Robert John Russell : Intelligent Design is Not Science and Does Not Qualify to be Taught in Public School Science Classes

| 44 Comments

ROBERT JOHN RUSSELL ”Intelligent Design is Not Science and Does Not Qualify to be Taught in Public School Science Classes” Theology and Science, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2005

Russell points out correctly that ID provides two alternatives for “agency”: either a natural agent or God.

The theory of ID does not qualify to be taught in public school science classes as an alternative to Darwinian evolution. The reason is straightforward. Even though ID supporters will not specify what they mean by the intelligent agency that supposedly accounts for the origin and evolution of life, there are only two options for what ”agency” could possibly mean: either a natural agent or God. The first option ultimately relies on the very theory, Darwinian evolution, that it proposes to challenge and the second option is a theological claim. Thus, ID does not qualify to be taught in public school science classes as an alternative scientific theory to Darwinian evolution.

He ends with a warning to Christians

The lesson to Christians is that we should abandon ID as fools’ gold and accept the challenge of true discipleship and dialogue—to engage contemporary science as it describes the universe by working out a challenging but immanently more honest interpretation of science in light of Christian faith. So where does one start? Check out the CTNS website (www.ctns.org) and its links to a world of Christian friends who are ready to offer hope that is worthy of being believed.

Mirroring the concerns by St Augustine [1], Russell remarks

My own view is that God does act within nature and that Darwinian evolution is the result. Note, however, this is a theological claim, not a scientific one. Belief in God can inspire scientists to pursue specific scientific research proposals, but such research cannot include reference to God and remain within science. What this means is that teaching ID in public schools is not a matter of fairness to competing theories since ID is not an alternative biological theory. It is at most a theological claim in disguise. The worst problem is that ID proponents endorse this disguise by not telling us what they mean by agency. This strategy offers an apparent apologetic hope to believing Christians but it fails to deliver on that hope. This makes Christianity seem foolish to agnostic scientists who might otherwise have listened to us, and it promises only eventual disappointment to Christians who believe in it.

Amen brother. ID is scientifically vacuous and theologically risky.

[1] Saint Augustine (A.D. 354-430) in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim) provided excellent advice for all Christians who are faced with the task of interpreting Scripture in the light of scientific knowledge. This translation is by J. H. Taylor in Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, volume 41.

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]

44 Comments

Can someone in Seattle please read this out loud to the DI?

I would send it to them, but they have shown an amazing propensity to have suboptimal reading comprehension skills.

pointless.

If the DI’s mission was to fairly evaluate ideas based on relevance and evidence, they wouldn’t be the DI, now, would they.

They made their mission clear in the wedge document. Reading comprehension has little to do with it. What goes in is most certainly unrelated to what comes out in this case.

There is a straightforward reason that “the theory of ID” does not qualify to be taught in public school science classes as an alternative to Darwinian evolution, but that’s not it. The reason is that there is no “theory of ID”, and thus nothing to be taught. When it comes to specific empirical claims made by proponents of ID, such as that the flagellum is unevolvable, Russell’s statement about agency doesn’t touch it – it would not be a valid reason not to teach this claim. The valid reason not to teach the claim is that it is contradicted by both evidence and logic. It might be reasonable to teach in science classes why the claim that some systems are unevolvable is based on faulty logic and is contradicted by the evidence, just as the claim that South America never could have bordered Africa is based on faulty logic and is contradicted by the evidence. And as an aside it could be pointed out that “continental drift is impossible” is not a scientific theory and thus never could have been taught as such in science classes; that science is about seeking explanations for phenomena, not simply denying offered explanations.

Popper’s ghost–But isn’t “continental drift is impossible” really just an awkward way of restating that present-day geography is in part a result of movement of buoyant pieces of the Earth’s crust? Does recasting it as the negative of the original really make it a different theory? The problem is that the allegedly contrary evidence is all horsehockey. Looked at in this way, the “theory” of intelligent design evaporates completely (as you say, ‘there is no theory of ID.’)

The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.

If they were learned men then what seems to be the problem. And what about the opinions the sacred writers held about other happy stuff. :-)

If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

Yeah, better to convert them with the stuff they have not learnt from experience and the light of reason. You know, their gaps in their knowledge. You know, like the God of the gaps. :-)

Nice article. Thanks for posting it.

But isn’t “continental drift is impossible” really just an awkward way of restating that present-day geography is in part a result of movement of buoyant pieces of the Earth’s crust?

Huh? How could a claim that pieces of the Earth’s crust can’t possibly move be a restatement in part that pieces of the Earth’s crust move?

Does recasting it as the negative of the original really make it a different theory?

Um, well, “continental drift is impossible” is certainly not the same as the theory of plate tectonics. One is a claim of the logical or nomological impossibility of some phenomenon, and the other is a causal explanatory framework for a set of observations.

The problem is that the allegedly contrary evidence is all horsehockey.

That does not look to me like any sort of rebuttal of anything; ID proponents would be right to castigate us if that’s all we had to offer.

Looked at in this way, the “theory” of intelligent design evaporates completely (as you say, ‘there is no theory of ID.’)

Lots of claims evaporate if looked at from the presumption that they are false. That is not what I was saying; what I was saying is that there is no theory of ID, no causal explanatory framework for a set of observations constituting “intelligent design”.

Robert John Russell states: “The lesson to Christians is that we should abandon ID as fools’ gold…”

Since when were design arguments “fool’s gold” for Christians? From the gospel of John (1:1-4):

1) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2) The same was in the beginning with God. ***3) All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.*** 4) In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

John 1:3 is a teleological assertion from a cornerstone text of Christianity. According to Mr. Russell’s logic, this verse is therefore “fool’s gold” par excellence. Some Christians will beg to differ with him on this point.

Best regards, apollo230

The IDers don’t agree with you, they think god…er the Intelligent Designer, only made a few things. That is why many Christians accuse IDers of having a “little god”. Take your Biblical argument up with them.

Since when were design arguments “fool’s gold” for Christians? From the gospel of John (1:1-4):

Since these are religious arguments disguised as ‘scientific’ ones, as such it can only serve to do disservice to Christian faith per St Augustine’s warnings.

Appeal to gap arguments have never fared well scientifically and have caused much damage theologically

So any contention that God engaged in any act of creation (design) is a theologically dangerous notion, PvM? Are Christians only safe then if they assume that He (or She) was (and is) a total bystander -not intervening in this world in any way, shape or form?

Best regards, apollo230

Thanks for your personalized response, PvM.

You know and I know that God as Creator (and by logical extension, designer) has been a cornerstone of traditional Christianity. Indeed, the word “Creator” is a veritable synonym for God in the minds of most Christians. My understanding of your position is that for Christianity to achieve intellectual respectability, this core belief must now be cast out. I do not see how such a redaction can take place without changing the essence of Christianity altogether. After all, Jesus was categorically identified as the creative “Logos” by no less than the gospel of John.

Additionally, if God is to be stripped of His traditional role as Creator, can the only logical replacement, namely an endless regression of purely natural (material) causes, explain life’s origin and particularly essence?

Best regards, apollo230

A friendly advisory to all who would respond, I am only airing my thoughts on the matter, there is no intent here to start what could easily become a long-winded discussion, for which I have little desire. Good night, all!

I am only airing my thoughts on the matter, there is no intent here to start what could easily become a long-winded discussion, for which I have little desire.

LOL.

you should think about things like that BEFORE you post, not as postscript.

That said, no need for long-winded discussion.

In your first response to what Pim responded, you erected a complete strawman of what he said.

end of discussion.

see? no need for long-winded debate.

I still suspect, from what I see in the writings of Philip Johnson, from the “Wedge Document”, from people like Ann Coulter and her “Godless” book, and from many of the writings of members of the ID/Creationist movement, that most of the ID/creationist political activity is meant to continue stoking the culture wars.

The pronouncements of these people spring from a really ugly, deep-seated bigotry. Their attacks seem to me to suggest that they think their sectarian views are far superior to all others and anything that disagrees with their religion must be vanquished.

Other religious views that accommodate the findings of science are considered heresy, and the people who hold such views are simply joining those “evil Darwinists”. Bigots will see Robert John Russell’s views as simply accommodating Satan.

Bigotry seems to be the “in thing” these days. Historically it has often enjoyed political support because politicians find its divisiveness useful in keeping people’s attention diverted from real issues. And the bigots who feel they have the support of their kings and political rulers become emboldened in the belief that they are on the verge of winning if only they can sustain a major thrust in their war on their enemies.

Even when we try to ignore them, they still attack. The religion channels on TV continue to show hell-fire-and-brimstone preachers filling their follower’s heads full of fear and paranoia about what we scientists and “unbelievers” are doing to grab their children and send them to hell.

You would think that by now we would be living in more enlightened times, but apparently enough people manage to find a way to live in a paranoid echo chamber so that the rest of us still have to deal with the damage they cause.

There’s no need to discuss anything, Toejam, with somebody lacking civility.

And I do not mean PvM, I meant you.

LOL.

yeah, calling your response a strawman of what Pim said was certainly uncivil of me.

*slaps own wrist”

naughty, naughty, boy.

Well what took them so long? Better late than never I suppose, as someone once said of the second coming.

‘Fools Gold’ indeed.

I just love it when one cult uses an argument from authority to tick off some spruiker (carny caller) from another, outside the big tent.

The DI just love it too, on the one hand it appeals to their conservative base to have the wimpy librul jesus freaks come out and say ‘you are nothing but a bunch of lying bible thumpers contributing to your own martyrdom by dying on that self made cross of “god is so real he is edible”’ .…well almost, they want their pound of flesh without the blood. They make Shylock look like a saint…ah.…after his forced conversion naturally.

On the other hand they can say “ID has nothing to do with religion”.…are they still saying that?

Comment #161929 Posted by apollo230 on February 20, 2007 10:17 PM (e)

Thanks for your personalized response, PvM.

You know and I know that God as Creator (and by logical extension, designer) has been a cornerstone of traditional Christianity. Indeed, the word “Creator” is a veritable synonym for God in the minds of most Christians. My understanding of your position is that for Christianity to achieve intellectual respectability, this core belief must now be cast out. I do not see how such a redaction can take place without changing the essence of Christianity altogether. After all, Jesus was categorically identified as the creative “Logos” by no less than the gospel of John.

Additionally, if God is to be stripped of His traditional role as Creator, can the only logical replacement, namely an endless regression of purely natural (material) causes, explain life’s origin and particularly essence?

Best regards, apollo230

So ID is creationism? By god, I think the girl has got it!

Comment #161931 Posted by apollo230 on February 20, 2007 10:23 PM (e)

A friendly advisory to all who would respond, I am only airing my thoughts on the matter, there is no intent here to start what could easily become a long-winded discussion, for which I have little desire. Good night, all!

Bugger , what a shame.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Apollo (or anyone else): What does this mean? I find it one of the more baffling sentences in the Bible.

Additionally, if God is to be stripped of His traditional role as Creator, can the only logical replacement, namely an endless regression of purely natural (material) causes, explain life’s origin and particularly essence?

God can still be the Creator even if it involves an ‘endless regression of purely natural causes”. After all, did God also not Create Nature? However to pretend that this is a scientific position is bad for theology and science. Just look at ID for example and see to what extent they have to go ‘in the name of faith’?

So any contention that God engaged in any act of creation (design) is a theologically dangerous notion, PvM? Are Christians only safe then if they assume that He (or She) was (and is) a total bystander -not intervening in this world in any way, shape or form?

Nope. To claim that this is a scientific fact is a dangerous notion. For instance, to claim that science can detect this kind of design in some aspects of His Creation, such as the flagellum, makes for poor science and even worse theology. Gaps can be filled and since ID refuses to provide any scientific explanation, more than often the gap of ignorance is filled by science. Insisting that gaps are evidence of His Creation, only to see the gaps become smaller and smaller, does not make for very good theology.

In other words, your ‘conclusion’ does not really logically follow from what I stated.

Let me ask you a question: By ‘answering’ my question with a strawman, how do you think Christians and non-Christians interpret your behavior? Do you think it furthers either science or Christian faith?

Hello, PvM. I do not understand this strawman rhetoric. All I was doing was phrasing my understanding (interpretation) of your position-there was no offense intended.

So, PvM, are you saying that teleology is theologically unsound in general, or ONLY when it calls itself a scientific position?

Best regards, apollo230

Richard, I have no idea what John 1:1 means, either. You are going to have to talk to the alleged Chief of Creation to get an answer.

Best regards, apollo230

apollo230 Wrote:

Since when were design arguments “fool’s gold” for Christians?

When it started misrepresenting science, quote mining, baiting and switching concepts and terminology, and pretending to be an alternative to evolution, all the while attacking a strawman of “Darwinism.” Actually ID ripped off those tactics from the mutually contradictory classic creationisms. So ID is even more bogus than they are because it tries to cover up their flaws and contradictions by “mere distancing.” Ironically they could show at least some scientific credibility by refuting the creationist positions. Major IDers do know that they are bogus. But the “pseudoscience code of silence” comes first. So much for the pretense of “equal time.”

Robert John Russell Wrote:

…working out a challenging but immanently more honest interpretation of science in light of Christian faith.

For all his rejection of ID, Russell’s above comment still reads to me as wanting to change the science to match the scripture. Surely the intellectually honest approach is to interpret one’s faith in light of science?

David B. –

I read Russell’s comment differently. I understood the phrase “interpretation of science in light of Christian faith” to mean “understanding the theological implications of scientific results in the context of Christian faith.” I don’t think he’s advocating changing science to match scripture … dealing with the implications of actual scientific results is what makes the endeavor “challenging but immanently more honest.”

apollo:

I’ll try to help you out here. PvM said:

Since these are religious arguments disguised as ‘scientific’ ones, as such it can only serve to do disservice to Christian faith per St Augustine’s warnings.

By “these” he meant the arguments of ID “theorists.” The main issue is that they present gap-based non-arguments as scientific “evidence” - exactly the kind of “vast ignorance in a Christian” that St. Augustine talks about above.

You responded:

So any contention that God engaged in any act of creation (design) is a theologically dangerous notion, PvM?

This doesn’t logically follow from PvM’s statement. PvM is talking about a specific area of knowledge where IDists are attempting to contradict well-established knowledge with religious claims based on ignorance. This is bad for religion, as St. Augustine observed.

That the IDists are harming religion by focusing on this specific area doesn’t mean that all Christians harm religion by making “any contention” about creation. That would be a false dichotomy. Russell himself provides an example:

My own view is that God does act within nature and that Darwinian evolution is the result.

Voilà, a “contention that God engaged in [an] act of creation” that isn’t “theologically dangerous.”

Responding to a statement that wasn’t actually made is a straw-man response, intentional or not.

ID is scientifically vacuous and theologically risky.

Theologically risky? What’s at risk? Your eternal soul?

So, PvM, are you saying that teleology is theologically unsound in general, or ONLY when it calls itself a scientific position?

Neither one. How did we get from Intelligent Design to teleology? You seem to be all over the map here with your ‘arguments’.

Teleology in nature, as various people have already argued, is to be expected under the processes of variation and selection (Mayr, Ayala). What is unsound scientifically and theologically is to appeal to our ignorance as evidence of a ‘designer’.

If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

Thanks for posting this wise advice from Saint Augustine. The resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven indeed cannot be learnt from experience and the light of reason, and even Phillip E. Johnson himself should be proud to hold these wise views. These are some wonderful advices. Thank you.

You seem to be all over the map here with your ‘arguments’.

heh. you should have seen him when we asked him to figure out how one would go about constructing a research program around ID.

He was much more focused there:

“I dunno”

Apollo230 quotes from his bible and then acknowledges to Richard that he has no idea what it means.

I would suggest that closer inspection would reveal that neither apollo230 nor any of his cohorts can demonstrate that they know anything about the mind of god, no matter how much they quote from their holy books.

If they would simply engage in a little more humble introspection about this, we wouldn’t be having all these religion wars and religious intrusions into the science classroom.

If they would simply engage in a little more humble introspection about this, we wouldn’t be having all these religion wars and religious intrusions into the science classroom.

it won’t happen, Mike.

introspection inevitably leads to exploring the boundaries between various compartmentalizations.

If there is one thing that is common among every fundamentalist and creobot I have ever seen, is that they appear to be in deadly fear of disrupting the way their compartmentalizations are constructed. In fear that they might find that any particular constructed belief system they project is really based on pure ignorance, and it that it might collapse around them like a house of cards.

A pure YEC, for example, when challenged with evidence will engage in strict denial. Then, a few days later, they will act as if that evidence was never presented to them to begin with. Surely you’ve seen this? If not, we preserved the AFDave thread on ATBC as an example.

Asking them for a little instrospection is like asking someone to explore a crate filled with old, weepy, dyanamite with crowbar.

just sayin’.

apollo230 wrote: Robert John Russell states: “The lesson to Christians is that we should abandon ID as fools’ gold…” Since when were design arguments “fool’s gold” for Christians? From the gospel of John (1:1-4):

You realize that the DI defines ID (http://www.discovery.org/csc/topQuestions.php) not as mere “argument”, but: “The empirical detection that “apparent design” in nature is genuine design, i.e. the product of an intelligent cause.”?

em·pir·i·cal adj. : Relying on, derived from, verifiable or provable by means of observation or experiment.

Sir_Toejam:

I agree with you completely. It was just one of my whimsical “I have a dream” things.

I suppose if we know anything about these fundamentalists (a preacher friend of mine says the emphasis should be on “mentalist”), it’s that they can’t seem to help themselves. They live in that paranoid echo chamber with the echoes reinforced and amplified by their religious handlers.

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 2, column 102, byte 158 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

there are only two options for what ”agency” could possibly mean: either a natural agent or God.

Oce again, Satan gets no respect.

I rather like the OP.

ID is far from science and should not be taught as science. I have little problem with religion (except in it’s extremes) but it just isn’t science.

ID is a blatant atempt at getting religious P’sOV taught in biology classes. It is a sham and righfully exposed as such.

Judge Jones saw it and called it (ID) for what it is.

As far as I am concerned anyone can hold any religious POV they wish. But trying to claim that (POV) is science is blatantly lying.

Re “Once again, Satan gets no respect.”

I’m guessin the devil made ya say that…

Henry

We should remember that science is not a subject, not a discipline, but is a process used to examine disciplines. The scientific process is a derivative of logic. There are other derivatives of logic that are applicable to disciplines not considered to be one of the sciences. Philosophy is not a subject to which the scientific process is applied, yet it requires the application of logic. When the rules of science are properly applied the results are always falsifiable. When the rules of logic are properly applied the results are always undeniable. It is necessary that students be taught the proper application of the scientific process. However, if a student is to receive a complete and superior education he should understand that his personal philosophy is subject to the undeniable results of applied logic. Understanding logic and it’s root word “logos” can add meaning to all studies and help the student understand the world and himself.

However, if a student is to receive a complete and superior education he should understand that his personal philosophy is subject to the undeniable results of applied logic.

You seem to be talking about formal logic, which is the only reason you’d use a term like “undeniable.” In which case, that’s crap, sorry… Deriving personal philosophy from formal logic is circular. Philosophies beget formal logics, not the other way around.

Not that students shouldn’t be taught logical argumentation. But learning even the rudiments of FOL is going to be way above most people’s heads, and its use in High School seems to me to be really questionable.

Richard Simons: The word “Word” in the passage from John is the Greek logos which has a large number of different but related meanings. This includes one in some philosophical contexts which amounts to something like “rational principle of the universe”. This makes the passage something like a pun, if one recalls earlier theological invocations of the power of language.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by PvM published on February 20, 2007 7:54 AM.

Bill and his strawmen was the previous entry in this blog.

Eugenie C. Scott honored by AAAS is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.381

Site Meter