Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Okay, this is just funny. This is a statement from Pat Buchanan’s latest column on ID, this one about the Dover ruling. I presume he wrote it with a straight face:

In his opinion, Judge Jones the Third declared:

The overwhelming evidence is that [intelligent design] is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism and not a scientific theory … It is an extension of the fundamentalists’ view that one must either accept the literal interpretation of Genesis or else believe in the godless system of evolution.

But if intelligent design is creationism or fundamentalism in drag, how does Judge Jones explain how that greatest of ancient thinkers, Aristotle, who died 300 years before Christ, concluded that the physical universe points directly to an unmoved First Mover?

The mind boggles, doesn’t it? This is like asking, “If intelligent design is creationism or fundamentalism in drag, how does Judge Jones explain the success of Garth Brooks’ latest album?” The one simply has nothing to do with the other. And isn’t it funny how ID advocates keep changing definitions, merrily bouncing back and forth between biology and cosmology? But this controversy is specifically about biology. It was in a 9th grade biology classroom that ID was asserted and ID is, first and foremost, a set of arguments about biological evolution. That has nothing to do with the existence of a “prime mover”.

The evidence at the trial showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the modern ID movement, and its first textbook Of Pandas and People, were functionally and definitionally identical to the “creation science” ideas that were ruled out of public school science classrooms in 1987. He later says:

Darwinism claims, for example, that matter evolved from non-matter – i.e., something from nothing…Darwinism suggests our physical universe and its operations happened by chance and accident…

No, you blockhead. There is no such thing as “Darwinism”, any more than there is “Einsteinism” or “Newtonism”. There is only the theory of evolution. It is ridiculous to continue to use the label “Darwinism” to mean “atheism”. Darwin wrote nothing about the origin of the Earth, or of the universe. He wrote about biology, and that is all that evolutionary theory addresses. When will these cretins learn?

Comments

  1. #1 spyder
    December 28, 2005

    It is a sad commentary on our times indeed when today’s ONION makes better sense. Paddy boy must have had an exclusive scoop at this one–

    December 28, 2005 | Issue 41•52

    DOVER, PA–The controversial “theory of intelligent school-board design,” which holds that local school boards are “imbued by their creator with minds of irreducible complexity,” was decisively disproven by the actions of the Dover School Board this week. “The ignorant and incompetent decisions of this school board clearly indicate that their opinions are not informed by any sort of higher intelligence,” said Dover citizen Hank Jervis, one of thousands of locals currently mobilizing to oust the current school board in the next scheduled elections. “Obviously, there is no all-knowing, all-powerful superintendent guiding their demonstrably incorrect policies.” Critics of the theory argue that the new evidence supports the alternate view that school boards, instead of being created perfect and without error, rather evolved over the eons out of a morass of political, social, and religious special-interest groups, some of which are better-suited to adapt to change than others.

  2. #2 rik
    December 28, 2005

    AAUUGGHH!!! Generally, I love your postings. But a large part of the whole ID mess is caused by slippery and sloppy language, and you have just promoted this. You wrote: There is no such thing as “Darwinism”, any more than there is “Einsteinism” or “Newtonism”. There is only the theory of evolution.

    “Evolution” and “Darwinism” are not synonyms. Darwinism is a group of theories about evolution. There have been other theories in the past. There may be others in the future, who knows? I understand your point — it is wrong to equate Darwinian evolutionary theory with atheism. But it is not useful to use the terms Darwinism and theory of evolution interchangably. One can have great confidence in the idea of evolution, but still be uncomfortable with many aspects of what is called “Darwinism.”

  3. #3 Nathaniel I. Cordova
    December 28, 2005

    Wonderful post, and yes asinine statement from Pat. I’m carrying a conversation right now in my blog re design thinking that might be of interest to you, with a Buddhist monk who favors an unseen and unexplained teleology as an alternative. Thanks again, and thanks for linking to the text of the Utah bill.

    Nacho

  4. #4 Troy Britain
    December 28, 2005

    Darwin wrote nothing about the origin of the Earth, or of the universe. He wrote about biology, and that is all that evolutionary theory addresses. When will these cretins learn?

    You know this but I’ll say it anyway for those less intimate with creationists. The reason they keep conflating cosmology, geology, biology, and several other scientific disciplines, is because their real problem is not just with evolutionary biology but any and all science which contradicts their theology.

    I think one reason they attack “Darwinism” is because they know they cannot attack science as a whole and get away with it. Very few would seriously listen to them if they ran around denouncing all of science as an atheistic plot. Science is too popular for its obvious benefits.

    So instead they try to cloak their theology in the mantle of science and attack “Darwinism”, a straw-man largely of their own creation, as atheism.

  5. #5 Ed Brayton
    December 28, 2005

    rik wrote:

    “Evolution” and “Darwinism” are not synonyms. Darwinism is a group of theories about evolution. There have been other theories in the past. There may be others in the future, who knows? I understand your point — it is wrong to equate Darwinian evolutionary theory with atheism. But it is not useful to use the terms Darwinism and theory of evolution interchangably. One can have great confidence in the idea of evolution, but still be uncomfortable with many aspects of what is called “Darwinism.”

    I frankly think you’re as offbase as Buchanan is in this regard. I am not using the terms “Darwinism” and “evolution” interchangably, I am arguing that the term “Darwinism” is completely meaningless and should never be use by anyone. The anti-evolution crowd says “Darwinism” when it really means either atheism or virtually every scientific theory in existence. Thus, we see people saying idiotic things like “Darwinism posits that matter evolved from non-matter.” In fact, Darwin wrote not a word on the subject of the creation or evolution of “matter”. Darwin wrote about evolutionary biology, not cosmology. And he did not, of course, deny the existence of a first cause creator for the universe, of even of life on earth (as opposed to biodiversity).

    I think one may reasonably use a term like “neo-Darwinian synthesis”, as evolutionary biologists often do, to indicate the standard evolutionary model, and perhaps that is what you refer to as “a group of theories about evolution.” But that is not at all what anti-evolution types mean when they use the term “Darwinism”. And it is that ridiculous usage of the term that should be done away with completely. It adds nothing but confusion to the discussion (which, I suspect, is their goal).

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    December 28, 2005

    Troy-

    I think you just hit the nail directly on the head.

  7. #7 rik
    December 28, 2005

    Yes, Ed, by “group of theories” I mean the neo-Darwinian synthesis.” And my problem remains regarding language. This all gets back to the distinction Gould (I think) made, between the fact of evolution and the theory of evolution — the distinction between existence and causality of evolution. The creationists deny the existence of evolution, so causality is irrelevant. I’m not sure what ID thinks — they’re too slippery. But one can argue about existing theory of causality without denying common descent or evolution itself. So it is important to keep the vocabulary straight, if only to be able to turn to the proponents of ID and ask them which they are talking about. The fact that there are people who get milage out of keeping the language confused is all the more reason to be a stickler for the distinctions.

  8. #8 Ed Brayton
    December 28, 2005

    rik wrote:

    Yes, Ed, by “group of theories” I mean the neo-Darwinian synthesis.” And my problem remains regarding language. This all gets back to the distinction Gould (I think) made, between the fact of evolution and the theory of evolution — the distinction between existence and causality of evolution. The creationists deny the existence of evolution, so causality is irrelevant. I’m not sure what ID thinks — they’re too slippery. But one can argue about existing theory of causality without denying common descent or evolution itself. So it is important to keep the vocabulary straight, if only to be able to turn to the proponents of ID and ask them which they are talking about. The fact that there are people who get milage out of keeping the language confused is all the more reason to be a stickler for the distinctions.

    I still maintain that it is absurd to use the term “Darwinism” when one really means the neo-Darwinian synthesis. First, because it is anachronistic; I can’t think of another field of science where we refer to a theory by the name of the person who thought of it. The theory of relativity is not called “Einsteinism”, gravity is not “Newtonism”, and plate tectonics is not “Wegenerism”. Second, because the neo-Darwinian synthesis was the result, as the name suggests, of a synthesis of two distinct scientific ideas, those of Darwin and those of Mendel. It might just as well be called Mendelism as Darwinism. More accurately, perhaps, one might instead name it after the men who forged the synthesis itself and call it Fisherism or Morganism.

    Thirdly, because today’s theory of evolution is far more advanced and powerful, largely as a result of that synthesis, than the work that Darwin originally produced. While Darwin deserves the accolades for developing the basic framework of common descent and explaining it so brilliantly, it is almost impossible to imagine that someone else would not have come up with essentially the same explanation for the data even if Darwin himself had never lived. Indeed, if he had never lived we would likely today be talking about the new-Wallacian synthesis instead, but the reality of common descent would remain unchanged and just as widely supported.

    And lastly, it should not be used precisely because when people hear the word “Darwinism”, they think of how that term is used by the opponents of evolution – they think of atheism, or of the totality of all scientific theories. And that usage is highly inaccurate and designed, intelligently or not, to confuse. There is no good reason to use the term at all. It lends nothing but confusion and inaccuracy to the conversation.

  9. #9 Gretchen
    December 28, 2005

    I’m not sure why you find the first statement from Buchanen so asinine. What he is saying is that the idea of intelligent design precedes the Bible, so it isn’t correct to say that ID is merely creationism in the sense of being the literal interpretation of Genesis in disguise. And he’s right.

    However, he may be reading Judge Jones incorrectly. It does not look to me like Jones is saying ID is the literal interpretation of Genesis in disguise, but rather that proponents of ID today are doing what proponents of creationism used to do– telling people that if they don’t buy the theory that invokes God, they are going with a theory that is godless.

  10. #10 Ed Brayton
    December 28, 2005

    Gretchen wrote:

    I’m not sure why you find the first statement from Buchanen so asinine. What he is saying is that the idea of intelligent design precedes the Bible, so it isn’t correct to say that ID is merely creationism in the sense of being the literal interpretation of Genesis in disguise. And he’s right.

    I don’t think that’s what Buchanan is saying. I think he’s trying to pretend that ID just means “belief that the universe was created by something”, and that is not what ID means, particularly in this context. It’s particularly absurd when he cites Aristotle’s argument from first cause (which is not a part of modern ID’s cosmological argument) and not Aquinas’ argument from design (of which ID is little more than a modern version). But bear in mind that the context of all of this is the Dover case, which did not deal with cosmological ID at all but with biological ID. It dealt with ID as an alternative to biological evolution, which has nothing whatsoever to do with a “first cause” or the origin of the universe.

    However, he may be reading Judge Jones incorrectly. It does not look to me like Jones is saying ID is the literal interpretation of Genesis in disguise, but rather that proponents of ID today are doing what proponents of creationism used to do– telling people that if they don’t buy the theory that invokes God, they are going with a theory that is godless.

    That’s part of Jones’ position, but only a small part of it. More important is the fact that every argument used by IDers is found in creationism as well and that they literally just changed terms and gave them the same definition. Buchanan wants people to think that ID and creationism merely mean “belief in a higher power”, but that is far too vague to mean anything. The hallmark of both ID and creationism, in all of their forms, is a set of arguments, mostly dishonest, about evolution.

  11. #11 KeithB
    December 28, 2005

    Somehow I doubt that the ex-Dover school board cared about ancient Greek philosophy. No matter what parallel evotlution might have occurred in intelligent design, the fact is that the strain we are dealing with here *was* fundamentalist – which is why they had to lie about it.

  12. #12 maurile
    December 28, 2005

    Darwinism claims, for example, that matter evolved from non-matter – i.e., something from nothing.

    There’s irony for you. Creatio Ex Nihilo is not a Darwinian concept — it’s a Christian doctrine!

  13. #13 doug s.
    December 28, 2005

    Darwinism is a creation of the right wing noise machine which demonizes things rather than arguing them. Another example of that is the common way the republicans speak of the “Democrat” party rather than the “Democratic” party. There are many other examples in modern political life. Ed has it exactly right (although his is more a scientific reason than a political one). Darwinism should never be used to refer to evolution. It’s a way for the political opponents of science in the classroom to set up a straw man and attack it rather than the substance of the issue.

  14. #14 Pieter B
    December 29, 2005

    Re: Troy’s comment above, a perfect example of “science is atheistic” thinking, a letter to the editor.

  15. #15 Pieter B
    December 29, 2005

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