That Stupid Case Today About Intelligent Design

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The judge's ruling today was so muddled and wrong-headed and illegal, it boggles the mind.

The most obvious problem is that he ruled on whether or not ID is science. But there is no law justifying him making such a ruling, that defines what science is, let alone gives him the authority to apply any such definition. Whether something is science has not one thing to do with the law, and is the purview only of philosophers and scientists, not lawyers and judges.

Frankly, this part of the ruling alone should cause scientists and educators who oppose ID to fear, not rejoice.

And this error pervades much of the rest of the ruling. For example, he notes, "we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom."

So may it then be taught in a philosophy classroom? What law gives him the authority to make such a distinction, that something may be taught in some classes, but not in others? And further, what law gives him the authority to say whether something may be taught "as an alternative" to anything else?

The judge has authority to conclude only one thing: whether or not the specific curriculm in question constitutes a promotion of religion, in such a way that it is unconstitutional. The rest is simply beyond his legal authority, and he violates the Constitution and more by going beyond that authority. He says he is not an activist judge; methinks the robed figure doth protest too much. But call it what you will, what's clear is that he ruled on matters he is not allowed to rule on.

And he doesn't even define ID properly, which calls into question his already dubious conclusions. He writes, "We have concluded that it is not [science], and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents." Again, he has no authority to conclude it is not science. But he also has no authority to say whether ID can uncouple itself from one philosophy or another.

And further, the conclusion is obviously erroneous anyway, for the simple reason that ID itself predates modern Creationism by many centuries, and therefore Creationism cannot be an antecedent to ID. But more importantly, not all prominent ID proponents hold to Creationism. Indeed, one of the founders of the Discovery Institute, Stephen Meyer, is no Creationist. He has stated, for example: "We're not absolutists, we're not fundamentalists in the sense that we want to commit to a certain story and we're not young Earth creationists. We're fairly minimalist. What we want to say is that however life arose, design is certainly detectable from the things we see." In other contexts Meyer has expressed a belief in, or acceptance of, most of what I'd call evolutionary science.

The two are not mutually exclusive, and never have been. What are mutually exclusive are the views that God designed the universe, and that God -- if he exists -- did not design the universe. As most scientists make no scientific attempt to claim the latter, there's no quarrel.

A lawyer on NewsHour tonight attempted to use this fact to bolster his case against ID, saying, "There's really -- there's no controversy in the scientific community. There's a controversy that has been created in the public arena by the intelligent design movement itself. But science isn't debating evolution versus intelligent design." Right, but the reason for that is that they are not actually opposed!

He further attempted to impugn a belief in God as evidence that a proposition related to such a belief is automatically tainted, saying, "Their lead expert, Dr. Behe, testified that intelligent design is more believable the more you believe in God. And I don't know of any other scientific proposition that fits that description."

He only doesn't know of any such proposition because he's not very thoughtful or knowledgable. An obvious example is the Big Bang: believing in God makes a belief that the universe had a single point of origin, in time and space, far more believable.

There are others, too, though. It's easy to make the case that my belief in God makes it easier for me to believe in quantum theory, for example, or just generally in the order of the universe: gravity, planets, galaxies, and so on.

The bottom line is that if this ruling had just said, "this curriculum as presented amounts to promotion of religion, and is therefore prohibited," there would be some quarrel with it, but very little. But this ruling went far beyond what is reasonable jurisprudence.

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<pudge/*> (pronounced "PudgeGlob") is thousands of posts over many years by Pudge.

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This page contains a single entry by pudge published on December 20, 2005 10:28 PM.

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