Brian Leiter vs the National Review Online

One of the best blogs to read on both legal issues and evolution is that of Brian Leiter, director of the Law and Philosophy Program at the University of Texas Law School. He writes fairly extensively on evolution and the ongoing controversy of Intelligent Design. Recently, he took to task a young Harvard law student named Lawrence VanDyke, who had written a positive review of a pro-ID book in the Harvard Law Review. Leiter wrote a rather scathing review of VanDyke's book note on his blog. The book in question was Darwinism and Public Education: The Establishment Clause and the Challenge of Intelligent Design by Frances Beckwith, a fellow with the Discovery Institute, who argues that ID could be included in a public school science curriculum and still pass constitutional muster. That remains to be seen, of course, and I suspect that both Beckwith and Leiter would be involved fairly deeply in any court fight over that issue.

That court fight may be coming soon, as recent events in Ohio and Montana may either provide the test case that has been inevitably brewing for the last several years. Such a case is inevitable, of course. Attempts by creationists to gain equal time in public school science classrooms were pretty much wiped out in 1987 by the Edwards v Aguillard decision, which essentially made federal the district court decision in Mclean v Arkansas in 1981. But since then, they have regrouped and put that old wine into the new skin of "intelligent design theory", which is not a theory at all. They have been frantically busy lately pushing ID in states and local school boards for years now, hoping to get a bill passed and fight it out in court. They are hoping, of course, that since they've left out all the overt "Godtalk", this will now pass an establishment clause test.

If and when such a case takes place, it will likely be something of a repeat of the McLean case, which was undoubtedly one of the most fascinating court cases of the 20th century. Dozens of prominent scientists, philosophers and legal scholars, including Landon Gilkey, Stephen Jay Gould, Michael Ruse, Brent Dalrymple, George Marsden and Francisco Ayala, were asked to testify in that case and their collective testimony comprises one of the best introductions to the history and philosophy of science and the vacancy of creationist responses to it that one could hope for. A few friends of mine, including Wes Ellsberry, Don Frack and Troy Britain, have been collecting and digitizing the testimonial transcripts (which has been a long and difficult process, believe me), making them available to the world. I would wager that both Beckwith and Leiter would both be involved in the sequel to this trial when it happens, as advisers to the two sides and perhaps as witnesses or litigants as well. But I digress...

Leiter's response to Van Dyke's glowing review of Beckwith's book was strongly worded, to be sure. He began by saying,

The lavish praise is only possible because the book note is riddled with factual errors and misleading innuendo from start to finish. Law professors have long had doubts about the intellectual integrity of student-edited law reviews; incidents like this suggest, if anything, that our doubts have been understated.

The author of this incompetent book one Lawrence VanDyke, a student editor of the Review. Mr. VanDyke may yet have a fine career as a lawyer, but I trust he has no intention of entering law teaching: scholarly fraud is, I fear, an inauspicious beginning for an aspiring law teacher. And let none of the many law professors who are readers of this site be mistaken: Mr. VanDyke has perpetrated (intentionally or otherwise) a scholarly fraud, one that may have political and pedagogical consequences.

Mr. VanDyke's book note reads like a press release from the Discovery [sic] Institute--the Seattle-based public relations arm of the creationist movement--and not like a scholarly review of a book.

Pretty harsh, I think we can all agree, but right on the money. After this introduction, Leiter goes on to take the book review claim by claim and pretty much take it apart. But now along comes Hunter Baker writing in the National Review Online and he's not at all happy with Leiter's criticism of the Harvard student's review:

VanDyke found Beckwith's arguments convincing and said so in his book note.

Such a sin could not go unpunished or unpublicized by those who hold to the inerrancy of the Darwinian scriptures. The Book of Scopes, 2:12-14 reads, "Thou shalt not admit that any explanation of origins outside the neo-Darwinian synthesis may have merit. Verily, thou must proclaim that any alternate explanation is of the same religious origin as witch burning and will be struck down by the Establishment Clause before ever being discussed in a public school."

He goes on to accuse Leiter of threatening the career of VanDyke, saying,

One doesn't need to work very hard to read between the lines. Leiter seems to be threatening VanDyke's career if he should dare to set foot in the academy. The tone of his post makes clear that he means this student editor of the Harvard Law Review harm. Leiter's statement is the equivalent of an academic temper tantrum and is likely to backfire. The attack by a high-powered academic on an intellectually open law student is not the stuff of which great reputations are made. Leiter's peers, some of whom may actually have believed all the hype about academic freedom, will probably wonder just how this sort of proposed blacklisting squares with long-cherished ideals.

He does at least admit that this is "reading between the lines", but it's a rather fanciful reading. Leiter has responded, quite reasonably:

The italicized portion is alluding not to consequences for Mr. VanDyke (what would "pedagogical" or "political" consequences be for him?)--I would have thought that obvious--but to the consequences for public school education and battles over science education by handing the ID scam artists a new weapon in their arsenal: a favorable review of one of their key texts in the Harvard Law Review. Already, as this site reports, this public relations victory is being exploited by the proponents of pseudo-science. Thousands of hours were spent by dozens of Texans like me this past summer and fall defeating the efforts of the ID scam artists to destroy science education in Texas; in a great victory, the Texas State Board of Education rebuffed Beckwith & co., sizing them up for the proponents of pseudo-science that they are. If the reader detects I'm a bit irritated with Mr. VanDyke, perhaps it is because I'd rather not spend significant portions of my time defending the integrity of science education for my children. Mr. VanDyke has made my job and the job of all those who want high standards in education a bit harder.

Mr. VanDyke has injected himself in to a serious political debate by misrepresenting in a prestigious, professional publication the state of the relevant science and empirical evidence. Mr. VanDyke must own his words and own the consequences of those words: he is a professional, publishing in a professional journal. Those consequences include the likelihood that the vast majority of educated readers, knowledgeable about the relevant science, will be astonished that the Harvard Law Review could publish such slipshod work and will likely take a dim view of Mr. VanDyke's scholarly competence. They are correct, in my view, to draw those conclusions.

He also responds to the charge that he is somehow impinging on VanDyke's academic freedom:

Academic freedom protects the right of Beckwith et al. to cast their lot with pseudo-science; it protects my right to call them on it. It also protects my right to express the view that pseudo-science and scholarly incompetence are, as I put it, "an inauspicious beginning for an aspiring law teacher." Although I'm amused by how much power NRO thinks I have, the fact is I have an impact on hiring at Texas, and that's about it, except to the extent I am asked to evaluate candidates in legal philosophy by other law schools.

But as the NRO article notes:

For his part, VanDyke is not backtracking. He defends the substance of his book note and charges that Leiter's attack represents "an effort to make sure all students recognize that if they step outside the bounds of Leiter's orthodoxy, their careers will be in serious jeopardy." He adds, "This is pretty amazing considering my book note actually talks about the 'hostility and censorship of the evolutionary establishment.' If anything, Mr. Leiter acts as if it his goal to prove me correct."

This is pretty standard stuff for ID proponents, who seem to strike the martyr pose - Help, help, I'm being repressed by the big bad Darwinian Orthodoxy! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! - as reflexively as a baby sucks a nipple. But there's something really important missing in this little Don Quixote story - substance. Leiter's original response to VanDyke's book review contained an almost line by line dismantling of the claims it contained. Not only does the NRO article fail to mention any of the substantive criticisms that Leiter offers, it doesn't even link to them on Leiter's blog. Not a single word in Baker's article disputes the substance of Leiter's review. Not a single word from either Beckwith or VanDyke quoted by Baker even attempts to discuss any of the substantive criticisms that he made. Were his criticisms wrong? If they are, none of the principles involved in this attempts to make a case for it, yet they reflexively jump immediately to the cry of repression from the Darwinian Establishment.

Another person, using just the name Greg, also reacted negatively to Leiter's post, but he at least attempted to argue with the substance of Leiter's criticisms. He did so quite badly, however, and Leiter pretty much shreds his arguments. Paul Myers joins in on the fun and points out that the citations that he gives for allegedly pro-ID articles in the scientific literature have been completely distorted by the ID crowd. As a side note, it was pretty amusing to read Greg claiming to have gone to the scientific literature and found material that supports ID and getting haughty with Leiter for his supposed laziness in not doing the same "in-depth research":

Actually, in looking for that citation, I found some more examples:

D.D. Axe, "Extreme Functional Sensitivity to Conservative Amino Acid Changes on Enzyme Exteriors," Journal of Molecular Biology, 301 (2000): 585?595. This work shows that certain enzymes are extremely sensitive to perturbation. Perturbation in this case does not simply diminish existing function or alter function, but removes all possibility of function. This implies that neo-Darwinian theory has no purchase on these systems. Moreover, the probabilities implicit in such extreme-functional-sensitivity analyses are precisely those needed for a design inference. W.-E. Loennig & H. Saedler, "Chromosome Rearrangements and Transposable Elements," Annual Review of Genetics, 36 (2002): 389-410. This article examines the role of transposons in the abrupt origin of new species and the possibility of an partly predetermined generation of biodiversity and new species. The authors' approach is non-Darwinian, and they cite favorably on the work of Michael Behe and William Dembski. D.K.Y. Chiu & T.H. Lui, "Integrated Use of Multiple Interdependent Patterns for Biomolecular Sequence Analysis," International Journal of Fuzzy Systems, 4(3) (September 2002): 766-775. M.J. Denton & J.C. Marshall, "The Laws of Form Revisited," Nature, 410 (22 March 2001): 417; M.J. Denton, J.C. Marshall & M. Legge, (2002) "The Protein Folds as Platonic Forms: New Support for the pre-Darwinian Conception of Evolution by Natural Law," Journal of Theoretical Biology 219 (2002): 325-342.

No doubt this is simply the tip of the iceberg. If I, as a non-scientist, could find this in 15 minutes, imagine what Leiter could have done with an hour of fact-checking.

This might be something other than pathetic if the entire passage hadn't been copied word for word from Dembski's website.

Leiter is correct when he says that ID proponents are peddling nonsense. He is correct when he says that VanDyke's book note in the Harvard Law Review was based on ignorance of the subject matter and read more like a fawning press release from the Discovery Institute than like a serious book review. Leiter is correct that the Discovery Institute is little more than "the public relations arm of the creationist movement", repackaging the same old nonsense in fancy-sounding terminology, distorting the scientific literature to make it appear as supporting them, and failing to publish anything like a testable model that explains the evidence. Striking the martyr pose is good public relations because it distracts attention from the real issues. When you don't have any actual science to offer, you claim to be oppressed by the "establishment" that is afraid of your Truthtm. But the scientific world doesn't work that way. Scientists tend to be sticklers for substance over hand-waving. If you have a real model that explains the evidence, by all means offer it up and let's debate it. But since they don't have that, they are left with casting themselves in the role of the oppressed in the hope that no one will notice that they didn't actually address any of the substantive criticisms, that after all the frantic hand waving, there simply is no there there.


More like this

Maybe you should look at VanDyke's response to Leiter posted here

And note, by the way, that the NRO columnist, Hunter Baker, fails to identify himself as a student in the doctoral program in Church-State Studies at Baylor University, a program where Beckwith teaches. Indeed, Baker is currently a teaching assistant for Beckwith: see this syllabus.


Thanks for the link to VanDyke's response. I sent the link on to Brian to make sure he sees it. I'm sure he will respond point by point, but one rather stunning bit of dishonesty just jumps off the page of that response. Compare this statement by Brian:

Leiter: "The ID proponents have not published any articles in support of ID in peer-reviewed journals; indeed, they have never even stated a testable hypothesis in support of ID."

With VanDyke's response to a greatly modified version of it:

VanDyke: "As far as Leiters claim that ID proponents have not published any articles . . . in peer-reviewed journals - that is simply false."

Well of course it's false, because Leiter didn't say they "hadn't published any peer reviewed journals." He said they "hadn't published any articles in support of ID in peer-reviewed journals."

So he takes an entirely true statement and turns it into an obviously false one by substituting ellipses for the key substantive phrase in the sentence, the phrase that is relevant to the argument he's making. That's pretty much rank dishonesty.

Thanks for the link to the syllabus. One would think that Baker would feel compelled to disclose that bit of information, but apparently not. I have a feeling this one is going to be going on for a while.


I think the citations that VanDyke presents are ones that he believes to be peer-reviewed, thus he is trying to support what Leiter said to be untrue, rather than the supposition created by the ellipses

A couple of other obvious mistakes in VanDyke's response:

Perhaps Leiter missed my fn. 3 citing to the 100 Scientists [PhDs, most of them] who are skeptical of evolutions claims.

He links this to the Discovery Institute's famous list of 100 scientists who agreed to the statement, "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged." Hell, I agree with that carefully worded statement. I guess that makes me an ID supporter? Oops, no it doesn't. It makes me an evolution advocate who understands that random mutation and natural selection are not alone responsible for the complexity of life on earth. That leaves out non-selective mechanisms like genetic drift. So this is yet another clever bit of propaganda from the Discovery Institute that doesn't quite mean what they pretend it does.

Even the NCSE grudgingly (and certainly conservatively) admits that 1% of scientists doubt evolution.

Mr. VanDyke appears to suffer from reading comprehension problems. Nowhere on the page that he references does the NCSE admit, grudgingly or otherwise, that 1% of scientists doubt evolution. In fact, the only 1% it refers to is the 1% of scientists who accept evolution who are named Steve:

Project Steve mocks this practice with a bit of humor, and because "Steves" are only about 1% of scientists, it incidentally makes the point that tens of thousands of scientists support evolution. And it honors the late Stephen Jay Gould, NCSE supporter and friend.

How amusing. He claims they did the opposite of what they did, and he even knows how they did what they didn't do ("grudgingly"). Mr. VanDyke, I hope you'll be more careful in citing sources in your law career than you are in your attempts at amateur science punditry.

I left out the "in support of ID" because I assumed that much was obvious in context. You make it sound like I was trying to make Leiter say ID proponents haven't published any articles in peer reviewed journals at all. If I were trying to say that, my response to Leiter's statement would have been much simpler and I wouldn't have bothered to address Pharyngula's post. Nice try.

Are you seriously comparing that with Leiter's unequivocal "exactly two credentialed scientists" and blatant mischaracterization of my "significant controversy" comment as referring to scientists? And if we want to talk about "leaving out," how about Leiter's "leaving out" my obvious characterization of the ID movement as "small?" I'm sure Leiter will respond point by point, I'm just not sure it will be credible.

By Lawrence VanDyke (not verified) on 15 Mar 2004 #permalink

Kelly said:

I think the citations that VanDyke presents are ones that he believes to be peer-reviewed, thus he is trying to support what Leiter said to be untrue, rather than the supposition created by the ellipses.

But what was in the ellipses was important. Brian didn't claim that no ID advocate had ever published an article in a peer-reviewed journal. He claimed that none had ever published an article in support of ID in a peer-reviewed journal. So Lawrence took out the words "in support of ID" and gave links to two pages that do not show a single article in a peer-reviewed journal in support of ID, but only show that ID advocates have published non-ID articles. So he didn't engage what Brian claimed, but he changed what he claimed to make it appear that he did. Sorry, that's dishonest to the core. Can you imagine what a professor would do if he did something like that on a paper at Harvard Law School?

Wow. What the heck was VanDyke thinking when he cited the Project Steve page? Bizarre.

While we're talking about Project Steve, it is worth pointing out that the "Discovery Institute 100" list has exactly one Steve -- Steven C. Meyer. And unlike most of the Steves on the Project Steve list, who are scientists, the creationist Steve is a philosopher. This was the best that the ID movement could do even with a weaselly-worded statement that comes far from endorsing the actual agenda and claims of the ID movement, even though they cite their pitiful little list incessantly.

According to the Steve-o-meter, 428 Steves have signed up for Project Steve.

Mr. VanDyke: Is there any branch of law where a new scientific technique (e.g., DNA fingerprinting) would become routinely admissable in court, if hundreds of scientists were against the technique for every supposed "scientist" (the Discovery Institute has a very loose definition) that was for it?

I know that kooky stuff happens in courts sometimes, but surely, as a routine matter, the answer is "no." Yet you propose that this fringe wannabe-science get taught in schools! On your flagrantly lax standards, we'd have astrologers and psychics as routine expert witnesses.

About the "Project Steve," I see what Mr. Brayton is saying. I assumed that because the site parodied supporters of "ID" as "Steve" that when it referred to "Steve" it was referring to ID supporters. I see now my misreading. Looks like I made a mistake in my Ex Parte post. I can admit that. I don't think it affects my point, however. ID is still a "small" movement with more than "exactly two credentialed scientists."

That is why I cited to the Project Steve Page, Nick, even though the majority of the material on that page is anti-ID. I am not trying to "hide" anything.

However, as far as Mr. Brayton's attempts to disparage my "100 Scientists" link, who does he think he's kidding? Do you really think that scientists signing Discovery Institutes "propaganda" weren't supporters of ID? I was replying to Leiter's contention that "there is no 'significant controversy' among scientists about the truth of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection" and that only two scientists had "joined cause" with the "creationists" [sic]. Did you miss the "TWO!" I think "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life" pretty much covers that. If that doesn't do it for you, read a little higher on the "propaganda" (come on, it won't hurt too much): "There is scientific dissent to Darwinism." These "100 Scientists" knew what they were signing - one doesn't dissent from Darwinism without counting the cost first.

As for Nick's question about where a new scientific technique can become routinely admissible in court despite being anti-majoritarian: the answer is any court in the land. The case is Daubert. Ask Leiter about it - he teaches evidence. You see, the US Supreme Court was wise enough to recognize that the majority doesn't have a monopoly on the truth - something you might do well to consider.

Ok, so I see me admitting that I made a mistake in my Ex Parte post. I see Leiter making excuses. I see Brayton grasping at straws (but thanks for pointing out my "Steve" mistake). I see Nick hyperbolizing. What I don't see is how Leiter is going to try to explain away those juicy tidbits in my above post - but I look forward to seeing him try.

By Lawrence VanDyke (not verified) on 15 Mar 2004 #permalink


If the statement that they signed actually was a "dissent from Darwinism", you might have a point. But it's not. It is in no way a statement that dissents from evolution in any way. And if I recall correctly, some of the people on that list were quite surprised that it was being used that way. I'll have to check on that, I'm almost certain that was the case.

To dissent from naturalistic evolution was clearly the intent of the statement - that is quite evident on its face. I seriously doubt the Discovery Instutute "tricked" people into signing it - again, one doesn't make that commitment lightly. And remember, 98 of the scientists would have to be "quite surprised" at it being used that way to bail Leiter out after his unequivical statement (Fn. 3 in my Book Note cites to that exact document - so Leiter is without excuse).

By Lawrence VanDyke (not verified) on 15 Mar 2004 #permalink

So what VanDyke is saying that although the statement on its face is just about natural selection ("Darwinism"), it was intended to be about evolution. From which it follows that the Discovery Institute is either incompetent or dishonest. Since the Discovery Institute and its fellow travellers persist in brandishing the statement as though it were about evolution, the inference is obvious (and supported by numerous other lines of evidence).

Also, despite Brayton's having impelled VanDyke to reread the NCSE Project Steve page, he still gets it wrong: "...the site parodied supporters of 'ID' as 'Steve'..." Hardly. Reading comprehension is evidently not his strong suit.

If the clear intent of the letter was to dissent from naturalistic evolution, why not have a letter that says, I dissent from naturalistic evolution? (Or better yet, why not get 100 scientists with relevant backgrounds to dissent? Why is it particularly germane whether a physics professor is skeptical about biological processes?)

Regardless of whether 99.9999% or only 99.9% of scientists dissent from naturalistic evolution, the real issue is that ID is an intellectually bankrupt movement.

As Leiter noted, the real failure here is the public education system that puts out intelligent people, like Mr. VanDyke, who dont understand Darwinian evolution well enough to see through the propaganda of organizations like the Discovery Institute. Perhaps if our schools did a better job at educating, it would be obvious to people why saying you are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life is not equivalent to being skeptical of naturalistic evolution.

Lawrence writes:

"To dissent from naturalistic evolution was clearly the intent of the statement - that is quite evident on its face."

We all know what the intent of the statement was, because we're familar with the "controversy". But many scientists, who never dreamed of trying to make science "ideologically correct" the way that the Discovery Institute has, have no idea that this is their intent. They read the words at face value and figure that they're agreeable, as most people would. I have heard of at least a few signers to the petition that were surprised that this implied they were in the ID camp, and have defended their decision to sign based on the fact that they agreed with the words as actually written. Sometimes, when you write something with the intention of deceiving people, it works.

I've followed this debate for some time with great amusement, and frankly, I was prepared to dismiss Mr. VanDyke's foray into science as a youthful, ill-advised attempted at publication for which he has paid with a great deal of credibility. You know, live and learn. Until, that is, he weighed in with his simplistic, and grossly misstated, evaluation of Daubert. It is now clear to me that Mr. VanDyke is, indeed, willing to distort reality at any cost to try to prove his point.

Mr. Leiter was certainly correct when he said that Mr. VanDyke cannot look forward to an academic career with scholarship like his. Mr. Leiter was wrong, however, to suspect that Mr. VanDyke might well have a promising career as a practicing lawyer. "[A]ny court in the land" would send Mr. VanDyke packing with such a tortured take on Daubert. Mr. VanDyke should hope that Daubert doesn't show up on the bar exam.

Ed suggested that I elaborate on my earlier post regarding Daubert. For those who care to look it up, the case is Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579, 113 S. Ct. 2786 (1993). At issue in the case was the standard for admissibility of scientific expert testimony. Before Daubert, courts relied rather strictly and exclusively on a "general acceptance within the scientific community" standard. Perhaps this is what leads Mr. VanDyke to characterize Daubert, incorrectly, as "anti-majoritarian." This characterization completely misses the mark.

Daubert requires that what must be offered be "scientific knowledge." This alone is probably a fatal blow to a proffer of ID "scientific" expertise. Daubert also requires that the scientific knowledge be helpful to the trier of fact in understanding or determining a fact in issue. "This entails a preliminary assessment of whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid and of whether that reasoning or methodology properly can be applied to the facts in issue." Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592-93. The "helpful to the trier of fact" requirement most certainly sends an ID "scientific" expert home on the next bus.

Justice Blackmun, writing for the majority, went on to say that "theories that are so firmly established as to have attained the status of scientific law, such as the laws of thermodynamics, properly are subject to
judicial notice under Federal Rule of Evidence 201." Id. at 593. Such theories, in other words, do not require independent proof. The court can simply take "judicial notice" of their existence. While I have no expertise on evolutionary theory, my guess is that it falls much closer to thermodynamics, for purposes of judicial notice, than does ID.

Mr. VanDyke surely knows that Daubert continues to view acceptance within the scientific community as an issue for the trial court to consider. "Finally, 'general acceptance' can yet have a bearing on the inquiry. A 'reliability assessment does not require, although it does permit, explicit identification of a relevant scientific community and an express determination of a particular degree of acceptance within that community.' (Citations omitted). Widespread acceptance can be an important factor in ruling particular evidence admissible, and 'a known technique which has been able to attract only minimal support within the community,' (citation omitted), may properly be viewed with skepticism." Daubert, 509 U.S. at 594.

If one were to try to summarize Daubert in one sentence (I'd advise against it) on a majoritarian - anti-majoritarian axis (I'd advise against that, too), the standard for admissibility still leans heavily in favor of the majoritarian end. But let's avoid that sloppy language. The critical inquiry under Daubert is whether the proffered scientific expertise is "reliable." Judged by this standard, "any court in the land" would send Mr. VanDyke packing with ID. In my worst nightmare, I cringe at the thought of having to get "scientific" ID evidence in at trial. It would properly be laughed out of court.

So much more could be said about Daubert and Mr. VanDyke's misleading take on it. I'll simply leave Mr. VanDyke with a bar exam hint: Daubert equals "reliability" equals "the opposite of ID."

This exchange and the whole VanDyke/Leiter flap remind me why I will not send my kids into public schools. You can't force me not to teach ID at home.

The Beckwith book contained many, many errors that VanDyke simply ignored.

Beckwith's discussion of the McLean opinion was laughable. First he claimed that the court’s definition of science was invalid, because it was not refutable; then he spent the next few pages offering arguments that he claimed did refute it. Both Beckwith and VanDyke seem to have missed the inconsistency of claiming to have refuted an "irrefutable” argument.

That same section is based largely on a straw man argument. Beckwith claimed that the court was defining “science,” but in reality the court was listing the characteristics of “scientific theories.” Beckwith had to distort the court’s opinion to make his argument, just as Leiter’s critics distorted his comments about VanDyke.

Beckwith’s and VanDyke’s legal ethics are very questionable. When arguing in court, lawyers are obligated by a code of professional ethics to disclose any binding authority that contradicts their arguments. Beckwith argued (and VanDyke impliedly approved those arguments):

1. That evolution is inherently atheistic. But the Supreme Court has ruled at least twice that evolution is NOT inherently atheistic. A real lawyer would have been ethically obligated to point that out. Beckwith and VanDyke failed to do so.

2. Regarding viewpoint discrimination, most, if not all, of the cases Beckwith cited referred to extracurricular activities, not classroom instruction; and in the Lamb’s Chapel case, the court specifically highlighted that fact and stated that its ruling in Lamb’s Chapel would NOT apply in cases involving particular First Amendment issues; i.e., issues that not only would be present in cases involving classroom instruction, but which had already been adjudicated by the Supreme Court ADVERSELY to Beckwith’s argument. Again, a real lawyer would have been ethically obligated to point that out.

3. Beckwith’s argument against defining science as an empirically based discipline is seriously undermined by the Daubert court’s numerous statements about the importance of empirical evidence in judging the reliability of scientific testimony. Although Beckwith discussed Daubert at some length, somehow he managed to overlook those inconvenient statements.

For all of those reasons, both Beckwith’s and VanDyke’s competence and/or ethics are highly suspect.

There are other glaring errors and inconsistencies in the book.

1. Beckwith falsely claimed that young-Earth creationists lacked the academic and scientific credentials that intelligent design creationists have. Perhaps Beckwith and VanDyke found it convenient to ignore Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s comment in the Edwards v. Aguillard case about how impressive the young-Earthers’ credentials were. Perhaps Beckwith and VanDyke also found it convenient to ignore the hundreds of Ph.D. holders in young-Earth creationist organizations. Perhaps they even found it convenient to overlook the fact that an article supporting young-Earth creationism was even published -- in the Harvard Law Review, the same venue that published VanDyke‘s ID-iotic book note! Beckwith’s and VanDyke’s failure to acknowledge the truth speaks volumes about the intellectual quality of “intelligent” design, an oxymoron if ever there was one.

2. In one part of the book Beckwith approved the creationist attempt in Kansas to define science as a discipline seeking nothing more than “logical” explanations; but later in the book, discussing the hypothesis of multiple universes, Beckwith derided scientists for proposing a theory which was nothing more than a logical possibility. That sort of inconsistency is typical of creationists and shows why real scientists think “intelligent“ design creationists are ID-iots. (Note: science, obviously, is logical; but its logic is applied to empirical data. Since creationism is not supported by any positive, credible, empirical data, creationists would like to find some definition of “science” that reduces or eliminates the importance of empirical data. Hence, their ID-iotic advocacy of “pure“ logic, divorced from empirical reality.)

3. Beckwith also argues that Occam’s Razor is a problem for theistic evolutionists, but Occam’s Razor is a principle of natural philosophy. Beckwith’s attempt to apply it in the realm of theology is entirely inappropriate. It also implies that God is bound by natural laws, something that virtually no one would agree with. It also implies that the Christian belief in a “Holy Trinity,” which has three persons, instead of just one, is inherently illogical. That might be problematic for Beckwith, since he himself has expressed belief in the Trinity, Occam’s Razor notwithstanding! And finally, according to one of Beckwith’s supporters in a different forum, Beckwith stated in a public address in 2003 that he himself had been a theistic evolutionist for quite some time and was still not really convinced that it was incorrect! Apparently Beckwith feels its OK to pander to creationists by lambasting theistic evolutionists in print, while privately agreeing with them. Not only is he an ID-iot, but he‘s a deceitful ID-iot.

Apparently, Beckwith’s disciple, Hunter Baker, is as big an ID-iot as Beckwith himself. When Leiter attacked VanDyke’s rave review of Beckwith’s book, Baker promptly fired back: “The Book of Scopes, 2:12-14 reads, ‘Thou shalt not admit that any explanation of origins outside the neo-Darwinian synthesis may have merit. Verily, thou must proclaim that any alternate explanation is of the same religious origin as witch burning and will be struck down by the Establishment Clause before ever being discussed in a public school.’”

What a dunce. There are several non-Darwinian theories which have not only been proposed, but have been published and widely discussed in professional science journals. Many of them are already included in high school text books. Is Baker such a dunce that he isn’t aware of that???

Mendelian genetics was originally seen as a serious blow to Darwinian evolution, until more sophisticated studies demonstrated that genetics actually was entirely consistent with the main features of Darwin’s theory. Neo-Darwinism itself, i.e., the unification of Darwin’s and Mendel’s theories, demonstrates the ludicrous error in Baker’s diatribe. Not only was something anti-Darwinian actually proposed, it eventually became almost universally accepted! Is that supposed to be evidence of dogmatic rigidity???

Punctuated equilibrium was also originally seen as a serious blow, until further study resolved the seeming discrepancy. The punctuated nature of the fossil record is now taken for granted by the vast majority of paleontologists. Is that supposed to be evidence of dogmatic rigidity???

Ohta’s theory of neutrality is an obviously non-Darwinian theory, and yet Ohta has been showered with monetary prizes and awards (including the Darwin Award!) by the scientific community. Where exactly is the dogmatic rigidity and censorship in that???

Lateral gene transfer is an obviously non-Darwinian process. It is also widely accepted in the scientific community. Where exactly is the censorship in that???

Symbiotic evolution events, as described by Lynn Margulis, are clearly non-Darwinian, and yet Margulis’s idea is now a standard part of modern theory. Where exactly is the censorship in that???

Contrary to Baker’s ID-iotic rant, science is an extraordinarily open discipline, generally willing to listen to any theory, any idea, any proposal -- with one caveat: it has to be supported by at least some positive, credible, empirical evidence. Far from excluding or ignoring the challenges to Darwinism and neo-Darwinism mentioned above, the science community not only allowed those ideas to be discussed, but enthusiastically welcomed them -- because they were supported by credible empirical data.

The common complaint that science rejects ID merely because ID is anti-Darwinian is a crock. The reason science rejects ID is because there is no credible, positive, empirical evidence supporting it. If ID-iots want their ID-iotic theory to gain any traction in the scientific community, then they should try coming up with some credible evidence. Using the popular press to pander to uneducated zealots, while avoiding professional science journals, may be politically smart -- God knows there’s plenty of uneducated ID-iots around -- but science is not a popularity contest. Earth was not flat in the early days of Christianity, no matter how many Bible-thumping idiots said it was; the sun did not circle the Earth in 1633, no matter how many Bible-thumping idiots said it did; and man did evolve from more primitive species, no matter how many Bible-thumping ID-iots disagree.


I have not read Frank's book yet, but I'm familiar with the arguments. While I think he's wrong about a lot of things, I do not think he's either an idiot or a liar. He has always been more than fair with me and I think he deserves the same consideration.

I do think you make a very important point about scientific credentials. The young earthers have people with scientific credentials too, just like the ID crowd. But that doesn't make any claim they make good science. The fact that genuine PhDs support ID is irrelevant; until they actually come up with a model with some explanatory power, or at least provide a basis for some sort of fruitful research program, they will not be taken seriously. Nor should they be.


I feel comfortable with believing that anyone who makes as many glaring errors as Beckwith, especially the sort of misrepresentations, inconsistent arguments, and convenient omissions found throughout Beckwith's book, is either an idiot, a liar, or both. He may have a charming smile while he's lying, but most con men do.


P.S. I probably should have credited Kimura above, not Ohta, with the neutrality theory, though Ohta was a significant contributer as well and won numerous prizes and awards for his "anti-Darwinian" work.