Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Matzke on ID Reaction to Dover

Nick Matzke has a really well written post at PT about the reactions of ID advocates to the judge’s ruling. It’s good enough that I would say if you only read one article on the Dover outcome from our side, this is the one you should read. The conclusion is absolutely perfect:

In fact, if the ID movement were intellectually serious, they would withdraw completely from interfering with public education, realizing that introductory science classes simply have to educate students in the basics of accepted science, and are not the right places to try getting recruits for fringe science. They would stop trying to make their case in the media, and instead take the only legitimate route to academic respectability — winning the scientific battle, in the scientific community. IDists have made much of comparing ID to the Big Bang model — but did Big Bang proponents kick off their model in a high school textbook? Did they go around the country mucking with kiddies science standards to promote their view? Did they ever lobby legislators? I don’t think so.

Bingo. But ID is not an intellectually serious project. It’s not a real scientific endeavor at all. It’s a PR campaign and that is all it is. The IDers make their case only to a public that is, by and large, incapable of understanding their arguments and not to scientists because they know they don’t withstand scrutiny. And in the Dover case, they gave all their arguments in a forum where they could be examined thoroughly and where experts from the other side could calmly and thoroughly debunk them. And they lost. Under real scrutiny and examination, the scientific facade quickly fades away, leaving only the transparent dishonesty at the core of the movement.

Comments

  1. #1 ImagoArt
    December 22, 2005

    Ed,

    Don’t know if you’re aware of Reasons to Believe’s reaction to the Dover case. You might find it interesting.

    http://www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/id_press_release_20051220.shtml

    Rusty Lopez

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    December 23, 2005

    Rusty-

    That’s kind of amusing to read. It basically says, “We’re glad the courts got rid of that obviously unscientific alternative to evolution, because we’ve got the real scientific alternative to evolution.” It’s basically an advertisement for their books, complete with blurbs on the back cover.

  3. #3 ImagoArt
    December 23, 2005

    Ed,

    Please. You’re too good for that type of a “response.”

    Even a cursory look at your site, PT, or other pro-evolution sites will reveal that two of the big mantras being chanted by your side are: ID is not scientifically testable and, that it is religion in disguise (i.e., “grounded in religion”). This is why I put out feelers with regards to what you and your colleagues thought about a theory that was scientifically testable AND grounded in religion. It’s abundantly clear from the comments and posts I’ve read that your side isn’t the least bit concerned about whether an opposing theory, grounded in religion, is scientifically testable. If a theory is grounded in religion, so the anti-ID crowd thinks, then it cannot in any way be scientifically testable.

    That’s all well and good, but if that’s the way you think, then why not drop the pretense and state as much? None of this chattering about ID not being scientifically testable because, as you all seem to believe, it cannot, even in principle, be scientifically testable – a non-issue if there ever was one. What’s the fear of stating that ID is not allowed in the science classroom for the simple reason that it is grounded in religion?

    On the other hand, if you really are concerned about the issue of scientific testability, then you should at least be charitable to the sincere efforts of those who are striving to meet that challenge. Unwarranted snide remarks about self-serving motives are not becoming of you. To be sure, it’s a very tall order – to present a scientifically testable creation model – but that isn’t your problem. It may very well turn out that they fail in their endeavor – but consider that the only way it could fail, scientifically, is by the scientific method. You seem to have negated the possibility of such a model ever being formulated, but I’d be interested in what empirical evidence you have to support such a stance – seeing as how you haven’t even been presented with the model yet.

    As for the claims that creationists have not presented any models that testable… be careful what you wish for.

    Rusty Lopez

    For other thoughts related to the case, you might visit the following sites:
    http://prosthesis.blogspot.com/2005/12/methodological-naturalism-doesnt.html
    http://prosthesis.blogspot.com/2005/12/im-confused-i-thought-science-and.html
    http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2005/12/which_religion.html
    http://www.johnmarkreynolds.com/2005/12/secularism-our-legal-religion.html

  4. #4 spyder
    December 23, 2005

    Well Rusty, i am sure you will let us all know when you, and the constituent book sellers you seem to represent, have a “scientifically testable creation model.” In the meantime you are merely attempting to present religious factual material as something that it is not.

  5. #5 JY
    December 23, 2005

    Rusty,

    No-one claims that a theory, grounded in religion, can’t be testable. Flood geology is grounded in religion and is testable (and it fails the test). But if it isn’t testable, then it isn’t science, so there’s no compelling secular reason to teach it in science class. And if it is grounded in religion, and there’s no compelling secular reason to teach it in science class, then it can’t be taught in science class. If it was grounded in religion, it was testable, and it passed the test, and therefore was an accepted scientific explanation, then there would be a compelling secular reason to teach it in school, despite its religious origin. No such theories seem to exist, however.

    You seem to be confusing the various constitutional tests for what can be taught in school with the criteria for good science. It’s legal to teach bad science in science class, as long as that bad science isn’t religion. It isn’t illegal, for example, to take English Literature, call it science, and teach it in science class. It’s bad policy, no doubt, but not illegal. It serves no legitimate secular purpose, but it doesn’t promote religion, and thus doesn’t fall afoul of the Constitution.

    Suppose, as an example, that you are a Raelian, a person whose religion includes a belief that we earthlings were put here by space aliens. Now there might be be plenty of ways to test that. Right now, it’s bad science, and founded in religion, so illegal in science class. But suppose you start a research program, find some evidence, and convince loads of scientists that you are right. It becomes the dominant view. Now it’s good science, and founded in religion. It can be taught in science class.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    December 23, 2005

    Rusty wrote:

    Please. You’re too good for that type of a “response.”

    All I did was paraphrase the page you linked to, and I think I did so accurately.

    Even a cursory look at your site, PT, or other pro-evolution sites will reveal that two of the big mantras being chanted by your side are: ID is not scientifically testable and, that it is religion in disguise (i.e., “grounded in religion”). This is why I put out feelers with regards to what you and your colleagues thought about a theory that was scientifically testable AND grounded in religion. It’s abundantly clear from the comments and posts I’ve read that your side isn’t the least bit concerned about whether an opposing theory, grounded in religion, is scientifically testable. If a theory is grounded in religion, so the anti-ID crowd thinks, then it cannot in any way be scientifically testable.

    This is false. There are many theories that are “grounded in religion” that are testable. JY points to one in flood geology, which contains numerous testable statements. Where such theories become untestable is not as an objective question but as a subjective one, where those who advance such theories leave themselves a convenient out to explain away any difficulties with their explanation, namely miracles. Where did all that water come from? Well, God made it. Where did all that water go? God made it. What happened to all the heat that would be sufficent to melt the planet if it really is only a few thousand years old? God took care of that. Strictly as a matter of predictions about natural history, this is entirely testable. Once the supernatural enters it, it is no longer testable because any apparent contradiction may be explained away as a result.

    At any rate, the phrase “grounded in religion” is too vague to have any real meaning here. Does that mean “believed in by a religious person”? No one would suggest that a theory believed in by a religious person cannot be testable. Does it mean “motivated initially by a desire to confirm of disconfirm a religious belief”? Again, no one would take the position that if this is true it cannot be testable. Archaeologists may well be acting out of religious motivation in their digs, intending to confirm a Biblical story for example, but that doesn’t mean it’s not testable. I think you’re beating up a straw man here. No one I know of on our side takes the position that if an idea is “grounded in religion” then “it cannot in any way be scientifically testable.”

    That’s all well and good, but if that’s the way you think, then why not drop the pretense and state as much? None of this chattering about ID not being scientifically testable because, as you all seem to believe, it cannot, even in principle, be scientifically testable – a non-issue if there ever was one. What’s the fear of stating that ID is not allowed in the science classroom for the simple reason that it is grounded in religion?

    I think you’re mischaracterizing the arguments of ID opponents (though I’m sure not intentionally). When we argue that ID cannot be scientifically testable even in principle, there are two primary reasons for it:

    A) It can be made consistent with any possible set of data. Take the issue of nested heirarchies, for example. Evolution demands that there be specific patterns in the data both anatomically and genetically, patterns that naturally form nested heirarchies. ID, on the other hand, can be consistent with any such patterns in either case because one may simply say, “Well, God decided to do it that way.” If the pattern shows, as it does, that the relative homologies of every species we can examine organizes itself into a perfect nested heirarchy to mirror the predictions of the phylogenetic tree based upon anatomical and fossil considerations, then that’s just because God allowed some evolution to take place but stepped in only at certain times (and don’t ask us when or how) to make sure things kept moving in the right direction. If those patterns are instead wildly discontinuous, it’s because God chose to start from scratch when creating each new thing. Either one is perfectly consistent with ID because God can do whatever he wants. But only one is consistent with evolution.

    B) Because it introduces the supernatural into the equation, which is, in principle, untestable. And this largely for the reason stated above. Can you conceive of any possible set of evidence that could not be explained by the will of God under ID or any other form of creationist argument? A “theory” that is consistent with any possible set of data is no theory at all. It is entirely immune to disproof and scientifically sterile. It explains everything, hence explains nothing.

    That rejection is not merely because it is “grounded in religion” (whatever you might mean by that) but because it cannot, in fact, be tested. There is no way of making a risky – i.e. potentially disconfirming – prediction because no matter what the data says, God might have decided to do it that way.

    On the other hand, if you really are concerned about the issue of scientific testability, then you should at least be charitable to the sincere efforts of those who are striving to meet that challenge. Unwarranted snide remarks about self-serving motives are not becoming of you.

    My snide remark was solely about that particular page, which was in fact as I described. It contained very little substance and seemed to do little but push their books, complete with breathless back-cover blurbs (“Evolution has just been dealt its death blow”). Do you really expect me to take such statements seriously?

    To be sure, it’s a very tall order – to present a scientifically testable creation model – but that isn’t your problem. It may very well turn out that they fail in their endeavor – but consider that the only way it could fail, scientifically, is by the scientific method. You seem to have negated the possibility of such a model ever being formulated, but I’d be interested in what empirical evidence you have to support such a stance – seeing as how you haven’t even been presented with the model yet.

    I take the same position on this as I take on Kurt Wise’s project to develop a coherent model of young earth creationism that explains the data better than mainstream science. I respect the fact that they accept that they have to actually do the hard scientific work before they can expect to be taken seriously (and in this regard, I put them far higher on the totem poll than the IDers, who ignore the science in favor of an aggressive poltical marketing and public relations campaign). But frankly, I’ll believe it when I see it. I have never negated the possibility of testing an idea merely because it is “grounded in religion”, nor has anyone else on our side that I know of, unless by that you mean “invoking supernatural causes for natural phenomena”.

  7. #7 ImagoArt
    December 23, 2005

    Spyder,

    FYI, I don’t represent RTB. If you are sincerely interested in the status of a testable creation model, then you’re certainly welcome to interact with them yourself.

    JY,

    Thank you for clarifying what I was trying to get clarified in an earlier post. I essentially agree with your analysis, with the reiteration that RTB is currently developing a testable creation model. One point, though, is that I think a scientific model does not necessarily stand on one test alone (as you seem to imply). In other words, the model should make many predictions and allow for multiple tests. As predictions and tests occur it should become clear whether or not the model is successful.

    While I don’t agree about the establishment (of religion) aspect involved in teaching a testable creation model, I do agree that such a model, if and when it is developed, should be taught based on its scientific merits alone.

    Ed,

    Thank you for the much more explanatory response.

    Thanks also for clarifying my misinterpretation of your earlier remarks (on another post) in which I took you to believe that any scientific theory “grounded in religion” was, by definition, untestable. BTW, I used the “grounded in religion” phrase because it is from the Dover decision. “However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.” emphasis added So, I suppose, we must ask the judge what he meant by “grounded in religion.”

    It appears that your main concerns, with regards to the lack of testability aspect of a creation model are: a) It can be made consistent with any possible set of data, and b) …it introduces the supernatural into the equation, which is, in principle, untestable. I agree that if such attributes were part of a scientific model, they would render it unscientific. As far as I know, the scholars at RTB also agree that such attributes should not be part of a scientific model. This is the task that RTB faces as they attempt to build a testable creation model – that of providing a model that passes the test of scientific viability. That they may believe in the supernatural, or that God has used the supernatural, is irrelevant as long as it is not a part of their model. I realize that you don’t think such a model is possible but, as I alluded to previously, that’s their mountain to climb, not yours.

    Merry Christmas to all!

    Rusty Lopez

  8. #8 Ed Brayton
    December 23, 2005

    Merry Christmas to you too, Rusty, and to your family as well.