The More Things Change, the More they Stay the Same.

| 65 Comments

A couple of days ago (infinity in blog-time), Chris Mooney had an interesting post about a 20 year-old article on the creation/evolution debate. As Chris writes…

I have just been reading an interesting article: Thomas F. Gieryn; George M. Bevins; Stephen C. Zehr, “Professionalization of American Scientists: Public Science in the Creation/Evolution Trials,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Jun. 1985), 392-409. What the article reveals is that during the 1981-1982 McLean v. Arkansas case, anti-evolutionists were using a very similar strategy to the one promulgated today: Attacking evolution for its own alleged religious (i.e., atheistic) biases.

Mooney produces some choice quotes from the article that I won’t bother to reproduce here (you should go to his blog to read them). The article was written in 1985, but it could have been written yesterday; the motives and tactics of today’s anti-evolution movement have changed little. At least in 1985, they were honest enough to still call themselves creationists.

John Calvert’s impending legal strategy (which seems to be the standard strategy for the ID movement) was aired during the recent Kansas kangaroo court. As reported by Stan Cox, it tries to paint evolution as necessarily atheistic, and therefore demands that ID be brought in for balance. Not only is this strategy not new, it’s already dead. One thing that Mooney neglects to mention is that this strategy backfired badly the first time around. Let’s take a look…

Here is an outline of Calvert’s strategy as reported by Cox: (It’s not clear to me how explicit Calvert was about this, or if this is largely based on Cox’s inference; we’ll know soon enough when Calvert releases his legal brief. Update: Jack Krebs assures us in comments that the following does indeed represent Calvert’s arguments, explicitly.)

The final witness was Calvert himself, who announced that he planned to file “an extensive legal brief” in the coming days that would provide the basis for revising the science standards to allow ID. His legal argument, which had been implicit in all of his questioning of witnesses, goes like this:

(1) Evolution as it’s now taught in Kansas schools is based on methodological naturalism, that is, the search by science for explanations only in the natural world.

(2) Methodological naturalism always implies philosophical naturalism, the belief that there is nothing beyond the natural world. (This, say anti-ID scientists, is the fatal flaw in the argument.)

(3) Philosophical naturalism is atheistic.

(4) Atheism is a religion. (Needless to say, this is a proposition not universally accepted.)

(5) Therefore, religion is already being taught in Kansas biology classes.

(6) So religious fairness requires that evidence for intelligent design and against evolution through natural selection also be allowed in the classroom.

By arguing, implicitly, that the supernatural should be introduced into science curricula alongside “naturalistic” ideas, Calvert is relying on the federal government’s No Child Left Behind Act, which requires that teaching be “secular, neutral, and non-ideological” with respect to religion.

There are any number of problems with the above, some of which were pointed out in the thread we had on Cox’s article. The two biggies are 1) evolution is no more based on methodological naturalism than any other science. By arguing that methodological naturalism leads inexorably to atheism, Calvert argues that all science leads to atheism. And 2) methodological naturalism does not necessarily imply philosophical naturalism, and hence isn’t atheistic to begin with. But the legal argument that ID (or creationism, or supernaturalism, or whatever) must be brought in for balance is self-defeating if one’s aim is to skirt the Constitutional prohibition on teaching religion. In fact, this was brought up in McLean v. Arkansas, the very case that the 1985 article refers to. Here is an excerpt of the judge’s decision:

The defendants argue in their brief that evolution is, in effect, a religion, and that by teaching a religion which is contrary to some students’ religious views, the State is infringing upon the student’s free exercise rights under the First Amendment. […]

The defendants argue that the teaching of evolution alone presents both a free exercise problem and an establishment problem which can only be redressed by giving balanced treatment to creation science, which is admittedly consistent with some religious beliefs. … The argument has no legal merit.

If creation science is, in fact, science and not religion, as the defendants claim, it is difficult to see how the teaching of such a science could “neutralize” the religious nature of evolution.

Assuming for the purposes of argument, however, that evolution is a religion or religious tenet, the remedy is to stop the teaching of evolution, not establish another religion in opposition to it. Yet it is clearly established in the case law, and perhaps also in common sense, that evolution is not a religion and that teaching evolution does not violate the Establishment Clause, Epperson v. Arkansas, supra, Willoughby v. Stever, No. 15574-75 (D.D.C. May 18, 1973); aff’d. 504 F.2d 271 (D.C. Cir. 1974), cert. denied , 420 U.S. 924 (1975); Wright v. Houston Indep. School Dist., 366 F. Supp. 1208 (S.D. Tex 1978), aff.d. 486 F.2d 137 (5th Cir. 1973), cert. denied 417 U.S. 969 (1974).

So not only is it established law (and established common sense) that evolution is not a religious belief, the claim that we must teach some alternative in order to balance out evolution tips the creationists’ hand and exposes their own religious motivations. How, the judge wondered, can you provide “balance” to one set of religious teachings unless the remedy is itself religious? They’ve been saying all along that ID is a scientific theory, not a religious belief, and therefore teaching ID not in violation of the Establishment Clause. Yet this is clearly belied by the claim that ID is needed to balance out the atheistic implications of evolution.

The strategy that Calvert is supposedly pursuing has been tried already, and it failed. It will almost certainly fail again. John Calvert is obviously not a stupid man – unless he’s really thinking big, and trying to overturn all previous case law, I have no idea why he thinks this will work.

One last side note: It occurred to me when reading though the McLean decision (which is well worth reading in its entirety), that “objective” is the new “balanced”. In other words, Calvert has his Objective Origins Science Policy, and the other ID hacks constantly use the word “objective”, without a hint of irony, to describe their religiously motivated attacks on evolution. From reading the McLean decision, it seems that the creationists of yesteryear used precisely the same rhetorical device, except they called it “balanced” rather than “objective”. As the creationist movement evolves, so too does their abuse of the English language.

65 Comments

Steve R.

Great post – keep em’ comin’, guys and gals!

John Calvert is obviously not a stupid man — unless he’s really thinking big, and trying to overturn all previous case law, I have no idea why he thinks this will work.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter what John Calvert thinks, as long as he can put on a good show for the puppet masters who pay him to do so.

Or perhaps, as you suggest, he’s hoping that a zealous majority of the Supreme Court wants to promote the idea that scientific and religious beliefs are equally important for answering scientific questions will hear his case.

I think that is thinking big, indeed. If we get to that point in the United States, the integrity of science will be just one of a multitude of problems we will be facing.

Perhaps I misunderstood, but I thought that part of Calvert’s point was that evolution made statements that were in conflict with the claims of some religions - and by that token was making religious statements. Of course, the problem applies equally well to geology, biology, physics, cosmology, etc.

There’s another problem with proposing Intelligent Design as a remedy for “methodological naturalism” (or “methodological materialism,” a term Dembski may be leaning towards these days), and that is that intelligence itself is a natural, material phenomenon, insofar as any verifiable, real-world observable instances are concerned. “Intelligence” refers to a material process which occurs in natural, materialistic organisms, so unless the ID movement wants to drop the pretense of not appealing to supernatural, disembodied, “spiritual” intelligences (and thus introducing the attendant difficulties of how non-material intelligences interact with a material universe), even intelligent design is still ultimately only a special case of complexity within a naturalistic/materialistic domain.

Steve, thanks for this most pertinent post. Stan Cox acuurately expresses Calvert’s explicit arguments. Furthermore, in his closing argument, Pedro Irigonegaray made exactly the same point as to why Calvert’s argument fails: that McLean clearly states that balancing one religious teaching with another is not a solution to the problem, which is exactly what the IDists are proposing.

I will soon have Pedro’s closing speech online in mp3 format for people to listen to, and I will alert him to this thread.

Methodologisticalistic Naturalismism must be an enormous handicap. In the 400 years or so we’ve been strongly applying it, progress in understanding the world has crashed to a halt.

Poor, deluded scientists.

Hahaha the great thing about that, Mark is that it’s a carbon copy of the ID argument.

When we know the source of design, there’s always an intelligent designer responsible. Life is designed, so it was by an intelligent designer.

When we know the source of intelligence, There’s always a physical process involved. The Designer is intelligent, so he is physical.

Something tells me the ID logic structure will be less than compelling to them in that second instance.

I agree, I’ve seen this same strategy applied for decades: First, religion lays claim to scientific territory and declares it to be religious. Then, religion claims that in investigating that territory, science is necessarily making religious statements, rendering science religious. Finally, they conclude that where there is a religious conflict, the State should teach either both religions or neither.

This tired argument has never convinced a judge, and probably never will. Recently, creationists (like tax protesters, who are amazingly similar) have realized that this is much more a political than a legal issue. Politics is how judges are elected or appointed in any case. As they say in boxing, kill the head and the body will die. Elect creationists, and the judiciary will become creationist in due time.

Creationists not reading the relevant literature, uh?

So, what’s new?

”… the judiciary will become creationist in due time.”

if the fillibuster gets busted by Frist, it may be sooner than you think.

Do they really want to open up the definition of science so we atheist scientists can start commenting on their Designer in class?

As I’ve always said, ID has not presented a single argument that wasn’t just cribbed from the creation “scientists” of two decades ago.

” … the judiciary will become creationist in due time.”

Can you find that many creationist college graduates?

Does Patriot University offer law degrees?

Can you find that many creationist college graduates?

??? So what? Is there any legal requirement that a judge must have a college degree? Even if there is, I think the goal is that the job qualifications be changed in creationist directions.

Speaking of uneducated creationists, check out that new “answers in genesis” blog, the lead story,

Home Schoolers in Chicago! Friday, May 20th, 2005

http://info.answersingenesis.org/aroundtheworld/

It’s enough to make you grind your teeth.

Steve R’s post, btw, is excellent.

There are any number of problems with the above, some of which were pointed out in the thread we had on Cox’s article. The two biggies are 1) evolution is no more based on methodological naturalism than any other science. By arguing that methodological naturalism leads inexorably to atheism, Calvert argues that all science leads to atheism.

No surprise there - the IDists are wanting to renew science (and culture) in general, not just evolution, according to their Wedge Document. Evolution is just the thin end of their wedge, after all.

Jack Krebs Wrote:

Steve, thanks for this most pertinent post. Stan Cox acuurately expresses Calvert’s explicit arguments. Furthermore, in his closing argument, Pedro Irigonegaray made exactly the same point as to why Calvert’s argument fails: that McLean clearly states that balancing one religious teaching with another is not a solution to the problem, which is exactly what the IDists are proposing.

Thanks Jack. I was a little worried that Cox may have been giving his own interpretation and that Calvert was being rather more subtle. I added a short update indicating that you’ve confirmed Cox’s rendition.

I would like to see a PT story about what the ID Creationists are going to do when (in Dover, or elsewhere) ID is found to be creationism and prohibited. As we all know, these guys aren’t doing science, they’re doing PR and advocacy in service to a political agenda. If they lose in court, their political agenda is more or less destroyed.

What do you think they’ll do after that?

Obviously the FLs, Charlie Wagner, DaveScat, Robert O”Brien, David Heddle types won’t suddenly stop making science-proves-god arguments, but the Dembski types will change their plans. I wonder what they’ll do. I bet they’ll at least change their name.

the exact same thing they did after losing with the pure creationist argument to begin with.

1.) they will blame the courts and “liberal” judges that are “anti-faith”, and also charge that they are in cohoots with ‘dem materialist atheist eviloutionists.

2.) they will try to bribe politicians with promises of support in order to garner judicial nominees more favorable to themselves.

3.) they will rename ID to something else.

4.) they will launch a new effort with the help and resources of folks like Ahmanson.

lather, rinse, repeat.

this cycle will continue until:

1.) we provide better science education at the secondary level, in order to alleviate all the minsinterpretations so common out there.

2.) those who we have educated grow up and become politicians themselves.

lather, rinse, repeat until the ignorance level subsides sufficiently through simple generational decline.

I thought we were further along than this, but it seems we probably have another 50 years or so before this radical retention of ancient creationist belief systems dies out sufficiently.

It appears the battle has been won for the most part in the realm of meteorology, at least in this country (not in other areas of the world, evidently), so there is hope that it can be won in the biological sciences eventually as well.

I think we won the battle for meteorology simply because the concepts are easier for most layfolk to understand.

We need better ways of explaining evolutionary theory so that layfolks can understand this as well, and eventually the majority view will change.

it is our great failure as educators that we have the highest percentage of creationists anywhere in the modern world (er, except South Africa).

It is our great failure as politicians that we condone the utlization of ignorance and fear to support our own policy initiatives (think Bill Frist accusing the Demos of being “anti-faith”).

it is our great failure as a people that we have not reached out to our neighbors to alleviate their fears.

I’m kinda getting sick of being a failure, myself. I hope we can do better and fix this.

I would like to see a PT story about what the ID Creationists are going to do when (in Dover, or elsewhere) ID is found to be creationism and prohibited. As we all know, these guys aren’t doing science, they’re doing PR and advocacy in service to a political agenda. If they lose in court, their political agenda is more or less destroyed.

What do you think they’ll do after that?

The same thing they did after they lost in Epperson, and after they lost in Mclean, and after they lost in Aguillard.

They will change their name and come back again with the very same crap as before (although they will call it something different – again).

And they will lose again.

Repeat indefinitely.

Mark Nutter Wrote:

There’s another problem with proposing Intelligent Design as a remedy for “methodological naturalism” (or “methodological materialism,” a term Dembski may be leaning towards these days), and that is that intelligence itself is a natural, material phenomenon, insofar as any verifiable, real-world observable instances are concerned.

Actually, the IDists also argue that “intelligence” (or at least, consciousness) cannot be reduced to material causes. Jeffery Schwartz (sp?) appears to be their token psychologist (neurologist?) who makes this argument. It’s mostly a side issue in the whole ID vs. evolution debate, but it strongly underlies many of the IDist arguments.

Most importantly, Dembski et al try to make a dichotomy between “natural” causes and “intelligent” causes. This is a great rhetorical strategy, but there are some serious problems with it:

1) As you point out, “intelligence” may be fully materialistic. I don’t know if it is or not, but it certainly can’t be ruled out. If the IDists assume that it cannot be a phenomenon which is ultimately derived from material causes, they’re making a major unsubstantiated assumption, more or less begging the very question that they presume to answer.

2) Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that human consciousness is not the result of underlying material causes, that still doesn’t mean that consciousness is “supernatural”, or otherwise incapable of being studied by science. All intelligences that we know of are capable of study. When we find human artifacts, we’re able to construct hypotheses about how and why these artifacts were created, and we can test these hypotheses based upon the artifacts themselves or other circumstantial evidence. But this is precisely what the IDists say we cannot do when it comes to the “designer” who supposedly designed some aspect of life. That particular “intelligence” is supposedly beyond any kind of scientific study at all. Clearly, they are talking about something different than the kinds of intelligence with which we’re familiar.

So what it comes down to is that the whole “natural vs. intelligence” dichotomy cannot work. If there is any dichotomy, it is “natural vs. supernatural”. They don’t like framing it this way, but that’s what it is.

As I see it, “methodological naturalism” is simply a description (not a prescription) of what scientists do. Scientists rely on natural explanations because these can be placed within a framework of empirical investigation. Not so with supernatural causes. If the ID people disagree, the burden of proof is on them to establish a research program and show how “methodological supernaturalism” manages to produce useful knowledge about the natural world. Of course, they haven’t made so much as a token effort at doing this, or even tried to describe how it might be done. I guess lobbying school boards and conducting media campaigns, flying around the country to attend kangaroo courts and contrived conferences, leaves one too exhausted to do much else…

Steve Reuland Wrote:

They’ve been saying all along that ID is a scientific theory, not a religious belief, and therefore teaching ID not in violation of the Establishment Clause. Yet this is clearly belied by the claim that ID is needed to balance out the atheistic implications of evolution.

Ah, but we all know that ID is theistic science NOT creation science and is borne from theistic realism, an unbiased philosophical position which is far less dogmatic than Darwinism. This Kuhnsian paradigm shift is on solid scientific ground even though only an incredibly small minority of scientists support ID which is why all those old creationist arguments can now be taught as “scientific criticisms”. Just because it has religious overtones and seeks to include supernatural explanations in no way contravenes the Supreme Court’s ruling in Edwards v. Aguillard that the view that a supernatural being created mankind impermissibly promotes religion because the identity of Designer is not a suitable topic for a high school biology class.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose .

Sir_toejam:

“it is our great failure as educators that we have the highest percentage of creationists anywhere in the modern world (er, except South Africa).”

Can you break this down further for me? I believe you, meeting many here in Indiana, however, I would like to point out how we fare compared to outher countries, “civilized” or not.

Thanks,

Tytlal

Steve Reuland –

This may come as a shock to you and to readers of this blog, but Dembski has a habit of equivocating on the issue of whether intelligence is natural.

OK, everyone gathered themselves together?

You are correct that Dembski and others routinely define ‘intelligent’ as synonymous with ‘supernatural’ (Beckwith did this at his recent appearance at HLS). But they break from this routine when their equivocation is pointed out to them. For example, in last week’s appearance on Nightline, Dembski remarked ““From the vantage of my colleagues and I, ‘intelligence’ is a perfectly natural explanation.” He then went on to hedge and say some remarkably vague things about the issue being “reductionism of the mind” or some such; interested parties can check the transcript or watch the video.

This is one more area where I think it’s crucial for defenders of science to be on alert. I make it a habit to note each and every time a creationist uses either the term ‘intelligent’ or ‘supernatural’, and in my response to always pin them down on whether they think they’re necessarily the same.

If a creationist (in the process of trying to deny that ID is religious) says that intelligence is *not* necessarily supernatural, then ask them what, precisely, the hell Dembski and Johnson and Calvert and Wells are bitching about when they rail against science’s “naturalistic bias”. If a creationist (in the process of trying to argue that science is inherently atheistic) says that intelligence is necessarily supernatural, ask them how anthropology, psychology, sociology, economics, and criminal forensics are carried out using supernatural means.

Dembski’s leaning to “methodological materialism” is another nod to religious people, and a particularly pernicious one in that it plays on a lack of understanding of just what is being discussed.

As we use “materialism” to suggest a methodology by which scientists can conduct experiments, we mean the material world, i.e. as opposed to the world of spirits. We mean the material world we can analyze in a test-tube.

Of course, in Christianity, materialism is also shorthand for those who chase dollars instead of God, dollars instead of good, or carnal pleasure instead of good deeds.

It is ironic, to say the least. Researchers I know often spend many extra hours, without “carnal pleasure” or sometimes food or sleep, in their labs, chasing answers to questions in quests for knowledge that can only be described as useful and good, the sorts of good deeds that we need to reward. Think of researchers in infectious diseases, virologists, cancer researchers, crop researchers, and others.

In any case, the ID folks are trading on ambiguity, hoping to reap the benefits of their audiences’ not understanding the issue fully, and the ID folks being in no hurry to help them understand.

Ignorance is the desired result of these IDists. “Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it,” Dickens wrote.

I’d like to point out that we do have more material online from the McLean v. Arkansas trial than just the decision.

steve Wrote:

What do you think they’ll do after that?

They may already have started on some early counter-measures against the success of project Steve. Check the US baby name data for the various forms of Steve and you’ll find they are decreasing in popularity - making potential new recruits scarce. Most tellingly, the decline started before the project announcement. So the creationists had to have had supernatural help to organise this mass suppression of Stevedom. ;-)

They can’t make a science, and it looks like they can’t even make a coherent argument in favor of their political agenda. The only people capable of falling for this gibberish, are people who psychologically need some scientific proof of god.

Evolution is inherently free enterprise – fair competition and all that. Not socialist at all.

People who claim evolution is socialist either don’t understand socialism, or they don’t understand evolution. Or perhaps they understand neither.

Fair competition? Lyin’, cheatin’, stealin’, thuggery and buggery are all evolutionary successful. Life and evolution are not “fair”.

you are focusing on Ed’s use of a term “fair competition” and ignoring the whole point of his comment.

why?

Pointing out that the evidence contradicts Mr Darrel’s premise renders the rest of his point simply a non-sequitur.

To be more explicit, evolution does not promote or contradict any political or economic ideology, to claim it does is to fall for the Naturalistic Fallacy.

Ed’s point was related to:

inherently free enterprise

he only mislabeled it using the term “fair competition”

his point was essentially the same as yours, that ascribing a political system like socialism simply doesn’t fit. a free enterpise description fits it far better than a top-down system. However, your point in your second post is also well make that evolution does not promote any political ideology.

still we often do make analogies, and some analogies fit better than others.

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This page contains a single entry by Steve Reuland published on May 20, 2005 4:34 PM.

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