Photograph by Vivian Dullien.
William Dembski has now reviewed my new book The Failures of Mathematical Anti-Evolutionism. His review comes to roughly 18000 words. According to at least one standard classification scheme, that makes it a novella. The full review can be found here. It is also appearing in sections at the Discovery Institute's site Evolution News (see here).
It is a person of rare talent who can write at such length without getting anything right. Dembski’s response consists mostly of lengthy, irrelevant digressions that have little to do with anything I actually wrote, out-of-context sentences and sentence fragments from my book that seem specifically intended to mislead his readers about my arguments, and his usual arrogance and self-puffery about his own brilliance. He obsesses over minor comments I include in a chapter’s endnotes, while ignoring the main argument I made in the chapter itself. When he does get around to responding to an argument, he seems in most cases not even to understand the point I was making. Frankly, I could easily have written a more cogent reply to my own book.
I will only respond to what I regard as the most important points and will simply ignore large swaths of his review. To anything that I do not specifically address, you can assume my response is to roll my eyes and say, “Whatever. Let him blather.”
It’s always a risky game to predict what the Supreme Court will do about anything, but we can always discern the general trends, and as a decades-long member of the (spooky, scary!) Federalist Society, I thought I’d take a crack at answering the first three of Joe Felsenstein’s questions about the future of teaching evolution.
What would this court do if asked to decide a case similar to the Dover School Board case?
In the Dover case — which, believe it or not, is going on 20 years ago, now — the district court found that the school board violated the First Amendment by adopting an “Intelligent Design Policy.” This policy required that a statement be read to students in ninth grade biology class which said that biological evolution “is not a fact,” that it contained “gaps ... for which there is no evidence,” and that “Intelligent Design ... differs from Darwin’s view.” It encouraged students to consult Of Pandas and People, a book which advocated ID creationism, and which was made available to students. After a thorough trial on the factual issues, the court found this unconstitutional using two different legal tests: the “Endorsement Test” and the “Lemon test.”
These tests are intellectual devices judges use to answer whether government has crossed the constitutional lines that bar it from either establishing a religion — that is, creating an official church or creed of some kind — or inhibiting the free exercise of religion — that is, punishing or burdening someone for practicing a faith. And these two tests are quite similar. The Lemon test, however, is a three-part analysis dating back to the 1971 case of Lemon v. Kurtzman. The Endorsement Test is somewhat older.
The shocking-but-not-surprising decision of the U.S. Supreme Court today raises many questions. Even setting aside the issues in the case, there are interesting questions that arise. Here are some that puzzle me:
- What would this court do if asked to decide a case similar to the Dover School Board case?
- Would all lower courts rule against such a school board, with the case appealed to the Supreme Court?
- Or would the increasing number of conservative justices who have been vetted by the Federalist Society allow the Supreme Court to dodge such an issue by letting the pro-ID or pro-creationism ruling of an appeals court stand, by refusing to hear the case?
- How soon can we expect the Discovery Institute to lawyer-up and decide that its original position of "Teach The Controversy" is maybe not such a bad approach after all?
- What's the latest on threats to the teaching of evolution in countries where ultraconservative nationalist movements are in power or nearing it? Hungary? Poland? Russia? Turkey? Brazil? India?
- In countries such as Australia or Canada where there are more conservative and less conservative provinces, what local controversies are there about the teaching of evolution?
- Will evaluating the flaws in arguments against evolutionary biology have any effect on legal or political decisions?
Discuss. I suspect that there is enough to discuss without going around in endless circles in the same old abortion rights debate. (Click on the title of this post to go to the comments).
Photograph by Paul Strode.
See also a brief discussion of crepuscular rays here.