September 26, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Rhetoric Heats Up Over Dover IDea

Now that the ACLU’s lawsuit in Dover, Pennsylvania has gone to trial, more and more news media are writing about the controversy over intelligent design.  Many seem to think that the school board is trying to replace Darwinism in high school science classrooms with I.D.; actually, the Dover case does not mandate the teaching of intelligent design at all, but rather requires that administrators read a short statement in class expressing the point that evolution is a theory, not a fact, and that materials showing alternative explanations are available to students who are interested.  No student is forced to read them or use them, and no student is tested on I.D.  Darwinian evolution is still the only explanation for the evolution and development of life taught in the biology curriculum.
    This legal detail has not prevented a flurry of rhetoric over whether ID is scientific, and whether students should be allowed to hear alternatives or not – or even to be told alternatives exist.  In that sense, the controversy should be about whether Darwinism, and the naturalistic philosophy behind it, should be government-protected from scrutiny.  Instead, however, most of the reporting is focused on the scientific merits of intelligent design.  The implicit assumption is that Darwinism is already sound science, no longer in need of critical evaluation.  The mere attempt to arouse doubt about the soundness of Darwinism was enough for the ACLU to pursue its lawsuit.  Since any such doubt is assumed to be “religiously motivated,” the ACLU argues it amounts to an “establishment of religion” and is prohibited on the grounds of “separation of church and state,” even though no church or sect is being promulgated, let alone mentioned.
    Regardless of positions on the lawsuit, both sides are facing the Dover case with trepidation.  A single federal judge – John E. Jones III – may set precedent affecting many other states and school districts.  One side or the other may face difficulty advancing their views depending on the outcome.  With the scientific institutions nearly unanimously lined up on the pro-Darwin side, it looks like a classic David vs. Goliath setup.

  • LiveScience.com is posting a strongly anti-ID series by Ker Than:
    • Part 1 claims ID is trying to “drag science into the supernatural.”
    • Part 2 calls ID “the death of science.”  This article was reprinted on MSNBC.
    • Part 3 calls ID “belief posing as theory.”
    • Part 4 looked at the history of court cases that supposedly ruled “creationism” unconstitutional.
  • MSNBC reporter Alex Johnson wrote about the trial.  Discovery Institute thought this article was fair-minded enough to reprint on their pro-ID site.
  • New York Times printed a story with pictures.
  • Wall Street Journal calls the case “Scopes 2005” (but this time, the Darwinists are the ones trying to outlaw their opposition).
  • Fox News, along with other major news sources, reported on the trial.
  • Lou Dobbs had Eugenie Scott of NCSE and Frank Sherwin of ICR face off for a few minutes, but the short time slot did not allow for much more than a few sound bites.
  • Pressbox.co.uk last week tried to make the strange case that “intelligent design is blasphemy.”  They appealed to some religious people who think I.D. is blasphemous to science, and some who thought it is blasphemous to Christianity (because it declines to identify the Designer).
  • York Dispatch wrote about the Discovery Institute’s refusal to back Dover.
  • Discovery Institute did not approve of Dover’s policy, but nevertheless denounced the “Orwellian” attempts of the ACLU to stifle scientific inquiry.
  • EvolutionNews, a media-watch blog of the Discovery Institute, has Jonathan Witt on the scene who is providing blow-by-blow coverage.  John West listed media myths to watch out for.

The Discovery Institute has posted a resource page for reporters and interested court watchers.  Most of the media coverage begs the question of whether it is proper for the courts to decide matters of science (see 09/16/2005 entry). 

Saturn’s moon Titan is shrouded in smog that obscures its surface, but scientists have a trick: at certain infrared wavelengths, light travels unhindered through the haze, letting the complex geography be seen clearly.  We’re going to give you some wavelengths to see through the haze of rhetorical smoke that is obscuring the real atmosphere around the intelligent design movement.  The smoke is coming out in billows from certain Darwinistas.  Look at this big lie Ker Than tells, for instance: “Yet no true examples of irreducible complexity have ever been found.”  Are we to just take his word for it?  No elephants have ever been found in his living room, either, despite the smell and the fact he can’t move or see anything, because Big Science ruled that elephants cannot be invoked in explanations.  He follows it up with the old bandwagon gimmick: “The concept is rejected by the majority of the scientific community.”  With this kind of smoke in the air, a well-tuned Baloney Detector is a must for navigating through the media without following the blind into the ditch.  Learn to use well these penetrating wavelengths:

  • Science and religion, not science vs. religion:  If you have been told that science and religion are two non-overlapping domains that have nothing to do with each other, you have been sold a bill of goods, and should demand a refund.  Philosophy of science has a long and varied history.  Up until the Darwinian usurpation, it was primarily religious people who did science.  They were the ones who categorized the fields of inquiry, devised the scientific method, founded the branches of science, and were motivated by their philosophy to do scientific work.  The word scientist did not even exist till William Whewell invented it in the 19th century; it was natural philosophy, restricted to the study of tangible, observable natural phenomena.  Scientists were committed to proof by observation, experimentation, and repeatability.  There was no conflict between the pursuit of knowledge (what science means, by definition) and religion.  This is not controversial.*  Of all religions, in particular, it was the Judeo-Christian worldview that was the patron and best friend of science.  The supposed warfare between science and religion is a myth that was promulgated by anti-religious Darwinists in their efforts to make science a secular replacement for religion.
    *For support from disinterested scholars (which is always encouraged here), check out, for instance, the two Teaching Company college-level lecture series on the history of science, where you will find two reputable secular professors making this point emphatically.  You can also read our online book, or the new book by Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God.  Also, notice this line from John Tresch in Science 09/30/2005 in a book review of Making Modern Science: A Historical Survey by Bowler and Morus: “… the book shows that the history of science itself has a rich and varied history–how, for instance, in the 1870s and 1880s the idea of a longstanding ‘war between science and religion’ was invented to bolster budgets in new research universities….”
  • Limits of science:  Science cannot know everything, because not everything can be tested in the lab.  History, for instance, is a branch of knowledge that deals with non-repeatable events of the past; consequently, the methods of investigation are different – eyewitness testimony, artifacts, journals, textual criticism, and the like.  This limitation becomes extreme when dealing with prehistory.  Without observers, one can only make inferences that are more or less plausible.  The farther back one goes, the more these inferences overlap heavily with assumptions, presuppositions and philosophical preferences.  In the limit (when considering ultimate origins), evolution and theology are indistinguishable; the story of origins becomes the science of one religion against the science of another religion.  Here, “science” loses all hope of testability and repeatability, and reduces to its core values: honesty, integrity, love of truth, submission to laws of logic, carefulness and other traits that are essentially religious values.  To suppose that Darwinists, who presume that honesty is a mere emergent property of matter in motion, are more capable of it than theists is as arrogant as it is self-refuting.
  • Natural, Supernatural and Intelligent Causation:  Much of the smog in the debate comes from the Darwinist straw man habit of calling intelligent design “supernatural” and calling it “giving up on science.”  Penetrate this fog with your light saber and you will see much.  Intelligent design is not based on what we don’t know, but on what we do know.  It is not an appeal to a god-of-the-gaps or theological explanation, but the very approach science uses all the time to discern between intentional and non-intentional effects.  I.D. proponents argue that it is a superior explanation of complex, specified, information-rich phenomena, based on the uniformity of experience, than appeals to chance and blind natural law.
        Not all phenomena have intelligent causes, but ruling them out by definition is an arbitrary and potentially show-stopping limitation on science.  Intelligent causes can be discerned from natural causes through rational analysis of the causal resources available.  But it is an exercise in futility to rule out intelligent causes when an intelligence has, indeed, acted.  When one is trying to make an inference to the best explanation about Mt. Rushmore, for instance, or about an archaeological inscription or stone tool, it is foolish to restrict one’s thinking to natural forces like wind and rain.  The ID takes well-known and fruitful methods of design inference and applies them rigorously to biology – not with theological pronouncements from prophets, but with rigorous mathematical and logical reasoning – the same kind used in forensics, cryptography, archaeology, and even SETI.
        If the Darwinists did not have such a political and emotional stake in defending their religion of naturalism, they would find this perfectly acceptable and reasonable.  In short, ID is not a cop-out answer or escape clause the way the Darwinists portray it: “We can’t figure it out scientifically so God must have done it,” but rather a positive affirmation about something we can know from the uniformity of experience.  Any time we find a language – especially one that can be translated into another language and maintain its meaning – we know that a mind produced it.  To say otherwise in order to maintain one’s philosophical preference is the cop-out.  To promise “the check is in the mail” and “it’s an unsolved problem, but we’ll figure out some day” is the escape clause, and the Darwinists are red-handed guilty.
  • Darwinism, R.I.P.  An assumption clouding up much of the reporting is that Darwinism works, or at least that it works better than any other scientific theory (see best-in-field fallacy).  If you have read Creation-Evolution Headlines for any time, you know that Darwinism is positive anti-knowledge (to borrow Colin Patterson’s phrase).  It cannot explain the origin of life, the development of the embryo, speciation, abrupt appearance of new body plans, anything.  It is a dismal failure, a lame, crippled, half-dead horse at the starting line where the rules prohibit the I.D. Seabiscuit from entry.  There is not a single part of evolutionary theory that is not controversial among evolutionists themselves.  The Darwinian method of science has two parts: (1) declare evolution a fact by fiat, and (2) hunt for corroborating evidence (that is, if you feel up to it; none is really necessary, since by #1, evolution is already a fact).  Darwinism has grown into an unwieldy, just-so storytelling empire built on Charlie’s flimsy heuristic (unguided, purposeless natural selection) that is tautological at its root, and fraught with a history of evil fruit.  Darwinists spend their time connecting distant dots of data with pure fiction.  They think that by extrapolating submillimeter changes in beak size they can explain the vast diversity of life, from whales to magnolias.  It’s time to call the Darwinists to accountability after 146 years of failure and open the field to fresh ideas.
  • Design vs. non-design exhausts the possibilities.  LiveScience.com mocked anyone who disagrees with Darwinism by posting its “Top 10 Intelligent Designs (or Creation Myths)” with the implication that if alternatives to Darwinism need to be permitted, then we must decide if schools should teach the Norse creation myth, the Egyptian creation myth, the Zoroastrian creation myth, etc., or all the above.  Luring the unwary reader in with nude art was a cheap trick, but they forgot to include the most lurid fable of all – Darwinism.  The display assumes all these creation stories are on a level playing field.  Any reasonable person could rank them in order of plausibility, but that is beside the point.  Even with the historical fact that it was Christian Europe that gave birth to science, not Persia or the Norse or the Egyptians, that is also completely beside the point.  No one in the I.D. movement is asking that a specific religious account of creation be taught as science.  The issue is about design, not the Designer or how he designed – just whether the phenomenon under investigation was, in fact, designed.
        Either life was designed, or it was not.  Those options exhaust the possibilities.  Design can be inferred by the methods of science without making any claims about who did it, or why.  Even the Darwinists like Richard Dawkins admit that life looks designed for a purpose.  Their approach is to explain away the design, and tempt us away from our common sense and logic, to chase a phantom story that in the misty past design just “emerged” (their favorite miracle word) out of disorder.  Should this mythology have sole rights to be heard in science class?  Intelligent causes are known to be the only explanation for certain classes of phenomena capable of scientific investigation.  No one has ever seen a complex information-rich system, like the DNA language and translation factory, complete with error-correcting mechanisms, arise by chance or natural law.  Why should the philosophical naturalists, like snarling Dobermans, keep healthier bloodhounds, with a nose for design, at bay?  Why should science be arbitrarily restricted from unlocking the mystery of life with a key that works?  More ominously, why should philosophical naturalism be established as a de facto religion guised in the sacred name of science?

The Darwinist strategy is to attach the label “scientific” to their beliefs and label their critics “religious.”  In this way, they hope to protect themselves from scrutiny by framing the legitimate controversies about their storytelling empire in terms of religion vs. science.  They arrogate to themselves the euphemism “scientific” and try to pigeonhole anyone who disagrees with their fable with the meaningless and contemptuous label, “people of faith.”  By inference, they assume for themselves the contrasting ribbon, people of reason.
    Since we are immune to bluffing here, after evaluating their rhetoric and performance, we suggest a counter-label to describe the rabid Darwin defenders: People of Froth.  Foaming at the mouth, these merciless warriors emit masses of fearsome-looking, bubbling matter from their lips, making reporters wilt with awe.  But what is froth upon closer inspection, but a mere agglutination of thin, vulnerable membranes enclosing hot air?  Realizing this can inspire the next thing that is needed after confidence in one’s own intellectual weapons: courage.  Fear thou not the course of the wroth; go forth against froth with the force of truth.  Say that five times real fast, then act on it.

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