Friday, August 13, 2010

Casey Luskin, Intelligent Design and the Establishment Clause

This is a long post. Sorry about that. Panda's Thumb points us to a new article in the Liberty University Law Review by Casey Luskin, in which he argues that supporters of "Darwin's House" encourage violation of the establishment clause. Liberty University, if you will recall, is the former home of Jerry Falwell. To get a gist of its take on biological sciences, here is some of the boilerplate from the "Center for Creation Studies:"
The Creation Studies minor

The minor in creation studies provides a flexible program with a broad training in scientific disciplines that relate to origins as well as the Bible. Students in science or non-science majors can benefit from the in depth study of creation and evolution.

The Creation Studies Minor is 20 hours and classes include CRST 290 and 390, as well as BIBL 410.

The student will be able to:

* Demonstrate a consistent, biblical worldview regarding origins
* Explain key scientific evidences and arguments used to support the theory of evolution as well as difficulties with the theory
* Provide scientific and biblical arguments in support of creation.
Given Mr. Luskin's constant insistence that intelligent design is science and not religion, it is curious that he would publish his review here. With Jerry Falwell's image and viewpoints in life looming large, Luskin might as well have painted a target on ID's chest. Onward. He continues:
Investigations by ID critics of the religious activities of ID proponents are not mere abstract exercises: in the Kitzmiller ruling, Judge Jones praised philosopher Barbara Forrest for having “thoroughly and exhaustively chronicled . . . [the] history of ID” and for “provid[ing] a wealth of statements by ID leaders that reveal ID’s religious, philosophical, and cultural content.” Given that over ninety percent of our country believes in God, and given that many leading ID critics exhibit anti-theistic motives, beliefs, and affiliations, it is astounding that Judge Jones found it relevant to his constitutional analysis in Kitzmiller that “many leading advocates of ID . . . believe the designer to be God.”
This is classic misdirection. Judge Jones was not drawing a relationship between his analysis and belief in God. He was stating that belief in God was irrelevant to his ruling. He ruled that intelligent design constitutes an extension of creationism and cannot extricate itself from its creationist roots, which are, first and foremost, religious ("cdesign proponensists" for example). Luskin, further, directs the reader away from what Forrest found by focusing on the motives of the critics of ID. He does not mention Francisco Ayala, Kenneth Miller or Steve Matheson here. All of these are ardent critics of ID and yet are committed Christians. He also does not rebut what Forrest found.

He writes:
First, creationism has been firmly deemed a religious viewpoint by multiple courts, but teaching ID in public schools has only been addressed by one federal trial court, and ID proponents consider ID to be scientific and thereby constitutional for both advocacy and critique in public schools. Critics allege that both ID and creationism are religious viewpoints, and they oppose the advocacy of both views in public schools. (On this point, the present author agrees with evolutionists with respect to teaching creationism, but disagrees with them with respect to teaching ID.) But evolutionists—who strongly hold ID is religion—ignore the First Amendment’s prohibition on inhibiting, disapproving, or opposing religion by actively supporting attacks on ID and creationism in public schools.
This is also not quite correct. He is correct about creationism being deemed religious and that the Discovery Institute has taken great pains to try to distance itself from modern young earth creationism, such as that espoused by the Institute of Creation Research and Answers in Genesis. Luskin, once again, focuses on the idea that critics view ID as being religious. This sidesteps the fact that most critics, such as Steve Matheson, Kenneth Miller, H. Allen Orr, to name a few, critique ID based on two things: 1. the lack of scientific theory behind it (admitted by Paul Nelson1), and 2. the continual, badly formulated attacks on evolution. He continues:
While the present author would strongly contend that ID is not a religious viewpoint and that ID should be considered constitutional to advocate (or critique) in public school science classrooms, it is troubling that many leading ID critics who do contend that ID is religion turn a blind eye towards attacks on ID in public schools.
It is difficult to fathom how the present author would strongly contend that ID does not have a religious basis when its leaders and founders espouse exactly that. As Barbara Forrest writes:
Phillip E. Johnson, CSC advisor and de facto leader of the ID movement,
defines ID as requiring the reality of God: “My colleagues and I speak of ‘theistic realism’—or . . . ‘mere creation’—as the defining concept of our movement. This means that we affirm that God is objectively real as Creator, and that the reality of God is tangibly recorded in evidence accessible to science, particularly in biology” (quoted in Forrest, 2005a, 31). William Dembski, a CSC fellow and the movement’s leading intellectual, stipulates that the designer must be “a supernatural intelligence” (quoted in Forrest, 2005a, 35). Moreover, Dembski, in appealing to John’s Gospel, identifies the designer as the Christian God, making ID not only a religious but also a sectarian belief: “Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory” (quoted in Forrest, 2005a, 26-27). (The Greek word “Logos” refers to Jesus Christ.) Dembski’s book for the popular audience, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, discusses ID in specifically Christian terms (Dembski, 1999).
How can Luskin not know this? Or if he does, how can he state his argument with a straight face? While most of the critiques of ID have been scientific in nature, the clear connexion between ID and religion is there.

He writes:
On the other hand, “special creation” or creationism are religious viewpoints that are constitutionally unfit to advocate in public school science classrooms.But members of the evolution lobby who unwaveringly lump ID with creationism (such as the Kitzmiller plaintiffs or the NCSE) exhibit no apparent protests towards the use of textbooks or school policies that attack, disparage, or oppose ID or creationism. This hypocrisy could encourage potential violations of the First Amendment, for there are numerous examples of such long-ignored textbooks that attack ID or creationism.
Opponents disparage ID textbooks not just because it is a religious perspective but because they often don't get the science correct, erect straw men when debating evolutionary models and are generally badly written. I read the "textbook" that was trucked in to the Dover School District, Of Pandas and People. It was atrocious. Steve Matheson and Francisco Ayala have had similar misgivings about the Stephen Meyer book Signature in the Cell. In the case of Dover, it was a two-pronged problem. Despite the fact that the defense witnesses were largely ID folk, the supporters of the move to bring in the book really didn't want ID taught, they wanted creationism taught. And they lied about it. They saw ID as a foothold. The prosecution focused on the fact that ID could not be supported using conventional science and that the attacks on evolution had no scientific backing. I fail to see the hypocrisy in such a position.

Luskin also glosses over a critical distinction in the criticism of ID. He accuses those who state that ID is untestable and then, in seeming contradictory fashion, argue that the irreducible complexity of the blood clotting cascade was tested and found wanting, of a logical fallacy. In other words, it is either testable or it is not testable. Michael Behe argued that the blood clotting cascade was irreducibly complex—it couldn't be broken down any further. His conclusion from this is that it was "designed." But if you break this argument down, it looks like this: Hypothesis 1: the cascade is irreducibly complex. Hypothesis 2: this irreducibly complex cascade is designed. Hypothesis 1 is testable. Several researchers have been able to show that blood clotting cascades with fewer steps are present in other organisms. It, therefore, is not irreducibly complex. Null hypothesis not rejected. Hypothesis 2, even if the null hypothesis of hypothesis 1 had been rejected, is not testable. There is no way to show that the cascade is designed. By collapsing these two tests into one, Luskin makes it seem as though the scientists are being hypocritical. When the tests are presented independently, as they would be in a scientific question, the contradiction disappears. The first question proceeds from an observation to a question. The second question runs into the problem of "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Luskin commits this error several times in the article.

He is correct about one thing though. He does show examples in which writers suggest that evolution means there is no God. One in particular he quotes is the textbook written by Monroe Strickberger:
The fear that Darwinism was an attempt to displace God in the sphere of creation was therefore quite justified. To the question, “Is there a divine purpose for the creation of humans?” evolution answers no. To the question “Is there a divine purpose for the creation of any living species?” evolution answers no.
Tar! Feathers! Evolutionary theory is simply not capable of determining whether God exists or not. That is not its purpose. Its purpose is to describe the biological variation and interconnectedness of life and show how it came to be. There is no way that Monroe Strickberger or anyone else knows whether or not humans were created for divine purpose. Evolutionary theory simply doesn't say. Such examples point not to scientific bias but religious bias. Of this he is quite correct. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of this and the faster they are identified as what they are, the better. I applaud Luskin for bringing these examples out in the open. It does show that there is animosity and bad theology on both sides. We need to be always mindful of that.

Luskin's article is 88 pages long and while I cannot possibly summarize all of the peculiarities in it, one that stood out (p. 430 specifically) was that he takes great pains to separate creationism from ID and then castigates various individuals for criticising special creation (young earth creationism). Why bother with this? He has already separated ID from special creation. Special creation does have numerous testable hypotheses—all of which get blown out of the water when examined at even a cursory level. This is unnecessary and confuses his message.

Luskin ends by writing that he is perfectly happy with the theory of evolution being taught in public schools as long as it does not bring with it anti-theistic biases that have nothing to do with the theory. I am perfect agreement with this. I think that the examples that he uses here do not promote this argument and his presentation is, at times, contradictory. He fails to explain that there are aspects of Intelligent design research that are clearly testable but that, as a whole, the concept of a "designer" is not.

1Nelson, P. (2004) The Measure of Design," Touchstone, pp. 64-65

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