Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Defense Witness Helps Plaintiffs

The Thomas More Law Center’s defense of the Dover school board is beginning to resemble a Keystone Cops sketch. After having yet another witness drop out, they presented Steve Fuller, a British sociologist, to defend the teaching of ID in public schools. And you’re gonna love the rationale he offered for why it should be taught:

Because the scientific community is a monolith, impenetrable and often hostile to new theories, intelligent design proponents have to turn to the public schools to recruit support, a witness said Monday…

A sociology professor from the University of Warwick in England, Fuller said, “How do you expect any minority view to get a toe hold in science? You basically get new recruits.”…

In often rapid-fire delivery that at times taxed the court reporter’s stenographic skills, Fuller said intelligent design is a scientific theory that should be taught in school.

But during cross-examination, he said intelligent design — the idea that the complexity of life requires a designer — is “too young” to have developed rigorous testable formulas and sits on the fringe of science.

He suggested that perhaps scientists should have an “affirmative action” plan to help emerging ideas compete against the “dominant paradigms” of mainstream science.

This sentiment is virtually identical to that expressed by William Dembski a couple years ago:

Why should ID supporters allow the Darwinian establishment to indoctrinate students at the high school level, only to divert some of the brightest to becoming supporters of a mechanistic account of evolution, when by presenting ID at the high school level some of these same students would go on to careers trying to develop ID as a positive research program? If ID is going to succeed as a research program, it will need workers, and these are best recruited at a young age.

But of course, this argument can be applied with equal validity to any fringe idea in science. The “monopoly” of government control used by the “Copernican establishment” to “indoctrinate” students in the view that the Earth revolves around the sun prevents Gerardus Buow and the other geocentrists from recruiting young people to advance their “research program” and thereby staves off a “scientific revolution”. One could play this game all day long, substituting the flat earthers, the astrologists, the Raelians and a dozen other fringe groups.

Fuller is of course correct to point out that there have been scientific revolutions in the past that have overturned much of what we thought we knew about the world. But those revolutions were the result of scientists actually doing science – building theories and models, testing them against the data, publishing the results for their peers to see and arguing over the results to reach a consensus – not by hiring PR firms and lobbying legislatures and school boards. As always, the ID folks want to skip over all that pesky scientific stuff and jump right to the conclusion.

And the really funny thing is that this witness was called by the other side. This is beginning to edge into the surreal.

Update: Douglas Theobald has a great point about this. If Fuller is right, then why did quantum mechanics not need an affirmative action program to replace the dominant paradigm? Or big bang cosmology? Or plate tectonics? Those are all ideas that were highly controversial and initially rejected by most scientists in those fields because they upset the applecart. Yet they managed to change the consense and our understanding. Why? Because instead of whining about how unfair it is that the “Copernican priesthood” or the “defenders of Einsteinian orthodoxy” won’t take them seriously, they put in the work necessary to establish those ideas as valid. They didn’t put acceptance before demonstration, they did the difficult theoretical and experimental work necessary to put their ideas on a solid empirical footing. Cries of persecution do not validate an idea; rigorous and difficult scientific research does.


  1. #1 Ginger Yellow
    October 25, 2005

    Remarkable isn’t it? Not a single one of the paradigmatic revolutions in science was the result of changing school curricula. And yet somehow science progressed. We’re lucky we’re not still trying to make snakes from horse hairs, when you think about it.

  2. #2 Dave S.
    October 25, 2005

    …when by presenting ID at the high school level some of these same students would go on to careers trying to develop ID as a positive research program?

    Trying to develop?

    Gee I thought ID already was all about positive evidence and the mechanisms of design….oh, wait, that was just Behe talking. What does he know about it.

    The lunatic fringe is starting to lean more and more to the lunatic side of the equation. Soon ID will topple clean over and we’ll need the next notion to cram into the schools.

    I can see their problem though. In the real world of science you develop students from the bachelor level (sometimes bright high schoolers) to graduate programs and post-docs to associate and finally tenured professors, all based on answering some question or another that can be answered using the theory of evolution and empirical testing.

    In ID there really is no ‘minor leagues’ to naturally draw new talent from. That’s because there is no theory from which to draw testable hypotheses and so every new “advancement” in ID is essenially independant of every other, with the only unifying themes being anti-evolution and pro (even if that motive must be hidden for tactical reasons) creationism. Basically they just wait around until someone else comes up with a new way of saying the same thing (evolution bad, ergo design good!).

  3. #3 Dave S.
    October 25, 2005

    He suggested that perhaps scientists should have an “affirmative action” plan to help emerging ideas compete against the “dominant paradigms” of mainstream science.

    There is an affirmative action plan in science …. if you want your minority view to prevail, then formulate a testable affirmative case and do the tests.

    Gosh that’s like, you know, hard work. You mean you actually have to make up testable hypotheses that flow from your theory and test them yourself and defend them to a skeptical audience. No way anyone could do that. If they could, why they should get like a Nobel Prize or something.

    It is so unfair that only well supported ideas are accepted.

  4. #4 STSmith
    October 25, 2005

    Hilariously, this is the same Steve Fuller whose paper was published in the same volume of Social Text (46–47, 1996) as Alan Sokal’s famous hoax. This is the sort of “affirmative action” for scientific ideas he has direct experience with.

    It’s entertaining to watch the alliance between academic pomos and religious fundamentalists based on their rejection of the distinction between science and myth, and embrace of relativism.

  5. #5 mark
    October 25, 2005

    It’s really no fair. ID doesn’t stand a chance against people who are already educated, so it’s only right and proper to try and convince the uneducated segment of society of the truth of ID.

  6. #6 Dean Morrison
    October 25, 2005

    Actually, according to his CV Steve Fuller was born in New York and is a US citizen – please don’t blame us Brits for doing anything but paying his wages.

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    October 25, 2005


    Sorry. I assumed that since he teaches at Warwick, he must be British. Bad assumption, obviously.

  8. #8 raj
    October 25, 2005

    Odd. Einstein published five papers in 1905 that turned physics on its head. I don’t know what Fuller is talking about. Of course, Einstein had evidence backing up his theories.

    BTW, quantum mechanics started with Max Planck’s investigation of blackbody radiation, was propelled forward via the Stern Gerlach experiment (1920) regarding spin in electrons, and went forward from there. There was evidence for QM, too.

    Have IDers ever presented evidence? Not that I can see.

  9. #9 Ebonmuse
    October 25, 2005

    So the IDers’ own chosen witness *agreed* that ID has failed to convince the scientific community of its validity and is now attempting to do an end-run around the process of peer review?

    I’m breathless, truly. I mean, we all know that’s true, but I never expected to hear the IDers themselves saying it. How much deeper into the depths of self-parody can they possibly sink?