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Thursday, March 27, 2008

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MenTaLguY

If the ID people could stop making bogus scientific claims and telling outright lies, I might agree with you. As it is, I could not in good conscience support the teaching of "ID" (as the discovery institute presents it) in schools. Spending precious time in a science curriculum to exhaustively critique it would be giving it attention it doesn't deserve, at the expense of actual science education.

I would love it if schools could spend some time on the philosophy and theology of creation, but "ID" -- because of the distortions and lies associated with the term -- is a distraction and, worse, actually poisons the well for legitimate discussion of such things after its lies are revealed.

Mark, please, please, **PLEASE** look into both sides of the story for yourself rather than simply assuming the ID/EXPELLED people are telling the unvarnished truth about anything. These guys are not on the side of the angels any more than "radical atheists" like Dawkins.

Karen

I have seen it once and I am going back to a second screening. I found it to be mind boggling.

I watched, with my own eyes, Dawkins admit he could believe in Intelligent Design if we were put here by space aliens and we could get the Hebrew God out of the picture.

Expelled is excellent, VERY smart, well-produced -- for once Christians come out looking intelligent and, in fact, it is the atheists who look so dumb that everyone at my screening laughed out loud.

I am thrilled that the movie is coming out and this is the last place I expected to see it get bad press by someone who hasn't seen it.

Karen

Sorry if that sounded snippy -- I on day three of a nonstop headache. But I really liked the movie a lot and I suspect that all hell will rain down on it as soon as it opens.

MenTaLguY

I'm sorry about the headache; I hope you feel better soon. I didn't intend to comment on the content of the movie itself, which I haven't seen. My concern is that the producers, in their public actions, appear to be more concerned with telling Christians what they want to hear than with truth.

For example, it may be gratifying to see Dawkins say what he really thinks (his materialistic worldview obviously has more room in it for space aliens than for God), but I find it a little troubling that the interview was obtained under false pretenses.

If the movie becomes a source of scandal and an obstacle to proclaiming the gospel because of the producers' persistent mendacity, I can't bring myself to see that as a good thing, however good the movie tries to make me feel.

Jim Lippard

What is the content of ID that you would have taught in public schools, and in what contexts? Science classes at the elementary school and high school level should be limited to what Henry Bauer calls "textbook science"--science that has been well established in the journals and reached the point of strong agreement, near consensus. "Frontier science" is what research scientists are pursuing, trying to extend science in new directions or overthrow existing theories.

The ID theorists aren't even practicing frontier science yet, because they've chosen to spend money on PR campaigns rather than research. Until they do, and start formulating testable hypotheses and finding them productive, there's nothing under the rubric of "intelligent design" that merits being taught in science classrooms.

Mark Brumley

Do we know the producers were deceptive?

Jim Lippard

By the way, Dawkins didn't "gate crash." P.Z. Myers of the Pharyngula blog signed up via a publicly announced web page, got a confirmed place at the film, and Dawkins was present as one of the number of guests Myers counted in his registration submission. Producer Mark Mathis stated afterward that Myers was specifically singled out for expulsion out of spite, because Mathis wanted to make him have to pay to see the movie.

The producers have now changed their registration page to say "private screening" instead of "Welcome!", but it's still a public web page that anyone can get to and register at.

Jim Lippard

Mark: We do know that the producers were deceptive. The following is just some of the evidence:

1. They created a false front production company called "Rampant Films," with a website that listed some innocuous-appearing films, and a mailing address that was a vacant apartment building in L.A.

2. "Rampant Films" arranged the interviews with Eugenie Scott, P.Z. Myers, and Richard Dawkins, for a film called "Crossroads," an alleged movie about the intersection between science and religion. These interviews were arranged and took place between April and August of 2007.

3. In March 2007--before any of the above occurred--the producers already knew that the film was being produced by Premise Media, not Rampant Films, and they had already registered the domain name "expelledthemovie.com."

4. The producers have given a series of mutually contradictory explanations about P.Z. Myers' expulsion from the film. Mathis' statement about kicking Myers out because he wanted to make him pay to see it came from an email he sent to Denyse O'Leary, which she published on her blog--publicly, Mathis and producer/co-writer/funder Walt Ruloff were telling a different story, that Myers was a gate crasher or that they thought he would be disruptive, contrary to Dawkins. I suspect they didn't actually realize Dawkins was present until he stood up during the Q&A.

Augustine

I agree with Peter Kreeft, from his Snakebite Letters, that "public" schools are more accurately called state schools.

MenTaLguY

Jim said what I would have. It's not like the producers were caught in a "misstatement" or two. We're talking about a consistent pattern of behavior.

The thing that troubles me the most about "Intelligent Design" is the scandal caused by the association of Christians with the behavior of its most vocal proponents. This is especially serious as Dawkins et. al have begun to loudly captialize on it, characterizing Christians as inveterate liars (his review of the movie was entitled "Lying for Jesus").

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I've come to believe that the "Intelligent Design" movement is a plan by Satan to discredit the Gospel in the minds of many by:

  1. associating Christianity with public liars
  2. distracting Christians from proclaiming the Gospel (instead expending their efforts defending "Intelligent Design")
  3. innocculating the public against good, traditional, arguments for God's existence (many ID arguments are superficially similar to traditional arguments, but have significant lacunae and rely on propositions about the material world that are known to be untrue)

In the past few years I have increasingly found my efforts to share the Gospel with my peers hampered by the need to establish that I'm not one of those "Intelligent Design people". Very often if I so much as use the word "intelligence" or "design" in an apologetic these days, I lose my listeners because they associate those terms with deception. I find that immensely frustrating.

Todd

"If parents want their kids to study ID in public school, parents should have that right."

Take a number. Also lined up are astrology, ouija, tarot, and any number of other advocacies. If parents want their kids to learn ID, I have one suggestion: teach it to them yourselves.

It's not a right. Parents have an obligation to teach their children. Sometimes kids get taught falsehoods, superstitions, and the like. That's the way it goes.

Carl Olson

I agree with Peter Kreeft, from his Snakebite Letters, that "public" schools are more accurately called state schools.

Worse. In many instances they are simply glorified state daycare centers.

MenTaLguY

On a more positive note.

The important thing is not to simply take someone's word for what's been going on. Not the producers', not Dawkins', nor any of us here in the comments. Find out both sides of the story, evaluate their self-consistency, and look at the corroborating evidence. The ID people need to be treated with the same critical rigor as Dan Brown. (If I am misled and they really are honest folk, they are perfectly capable of enduring that sort of scrutiny.)

We also need to find ways to proclaim the full Gospel in ways that address the same contemporary concerns as ID, but which avoid confusion with ID's "theism lite" approach or their dishonest arguments. Cardinal Schönborn is one person giving thought to those kinds of things, and I'm glad to see Ignatius publishing him.

State schools are also part of the problem, and are often not teaching much of anything of value anymore. Given that it is adults who are responsible for them, if we want to make inroads into the evangelization of the coming generations, we must also pay careful attention to the evangelization of the contemporary adults who will (whether as parent or teacher) have the most effect on their formation.

Karen

I hadn't heard any of the stuff about the producers deceiving the interviewees and would certainly like to hear both sides on that. But Dawkins, for example, was sitting there talking to Ben Stein, who is not exactly an undercover agent. So I'm a tad confused.

I'm sure I'll get to read ALL about it in the near future.

MenTaLguY

Dawkins did say that he wasn't familiar with Ben Stein before this happened. I don't know whether that is true, but bear in mind that Dawkins is a British citizen and isn't necessarily familiar with American popular culture.

M. Jordan Lichens

I suppose that Dr. Dawkins has a right to be a little frustrated, as no one likes being made to look stupid under false pretenses. In all honesty, if such deception was at work then we ought to be a little bit annoyed.

As for the ID debate, I wonder if there's any philosophers outside of Anthony Flew who might be able to give more credence to ID. Further, could a review of de Chardin be in order?

M. Jordan Lichens

I suppose that Dr. Dawkins has a right to be a little frustrated, as no one likes being made to look stupid under false pretenses. In all honesty, if such deception was at work then we ought to be a little bit annoyed.

As for the ID debate, I wonder if there's any philosophers outside of Anthony Flew who might be able to give more credence to ID. Further, could a review of de Chardin be in order?

MenTaLguY

Frankly, I would be more concerned with giving credence to Christianity than to Intelligent Design.

I suppose it is good that Flew's philosophy eventually led him to become a theist, but on the other hand the propositions of his philosophy exclude the possibility of God's benevolence or continued interest in the world; he is essentially a deist. Indeed, one of the problems with "Intelligent Design" is that it is too quick to be associated with the arguments of anyone vaguely theist, without much concern for where their arguments ultimately lead. Are we Christians, or are we merely anti-atheists?

I think it is better to expend our efforts presenting sound Christian doctrine than it would be to content ourselves with defending a generic "theism lite" because the latter is supposed to be more "palatable" to the world. There is a place for "generic theism", but that is in the relational sphere (e.g. twelve-step programs), not in the sphere of philosophy or theology. Thomists seem to think the difficult problems with theism and science have been worked out already. Are we now ashamed of Aquinas because he is too explicit in his Christianity?

T.J.

Y'all need to look into the CONTENT of the film, which is superb and rivals anything Al Gore or Michael Moore has done.
The titles of the production company and film did change, but anyone who has spent more than 3 days in Hollywood, will realize that this isn't a big deal. No one inside Hollywood is raising a stink, just folks who do not want to see anything that resembles a socially-conservative agenda leaking out in the public square. But, the ironic thing is that I.D. is the most liberal theory out there, much more open to scientific exploration than the rivaling LAW of Darwinism. Both are THEORYS!

They explained to all involved that the film would be an exploration of religion and science(which it is). Ben came in the latter part of production and brought a lot of what you see today. They are just freaking out because Dawkins looks foolish, and well,(Plot spoiler!) no one conned him to saying what he did. He got his questions ahead of time and they stuck by it. The film was originally called Crossroads, but they changed it to be a little bit marketing savvy.

Nyt have picked up on the story and have blown it out of proportion.

The film speaks for itself. As Christians, this is a wonderful start, because we have a chance to start being relevant with secular world.

Karen

This will be a more interesting conversation when you guys have seen the film, because you're attacking it for things it doesn't do.

MenTaLguY

T.J., it's one thing to change the title and the production company (which is indeed commonplace). It's another thing altogether to invent a false title they weren't going to use, and set up a "front" company with a bogus address.

Also, without commenting on the film itself, ID has not historically shown itself to be open to considering evidence that contradicts its scientific assertions; usually, any such evidence is ignored or worse. Please don't take my word for it; there are plenty of well-cited critiques of ID out there at this point. Please learn about the science and examine the evidence for yourself. I hope for the sake of many that the film is better in this regard.

Karen, I think it's legitimate to attack the producers for the things they did do, and to critique ID generally. I'm still reserving judgment on the content of the film since I haven't seen it yet (at this point I think it's necessary that I do).

Rick

Many great responses here! I would like to address the issue in relation to Catholic thought.

I don't think that it would be proper to call Flew a proponent of ID as a science per se, rather he seems to of the same philosophical ilk as those who see it as a philosophical issue and not a scientific one.

Fr. Stanley Jaki views the ID of those that claim it as a science as rather bad science, philosophy and theology. He thinks that it is too Protestant in its origins, because such arguments tend to be rooted in an underlying thought system that lacks a good metaphysical base. St. Thomas’ proofs are based on an analogy of being and the real metaphysics alone, they point to design from a being who is absolute and pure act, God. As far as I can tell, the ID as argued from the likes of the Discovery Institute is not rooted in a solid philosophy because they lack an analogy of being. Their designer could be an alien or any angel for that matter! These types of arguments tend to move empirical science to the metaphysical; this is reminiscent of the Protestant design arguments of Paley and others in his time. The historian of science Lawrence M. Principe argues that Paley and the design arguments of his day were for the purpose of piety/devotion rather than a philosophical and/or scientific purpose. Design arguments that move from an empirical observation to a conclusion of design make what I call an “illicit ontological leap.” They do the same thing they critique the Neo-Darwinians for, who move from empirical observation to metaphysical statements like “matter is the only reality” and “there is no God.”

If Jaki and Principe and the so-called illicit ontological leap are correct, then should Catholics not only be leery of endorsing ID as a science but also having it taught in schools even as philosophy?

For me, it remains an open question.

Screwtape

My Dear Wormwood,

It's an excellent idea, yes: Get them to focus on the margins, on the periphery - persuade them to take their eyes from that blasted Cross and to look instead at...anything else! Prod them to spend a lifetime doing it - all the while letting them think they're being most pious by doing so!

Your affectionate Uncle,

Screwtape

Mark Brumley

So much discussion. Good.

Some distinctions seem to be in order to help us avoid talking past each other. First, between ID as espoused by a specific group and ID in general. Second, between Intelligent Design as a theory or set of theories and the general notion of the discernibility of design in nature or, specifically, in organisms. Third, between an approach to natural or philosophical theology that is satisfied with the "thin slice" of God (as Peter Kreeft refers to it) that "unaided reason" can know and one that embraces such knowledge of God but is not satisfied with it. Fourth, between what you or I think true and what is or is not appropriate to be taught as something students in public school should be aware of.

Just because some people who espouse ID do so in a dishonest way doesn't mean all proponents of ID are dishonest. That some critics of ID and of Christianity have used the sins of some ID proponents as grounds for making sweeping generalizations about ID proponents or Christians in general shows that those critics are unfair and, unless they change their attitudes, unfit for public dialogue with people with whom they disagree.

Whatever can be said for or against ID as a theory or a set of theories proposed as science, the notion of the detectibility of "design" has not been shown to be flawed or discredited. I have yet to read a serious engagement of the issue by a scientific critic of "design" that grapples with all the careful and thoughtful philosophical distinctions the best proponents of the argument make. Instead, what I have usually encountered is superficial, dismissive accounts by people who try to parlay their scientific expertise into a claim to authority in fields manifestly outside their competence.

While some philosophers, theologians, and apologists may be satisfied with the Thin Slice of God arguments, most of the philosophers, theologians, and apologist I read and/or know are not. So I am perplexed by claims that arguments for God based on ID or some version of ID or more general arguments from design lead to deism. Why so? Certainly most of the above who employ such arguments are not deists or satisfied that deism is sufficient.

Finally, just because I don't think ID works as science or even that at least some versions of ID don't work even as philosophy doesn't mean that ID should not be taught in school. Do we really want to hold the position that says, "I will endorse to be taught in public school only those things that I personally think are true?" Surely, students should be exposed to lots of ideas you and I think are false. Surely, students need to know about things that you and I regard as false ideas if for no other reason than to avoid them or to refute them? What's more, public schools belong to parents and to taxpayers who aren't parents, so shouldn't they have the major say in what is or is not taught in schools, even if they think something is science that you and I think isn't or they think something is sound philosophy that you and I think isn't?

MenTaLguY

I think it would be best to use a distinct term to refer to "ID in general", unless you want to embark upon the daunting project of recovering the general use of the term "intelligent design" in the public mind. Because of aggressive PR, the term has become very closely linked with the Discovery Institute and their associates. I do not think we can any longer use it in a general sense without severe confusion. So, to be clear, I use it here to refer specifically to the efforts of the "ID movement". I am not referring to the general class of "arguments from design"; I think even "thin slice" arguments from design are fine so long as their limitations are recognized.

With respect to the way philosophy ought to be handled in schools, I agree with you, but I have yet to see ID clearly defined as a scientific or philosophical position in a way that lends itself to that approach. The Discovery Institute does not appear to be putting forth a coherent scientific or philosophical position, but instead a protean collection of assertions and emotional appeals which constitute an anti-Darwinian publicity campaign rather than a positive argument. An attempt to meet it on its own terms would mean simply trading assertions and emotional appeals with people who are more practiced at the use of the media and have demonstrated themselves to be quite willing to employ deception, and you must be careful to avoid the appearance of defending Darwinism at the same time.

Now, I think a critique of ID can be mounted on the basis of the philosophical and theological ideas which provide a basis for most of the assertions which it has made, but because of ID's nature I am not sure that simply doing so is the most effective way to meet it in a basic educational setting; working to address basic theological, scientific, and media literacy is more likely to be effective. Without literacy in those areas, I do not think a serious critique of ID assertions would be comprehensible, but on the other hand, given literacy in all three areas, I think very little specific critique of ID would be required.

MenTaLguY

Rick: Incidentally, did you know that Darwin was himself a disciple of Reverend Paley?

MenTaLguY

Rick: Incidentally, were you aware that Darwin was himself a disciple of Reverend Paley?

M. Jordan Lichens

MenTaLguY,
A few points of clarification that I think need to be made. I did not, in any way, shape or form call Flew a Christian and I wouldn't dare do as such. He has stated in countless interviews that his idea of a deity is more in line with Aristotle's and I am quite alright with that if we are merely talking about a philosophical notion of the universe having a cause in a Creator, be it a benevolent deity or an impersonal uncaused cause.

As for affirming Christian truths first and foremost, I agree! It is the job of the Christian theologian to affirm Truth and all that Truth illumines to be true. On the other hand, does the philosopher (Christian or none) walk away from a staggering debate because the dialectic and its answers may not be too comfortable or easy? I confess that ID is weak in a lot of areas, and the answer to the First Cause has been an ongoing debate well before Christ, but I don't see why we should just ignore the question if we truly seek after truth. From a philosophical view point, which where I thought the debate was going, there is much to be explored and I for one enjoy exploring the various ideas.

Which brings me back to another question, is it time for a reconsideration of Pierre de Chardin?

MenTaLguY

Whoops. Sorry for the double-post. Took me a moment to figure out that my comments were rolling over onto a new page (a new feature?).

(Carl/Mark/et. al, please feel free to delete my redundant comments.)

MenTaLguY

Well, you spoke of Flew rehabilitating Intelligent Design. Apparently you meant arguments from design or arguments from intelligence generally? I'd assumed you meant something like the Flew restoring respectability to the Discovery Institute, but perhaps I've been too focused on "ID-the-PR-campaign". For the sake of clarity, let's say "Intelligent Design" when we mean the "ID movement", and "argument from design" when we mean the more general class of arguments for the existence of God based on the appearance of intentionality or intelligible structure in nature. Flew, in any case, has gotten associated with the Discovery Institute folks, and vice-versa.

My only problem with that more general class of arguments is that (in my experience) the actions of the Discovery Institute have poisoned the well, destroying their utility in apologetics. I think they're still worth considering for the sake of philosophy.

As far as de Chardin, I don't know. Some of his ideas as they have been described to me strike me as a bit too "New Agey", and my biggest concern is that I get the impression that he might not make the proper ontological distinctions around the creation of the spiritual human soul. But that is based on crude impressions of his thought and I am reluctant to dismiss it without having first attained more familiarity, and some of the right people supposedly like him. I don't feel like I'm familiar enough with his thought to evaluate its prospects at this point.

Jim Lippard

Mark Brumley wrote: "Finally, just because I don't think ID works as science or even that at least some versions of ID don't work even as philosophy doesn't mean that ID should not be taught in school. Do we really want to hold the position that says, "I will only endorse to be taught in public school those things that I personally think are true?" Surely, students should be exposed to lots of ideas you and I think are false. Surely, students at least need to know about what are to you and I false ideas if for no other reason than to avoid them or to refute them?"

I ask the same question I asked above--just what is the content of "ID" that you propose be taught, when they haven't yet successfully even *put forth* a testable hypothesis, let alone tested one. (Only Jonathan Wells came close, with the poster he presented at ASCB on centrioles in 2004, but he didn't really do the work to precisely formulate or test his hypothesis, and it's been falsified by someone else.)

*Somebody* has to actually do the scientific work and get some results first, before there is anything to teach in science classes.

M. Jordan Lichens

I suppose I meant a more general definition, I forget that certain concepts quickly get associated with PAC's and Special Interest Groups in our culture and I guess I owe my apologies for speaking too generally on these boards. However, I see your point that ID has become a poisoned well and I will make a better attempt to differentiate between ID-as-PR and arguments from design and teleological observations. Thanks for the mostly civil discussion guys!

Mark Brumley

I ask the same question I asked above--just what is the content of "ID" that you propose be taught, when they haven't yet successfully even *put forth* a testable hypothesis, let alone tested one. (Only Jonathan Wells came close, with the poster he presented at ASCB on centrioles in 2004, but he didn't really do the work to precisely formulate or test his hypothesis, and it's been falsified by someone else.)

*Somebody* has to actually do the scientific work and get some results first, before there is anything to teach in science classes.

Whether there is more to say for ID's claims to be science I will leave for defenders of ID to argue, since I am not among them. I will take issue with the claim that somebody has to actually do scientific work and get some results first, before there is anything to teach in science class. Says who?

I think there is little or no genuine scientific basis to astrology, yet I would like my children to hear the claims made for astrology's scientific merit in science class and I would like them to hear the arguments against such claims. Likewise, when certain scientists claim that human beings are significantly contributing to global warming and global warming is such as to threaten human well-being I want my children to hear both sides of that debate in science class. I don't care whether the case is clear and decisive for one side or the other or whether there is evidence on both sides. If there is a socially significant claim made based on science or allegedly based on science, then I want my children to know the relevant elements of both sides of the argument. That's part of what it means to be a free society.

Let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that there is absolutely no scientific evidence in support of ID and no testable hypotheses that ID gives rise to. Fine. Explain that. Talk about why ID lacks scientific support. Talk about what science is, what scientific theories are, etc. If you think that too politically charged a position, then teach the controversy. (Yes, I know many ID proponents take that line and many ID opponents claim it is just a way to get ID taught where its opponents claim it shouldn't be, but making the claim doesn't make it so.) Why shouldn't the controversy be taught. It's a controversy about what science is or isn't and about whether a particular theory that has social significance is or isn't science, for crying out loud.

I'll even go further and say that, given the massive social significance of the issues touched on in this controversy, children in public school should be allowed to hear both sides. I simply don't see why that should be regarded as shocking or out of the question.

To the objection that there isn't time for ID to be discussed in science class, I say, "Make time." I'm the parent and taxpayer here. This is important to me. If enough parents and taxpayers think it important, it doesn't matter one iota whether the AAS or any other professional association of scientists think class time shouldn't be devoted to it. They're not the ones who should have the final say. Parents and taxpayers should.

Of course, perhaps not enough parents and taxtpayers agree with me. Then that's too bad for me. But unless that's the case it is hard for me to understand the arguments against having ID discussed in public schools, even in public school science classes. It is not as if other erroneous ideas aren't already discussed in science class--assuming ID is erroneous. If you really think ID scientifically flawed, I can hardly see how that in itself precludes it from consideration in science class. Nor is it clear why the ID side should not be presented, so long as it isn't misrepresented as the majority view or as generally accepted as a scientifically viable theory by scientists.

In short, the issue of what should or shouldn't be taught in public schools is distinct from the scientific merit of ID or any particular theory that purports to be science, scientific or even rational. We live in what we hope is a free society. While there must be some limits to what should be allowed even in a free society, it is difficult to see how permitting students to hear the claims made for ID violates those limits.

MenTaLguY

Jim, I think what Mark is getting at is that at this point, given ID's media exposure, it may be necessary at to teach ID in schools, not as accepted fact, but critically. I've seen prominent atheists occasionally also suggest this.

I would agree with him in principle, but in practice I'm concerned it would not work very well. Schools already do a terrible job of teaching science, and as far as I can tell, ID arguments tend to be like those of an Internet troll: full of emotional appeals, constantly shifting assertions, and brazen denials of conflicting evidence or established fact. They can certainly be debunked, but you can waste a LOT of time doing it.

Additionally, generally speaking, when ID advocates ask for ID to be given "fair treatment", in schools, they do not mean "given a fair and critical consideration", they mean "pretend its assertions are equally valid, or moreso, than established science". If ID finds its way into the curriculum at all, the materials their lobbying efforts will push for (and have pushed for in practice) will be along those lines.

Under these conditions, successfully developing and implementing a curriculum which critically considers ID is a very difficult proposition. That does not necessarily mean it should not be done, but it's important to be aware of what would really be involved.

MenTaLguY

Er, the last three paragraphs were really addressed to Mark.

Mark Brumley

I understand the concerns, although I must say that I do not regard debunking wrong ideas, or what I take to be wrong ideas, as "a waste of time". At least not if it is done right.

Educating young people in a free society is hard, time-consuming work. Having taught difficult subjects in both high school and grade school, I suffer under no illusions that addressing complex, controversial issues in public schools is easy. But it seems to me that it has to be done.

MenTaLguY

Well, with those concerns understood, I do agree that addressing complex, controversial issues is necessary to a child's education. I don't think that debunking poorly-founded arguments is a waste of time (indeed, it's a time-honored technique in pedagogy); I'm just not sure to what extent direct debunking is an effective response to deliberate attempts to sow confusion. We do need to do something, because I don't think ID would have much traction if scientific and philosophical education had been up to snuff in the first place.

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