Chronicle of Higher Education: Letters on ID

| 101 Comments

Last week’s Chronicle of Higher Education had several letters responding to J. Scott Turner’s January 19 piece that rhetorically asked, “Why Can’t We Discuss Intelligent Design?” One of them was actually from me. I sent it back in January and figured it had been forgotten about, but I guess not. It is cut down a bit, but has the essential points. See also good replies from David Barash and Gred Laden.

The letters are freely available at the CHE website not freely available, so I will post the text of my original submission below the fold.

Discuss ID, but do it in context

J. Scott Turner (“Why Can’t We Discuss Intelligent Design?”, January 19, 2007) has his heart in the right place. ID indeed should be discussed in universities. Indeed, this is impossible and undesirable to prevent. But it needs to be discussed in context. ID is not an honest attempt to understand the natural world. It is not as if someone made a stunning new research finding, published it in a scientific journal, and proposed ID as the explanation. Instead, ID arose as a cynical attempt to come up with a newer, vaguer label for creationism. Just after the Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that “creation science” was a specific religious view and therefore unconstitutional to teach as science in public school science classrooms, creationists working on a “two model” creation/evolution textbook decided to delete hundreds of instances of the word “creation” and its cognates and replace them with “intelligent design” terminology. This origin of ID was documented in the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover case (the decision is available online at www2.ncseweb.org/kvd). What scientific movement begins life as a textbook revision?

To discuss “intelligent design” as if it did not have this historical and legal baggage, as Turner seems to want people to do, is naive and plays into the hands of the ID public relations campaign which has, again cynically, been designed to ellicit just such responses. The official line of ID advocates is that they just want to “teach the controversy” over “Darwinism” – but the truth is that the vast majority of ID advocates deny the common ancestry of humans and apes in favor of special creation, many of them are agnostic on the age of the earth, and these views emerge not from serious scientific research on these questions, which they have not done, but from the fundamentalist doctrine of reading the Bible as inerrant. This is what motivates them, and what they want taught or implied in the public schools, and if these points are missed the true heart of ID is not really being discussed.

Finally, although Turner rightly notes the debatable nature of Richard Dawkins’s attempt to make science into an apologetic for atheism, he fails to note that Dawkins’s “appearance of design” concept is itself a product of Dawkins’s longstanding feud with theism. Dawkins sets up “appearance of design” as the only good argument for God’s existence, and then knocks it down with natural selection and concludes there is no God. But while it may be apologetically useful for both Dawkins and ID advocates, it is worth pointing out that “appearance of design” is not an indisputable description of biology. In the opinion of many it is no better than describing the Earth as having the “appearance of flatness” – at best a superficial description based on an extremely restricted view of the data.

By including points like the above, even though they do not conform to the ID movement’s official talking points and its policy of strategic ambiguity on uncomfortable topics, Turner and others would both advance scholarly understanding and minimize the chances of being misunderstood.

Nick Matzke

101 Comments

The letters are freely available at the CHE website.

That is not my experience.

The letters are freely available if you plunk down 45 bucks for a half-year subscription.

Is the link not working? I may have registered for access long ago and therefore I can see the link…

Whoops, sorry about that. I have edited the OP.

It seems that some are privileged and some are not. I read the three letters and just now checked hat I can still read the letters.

Once again, the post has been formatted too “broadly” and its appearance is overlapping and interfering with the display of the sidebar.

Please fix, thanks!

Once again, the post has been formatted too “broadly” and its appearance is overlapping and interfering with the display of the sidebar.

Please fix, thanks!

It looks fine to me so it is hard to find anything to fix. You might try decreasing the size of the text on your screen (CTRL-minus).

Nick

Steviepinhead — As I said, some are privileged. Looks fine to me as well.

Of course, the context here isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. To paraphrase P.T.Barnum, creationists don’t care what you say about ID so long as you say it in science class. Go ahead, announce in science class that ID is pure blind fundamentalist anti-scientific idiocy. No problem - the PR machine will joyfully report that “ID is being discussed in science class, where it belongs.”

The *content* is irrelevant. Everyone knows ID is the political arm of creationism, funded by religious sources for religious reasons. The only thing that matter is where the terminology is voiced, and how that can be positioned for propaganda purposes. Really, that’s the entire purpose of ID. The FACT of discussion is everything, whatever is said is irrelevant.

ID is discussed all the time on college campuses. The question is not whether, but where and how.

First, I am against using any significant amount of class time in a natural science class to discuss ID. While there may be some limited pedagogical value to discussing fringe theories, philosophy of science and even some good old fashioned debunking in a natural science class, that should not be the primary purpose. The focus should be on teaching good science.

On my campus ID is discussed in the classroom in two venues: it is discussed (sympathetically) by a philosophy professor in ethics and philosophy and it is discussed (unsympathetically but I trust fairly) by me in an interdisciplinary class. I spend a very small amount of time on why it is not science in my anthro class. I also spend some time talking specifically about mythological worldviews. After all, it is a Cultural Anthropology class. These seem to me to be appropriate venues for discussion of ID.

There is a question of academic freedom which is a complex one. Even advocates of fringe theories should be protected in a Unversity setting. First and foremost however it seems to me that professors should focus on teaching established principles. If one really must bring up ID or YEC in the classroom, then is it too much to ask that the person actually cover evolution fairly, accurately and competently? I’m in an odd position as I am a tenured associate professor and my wife is a full time biology major. My wife and I both think she has a right to have evolution taught so that she can learn the appropriate, relevant material for grad school.

There is nothing stopping people (especially at colleges like mine-small, public schools without huge research committments) from writing and publishing in ID if they so choose.

If you will all pardon my rant let me end with my biggest complaint however: that is the spread of a non-discourse situation wrt ID.

What happens is that ID advocates, some of whom have no knowledge of the science, have no interest in the science, and refuse to actually investigate the science continuously make allegations about evolutionary biology and related fields (ev psych, bio-social and ecological anthropology) that have nothing at all to do with the issues and the research in the field.

Significant amounts of time can be spent trying to argue with people. The logical result is that the argument is fruitless because to fully correct the arguments takes the time and energy one normally devotes to writing a journal article. Yet the argument is then viewed as a “controversy”. Personally, I call this a non-discourse situation.

I can respect and fight for the academic freedom of any fringe or unpopular view. That does not mean I have to be happy about the non-debate.

Here’s another thought: why don’t we discuss evolution on college campuses?

I’m sure on some browsers, it is fine.

But, just for the heck of it, try reducing the airspace given to the right margin both within and outside of the blockquote. I expect that would take care of it.

Or not.

It doesn’t seem to be one of those fireball days at PT anyway.

I vaguely recall having this experience with the CHE website before, almost like they give you a number of views for free, and then cut it off after awhile.

Nick

Nick,

Now only if the likes of Krauze or MikeGene would stop pretending! Good letter! Makes great sense!

“What scientific movement begins life as a textbook revision?”

well it was a textbook case of the re-use of adeles for new capabilities.

maybe?

Richard Dawkins’s attempt to make science into an apologetic for atheism

What’s called for in place of this dishonest ad hominem is a response to Dawkins’ actual arguments.

Dawkins sets up “appearance of design” as the only good argument for God’s existence, and then knocks it down with natural selection and concludes there is no God.

In “The God Delusion”, Dawkins writes “The argument from improbability, properly deployed, comes close to proving that God does not exist. My name for the statistical demonstration that God almost certainly does not exist is The Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit”.

Dawkins offers a positive demonstration that God almost certainly does not exist. The claim that he concludes that there is no God by knocking down some argument that there is a God – which would be a fallacious approach – is a serious mischaracterzation. For some reason, Matzke finds it necessary to tell such lies about Dawkins nearly every time he writes a piece or a letter critical of ID. This sort of attack on leading promoters of evolution, aside from its immorality, plays into the hands of the creationist PR machine.

Richard Dawkins’s attempt to make science into an apologetic for atheism

This thing between Nick and Richard is getting very old. And the shoe is on the other foot. Dawkins is answering religious apologetics, as I understand it.

Steviepinhead Wrote:

I’m sure on some browsers, it is fine.

No exactly. In my Firefox, the blockquotes are placed under the protruding sidebars, but the text flows besides. It is readable, but the graphics element (blocks) are fooling instead of helping the eye.

The protruding sidebars are distracting without providing new information except for the “Recent Comments” bar. Combine that with an apparently faulty graphic script, and it’s a mess.

Perhaps the designer had his panda’s thumb in the middle of the hand?

This thing between Nick and Richard is getting very old.

Well, it’s not exactly “between Nick and Richard” – it’s an ongoing series of gratuitous and dishonest attacks on Richard by Nick. But it is indeed very old – over and over, Matzke has taken the opportunity to say, in effect, “I concur with your dishonest strawman ad hominem attack on Richard Dawkins” when responding to creationists, fence sitters, and evolutionists alike.

Nick Matzke Wrote:

The official line of ID advocates is that they just want to “teach the controversy” over “Darwinism” — but the truth is that the vast majority of ID advocates deny the common ancestry of humans and apes in favor of special creation, many of them are agnostic on the age of the earth, and these views emerge not from serious scientific research on these questions, which they have not done, but from the fundamentalist doctrine of reading the Bible as inerrant.

Once again I’ll try to say this without being misunderstood. I don’t disagree with the above, but I consider an additional point far more important:

What defines the ID scam as we know it is not the fact that most followers deny common descent or are even closet YECs. Nor is it the abrupt language change prompted by the Edwards v. Aguillard ruling. Rather it is the gradual takeover of the scam by those who appear not to (personally) deny common ancestry of humans and (other) apes — or of humans and broccoli for that matter. While only a few admit it outright, none of the others have challenged them directly.

If I’m wrong, I’m wrong the other way, in that creationism has been a scam from the beginning. Whether “classic creationists” truly believe that the evidence supports independent origin of “kinds,” or in some cases a young Earth, or whether, unlike IDers, they just prefer to tell a fairy tale directly, instead of letting the audience infer it, they at least make testable hypotheses about the basic “whats” and “whens” of biological history.

Somewhere along the way to “evolving” into ID, and attracting a new generation of leaders, it became painfully obvious that trying to support those alternative hypotheses would not only call attention to the failures, but also to the irreconcilable differences between YEC, OEC and non-biblical models. If IDers honestly believed that the evidence supported any of those models, they’d have no problem advocating a “critical analysis” of them. As long as “creation” or “design” language is left out of the lesson plan, they’d have no legal problems at all. If anything it would help their pretense about being strictly about the science. How about the “naturalistic” anti-evolution hypotheses of Schwabe and Senapathy? Why is there virtually no mention of them, let alone demand for “equal time” to critically analyze them? Especially since, unlike the phony “critical analysis” of evolution, that critical analysis wouldn’t require cherry picking evidence, bait-and-switch definitions or quote mining. The reason is simple. Today’s scammers know that, if the evidence is considered fairly and honestly, evolution wins hands down.

And to preempt Raging Bee, I offer this observation by Sir_Toejam. The other comments about Dawkins in that thread are also revealing.

Good letter, Nick, with some good lines.

I like your point about “the appearance of design.” Dawkins’ famous remark has been used as the jumping off point for IDists from the beginning, overlooking the fact that further inspection has shown that life is not designed in the way that IDists claim it is.

Dawkins’ famous remark has been used as the jumping off point for IDists from the beginning

Ah yes, the “ID is Dawkin’s fault” smear.

Ah yes, the “ID is Dawkin’s fault” smear.

Huh? How so? My observation is that the ID people quotemine everything they can find, by anyone, that can be misinterpreted to their advantage. Have you not noticed this? Are you disinclined to notice the across-the-board dishonesty of the DI on the grounds that if you notice this, YOU will somehow become “responsible” for their actions?

Dawkins has written that he is reluctant to use the rhetorical strategy of presenting an apparent problem, then explaining the evolutionary solution to that problem, because this expositional technique invites the creationists to extract his statement of the problem out of context and use it to say “Dawkins himself admits that…” evolution has fatal issues.

ID proponents are equal-opportunity liars in their choice of jumping off points. Dawkins, being both prominent and prolific, presents a larger targe than most.

I’m a chemist, but I have to teach a liberal arts (not a natural science!) course in which the students read the “great works”. Right now the students are reading an excerpt from Paley and an excerpt from Origin of Species. I’m going to have the students talk about ID today in class. In fact, one of my students is from the Dover area, so I’m going to ask her to give the class her perspective. Based on my conversations with the students to date and the fact that most of my students are biology majors, I’m pretty sure they aren’t impressed with ID.

PG wrote:

…over and over, Matzke has taken the opportunity to say, in effect, “I concur with your dishonest strawman ad hominem attack on Richard Dawkins” when responding to creationists, fence sitters, and evolutionists alike.

Care to provide some examples of such statements? Or is this just another dishonest strawman ad hominem defense of Dawkins?

If you really want to defend Dawkins, perhaps you should address the specific points made in this review of The God Delusion:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19775

Nick Matzke Wrote:

What scientific movement begins life as a textbook revision?

Hi Nick!

What makes you think, that ID-movement began in 1987?

You know, that the idea of ID is old, and that even the term “intelligent design” was before Panda’s used several times for example by James E. Horigan. (See for example his book “Chance or Design?” (Philosophical Library, 1979) or his article at JASA (December 1983: 209-216)), where he used the term.

[Also for example Fred Hoyle (1982), Raymond G. Boblin, Kerby Anderson (1983), Walter R. Thorson (1985), and others including Tipler and Barrow (The Anthropic Cosmological principle, p. 32) have written about “intelligent design”.]

I dont’ know, how you define the term “ID-movement”. I think, that “ID-movement” is either very old (Paley etc.) or began perhaps after Phillip E. Johnson’s Darwin on Trial. It could be also claimed, that Discovery Institute (and its Wedge) is so essential part of the term “ID-movement”, that ID-movement began, when DI’s “Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture” started. But I would like to hear your opinion.

Ah yes, the “ID is Dawkin’s fault” smear.

Dembski says that Dawkins fuels ID. How could you ask for a more reliable source than that? ;)

…over and over, Matzke has taken the opportunity to say, in effect, “I concur with your dishonest strawman ad hominem attack on Richard Dawkins” when responding to creationists, fence sitters, and evolutionists alike.

Care to provide some examples of such statements? Or is this just another dishonest strawman ad hominem defense of Dawkins?

It’s not a defense of Dawkins at all, you silly git.

If you really want to defend Dawkins, perhaps you should address the specific points made in this review of The God Delusion:

It’s been done, you ignoramus. And here’s an interesting piece on Orr’s “tactics of deceit”.

Huh? How so?

You’re right, I probably misinterpreted Jack Krebs’ comment.

Have you not noticed this?

Uh, yes.

Are you disinclined to notice the across-the-board dishonesty of the DI on the grounds that if you notice this, YOU will somehow become “responsible” for their actions?

Uh, no.

Uh, yes.

That is, I have noticed that “ID people quotemine everything they can find, by anyone, that can be misinterpreted to their advantage” – duh. But I wonder if Flint has noticed that a number of people (if not Jack Krebs) have blamed Dawkins for his, as his response doesn’t seem to recognize this.

Uh, “blamed Dawkins for this”.

But I wonder if Flint has noticed that a number of people (if not Jack Krebs) have blamed Dawkins for this, as his response doesn’t seem to recognize this.

I believe you and I may interpret this a bit differently, but maybe I’m wrong.

My interpretation is that Dawkins has never explicitly argued that there are no gods; that his target is rather the claim that gods are required. At most, Dawkins denies that the notion of gods is in any way useful for scientific understanding of anything. To the best of my knowledge, no scientific explanation either does, or can, include any supernatural components. So Dawkins is correct.

But Christians, especially the evangelical types, have no room in their model for neutrality. One either worships (their) god, or one denies their god; one cannot be neutral or indifferent. Dawkins clearly does not worship their god, therefore he MUST be arguing that they are all deluded (it sure *sounds* like he’s saying that!)

Yes, Dawkins is a highly visible, prominent lightning rod. But Dawkins doesn’t cause the lightning. I think there are some Christians who are not creationists, who are uncomfortable with Dawkins for his rigidly logical omission of their god altogether. Theistic evolutionists tend to fall into the category of regarding their god as less interactive, but this is a delicate position – taken to the extreme (and there’s nothing to prevent this), non-interactive and non-existent are functionally identical.

So these are the people who can’t let go of their god completely, but aren’t willing to deny reality either. So they have engineered a more minimal or deistic role for their god, and Dawkins denies them even that much. And so I see these people (theistic evolutionists) blaming Dawkins for making their Goldilocks position untenable. Not too much god, not too little, but just right. Dawkins continues to point out that you can’t have too little god.

Analysi,

It seems dubious to call that 1979 usage of “intelligent design” a definition. Pandas has the term in a glossary, for goodness sakes.

As I said before, the fact that sometimes the phrase “intelligent design” sometimes appears in works discussing the Design argument (usually with a capital D) is not highly significant. Search JSTOR on “irreducibly complex” as an analogy.

The pre-1989 usages of “intelligent design” are furthermore (a) about creationism and (b) about God, both of which are explicitly denied in Pandas’ usage of the phrase.

And if you don’t believe me, just look at what the ID guys were saying in 2004, before it became popular to attempt to disconnect ID from Pandas:

A decade has passed since Of Pandas and People‘s second edition appeared in print. Written by Percival Davis and Dean Kenyon, this book was the first intelligent design textbook. In fact, it was the first place where the phrase “intelligent design” appeared in its present use.

[This Preface, by Jon Buell, to the third edition of Pandas entitled The Design of Life, was freely online at William Dembski’s DesignInference.com website for much of 2004, but was taken down about the time Kitzmiller v. Dover was filed in December 2004 — see Wayback archive, where it can still be downloaded, and a May 2004 blog post quoting the beginning of Buell’s Preface.]

The book (and article) by Ray Bohlin and crew is significant though, that’s where the panda stuff in Of Pandas and People comes from. It was produced by Probe Ministries, the progenitor of FTE and Jon Buell which produced Pandas.

The book is Natural Limits to Biological Change.

For example, someone may think that human sacrifice is moral, yet agree that, for the convenience of not having to worry about being sacrificed themselves, it should not be illegal.

Likewise, some may think that all manner of behavior which I consider okay, or even commendable, is immoral. But at the same time, they may realize that it isn’t free to arrest, try, and penalize people. Plus if there’s a power struggle one may lose.

So people may implicitly agree that it’s best not to hunt down heretics and burn them at the stake, even if they think that, morally, that’s what some heretics deserve. By having laws that protect people from such things, they lose the satisfaction of really sticking it to a heretic, but they save the tax dollars that would be spent, and avoid the inconvenience of worrying that they themselves might be accused of heresy.

So, if I understand you correctly, it’s ok (even “good”?) for the pragmatic - secular - needs of society to take priority over individual moral needs?

If we extend the theme of “some people may think X is moral” and “I personally don’t think Y is moral, but others might,” doesn’t it follow that *any* action could be considered moral by *someone*?

It seems like your justification for the laws you mention evinces the conviction that standards of acceptable behavior (the pragmatic side of “morality,” as I see it) are not entirely relative - is that right?

I don’t so much claim that my morals are right, as advocate for a social structure that, while coincidentally congruent with my private morals, is most convenient for everyone.

In that case, you are imposing your advocacy goals on others who might not like it, aren’t you? If I’m a devout Saudi Muslim and you tell me I can’t stone your wife to death for heresy because it’s not “most convenient for everyone,” you’re imposing on my morals (and pushing me toward an eternity in hell), as well as breaking the law. If, on the other hand, you contend that there are pragmatic, objective justifications for your approach - which transcend religion - then you can make a good case that I shouldn’t do so.

What I think I see you doing is providing pragmatic justifications for imposing certain kinds of behavior. The thing about such justifications is that they are objective - one can demonstrate that allowing murder or suicide bombing will likely have “inconvenient” or detrimental effects on society or the human race as a whole.

As I understand it, Harris and Dawkins maintain that the *only* way to credibly establish standards of behavior that can apply to *all* humans is by using objective, evidence-based justifications. IIRC, they do caution against imposing standards willy-nilly, as new evidence is always incoming and secular knowledge is always expanding, and they do allow that certain assumptions (“suffering is bad”,”people do not enjoy living in fear”) need to be made until objective evidence either confirms or refutes them, but they insist that not all assumptions are equal.

The assumption, for example, that there is an afterlife in which you will burn eternally for forgiving heresy, or will live in paradise for killing infidels, is far less defensible, based on our empirical knowledge of the universe, than the assumption that killing people is generally detrimental to our survival as a species.

Through a bit of reasoning, and some very interesting examples, they come to the conclusion that people like suicide bombers are not irrational - they are actually quite rational, given the beliefs that have been instilled in them. If I truly believed that failing to stone your wife to death would significantly increase my chances of spending an eternity in hell, it would be distinctly against my rational self-interest to fail to stone your wife. I think Harris was the one who said, “These people actually believe what they say they believe.” It’s the belief itself that is at the root of behavior, just as your belief that one should pursue solutions “that are most convenient for everyone” influences your behavior.

Their contention, as I see it, is that the vast majority of religious beliefs we see touted as justification for harmful (or even beneficial) actions are equally indefensible based on evidence (isn’t this a corollary of “faith”?), and none are more defensible than any others. The difference between moderates and extremists is one of degree, not category; moderates are only moderates to the extent that they share with a majority of their culture and time period an arbitrary set of secular beliefs that override their religious beliefs.

There are a number of implications and corollaries they draw from this basic argument with which I disagree substantially, but that’s the jist of it…in my (probably incomplete) recollection, at least.

Dizzy Wrote:

As I understand it, Harris and Dawkins maintain that the *only* way to credibly establish standards of behavior that can apply to *all* humans is by using objective, evidence-based justifications.…

I had a feeling this was where you were going. That’s it exactly. And it’s why faith itself (belief without - or in spite of - evidence, as well as a conveniently bankrupt concept of evidence) must be abandoned before any common ground can be revealed. Otherwise, it’s nothing but handy short-term alliances built on ever-shifting sand.

analyysi Wrote:

From www.ResearchIntelligentDesign.org: “Percival Davis and Dean Kenyon publish Of Pandas and People, a high-school level textbook that contains information on intelligent design and has been endorsed by some cdesign proponentists. The term first appeared in drafts of the book in 1987.”

Fixed that for you.

Nick Matzke Wrote:

Analysi,

It seems dubious to call that 1979 usage of “intelligent design” a definition. Pandas has the term in a glossary, for goodness sakes.

As I said before, the fact that sometimes the phrase “intelligent design” sometimes appears in works discussing the Design argument (usually with a capital D) is not highly significant. Search JSTOR on “irreducibly complex” as an analogy.

There is many definitions of “IC”. Behe made his own definition (1996). And also some others have made their own definitions.

If you want to use “irreducibly complex” as an analogy, remember, that the term “irreducible complex” was NOT in (DBB’s) glossary. However, Behe defined his “irreducible complexity” in his book. He didn’t need to define his term in glossary.

Why it is not enough, if Horigan only defined the term “intelligent design”: Should he have defined the term in glossary?

Nick Matzke Wrote:

The pre-1989 usages of “intelligent design” are furthermore (a) about creationism and (b) about God, both of which are explicitly denied in Pandas’ usage of the phrase.

I have not read Pandas. Is it said there, that designer cannot be God? If it is, could you quote it?

But as I (and Hermann) have shown, your claim (about creationism and pre-1989 usages of “intelligent design”) can be true only, if also “theistic evolutionists” (Ken Miller etc.) are labeled as “creationists”.

Ps. I cannot agree with Jon Buell (whoever he is), because I have seen so many earlier uses of the phrase “intelligent design”.

Dizzy -

At this point I think I’ve made myself abundantly clear, but I’ll address a couple of your points, just to clarify even further.

I’m not trying to win any philosophical battles or “prove” any “absolute truths” here.

“In that case, you are imposing your advocacy goals on others who might not like it, aren’t you? If I’m a devout Saudi Muslim and you tell me I can’t stone your wife to death for heresy because it’s not “most convenient for everyone,” you’re imposing on my morals (and pushing me toward an eternity in hell), as well as breaking the law. If, on the other hand, you contend that there are pragmatic, objective justifications for your approach - which transcend religion - then you can make a good case that I shouldn’t do so.”

Just to make it really clear one more time - I would oppose laws against stoning for heresy (I don’t believe that actually is the law in Saudi Arabia, but putting that aside…). Although I personally believe it is immoral to stone people, my argument against it is, in fact, grounded in preference justifications, rather than in a futile attempt to argue who is “more moral”. It is more convenient for everyone not to worry about being stoned for heresy. Bit this isn’t necessarily “objective”, read on…

“What I think I see you doing is providing pragmatic justifications for imposing certain kinds of behavior.”

Correct. Easy to understand, pragmatic justifications.

“The thing about such justifications is that they are objective - one can demonstrate that allowing murder or suicide bombing will likely have “inconvenient” or detrimental effects on society or the human race as a whole.”

They are not entirely objective. Some people are sadistic and enjoy seeing suffering, even if it puts them at risk. Some religious or ideological fanatics believe that the physical extermination of the human race, or most of it, would be better, even if this view puts them at greater risk of being exterminated themselves. However, I make the basic and perhaps subjective assumption that it is better not to create excess suffering, and many people agree with me.

“As I understand it, Harris and Dawkins maintain that the *only* way to credibly establish standards of behavior that can apply to *all* humans is by using objective, evidence-based justifications. IIRC, they do caution against imposing standards willy-nilly, as new evidence is always incoming and secular knowledge is always expanding, and they do allow that certain assumptions (“suffering is bad”,”people do not enjoy living in fear”) need to be made until objective evidence either confirms or refutes them, but they insist that not all assumptions are equal.”

I certainly hope I’m not around when empirical evidence refutes the assumption that “people do not enjoy living in fear”. With all due respect, I don’t accept Dawkins and Harris as valid experts on what is the “only way to credibly establish standards of behavior”, either. I can’t think of a single reason why, based on what I know about them, I should accept them as experts on ethics or law at all. They seem to be law-abiding citizens, and to avoid such grotesqueries as racism, sexism, homophobia, and war-mongering, but that doesn’t make them ethical or legal authorities. (Yes, yes, it’s my “subjective” opinion, my “preference”, that those things are bad.)

“The assumption, for example, that there is an afterlife in which you will burn eternally for forgiving heresy, or will live in paradise for killing infidels, is far less defensible, based on our empirical knowledge of the universe, than the assumption that killing people is generally detrimental to our survival as a species.”

I don’t happen to believe in such an afterlife, or have an opinion on an afterlife at all, for that matter. I don’t necessarily think that our empirical knowledge of the universe really helps much in terms of answering this question. That the universe has the physical attributes and history seems to, and functions indepently of magic as far as we know, does not address the question of whether we go to Hell for not killing heretics. True, if someone’s claim that we need to kill heretics is linked to claims about the physical universe, that type of claim may be refuted by science, but in theory, someone could equally claim that we all go to Hell for not killing heretics, without addressing the characteristics of the physical universe as well. I’m optimistic that the number of people who actually believe that they should kill others to gain uncertain benefits in the afterlife has always been rather low (much lower than people who kill for selfish reasons and claim such justification after the fact), and seems to be gradually reducing.

“Through a bit of reasoning, and some very interesting examples, they come to the conclusion that people like suicide bombers are not irrational - they are actually quite rational, given the beliefs that have been instilled in them. If I truly believed that failing to stone your wife to death would significantly increase my chances of spending an eternity in hell, it would be distinctly against my rational self-interest to fail to stone your wife. I think Harris was the one who said, “These people actually believe what they say they believe.” It’s the belief itself that is at the root of behavior, just as your belief that one should pursue solutions “that are most convenient for everyone” influences your behavior.”

They (referring to Dawkins and Harris) seem to be building up to a conclusion that they should not merely be satisfied with respecting other peoples’ rights (and having their own respected), but that rather, they should try to discover and control what others ‘believe’. I can’t help finding a strong similarity between this attitude and that of inquisitors of the fifteenth century. Fortunately, it’s attitude only, not actions. They have every right to have any attitude they wish. Of course, I could be misreading, but that’s the impression that these arguments make on me.

“Their contention, as I see it, is that the vast majority of religious beliefs we see touted as justification for harmful (or even beneficial) actions are equally indefensible based on evidence (isn’t this a corollary of “faith”?), and none are more defensible than any others.”

This is certainly true from their perspective but the actions of others, and in fact, only those actions that happen to impact on someone else’s legal or human rights, are all they have any right to care about. Again, they seem to building up to a justification for sticking their noses into other peoples’ private beliefs and practices. Again, though, since they restrict themselves merely to verbally critiquing others, they are free to do this. Should they or any of their followers ever hypothetically “cross the line” and resort to violence or property destruction in an effort to force others to believe as they do (not that I expect this, of course!), then they’ll be in violation of the law.

“The difference between moderates and extremists is one of degree, not category; moderates are only moderates to the extent that they share with a majority of their culture and time period an arbitrary set of secular beliefs that override their religious beliefs.”

The decision as to who is “moderate”, and who is “extremist”, is obviously subjective. My definition of an extremist is someone who tries to force their opinions on others. Thus, a super-orthodox rabbi, monk, imam or yogi who leaves me alone, and doesn’t engage in political scheming to undermine human rights, is not, in my view, an extremist. A right wing ideologue who embraces the ID/creationism scam is, by definition, an extremist. In my view, people who live a very religious lifestyle can actually be far more moderate than other people who live a secular lifestyle of luxury and decadence, but seek to impose beliefs on others by force.

I’m afraid I’ll have to make this my last post on this thread. I hope I’ve clarified my positions.

Damn. Guilty of writing one of those unreadably long posts. And I’m not even a ranting creationist.

Ps. I cannot agree with Jon Buell (whoever he is), because I have seen so many earlier uses of the phrase “intelligent design”.

Analysi,

Um, Jon Buell is the guy that ran the group (the Foundation for Thought and Ethics) that published Of Pandas and People and the other early material put out by the ID movement. He is one of the key people in the whole story. Google him and you will see.

Unfortunately, there is no one single good history of ID that I can refer you to. Much of the history was actively hidden by ID proponents until the 2005 Kitzmiller case. But if you want to get a sense of the major outlines, read:

1. Barbara Forrest’s expert reports in that case http://www2.ncseweb.org/kvd/index.p[…]ath=experts/

2. The “history of creationism” posts here at PT: http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives[…]creationism/

Also feel free to read the following works on the history of ID, and then ask why The Great Relabeling Event Of 1987 was systematically left out.

* Thomas Woodward, Doubts About Darwin * Larry Witham, By Design * Larry Witham, When Science Meets the Bible * Donald Yerxa, “Phillip Johnson and the Origins of the Intelligent Design Movement

…and various things on the Discovery Institute website.

harold -

Again, thanks for the reply. Hope this isn’t truly the end of the discussion, but just to be brief:

The fact that you provide “easy to understand, pragmatic justifications” at all seems to indicate that your beliefs are not solely “grounded in personal preference.” If you approach a lawmaker with the proposition that death for apostasy (which actually is the law in Saudi Arabia and many other countries, often along with death for blasphemy) is not a law that should be on the books, you’re not going to justify it solely by saying “because I would prefer it that way,” you’re going to put forward some of the pragmatic justifications you mentioned above, right?

You justify your essentially “live and let live” advocacy with the contention that it is more “convenient for everyone” than “kill all infidels” - if you didn’t have that justification, and your only justification was “because I feel that way,” what separates you from someone who prefers “kill all infidels?”

“The thing about such justifications is that they are objective - one can demonstrate that allowing murder or suicide bombing will likely have “inconvenient” or detrimental effects on society or the human race as a whole.”

They are not entirely objective. Some people are sadistic and enjoy seeing suffering, even if it puts them at risk.

Demonstrating based on evidence that allowing murder or bombing generally has inconvenient/detrimental effects on society/humans would be entirely objective. The examples you mention don’t refute that fact, they only point to the possibility that some (due to personal preference) may not conclude from it that they should not murder or bomb people.

This happens to underline my point above - if personal preference is the only basis for “don’t infringe on others’ rights,” then the pragmatic justifications don’t matter. In that case, there is no basis for society to support “don’t infringe on others’ rights” over “kill all infidels.” But your pragmatic justifications *do* matter, and they are not subjective - they are buttressed by objective evidence.

Nick Matzke Wrote:

The point is that the 1989 Of Pandas and People was the first book to use “intelligent design” as a phrase, in a systematic fashion. It is the first book that uses the term exclusively, instead of a rare minority descriptor of traditional creation/design arguments. It is the first work of any kind that uses it more than a handful of times.

I have given you only one quote from Horigan’s book. Horigan though used the phrase “intelligent design” (or “intelligently designed”) more than 50 times in his book “Change or Design?” (1979). Here are some more examples:

James E. Horigan Wrote:

It is broad objective of the work to show that,…, a coherent picture of intelligently designed creation is to be seen far more clearly and convincingly than ever before, and that the modern materialistic view of creation by pure chance and accidnet is an unsupportable, if not an irrational, alternative. This is to be premised alone on the kind of knowledge that comes from presentday observation, rather than from reference to biblical or other religious sources which lie beyond the research and intended scope of this work. (p. 3)

James E. Horigan Wrote:

“the view of intelligent design simply provides the best explanation for the very existence of such phenomena as the origin of self-replication in living organisms: the cognitive nature of the protein molecule and the basic code representing inheritable information, the structural pattern for species differentiation, the life cycles the tolerance aspect in the makeup of living things that allows for freedom to adapt, the goal-seeking and goal-archievingtendencies of living organisms toward functioning and purposive end-results, mind and consciousness, etc. (p. 26)

James E. Horigan Wrote:

In Chapters 9-11 we shall see how this aspect of chance in DNA fits quite well into a designed scheme of things, and that intelligent design may be seen ads providing a better explanation than chance for the origin of DNA and its activity. (p. 38)

James E. Horigan Wrote:

As an idea, chance has neither a firm foothold to a beginning, nor does it have an ending, in what is claimed for it in an empirical way. This includes the contention that chance alone is responsible for evolutionary processes as relate to living organisms which, as we shall consider in Chapters 10-12, may reasonably be best exolained when viewed in the context of foreknowledge and intelligent design. (p. 39)

James E. Horigan Wrote:

During the time of Hume, and for several centuries thereafter, the effects (“B”) in nature that were said to give the appearance of “intelligent design” were of a limited general scope and mainly related to analogies of the sort described abobe. (p. 52)

James E. Horigan Wrote:

Probably the most significant book of this century, relating to “intelligent design” was written in 1913 by the American biochemist, L. J. Henderson, and entitled “Fitness of the “Environment. When put into a modern empirical context, it may be seen retrospectively as having opened up (and, in a way, re-opened) a most important pathway in support of the view of intelligently designed universe. (p. 55)

James E. Horigan Wrote:

In terms of intelligent design, an alternative supposition to the above might be that the few chemical elements of the atoms that are involved in life processes were programmed in advance, in some yet unknown manner, to bring about in time the end results that are evident in an interplay with evolutionary processes. (p. 165-166)

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