Report on the U. Kentucky Law ID lectures

The University of Kentucky held its debate on ID, and Colin Wier, a law student there, has written a report on it from his notes. I have taken the liberty of correcting typos (he wrote this during the presentations) and posting it below the fold. Many thanks to Colin for this hard work.

[Oops, did I say Kansas? Sorry, this isn’t Kansas any more…]

[Note: everything below this is Colin’s report]

These are the rough notes I have from the presentation which focused on looking at the Intelligent Design theory/movement from a philosophical standpoint, and the standpoint of the law. It occurred on Feb. 27 at 4:00 at the UK Court of Law Courtroom. This debate was not about the head to head comparison of ID and Evolution. That is best the realm of other debates, mostly with real scientists. This symposium was instead about the philosophical comparisons of the movements, followed by the application of precedent in the Federal Courts. I should go ahead to make the disclaimer that I was typing fast, so please forgive any typos I’ve missed and the lack of sentence structure in some notes. Dr. Look and Prof. Salamaca both used “Darwinists” and “Evolutionists” interchangably. First up was Dr. Look - Prof. of Philosophy at the University of Kentucky.

Dr. Look’s Presentation:

Dr. Look specializes in the Philosophy of Science, and his slide presentation was entitled “Creationism and ID Theory: Bad Science, Bad Philosophy, Bad Religion.” If you would like a copy, you can e-mail him one at I suggest you do, as I wasn’t able to take down all the quotations and also missed a number of points. He first talked about the difference of Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism. YEC - basically evangelical. OEC - God guides the hand through the evolution of organisms, but they believe Earth is the date commonly described in today’s society. He noted that Creationists themselves aren’t of one mind, a like criticism for Evolutionists when the ID proponents claim that they have no unity.

Dr. Look pointed out a definition of ID Theory - “…Asserts the complexity and order observable in the world can best (or only) be explained by the existence of a mind or intelligence. That is, the theory denies that the phenomena can best be explained naturaliscally and physicalistically.” His next slide was entitled “YEC = Yuck!” which got a few laughs. YEC - questioned how it can survive in scientific norms, like how the kangaroos hopped to the continent of Australia from Pangea in 6k years. If you want to adhere to YEC you have to chuck a whole lot of things out, such as chemistry and physics that comport with it. Touched on problems of YEC, went to history of ID and “Darwinism.” He then said that ID should not be taught b/c it’s manifestly inferior to the Theory of Evolution, not b/c it’s religion masquerading as science.

Here are where the quotations came quick and fast, and I wasn’t able to write them all down. First, Dr. Look had a quoatation by Aquinas from “Summa Theologica” - “The Five Ways,” which are the five ways to know the existence of God. Sums up that there is order, that order must comes from God.

He then quoted Hume from “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.” Dr. Look recounts how he was known as “Great Infidel” for his publications in Scotland. Great quote, don’t have time to put it down. Hume is having a conversation with two of his characters, one of which makes the argument for some sort of intelligent design. Hume’s other character then raises a host of criticisms of the theory in the book. “We have no experience with the creation of worlds, therefore we are not justified in making the inference that the ID theorist wishes us to make.” “Since we observe imperfections in nature, we have no reason to beleieve that the cause of the world is perfect.” Then, there are some very funny quotations from Hume. “Perhaps the world is ‘only one first rude essay of some infant Deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance.’” Anyway, a little off point, but some interesting points that show the history is long when it comes to the beginning of ID. At this point, Dr. Look talks about the various Gods that have been attributed to ID, including a Benevolent God, a Trickster God, a Mischevious God, an Imperfect God, and a Perfect God.

Look makes the point that we have just as much reason to assume that God is, or the gods are, imperfect, finite, dead, ignorant, mean-spirited, so on and so forth.

Now we’re looking at “Darwinism” and the words of Chuck himself. Dr. Look makes the argument that Darwin’s theory is much more probable than evolution. Uses excellent logic, not repeated here. See slides. Some birds only have one ovary that works, makes the good point a female couldn’t fly if she had two working ovaries, and that’s an excellent point that flying birds evolved this feat while flightless birds didn’t. I would like someone to look that one up. He then points out the Imperfect God and Trickster God theories, which would still be inferior to Evolution, and therefore shouldn’t be thought.

Dr. Look now summarizes the various strands of arguments against Evolution. Strands of Anti-Evolutionists

Negative - Criticism of Darwinian Theory, Criticism of Methodological Naturalism. Postive - ID (Behe and Dembski)

No time was spent on discussing the Negative Arguments, Dr. Look concentrated on Behe and Dembski. Quotes Behe, “Molecular Machines: Experimental Support for the Design Inference.” Points out the mousetrap analogy.

A Humean Answer - If we take the analogy seriously, we have the same problem that Hume pointed to with respect to the principle of Analogy:

Who’s the designer? What’s the designer like? Good? Evil? Indifferent? When does the designer choose to design things? All the time? Sometimes?

Then, Rebuttal. Points out the anscestral systems that may have been for different purposes. Uses the argument that we have ancestral functions that are different yet useful, that further evolve to what we know as the flagellum. This is just repeating the argument that what we now know as the flagellum may have started out as something else entirely, and refutes the mousetrap analogy.

Now, Dr. Look goes to Dembski. Points out his “Explanatory Filter” that relies on three possiblities for a natural phenomenon: Regularity (or Law), Chance, and Design. In the end, from Dembski’s definitions of each, Dr. Look points out the Design inference is, in a sense, the default position. Dembski keeps the bars of Regularity and Chance so high, that the only possible explanation to get out of his writings is that there’s always some sort of Design. How do we know what probabilities to assign to events anyhow? Why assume that something that’s very improbable is the result of design rather than chance?

Conclusion - Hume had good responses, even back in the day with his arguing characters. Doesn’t really tie ID to OEC, but shows how they are related, at the very least.

Prof. Salamaca - Prof. of Law:

Prof. Salamaca looks at the issue in the result of the First Amendment. Focuses on the Legal aspect, and also the Sociology and Psychology aspect, to which he said he doesn’t have too much training.

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has become less rigid in the approach to Establishment of Religion over the last 25 years, but it’s remained consistent in its attitude towards inclusion of religious text/iconography in public schools. For 44 years, they’ve forbidden many things, such as daily Bible readings, placement of 10 commandments, moments of silence for prayer, and non-secular prayers at graduations. However, they’ve not forbidden reference to religion in public schools, so it’s okay to talk about it in context.

There was a case citation here, Abington (I think), where SCOTUS said you need to study religious history for your understanding of civilization. The Bible can then be used as an interesting guide.

Now Prof. Salamaca discusses the Lemon test. See Kitzmiller v. Dover for a more thorough explanation of the mechanisms of that test. Basically, it’s a three-prong test, where Prof. Salamaca just looked at the first prong: the law must lack a secular purpose. Really, it’s very hard to not find a secular purpose. Notice the “a” secular purpose. Courts are therefore often sensitve to “toxic backstory,” or a prequel to an apparently neutral policy under review that suggest the Gov’t or district in question earlier attempted an overt promotion of religion, but was unable to do so on Constitutional grounds. He then cites ACLU v. McCreary county, from Ky. A religious purpose will make the law void, even if the policy is not religious on its face.

In ‘68, there was Epperson v. Arkansas. This forbade teaching Evolution, and was struck down. Same for a statute in Louisiana that required teaching Genesis alongside Evolution. Notes the argument will be made that attempts to forbid Darwin’s theory, and require ID alongside that theory, will form a backstory for attempts to require the teaching of ID. So, ID will use the previous failures to shoehorn in.

Notes ID is not connected with any particular religious view. However, it will be asserted the sequence of ID from OEC to now, and it will be toxic. For reasoning on this issue, again see Kitzmiller v. Dover. He believes it can be discussed in public if it located it in the curriculum with great care, likely law and philosophy, not biology or chemistry. Prof. Salamaca makes the argument that in HS or Middle School it might be forbidden alltogether.

Prof. Salamaca caveats that he’s not a scientist, but if one apprehended a phenomenon of significant complexity that was not suspected, he’d have an adversion to chalk it up to some supernatural means, by reasons of training. He’d then, arguably, have an argument for faith in science that a creationist would in Genesis. He doesn’t find fault with that, just notes it.

Prof. Salamaca then goes to sociological/psychological needs of those that rely on Genesis. He notes that people can think and believe what they want, but is willing to say that it’s hard to promote a literal teaching of Genesis with evolution. The theology of God gives rise to problems, such as Evil. Why would a benevolent omnicient God give rise to Nazis? The other theology of a limited power, limited knowledge, and limited benevolence God presents problems to the believer. We can’t make the assumption that we should forgo the benevolent God argument, b/c people need it. However, those that reject that view are the exception, not the rule. Really, I’m confused as to this point, but I believe that what he’s trying to say is some people need religion, and we should be respectful of those persons. Note: See personal question at the end.

Now, Prof. Salamaca notes that God-less religions are often adopted by the intellectual elite. Quotes some Prof. Stark, who’s appealing to the notion that human beings are limited, and may have a weakness for a perception of a God that’s benevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent that gives rise to the adherence of faith in the face of irrefutable facts.

Prof. Salamaca makes the general note that vouchers have been upheld. Programs with rich options (both sectarian and non-sectarian) would likely survive review.

Prof. Salamaca realizes that Prof. Look has great points, but takes the position that there’s a psychological, or personal compenent, to religion, and people should be permitted to adhere to that view if that’s their preference, and the political and legal system should do their utmost to facilitate that.


Voucher system - What are the limitations? Can schools teach evolution and critiques the same amount? Prof. Salamaca says that things are limited state to state, and there are exit requirements. That addresses what’s being raised. As long as a sectarian school teaches what’s required by the state at a minimum, they can teach whatever else they want that might not run afoul of the Establishment Clause even though they’re using some public dollars.

Now there is an question asking what the argument is against teaching ID as component of world religion class. It’s fine, says Prof. Salamaca. You can have course on various accounts of the universe and talk of Genesis. Prof. Look says he’s happy if all high schools have philosophy courses. This elicits a number of chuckles from the audience.

At this point, someone gets on a soapbox, and makes a religious reponse to Hume - i.e. creator could be evil… can’t religious people say they have a good God, and yet there’s a designer, then combine the two, saying the Designer is evil, but not the good God? Prof. Look says they can, that’s fine. The problem is that ID leaves problems for the theist, and the argument for design shouldn’t be taken as belief in a benevolent God. For devout theists, there are different central beliefs that may be justified in a different way than the agnostic web of belief that science builds.

Comment, that it’s disingenuous to say that God is a micromanager. Second, it looks like scientists have come to the reluctant conclusion that irreduceable complexity may be a scientific fact, but then those scientists (not connected with the ID movement) are pounced on by the “Darwinists.” Prof. Look says he’s sympathetic to scientists who are blackballed as ID theorists and still want to point to science, in that if you don’t buy the whole thing you won’t get published. That’s a bad thing. However, in terms of philosophical issues, when you say “many” have come to the conclusion that there’s irreduceable complexity, Dr. Look stresses that what’s said is they can’t explain NOW the origins of the functionality of that system. Behe takes that claim, then says it’s impossible and couldn’t be explained in principle. Science says we don’t know NOW, but we might know in the future. Science revises as it goes, not comes to conclusion the second it sees something new and challenging.

Question of why does ID only address evolution? Couldn’t that be used as toxic history? Prof. Salamaca says that toxic backstory is a play in many acts, and you have to make sure the motivation in the first act was to get religion in the classroom. They can try to get their religious beliefs in through a number of ways, but using the lens of the first try we can see a religious intent. Why isolate this issue for focus and showing an alternative to Darwin? Why require a single alternative, as opposed to a third or fourth? It looks like circumstantial evidence that the Government’s real desire is to promote religion. Potentially, they could say that they mandate the teaching of alternate theories for cosmology (neutral subject). It might yet be the case that ID is vulnerable now for the circumstantial evidence of a single focus.

Here, a commentor notes that McCreary Co. (a 10 Commandments in the courtroom case) is going to have a hard time erasing the past. Prof. Salamaca says it’d be hard to make the argument that McCreary county is putting up the 10 Commandments for a secular purpose now. He notes they’d have to have completely new Gov’t saying they don’t want to put up the 10 Commandments, then they all have sudden changes of heart, and want to talk of ancient sources of right and wrong. Not very likely. Now, ID may be a different story in McCreary, b/c the toxic backstory may not be transferrable to that issue like it is to the display of the 10 Commandments.

Note: When it comes to toxic backstory, judges aren’t stupid. They look at the entire history of the Gov’t in the action as well as the view from the reasonably prudent person. At times, this may be the reasonably prudent student, as it was in Kitzmiller v. Dover.

A question is asked about how are we not cordoning off Evolution by not letting people talk about the critiques? The questioner then points out there is little consensus about how life began, and how there are no strong hypotheses. Questioner further points out there’s a huge gap to having said we have a completely naturalistic account, yet the way biology is taught leaves that impression. Questioner then hypothesizes that this is what concerns the ID people, and what they’re trying to eliminate. Questioner further hypothesizes that for those who teach ID, it’s more important to relieve that strong impression that naturalism has been confirmed. Prof. Salamaca agrees, but he seems to think that there is a happy medium to this whole issue, although we’ve not yet found it. Prof. Salamaca says that if people want to think that leaves are two colors b/c God painted them, let them go to a school that teaches it, so long as they function in society. Prof. Look counters with do we want the Big Bang and Creationism in the physics class? Prof. Look says in high school and lower grades we’re trying to teach the best “theory,” and none is really complete. Notes that Newtonian physics don’t work at the quantum level, and he wasn’t taught that in high school, but that doesn’t mean that Newtonian Physics or Quantum Physics are wrong. Prof. Look agrees, let people learn whatever they want, but not on his money.

Commentator notes that ID is only concerned with Evolution, quotes “Icons of Evolution,” which is used to show things that have been disproven in the biological conclusion that are still in there. Says bad biology education has real world results, and that’s driving those who want to include critcisms of evolution. Prof. Look says that if it were possible to bracket personal beliefs it seems that there’s still a pedagogical issue of how to bring students to think like biologists, physicists, lawyers, etc. You’re taught to think in a certain way, and that’s how we approach high school and lower sciences.

This commentator was corrected by a few biologists in the room for a statement about a subject that went way over my head, and to which I had no knowledge.

There will be a presentation April 7 - A History from Scopes to Dover, Fri, 5:00, at the UK College of Law Courtroom.

After the presentation, I had a chance to ask some questions. Prof. Look answered a question I had about a difference from this era and others. I noticed that things seemed to change in the views of the populace about science after the bomb was developed…first we accepted science, then we seemed to have rejected it. He said that current ID proponents may have beef with science b/c they’ve seen the evil it can do (nuclear holocaust, biological warfare, stem-cell research) and the things it can prove (global warming) that dispute their worldview, or just plain scare them.

Then, Dr. Look pointed out an author, whose name was Alvin Plantinga. He pointed out three books as good reads on the subject of the differences between the beliefs of science and religion: God, Freedom, and Evil, Warranted Christian Belief, and Warrant: The Current Debate.

I then asked Prof. Salamaca a question that cleared up a lot of his thinking for me. I asked him, “Do you believe that Gov’t is established to allow the rule of the majority, or protect the beliefs of the minority?” He thought very seriously and answered that he believed it was there to protect the beliefs of the minority. Prof. Salamaca is trying to thread the fine line between Freedom FROM Religion and Freedom OF Religion, but I believe he is approaching this from a viewpoint of all schools, and not just public ones.

The crowd was very attentive and had excellent questions, but it seems the philosophy majors spoke a lot more than the law students. We are, after all, a very jaded group. In the end, I recommend reading the opinion in Kitzmiller. It’s almost treatise-like in it’s application of both the Lemon test and the Endorsement test, the two current tests for the Establishment Clause.