different things the observation that creationism is antithetical to science, and that it holds no psychologal value for those who need it.

Do these facts speak to the relative intellectual capabilities of the two camps?

I don’t think so. I don’t regard this flavor of religious belief as an intellectual exercise AT ALL. At best, I can regard them as victims of childhood mental abuse. But if you can’t see that these people CAN not abandon their faith, then again we can’t communicate. You continue to at least seem to me to think that they WILL not, or CHOOSE not, to see the obvious evidence-based inevitability of evolutionary theory. But I don’t regard this as a matter of choice. To accept evolution as we understand it, they MUST abandon a faith hardwired into their neural circuitry. Physiologically impossible.

I didn’t see where he mentioned teaching ID as science as one of the issues that is too ‘fundamental’ for courts.

He didn’t address that directly. I mentioned it only to show that court protection may not be as solid as we’d prefer. But I didn’t phrase it very well. I tried to say that he was talking about issues like this, but not this specific issue.

Frankly, I’m all for governments passing laws which prohibit teaching religious propoganda to children, but at the end of the day they need to pass Constitutional muster. Mr. Sandefur has thought more about these issues than just about anyone else who posts here, as far as I can tell, so he perhaps he’ll weight in on Scalia’s thought processes (I hope he does, anyway!)

I hope he does too; he’s the constitutional scholar. However, I hope you intended to say you wish government to prohibit *the government* from teaching religious propaganda. Parochial or home schools had better be hands off, or we’ll have much worse problems that what we’re trying to solve.

Provided we have a group of articulate scientists who are also Christians to explain to these fundamentalist bozos how far off base they have strayed, we will be fine.

I regard this as a pipe dream. Have you spent any time at any religious discussion site? If not (and I suspect you have not), the experience would be most educational for you. They DEFINE one another as wrong, and have truly violent tantrums over what to me are disagreements about angels on pinheads. These arguments end with all parties rejecting all the others as not being “true Christians” and not speaking to the infidels anymore. And in my experience, the very first Christians to be dismissed as “false Christians” and “apostates” are those who suggest that evolution is God’s chosen method.

I tried to explain what I regard as the real danger of ID - that it appeals to those who WANT science to find God. Philip Johnson’s approach is very ingenious. Can’t mention any specific doctrines, can’t bring God or any church into it, can’t EVER suggest WHICH god did the designing, can’t address anything about the designer. This lets every American who believes in God (of their personal description) support ID, which is presented by scientists as a viable alternative scientific theory. The point isn’t that this posture is incredibly dishonest (which it clearly is), but that the best salesmen are those who tell people what they want to hear. And even normal non-creationist Christians warmly welcome the news that “science” has discovered that we WERE created, that our grandparents were NOT monkeys, that we ARE special, and that it’s not religion, it’s science. These guys have PhDs in biology and stuff, right? It’s a damn tempting bandwagon.

So I don’t know. I think arguing with creationists reminds me of the Doonesbury strip where Duke was first introduced. Duke was stoned, and thought he was arguing with a lizard. He stopped and said “Wait a minute. Why am I arguing with a lizard?” The target audience for scientists is the ordinary voter. There has to be some way to convince that person that evolution is good science. Or perhaps the Kansas City Star has a better approach, pointing out that the state will lose significant gobs of money and prestige and drive away jobs if they vote science out and superstition in.

Flint

Opinions are good. Keep ‘em coming.

religion fills a very real, very pressing need for the large majority of people who have ever lived .…

It’s an indisputable fact.

I don’t regard this flavor of religious belief as an intellectual exercise AT ALL. At best, I can regard them as victims of childhood mental abuse.

I’m a devout atheist whose hypothesis is that they have organic brain damage

To the best of my knowledge, I am one of a handful of people here who have ever raised this possibility in a comment without including a smiley face. Let me warn you: it is not a particularly popular view! I also do not believe it is necessary (or prudent) to raise the issue in any legal or school board forum when it comes to settling issues of disclaimers in public school textbooks. But it is interesting.

Mr. Sandefur and I have debated on other threads (and I’d say that I’m on the losing end of those debates for the moment) the issue of what parents can and cannot be Constitutionally prevented from doing to their children.

I did find it curious that you raised the brain damage bogeyman and then wrote

I hope you intended to say you wish government to prohibit *the government* from teaching religious propaganda. Parochial or home schools had better be hands off, or we’ll have much worse problems that what we’re trying to solve.

We seem to agree that if parochial or home schools are using my tax dollars, they shouldn’t be allowed to teach religious dogma. But is it your position that, absent Federal tax support, parents can not be stopped from causing “organic brain damage” in their children by, e.g., threatening them with torture or separation from their families to compel the acceptance of an arbitrary mythology?

Just curious.

I wrote

Provided we have a group of articulate scientists who are also Christians to explain to these fundamentalist bozos how far off base they have strayed, we will be fine.

and Flint wrote

I regard this as a pipe dream. Have you spent any time at any religious discussion site? If not (and I suspect you have not), the experience would be most educational for you.

I think you misunderstood. I have learned to be careful about using the term “Christian” in these parts without qualifiers. Christians are everywhere and the majority of them are pretty cool, smart, thoughtful, etc. And the majority of them don’t think too much of the group of conservative evangelical christian creationists (GCECCs) that irritate the evolutionary biologists here, some of whom are Christians themselves (or at least claim to be – good enough for me).

So my pipe dream is pretty much a reality. I haven’t seen these folks speak and I don’t know much about their personal magnetism or their ability to charm audiences, school boards or judges. But they certainly exist. And it’s my hope that this website helps inspire more such people and provide them with the appropriate facts.

Oh, just fyi: I spend far too much time “debating” evolution and politics with Texas-style evangelicals. Anytime you want to be mocked for your beliefs, stop by www.evangelicaloutpost.com and let ‘er rip. Don’t forget your rubbers (galoshes, that is). And to find an even lower common denominator, stop by Bunny Diehl’s website sometime. Oy.

GWW:

To the best of my knowledge, I am one of a handful of people here who have ever raised this possibility in a comment without including a smiley face.

I didn’t know how to make one. I hope you understand that I don’t mean that quite so literally; I’m really talking about the flexibility of the human brain early in life. People have been trained to do absolutely astounding things (at least I find them astounding) if the training is well-performed and administered at just the right age. Creationism is only one illustration of this. I am quite serious, however, that once such training “sets up” it is physiological, and beyond anyone’s current ability to alter very much.

How many times have you read a creationist’s claim that “I was once an atheist just like you; I rejected God completely. But then I got to wondering, isn’t it arrogant of me to make presumptions about God in my ignorance? What would God think of them or do to me, etc.” And (IMAO rather hilariously) it’s obvious that they never stopped taking their trained god as a given; they “rejected” their god much as a child might run away to reject its parents.

We seem to agree that if parochial or home schools are using my tax dollars, they shouldn’t be allowed to teach religious dogma. But is it your position that, absent Federal tax support, parents can not be stopped from causing “organic brain damage” in their children by, e.g., threatening them with torture or separation from their families to compel the acceptance of an arbitrary mythology?

I’m not quite sure we are entirely in agreement even here. I favor a voucher system under some circumstances, and home-schooled children are often among the best educated. There is no feasible way for government to prevent religious faith from informing such instruction; indeed, it does so as things stand. Children at even the most secular schools are told “God wants you to do your homework” in the evening.

However, I certainly don’t condone any sort of torture or deliberate stress as a method of inculcating superstitious beliefs. I don’t know how I created this impression. Arbitrary mythologies are as a rule NOT imparted through threats or punishment, but by a sort of osmosis - the environment surrounds them with praying people, church and Bible school are taken for granted, Biblical tales are the bedtime stories, normal childhood questions (“Why is the sky blue?”) are answered within a religious framework, ad nauseum. The goal of all this isn’t really to brainwash the child; the religion permeates the views and behaviors of the Believer every which way.

I have no doubts (how’s that for arrogance) that you do (or would, as the case may be) consider it your parental duty to emphasize to your children the importance of evidence and logic, the process of applying skepticism and testing, the tentative and improvable nature of ideas, etc. I would imagine your closest brush with religion would be to provide an anthropological list of weird things people believe or have believed around the world. You would consider your approach as far superior to that of the creationist, as he feels his is superior to yours. And neither of you would tolerate the government stepping in to tell you that you must keep the Truth hidden from your child, or (worse yet) to deliberately teach your children sin and apostasy. Both you and the creationist would be, FAR from threatening torture, acting out of love and (your own best) understanding, in the hopes that the child will grow into an adult you can be proud of. And it goes without saying that for each of you, the other’s child would become a sad example of abject parental failure, nearly criminal.

We all know what’s paved with good intentions.

GWW:

(Reply to 8148)

I think you misunderstood.

My speciality

I have learned to be careful about using the term “Christian” in these parts without qualifiers. Christians are everywhere and the majority of them are pretty cool, smart, thoughtful, etc. And the majority of them don’t think too much of the group of conservative evangelical christian creationists (GCECCs) that irritate the evolutionary biologists here, some of whom are Christians themselves (or at least claim to be — good enough for me).

Yes, I agree with this. Rabid creationists are a minority.

So my pipe dream is pretty much a reality. I haven’t seen these folks speak and I don’t know much about their personal magnetism or their ability to charm audiences, school boards or judges. But they certainly exist. And it’s my hope that this website helps inspire more such people and provide them with the appropriate facts.

We must agree to disagree. The people I understood you to be targeting were the hardcore fundamentalists and evangelicals, and these people are impervious. They really DO sit at the back of the classroom, hold hands, and pray when evolution is presented. Some of them get up and walk out. But if you are targeting your normal (cool, rational, non-hardcore) “lapsed Christian” (also known as a Sunday Christian), then with most of them you are preaching to the choir.

I generally characterize the overall argument as follows:

1) The evidence for evolution is incontrovertible 2) The Bible quite clearly says otherwise

Now, how can these points be reconciled? I’ve seen three basic strategies people use:

a) Regard the Bible as irrelevant to science, as just another of many holy books some people use. Nobody has any need of the “god hypothesis” to explain or understand anything meaningful in life whatsoever. b) Conclude that the Biblical creation tale (and some others) are intended to teach moral lessons, not to be taken literally. By extension, anytime scientific theories and Biblical accounts cannot be reconciled, decide in favor of one’s incorrect interpretation of scripture. Since God can’t be wrong and science is most probably correct also, the error must lie in our failure to grasp God’s meaning. c) Regard one’s own interpretation of scripture as infallible (note: NOT the scripture itself, but your *interpretation* that’s infallible), and conclude that anyone who determines otherwise, for any reason at all, is the one in error. Since evolution cannot have happened, the deduction of evolution from the evidence must be wrong - most likely wrong because the people making that error follow a false faith.

I understand you to be saying that most people fall in category (b). You and probably a majority on Panda’s Thumb fall into category (a), and this site exists to engage in battle with category (c). And the best strategy is not to oppose those who belong to (c) (who are beyond reach anyway), but to prevent the (c) people from using the power of government to push their delusions onto others.

Certainly I’ve visited a few sites such as you mention. Since I’m into lists here, I’ve found those who continue to bless me and pray for me, those who call me names, and those who simply ignore anything I say. It can be thin entertainment.

Flint

Oops, I see that I mispoke – I said “Provided we have a group of articulate scientists who are also Christians to explain to these fundamentalist bozos how far off base they have strayed, we will be fine.”

But I meant

“Provided we have a group of articulate scientists who are also Christians to explain to moderate Christian scientists and non-scientists how far off base these fundamentalist bozos have strayed, we will be fine.”

My apologies for the misfire.

Further thoughts on parenting and what I’d tolerate from the government will have to wait until tomorrow. I’ve got a baseball game to attend this afternoon …

flint Wrote:

Arbitrary mythologies are as a rule NOT imparted through threats or punishment

Have you know how much of the 3rd world has been “Converted” to Christianity?

Regilion can be very dangerous

Many children and adults are scared into belief systems.

Wayne:

I don’t know the conversion rates. My limited reading on this topic suggests that at least some of these “conversions” are basically nominal - that the “converted” people don’t really change the structure or rituals of their beliefs much, but some names change so that the Christian community can claim converts. I wasn’t aware whether this process was often violent.

I think my description of an “environment of belief” is the norm for imparting early belief. I agree that belief can encourage very dangerous levels of ignorance or perversity. I must take your word for it that people are scared into belief systems, but this lies outside my observation. Your link shows the extremes people will go to rather than violate their belief systems, but that’s something rather different, as I see it.

I have often wondered whether, if an entire global generation could be raised without exposure to ANY religious doctrine or supernatural speculations, religion as we know it would vanish. And if so, for how long? How biological IS the need for the supernatural? But this is wild speculation…

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Krebs published on July 3, 2004 11:06 PM.

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