Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Jonathan’s Wittless Revisionism

DI flak Jonathan Witt is back with yet another criticism of Judge Jones’ ruling in Kitzmiller, this one no more compelling than the 13,582,196 criticisms the DI has already offered (many of them contradictory, of course). It’s chock full of bad arguments and nutty goodness, so let’s get started.

In keeping with that trope, Jones suggests that intelligent design is just biblical creationism repackaged after a 1987 Supreme Court decision against biblical creationism.* If Jones had read key briefs submitted to him, he would know that the intelligent design arguments in biology pre-date that Supreme Court decision by several years, drawing on developments in information theory in the ’50s and the information revolution in biology in the ’50s and ’60s.

I love the suggestion that Judge Jones didn’t read the DI briefs. It couldn’t be that he rejected the arguments in those briefs because they were irrelevant or unsupported – no, the DI couldn’t be wrong. It must be that he didn’t read them. We’ll just add this one to Casey Luskin’s claim that Jones didn’t really write the ruling (a claim quickly retracted) as evidence that the DI folks have really slipped off the deep end in the wake of this ruling.

More importantly, Witt simply misses the point. Of course the ID arguments pre-date the Edwards ruling. No one disputes that. In fact, a large part of Barbara Forrest’s testimony at the trial was showing that all of the ID arguments were also found in traditional creationism. The argument is not that the ID arguments appeared only after Edwards, but that those old ideas were repackaged under the new name of “intelligent design theory” after that ruling came down and declared “creation science” out of public school science classrooms. The fact that the very book that the DI hails as the first intelligent design textbook, the book that the Dover board purchased for their classrooms, uses the same definition, almost word for word, for creation and for intelligent design, is powerful evidence for that claim. Thus, that evidence is ignored by Witt and replaced by the strawman you see above.

One of the first to describe the significance of these discoveries was chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi. In the late ’60s, in essays published in the journal Science and in Chemical and Engineering News, he argued that DNA isn’t reducible to physics and chemistry any more than the sentences in a newspaper are reducible to ink and paper.

You have to love how ID advocates seize on any scientist who speaks of DNA as “information” as evidence for their anachronistic claims about information theory and evolution. The fact is that Polanyi was not an ID supporter. He died in 1976, before his work began to be distorted in the service of ID, but as John Lynch shows, his son – a Nobel laureate himself – explicitly asked Dembski not to name the Baylor ID center after his father because he would not have supported their position.

Likewise, Richard Gelwick, Polanyi’s protege and biographer, and founder of the Polanyi Society, has written scathingly of the appropriation of Polanyi’s work by the ID movement:

Proper consideration of Polanyi scholarship before naming the Baylor center could have avoided the mistake of confusing and mistaking his thought with the “intelligent design project.” The use of Polanyi’s name for the Baylor center wrongly linked Polanyi’s thought with Dembski’s own “intelligent design project.” Informed consideration of Polanyi’s work and the subsequent Polanyi scholarship reveals such a link to be unfounded and raises questions about the “intelligent design project’s” own search for truth.

Witt then goes on to claim that Polanyi’s work influenced another pre-Pandas ID book:

Polanyi’s work influenced the seminal 1984 book The Mystery of Life’s Origin. In the book that launched the contemporary theory of intelligent design, Charles Thaxton and his co-authors argued that some features of the biological world could only “be accomplished through what Michael Polanyi has called ‘a profoundly informative intervention.'”

Think about Witt’s argument here. He is essentially arguing that since there was a book making some ID arguments prior to 1987, then the ID movement could not be repackaged creationism. But this is an absurd argument, for the reasons stated above. No one argues that the arguments found in ID originated after 1987; indeed, we argue the exact opposite, that all of the major ID arguments are found in creationism and are merely restated with different terminology (and sometimes with the same terminology) by ID advocates. This is simply Witt constructing a straw man and knocking it down, but his argument is not only irrelevant, it actually feeds into our real position.

Jones also ignores discoveries in physics and cosmology that began to reinvigorate the design argument as early as the 1920s.

He ignores arguments about cosmological ID because they had no relevance to the case. The Dover policy dealt with biology only. Of Pandas and People deals with biological ID, not cosmological ID. And all of the testimony offered in defense of ID at the trial dealt with biological ID. Arguments about cosmology and fine tuning were never made in the case by either side. Of course Judge Jones ignored them. It would have been quite strange if he had brought them up. Again, a completely irrelevant argument. And he finishes with this footnote:

Biblical creationism begins with the Bible and then moves into science. Intelligent design begins and ends with the science, though (like Darwinism) it has larger cultural and metaphysical implications.

Funny, but the author of Pandas, who is now a DI fellow, said the exact same thing about creation science in his affidavit in the Edwards case. In fact, many of the same folks who are now saying “Creationism is the opposite of ID because creationism started with the bible while we start with science” were saying the opposite 20 years ago, arguing that creationism does not start with the bible but focuses solely on the science itself. Here’s what Dean Kenyon said in his affidavit:

It is my professional opinion, based on my original research, study, and teaching, that creation-science is as scientific as evolution, although it currently does not have the benefit of the volume of research that has been carried out under evolutionist presuppositions…Creation-science does not include as essential parts the concepts of catastrophism, a world-wide flood, a recent inception of the earth or life, from nothingness (ex nihilo), the concept of kinds, or any concepts from Genesis or other religious texts.

So their argument really goes something like this: “Unlike creationism, ID does not require the truth of the Bible nor is it based on starting with the Bible as true and finding the science that supports it. Now I know that we said the same thing about creationism before. And I know that we’ve said repeatedly to Christian audiences that the goal of the ID movement is to foster Christian cultural renewal in America and to develop an explicitly theistic science. And yes, we;ve said that ID is really just a Biblical concept restated as information theory. But we had our fingers crossed when we said all of those things, and this time we really, really mean it and you should believe us.” I’m sure you’ll pardon us for our skepticism.

Comments

  1. #1 Philosopundit
    May 18, 2006

    I seriously don’t know what drives me up the wall more, the bad arguments that ID proponents offer up or their utter failure to live up to basic tenets of morality (like bearing false witness). It’s seriously disturbing.

  2. #2 Pierce R. Butler
    May 18, 2006

    The (explicit) creationists are still claiming to start from a “scientific” basis.

    In a recent AgapePress story announcing an (apparently unaccredited) online “master’s degree” from the Institute for Creation Research, Dr. Patricia Nason, chair of ICR’s Science Education Department,

    … emphasizes that this field of study, while it has a basis in scripture, is an empirical, scientific discipline — not a philosophical or religious one. “And I’m not saying that loosely,” she asserts, “but there is a scientific foundation to creation science.”

    Of course, the ICR definition of science remains, um, non-standard:

    All the courses in the program approach the content in the same way that ICR researchers approach the study of origins, she asserts — that is, if an idea is contrary to God’s Word, it is false.

  3. #3 Dramenbnejs
    June 11, 2007

    Theistic science! Hahaha! What a contradiction!

    Now I am trying for 10 minutes to come with more contradictory idea, but NOTHING beats this “theistic science” joke.

    It could be just funny, but those theistic nuts are trying to demean science.

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