If one more Mormon tells me to see Expelled, I am going to scream.

Before you attack me for criticizing a movie I haven’t seen, let me say this: my objection isn’t to the movie per se, it is to the Intelligent Design movement. (Which is ironic, since I do in fact believe that God designed the universe.)

A good starting point for understanding Intelligent Design The Movement (hereafter IDTM) as opposed to Intelligent Design The Idea is this NOVA episode, which you can watch in its entirety online. To me, the key point is that Intelligent Design is not the result of scientific (or even theological) reasoning; it exists because creationists needed a new moniker when it became clear that the courts were not going to allow creationism to be taught in public schools. Now, this isn’t the opinion of its adversaries; it is something easily established on a factual basis when one studies documents where the word “creationism” was sloppily removed and “intelligent design” put in its place.

OK, so its origins (ha!) are suspect–what of the idea itself? What’s wrong with teaching American schoolkids what most of the American public believes? Maybe a slightly less emotionally charged example could make my point here:

CHILD: “Where do rainbows come from?”

SCIENCE TEACHER: “God created them as a sign for Noah.”

Even those of us (and it would include me) who believe that the second statement is true don’t think that it is the answer that a science teacher should give. Her answer should be about light and water and refraction. A Primary teacher’s answer should be about God. In this example, we can think about immediate causes (light and water) and ultimate causes (God). The same can go for human origins.

Perhaps another example:

COLLEGE STUDENT: “How could an eye evolve? I mean, what good would half an eye be?”

COLLEGE BIOLOGY INSTRUCTOR: “Ah! An astute point! We see that Vishnu must have designed the eye of one piece!”

I’m not OK with the answer even if you substituted “God” for “Vishnu.” The point is that science is not about ultimate causes; it is about proximate causes. (And although IDTM people just love to trot out the “half an eye” argument, it has been adequately refuted on a number of occasions. See #11 here, but you really should read the entire thing. Another resource which I highly recommend is this book, which gave me numerous warm fuzzies in appreciation of the miracle of God’s creation.)

My understanding of the Expelled movie is that it casts the issue as one of academic freedom (which, incidentally, is a very clever way to take an issue dear to the right and make it sound like one dear to the left) but in this case, it fails. It fails because biologists shouldn’t talk about God as a cause even when it is true. Not because the sciences are evil and atheistic, but for the same reason that linguists shouldn’t say that bilabial fricatives come from God or economists shouldn’t say that recessions do. Maybe bilabial fricatives and recessions come from God, I don’t know, but those are questions for theologians. I want linguists to talk about the natural, testable, historical reasons for bilabial fricatives and I want the economists to shut up and go play golf.

Just kidding. (Sort of.) But I don’t want them saying that God caused recessions. (Even when/if God does.) I want them to find out what human forces contributed to a recession.

So I don’t think this is an academic freedom issue at all because it is completely inappropriate for any academic to answer the “What caused ______?” question with “God did it.” (Except for the theologians. We get a pass. Haha.) I want academics to stick to things that can be tested and published in journals that no one reads. That’s what we pay them the big bucks for.

So, please, no more emails telling me to see Expelled.

And, please, no evolution debate here. This is a narrow post on whether IDTM should be taught in science classes. Since we are all in agreement here that God created humans, the basic truth claim of ID isn’t the issue.

99 comments for “IDTM

  1. Jacob F
    May 7, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Amen Julie. There is no reason that our insight into the whys of the universe should hold back scientific discovery of the whats and the hows.

  2. dangermom
    May 7, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    I agree completely. Luckily, I haven’t had too many people telling me to see the movie.

    Yesterday, my daughter (7) and I were doing an astronomy lesson–we’re doing famous astronomers this week. The book mentioned the Big Bang, and she commented, “I thought Heavenly Father created the universe.” We got to have a pretty good conversation about how science looks at what we can see and tries to figure out what happened, not who made it happen or why they did it. Our faith tells us that part. The two can go together, but the science books are only going to tell us what we’ve figured out from the clues we can see, because that’s what science is.

  3. JimD
    May 7, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    But what, exactly, constitutes “teaching intelligent design”? Is the recitation of a four-paragraph statement prior to a lesson based on the evolutionist point of view (a la Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Statement, 400 F.Supp. 2d 707)) really so very offensive?

  4. May 7, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    In 1930, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, in an effort to alleviate the effects of the… Anyone? Anyone?… the Great Depression, passed the… Anyone? Anyone? The tariff bill? The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act? Which, anyone? Raised or lowered?… raised tariffs, in an effort to collect more revenue for the federal government. Did it work? Anyone? Anyone know the effects? It did not work, and the United States sank deeper into the Great Depression.

    That is the kind of engaging dialogue I expect from school teachers.

  5. Nat Whilk
    May 7, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    A good starting point for understanding Intelligent Design The Movement (hereafter IDTM) as opposed to Intelligent Design The Idea is this NOVA episode

    Just like a good starting point for understanding Mormonism is a PBS show on Mormons?

    Before you attack me for criticizing a movie I haven’t seen, let me say this: my objection isn’t to the movie per se, . . .

    My understanding of the Expelled movie is that it casts the issue as one of academic freedom . . . but in this case, it fails.

    It sounds like you have an objection to the movie per se.

  6. Julie M. Smith
    May 7, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    JimD, I think that statement is inappropriate because:

    (1) Disclaimer statements are not appropriate for classrooms instruction. (If I didn’t have to leave in two minutes, I’d explain why.)

    (2) The statement does not use the word “theory” in the same way that scientists use the word “theory.” It also displays an appalling lack of knowledge of evolutionary theory (re “gaps”).

    (3) The statement says, “The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families.” except that it doesn’t, by the nature of its existence and the fact that it recommends a book.

    (4) I read it to say “we disagree about this but have to teach it to you because it is on some stupid test we want you to pass.” Nope.

  7. Aaron Brown
    May 7, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Well said, Julie. All of it. But, if you don’t mind, may I recommend that you go see Expelled? Then, you can come back and write a post where you substantively criticize it. (Of course, you could just link to the 10,000 other reviews that already have).

    “The point is that science is not about ultimate causes; it is about proximate causes.”

    This is a point that needs to be made much more often than it is.

    As you say, with respect to what we teach in science class, the question isn’t whether or not ID or creationism is “true.” The question is whether it is “science.” So many people think that since certain scientific findings seem to have implications for how we view certain religiously significant questions (re: origins, etc.), that the relative “truth” value of scientific claims and religious claims should both be fair game in the classroom. But science class is not epistemology class; it isn’t a venue for exploring human beings’ various ways of “knowing”. It’s a forum for exploring one way of knowing. A lot of folks want science class to be epistomology class. Thus, I think they should be upfront about this, and advocate it openly. They should say, “I think we need epistemology classes in school!” To try to turn science class into epistemology class and still call it “science” class is confusing and inappropriate.


  8. JimD
    May 7, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    Julie, good points on 2-4, but when you get the time I hope you’ll come back and flesh out your point 1 a bit more. I interpret it as saying that “schools should teach a particular viewpoint as the ‘truth’ or else not teach it at all”, and I’m not convinced that’s what you meant.

  9. Nat Whilk
    May 7, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    science looks at what we can see and tries to figure out what happened, not who made it happen or why they did it

    Until Alvin Plantinga and Huston Smith persuaded the National Association of Biology Teachers to delete the two words, that organization had an official statement declaring that the process leading to the diversity of life was “impersonal” and “unsupervised”.

  10. JimD
    May 7, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Aaron, do you really think most students will independently draw the same distinction between “science” and “truth” that you outline? Would a school district or a court of law back up a science teacher who dared to illustrate that distinction prior to a lesson on evolution?

  11. May 7, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Another amen. The NOVA episode made it clear to me that at its worst (and most common?) level, IDTM is “thinly veiled religion.” The IDTM promoters had an agenda that wasn’t about science.

    #3. I believe you are referencing the case that was showcased in the NOVA episode. The “teaching” went beyond a four-paragraph statement. The school district went so far as ordering ID based biology books.

  12. KMB
    May 7, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Will I get in trouble if I post a gratuitous link to a recent article I wrote on the subject? (Not about “Expelled…” which I haven’t seen, but the problems with ID in general) Better than just repeating myself with a lengthy comment, anyway…

  13. Jonathan Green
    May 7, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Julie, I’m especially glad to finally see a mention of bilabial fricatives on T&S. We’re usually so caught up in our own linguistic habits that we never stop to notice sounds that aren’t in the phoneme inventory of American English. Still, there’s one aspect of the issue you haven’t mentioned: voiced or voiceless?

  14. John Mansfield
    May 7, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Pity the poor PhD. After all his study, he faces a lifetime of hearing that he’s not a “real” doctor since he’s not a physician, and some people don’t want to hear any philosophy from him either.

    A short bit from a Physics Today obituary quoted a deceased physicist that “there are two kinds of boys who become physicists. One had trouble with his crystal radio kit, and the other had trouble with his god.” No, cutting apart science and religion isn’t so clean as some may wish.

  15. JimD
    May 7, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    #11: In Kitzmiller the statement referenced a pro-ID textbook in the school library that students could consult independently. So yes, technically, the district did commit the grave sin of ordering a book for its library that had ideas some would consider objectionable.

    But the book was not used in the science class itself.

    The Kitzmiller opinion is online at

  16. Josh Smith
    May 7, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    First, thanks for the post. Thoughtful look at ID and what science is and is not. And very funny. Vishnu … eye of one piece. Ha. It’s funny now and it will be funny if I read it again tommorrow. Very funny post.

    So I watched the Nova episode and I read the federal judge’s opinion. He is undoubtedly a pompous a** that went way too far in his role as a judge. When this case came before him, he said in his mind “this is my big case … this is my Scopes Trial.” And away he ran defining what science is and what science isn’t, and having all kinds of witnesses on the stand that had nothing to do with the case, and otherwise turning an uneventful constitutional case into something that Nova could make into a documentary. Whew. I feel better.

    JimD is right. The case was about teachers reading a couple paragraphs directing students to a book in the library. The issue is whether that violates principles of the separation of church and state. The Answer? I don’t know. Maybe it does. Probably does not. Either way, the judge was arrogant and went well beyond his job description.

    Now if that judge was a member of the school board, I think he would be exactly right. ID has no business in a science class for the precise reasons that Julie humorously states–ID does away with the very purpose of science; it places a black box around the question of cause. Rather than dealing with the muddy problem of explaining natural phenomena with natural causes, it says the natural phenomena are too complex to have natural causes. Some intelligent force must have done it. ID takes the question out of the realm of science altogether. And once you give up trying to explain natural phenomena with natural causes, what are you using to explain natural phenomena? Certainly nothing I want my children to delve into at the public schools.

    ID has raised some challenges to evolution. I think those challenges should be presented in the public schools. I would expect a good class on evolution to address sticky issues like immune systems and eyes. How does a system that requires numerous working elements evolve by small mutations over time? Very good question. But don’t tell the students that Vishnu did it (that’s still funny) or any other intelligent thing. Stick to natural causes.

  17. Ray
    May 7, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    Great post, Julie. Aaron (#7) – Amen. The distinction between ultimate causes and proximate causes should be drilled into every science and theology/religion student until they are muttering it in their sleep.

  18. dangermom
    May 7, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    #9 Until Alvin Plantinga and Huston Smith persuaded the National Association of Biology Teachers to delete the two words, that organization had an official statement declaring that the process leading to the diversity of life was “impersonal” and “unsupervised”.

    Then they were wrong to have that statement, weren’t they? Scientists are not immune to biases, jumping to unwarranted conclusions, and refusing to consider evidence that goes against their precious ideas, even though that’s not how the discipline is supposed to work. That’s humanity for you.

    My husband (who made a hobby of critiquing ID for a while) was a physics major before he changed to CS, and does a lot of high-level physics in his work. He also enjoys telling the story about sitting in physics class in high school, when he first began to grasp relativity a bit, and having the Spirit sort of poke at him and say, “See, I did that! Neat, huh?”

  19. jrl
    May 7, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Okay, I won’t recommend the movie (never seen it and don’t plan to), but have you read Mormon Scientist by Henry J. Eyring, about his grandfather Henry Eyring? I recommend that for a look at a Mormon that was okay with evolution (and has a son in the First Presidency).

  20. Dan
    May 7, 2008 at 3:32 pm


    Don’t the guys who made this film believe that the study of evolution leads to fascism and Nazism? That Mormons would give any heed to the words of these kinds of guys is baffling to me.

  21. JT
    May 7, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    AB – I like the notion that a science class shouldn’t be an epistemology class. But I do like the idea of having an epistemology class in high school. Or, at least, having the eency, teenciest bit of epistemology taught in all classes, whatever subject it may be. I went through high school and the first part of college thinking that textbooks spewed nothing but pure, incontrovertible facts. Methodology and epistemology didn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere until intermediate level college courses. Shouldn’t something be said a little earlier in a student’s academic life (by high school, for example) on how we are getting this information? At least in the more subjective subjects, like history?

  22. Kristine
    May 7, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Josh, ID has in fact utterly failed to raise new questions about evolution. All of the challenges raised by ID are well-studied by scientists who take the theory of evolution as a starting point for their work. Stephen J. Gould’s “punctuated equilibrium” is just the most famous of the many, many, many ways scientists have tried to explain glitches in their models (yes, that’s “ways” and “models,” plural–unlike ID, it’s not a religious philosophy and therefore allows dissent) of evolution. All of those questions have been around for decades. They don’t get taught in jr. high school science classes, because 7th and 8th graders are not known for their ability to master large, complex bodies of thought in the short time allotted to science curricula. The basic model is all there’s time to teach, not all there is. Looking at problems and incongruities is what scientists *do*–it’s what science is about. ID starts with the answers and tries to find questions, which is a terribly limiting way to approach the world. I’d argue that it’s a terribly limiting way to approach God and religion, too, but that’s a discussion for another day.

  23. kristine N
    May 7, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    okay, JT, why? and are you sure it isn’t happening already?

    note, I’m not actually disagreeing with you, but I do disagree that methodology and epistomology aren’t being taught before mid-college. In fact, as I understand it, there’s quite a movement toward “discovery learning” in a lot of school districts.

  24. Josh Smith
    May 7, 2008 at 4:06 pm


    So ID doesn’t even get credit for raising challenges to evolution? Science naturally challenges itself? HS teachers shouldn’t even say “look, ID has raised these challenges to evolution”? … Alright. I can live with that. No credit for ID. We agree then.

  25. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    May 7, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Since this blog is one that tries to maintain a high standard of intellectual discourse, I would like to point out that Julie is confusing and confouding two different groups of people. First, there are those who are actual scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers (Plantinga has been mentioned) who argue that the teaching of the modern synthesis of Darwinian evolution and genetic variation in the schools has become a quasi-religious orthodoxy that explicitly asserts that materialism is the founding axiom of all science, and that any criticism of the modern darwinian synthesis is an attack on materialism and the foundation of all science. This group of credentialed professionals has offered specific scientific criticisms of the materialist assumptions in some scientific theories, including darwinian evolution (specifically, the theory that random genetic mutation and differential survival of mutated individuals sufficiently explains all the diversity of life). The criticisms they offer are based on scientific observation and analysis, not on appeals to the authority of Genesis. Many (all that I have read so far) of the professionals in this group are explicit in rejecting Young Earth Creationism (the simple-minded notion that the “days” in Genesis 1 are literal 24 hour days rather than “days” in the broader sense of “periods of time”, e.g. the old codger who says “in my day, we walked to school 10 miles and we liked it”). These are the people who created the Intelligent Design movement and who publish books with detailed scientific arguments.

    There is a second group of people. They are people like State Senator Buttars of Utah who have seized on the detailed scientific critiques offered by the Real ID movement in order to attack the standard orthodox teaching of Darwinian evolution in public schools. They include the people on the school board in Dover and others, who lack the energy to undertake a real study of the scientific questions raised by the Real ID movement and try to use it as a club against what they (correctly) perceive is the anti-theistic bias of standard biology textbooks and many biology teachers, not to mention the National Academy of Sciences and the National Center for Science Education. It is this second group that in their confusion of the Intelligent Design critique with Young Earth Creationism are actually assisting explicityly atheist biologists like Richard Dawkins in their efforts to smear the rational and science-based ID movement with the irrational and illiterately Biblical reputation of Young Earth Creationism. The fact that Julie does not understand this distinction is evidence that Dawkins and Eugenie Scott at the NCSE are succeeding.

    Beyond the confusion that these atheists are trying to promote is the very real program of censorship and professional punishment that materialist scientists have conducted against scientists who see merit in the ID critique. That campaign, to punish scientists who offer scientific arguments for deducing the work of an intelligent agent in aspects of creation, is what the movie Expelled is exposing to public view. This ostracism and denial of tenure is not something that mainstream media are wont to publicize, since they are tied into the mutual power structure that also promotes other “Ideas that are good for you” like “global warming that is so dangerous that we MUST take drastic action” without stopping to think about it.

    One of the specific cases featured in the movie is of astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, PhD, who was denied tenure despite having published equally with his colleagues, based on (allegedly) the reaction to his book, The Privileged Planet, which argues that the earth is uniquely situated to facilitate the development of human knowledge about the universe, and that this is a basis for reasoning that it appears to have been precisely designed to such an end. Anyone who has noticed that our unusually large moon is in an orbit that often allows it to precisely eclipse the sun has had to wonder “How likely is that?” When one adds to that the fact that the standard, scientifically deduced picture of how our moon came into being relies on a very unlikely collision about 4.5 billion years ago by a Mars-sized planet at a precise speed and angle, the combination of these two unlikely facts says that we are either extremely lucky, or that the normal cause of good luck–namely, intent–was also the cause of this set of circumstances.

    I have not seen the movie either, but regardless of the quality of the film (its critics have called Ben Stein an actor, without acknowledging he also has a JD from Yale, where he was a top student, and taught the application of economics to law at Pepperdine), the issue it addresses is a real one. There is a real effort being made in academia to censor and otherwise silence qualified academicians who question the materialist orthodoxy of those who want science to be synonymous with atheism, and who demand that anyone who dares question the Great and Terrible Darwin and peeks behind the curtain must be banished from our schools and universities.

    The fact is that the main argument supporting the modern Darwinian sythesis is that “If this isn’t the answer, then you have to rely on God!” which is a horrifying prospect to many. I would recommend to anyone actually interested in doing some thinking about Intelligent Design to read two books by biologist Michael Behe, Darwin’s Balck Box and The Edge of Evolution. Behe does NOT argue from Genesis, so following his argument requires some basic understanding of biology. But it is well worth your time.

  26. Martin Willey
    May 7, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    This is a narrow post on whether IDTM should be taught in science classes.

    Easy. No.

  27. Josh Smith
    May 7, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Behe’s book is “Darwins Black Box.” Balck was a general in Nazi Germany. I’m sure the error was a slip of the fingers.

  28. Mark B.
    May 7, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Never having taken a linguistics class, I had never heard the term “bilabial fricative” before. But I think I’ve heard a lot of them–the “fu” sound in Japanese being the one that comes to mind.

    Which means that all those Cubs fans need to be taught how to say the name of their newest great hope:

    FU KU DO ME–and quit sticking that lower lip under your upper teeth!!

    By the way, Julie, back to your post: I don’t believe that God created rainbows as a sign for Noah. I do believe though that he gave the rainbow at that time as a sign of the promise made to Noah. I cannot believe that there were no rainbows before the flood.

  29. JimD
    May 7, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Well, Martin, this begs the question of why any particular subject is/should be taught in our schools.

    Why do we teach “science”? Do we do it because

    a) Science is “truth”, as our society understands it, and our schools should be teaching students “truth”?
    b) Knowledge of scientific principles is part of what makes a person an “educated person”?
    c) Basic knowledge of scientific principles may expose the student to a career path?

    Aaron Brown’s post above seems to dispel a). As for b) and c), one could arguably say that a thorough education in the basics of divinity is just as fundamental to those goals as is an education in the basics of science.

    So . . . why science? And (I don’t support this myself, but for argument’s sake) why not ID?

  30. JT
    May 7, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    Kristine N (23) – Excellent – I’m glad to hear it. Maybe it was just my experience, or my selective memory, or the fact that I am mostly thinking about history classes on this issue.

  31. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    May 7, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    #22 (Kristine) “ID has in fact utterly failed to raise new questions about evolution. All of the challenges raised by ID are well-studied by scientists who take the theory of evolution as a starting point for their work. Stephen J. Gould’s “punctuated equilibrium” is just the most famous of the many, many, many ways scientists have tried to explain glitches in their models (yes, that’s “ways” and “models,” plural–unlike ID, it’s not a religious philosophy and therefore allows dissent) of evolution. All of those questions have been around for decades.”

    Michael Behe’s questions are basic, but they are NOT being asked by other biologists. Behe in his book points out that a literature search reveals that NO ONE is asking whether Darwinian evolution can actually explain complex mechanisms, which Darwin says have to come about by accumulation of small changes, each of them of differential survival value. The attempts of biologists to give Darwinian pathways for the examples Behe points to have been ludicrous and often downright dishonest.

    ID is NOT a “religious philosophy” and has no priesthood or means of excommunicating anyone, unlike academia, which can refuse publication of research that attacks its orthodoxy.

    Gould published his theory to try to explain the fact that the fossil record shows that species are stable for many millions of years, and then new species appear abruptly, the most spectacular example being the Cambrian Explosion, in which an amazing variety of body forms came into being almost overnight in geological terms, at a rate that has not been matched in the billion years since. He proposed that the evolutionary change creating new species happens off stage in isolated pockets, creating new species that then burst forth. But the fact is that his theory has not gained a big following, and the problem of the fossil record is still there. But you won’t hear any high school biology teacher mention that as a problem.

    “They don’t get taught in jr. high school science classes, because 7th and 8th graders are not known for their ability to master large, complex bodies of thought in the short time allotted to science curricula. The basic model is all there’s time to teach, not all there is.”

    The modern Darwinian synthesis IS a “large, complex body of thought”. Pointing out examples that the theory fails to explain is no more difficult than pointing out examples that it does seem to explain. In fact, typical biology textbooks teach a LOT of stuff about evolution that is demonstrably false, such as the notion that “ontology recapitulates phylogeny” illustrated by comparing embryos of fish and humans. If they got rid of all the baloney, they would have lots of time to consider the scientific shortcomings of the theory.

    “ID starts with the answers and tries to find questions, which is a terribly limiting way to approach the world.”

    That is a false characterization of Intelligent Design as practiced by Behe, Gonzalez, and other scientists, but it IS descriptive of how Darwinian evolution is taught in public schools, except that establishment science education does NOT encourage questions.

    Basically, the mainstream news media are doing the same kind of propaganda job on Intelligent Design that they often do on the LDS Church and its beliefs, for many of the same reasons. Both Mormonism and Intelligent Design are detailed challenges to materialism. We who are aware of the way the media defend the orthodoxy of the chattering classes, and attack dissenters (like us Mormons), should be skeptical of their attacks on Intelligent Design. Just as the media use the polygamists in Texas to smear real Mormons, they are also happy to use people who think T. Rex drowned in Noah’s flood to smear the scientists in the Real Intelligent Design movement.

  32. Aaron Brown
    May 7, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    JimD, how is “education in the basics of divinity” just as “fundamental” as scientific training is to your (b) or (c)? I suppose a comparative religion class could be part of one’s vision of an “educated person” as much as exposure to scientific thought could, but I guess I don’t much like your (b) anyway, as it’s hard to pin down what it should mean. With respect to (c), I don’t foresee a need for divinity school teachers ever exceeding, or even approaching, our need for employment in scientific fields. Then again, maybe the nation does need a whole heckuva lot of Sunday School teachers in the 21st Century, but isn’t that who our churches should be training and producing in droves? I certainly don’t think we need public education to be providing that (particularly given that such jobs are “sectarian” by definition anyway, and so the knowledge needed for them would not likely to be fulfilled by any general comparative religion class curriculum in the public schools). So I actually think a modified version of (c) is the proper answer to your “why” question. I say “modified” in that I wouldn’t articulate the purpose of science-teaching in terms of an employment program for students (as you do); rather, I’d say our economy, to remain globally competitive, is going to need citizens with skills that science classes are most likely to provide (or at least set them on the path to acquiring). Comparative religion is nice, but not crucial in the same way.


  33. bbell
    May 7, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    The best section of a science class I ever took was a section on the debate between Evolution and creationism. I am not sure why debate needs to be stifled at schools.

    Count me as agnostic on evolution and agnostic on creationism.

  34. JT
    May 7, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    Kristine N – I guess I didn’t answer your first question with regards to why (I am assuming you are asking why include discussions of how we know what we know in classes). Personally, I find it very enriching and, in this (mis)information age, the identification of quality sources of knowledge is key to knowledge. If we have no idea how we know what we know, then we have no way of judging the quality of a source and the reliability of a claim. Suddenly there is no difference between, say, “The Secret” and a peer-reviewed article in The American Journal of Psychology, or “Body for Life” and a college nutrition textbook, or “Expelled” and, well, you get the point. Everything in print would be just as plausible as the next thing. I just thought it would be nice to speed the process up a bit and share some of these things in high school. I especially noticed this lack of context in history courses – no mention of how subjective writing history is, even regarding what happened last week. Maybe its not necessary, but I think it would be beneficial for students to understand.

  35. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    May 7, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    #20 (Dan): The reviews of the movie Expelled do state that it points to the abuse of Darwinian theory in Social Darwinism, which a century ago was quite blatant in it reliance on the notion of “survival of the fittest” as a new ethic to replace the one about “love thy neighbor”. The sterilization of “defective” people (mentally retarded) was promoted in the US as well as in Europe. And this idea went on to be used by the Nazis in promoting their “master race” notions that underwrote the Holocaust. This is simple historical fact. The fact that Ben Stein, a Jew, chooses to point out this connection should be understandable.

    Darwin was an English gentleman of his day (and wrote things we would view as racist now), but he certainly did not foresee how his theory would be abused to justify genocide, any more than Marx foresaw his theory of communism would be used as an excuse for the genocide of people by Stalin.

    The same racist notions were used in the 19th Century to classify Mormons as a distinct variety of humanity that did not deserve full human rights (see The Viper on the Hearth by Givens).

    At the same time, we should not forget that modern Darwinism’s most radical defenders, like Richard Dawkins, promote atheism and argue that the teaching of religion by parents to children should be classified as child abuse and the children be taken out of parental custody, just as Texas is doing to the FLDS children based on a repugnant teaching more than actual physicalo abuse of all 400+. Dawkins even attacks committed evolutionary biologists who are nevertheless Christians, like textbook author Kenneth Miller. Dawkins believes that his view of biology promotes atheism, and we should take him seriously and not believe we can avoid thinking about the religious implications of certain scientific theories as they are taught to our children and grandchildren.

    Henry Eyring’s acceptance of evolution was one that did NOT punish critics of the theory. Rather, he urged that evolution left many questions unanswered, which gave room for scientists to do their work, rather than defend an orthodox TRUTH that is supposedly complete for all time. The Real ID scientists are simply seeking “further light and knowledge” about the mechanisms of biological diversity. In “The Case for Divine Design,” LDS plant biologist Frank Salisbury, PhD, reviews some of the literature of the Real ID movement and sees much merit in it. My guess is that Henry Eyring would have had a similar reaction.

  36. Thomas Parkin
    May 7, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    I honestly barely know the first thing about the theories and research that are _part_ of the underpinning for this discussion, but there is a lot that bothers me about this discussion. I have never read anything by a proponent of ID – though I did scan Michael Behe’s _Darwin’s Black Box_ several years ago.

    The first thing that bothers me is the intensity of the dismissal of the ID “scientists.” (Whether they are attempting any kind of science at all I’m not informed or qualified enough to say, but I will say something about science in general that makes me think we ought to be giving them a better hearing, if not in science class, then somewhere.) These men are not only wrong, or doing bad science, or not doing science at all – they are idiots, fanatics, astrologers, thoughtless, blinkered, already refuted, boring, dangerous, junk, absolutely dismissable without qualm, wanting ready and able to drive us back to the dark ages. I am not at all qualified to present an argument on the validity of their critiques of evolution, but I judge that the tenor and passion of their dismissal from court points to a tension that is not being acknowledged. After all, scientists, as a whole, may be dismissive yet easy about, say, astrology – but then none of their peers are wriitng books defending astrology. But they are writing books claiming that seeing intelligence behind the mechanics of evolution is more valid than seeing none. Whether that is science or not, it is apparently and idea that a man educated in science can have. It is also apparently a heresy, and needs to be handled like one.

    The second thing that bothers me is the universality of thier dismissal. I’m all for consensus reached in small groups with common limited aims. I’m not for consensus on bigger issues like the realm of and uses of science, or religion, in modern society. There is way too much at stake. There has got to be room for ameliorating views within the fold of thinkers and other movers.

    The final thing that bothers me is the compartmentalization of science. Science must be kept pure from un-science or pseudo-science in order to be science. And we frequently hear that science is a well defined and contained and trusted process. But even in the SA article Julie linked we read that the idea that a scientific hypothesis needs to be falsifiable can be rejected in order to maintain ongoing activity where there is “clearly scientific endeavor” that wouldn’t meet this “strictest definition.” In fact, they put forward hypothesis that can’t be tested.* And while scientific theories obviously have a relation to all thought outside of science: what is true, what is best; and while we are certainly meant to apply the findings of science to our thinking on all things, and rightly so, where do we get the reverse? Where do we get a critique of science from a position outside of science, have those critiques taken seriously, with a possible impact on the place of science within society. Without being branded as a regressive loony.

    * These might be areas John Horgan, another controversial guy, labeled “ironic science.” Areas where scientists rightly explore ideas that can be explored mathematically, or logically, but where we do not have, and conceivable cannot have, the means to falsify their hypothesis. I recall he put Super-String Theory in that box. He doesn’t, iirc, and I’m sure I do, place evolution in that catagory – but he did critique a lot of stories generated in evolutionary psychology as being untestable.



  37. Josh Smith
    May 7, 2008 at 5:38 pm


    So could an intelligent designer agree with either of these statements?

    A. “Darwinism doesn’t explain x,y, and z phenomena. But, let’s continue to look for natural causes because that is what scientists do.”


    B. “Darwinism doesn’t explain x,y, and z phenomena. Therefore it must be by intelligent design. You see if you find a watch in the forest …”

    If the intelligent designer says B, then you’re marching down a path that quickly ends with the Christian God. [Maybe HS teacher tries to distance herself: shrugs shoulders and says “Now it could be God or it could be aliens, I’m not going to say.” We know what the teacher is saying.] You’re also marching down a path that isn’t science. It removes the object from the scientific debate because the cause is something big and smart, but not something that has a natural explanation.

    If you think an intelligent designer could agree with A, then there may be room for it in a high school curiculum.

  38. May 7, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    There is a saying attributed to Galileo that reads “Religion tells us how to go to Heaven and science tells us how the Heavens go.” The only source I could find showed this maxim attributed to a Cardinal, Baronius by Galileo which states, “the Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

    As far as I’m concerned science’s is about mechanics not philosophy. Religion is about God and salvation. The only qualified individuals to handle all these subjects is God the Eternal Father and his son Jesus Christ. Science does not have all the answers nor does religion. God will let us know when all the answers are available to us.

    In my opinion the Intelligent Design movement is some kind of fundamentalist slight of hand trick.

  39. Matt Evans
    May 7, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    While I completely agree about the distinction Aaron Brown draws between science and epistemology, he has it exactly backwards (how’s that for ensuring you’ll respond, Aaron?!). It is the Darwinists who muddled the distinction. The Darwinists foolishly thought evolution disproved the existence of God and started a religious movement. The ID movement is simply reactionary — they’re responding to the bumper stickers of the Christian-fish-eating, foot-evolving land walkers. Tell the scientists to first educate the people who claim to understand science about its limits. I don’t think even Dawkins or Dennett understands it! (That or they willfully use people’s ignorance when it promotes their own religious views — in the name of science, no less!)

    The Scientific American article Julie linked to is typical. In Answer #7 about abiogenesis (life coming from non-life), the author even says that science doesn’t exclude the possibility that life was initially put on earth by ALIENS. Aliens? Why not just say that for all evolutionists know, life was initially put on earth by GOD? Why? Because the author’s purpose is to pick a fight with religionists.

    A rapprochement would be much easier if more scientists better distinguished the limits of their claims, like Gould did. Gould would willingly say that he doesn’t know how the first life began, and would admit it was as likely God as aliens. He had no desire to stick a finger in religion’s eye. He was a scientist.

  40. Matt Evans
    May 7, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    Great points, Thomas. Allegations of heresy turn me off, and seem “unscientific”, we might say. I remember reading an interview with a biology professor, I think at UT-Austin, who said he was now asking his doctoral candidates about their belief in God, because any of them who still believed in God didn’t understand biology and weren’t worthy of a Ph.D. He justified the question because one of his former students, who’d written and defended his doctoral disseratation about evolution, told him later that he didn’t actually believe evolution happened. He later used his Ph.D. as a credential to attack evolutionary theory, and the professor wanted to ensure he credentialled no more heretics.

  41. Huston
    May 7, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    Great post, Julie. I wrote about this for a local rag here in Vegas a few years ago and, since the whole text would be too long to paste, here’s a link for interested parties; I think it makes a nice companion to Julie’s piece:

  42. Buckley\\\'s Ghost
    May 7, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    Well you do need to go see it because you have no idea what you are talking about. The movie as a documentary was par for course, nothing great, but it did bring up a valid critique of the academic establishment and some evolutionary biologists. Their are plenty of evangelical wackos who believe in strict creationism and there are wacko\’s who deny evolution entirely. The movie only focuses on the persecution that certain scientists go through who have questioned the premise that, \”All life came from a single cell organism\”. ID suggests that intelligent life from Aliens to a diety having a role in this process. Thier is a crisis in moleculeur biology as to how this process began and there is standpatters on both sides. The movie suggests the desperate attempt to hold onto a theory that might prove incorrect, the above premise. I have no problem with certain scientists who think certain aspects of our genetic evolutionary code show signs of intelligent tampering. This is not going to make me run to the local baptist church its just like SETI sending signals out into space. The end of the movie has Richard Dawkins admit in the possibility that Alien life started it all but not GOD. Thats the point of the movie that anyone who suggests that this intelligence could be God is stupid because people who believe in God are stupid, dangerous, and have no place in science. In my Genetics class at ASU the professor stood up and said it was our duty to fight against the religionists because they represent the greatest threat to science and our way of life. The movie highlights what Richard Dawkins calls the \”war\” against religion not to just push it out of our secular society but to destroy it. You should really do your homework before you run your mouth off because you read some political scientist review on the movie because he knows and you know @$& about science.

  43. angrymormonliberal
    May 7, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    #39. Matt Evans

    There’s an extensive scholarly treatment of the creationist movement, called fittingly enough ‘The Creationists’ by Ronald L. Numbers that just came out with an expanded edition.

    The situation is considerably more muddled than your binary thinking. The evolutionists had their evangelists and the creationists had theirs, but the Intelligent Design movement? It’s a legal fiction, designed specifically to integrate religion into elementary scientific education.

    The big problem I have with ID is that it says ‘we have the answer’. This is antithetical to science. When science postulates an answer this answer is always subject to revision. You become famous if you overturn the previous best answer, viz Einstein explaining more than Newton. ID advocates seek to use legal means to short circuit the work needed overturn the current best understanding. When I ask ‘Why?’ and your answer is ‘God made it that way’ it ends the discussion. Science should never have an end to the discussion.

    I’m a science evangelist. Religion belongs in other classes.

  44. Bob
    May 7, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    I don’t see a need to teach “ID” in school. I think “God did it”, is more or less the default setting most kids already have going into school. I guess we could stop teaching ” Evolution”, but I don’t see that as helpful. It seems to me, we are doing OK with one foot in each world.

  45. jeff hoyt
    May 7, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    #42 “The big problem I have with ID is that it says ‘we have the answer’. This is antithetical to science.”

    Of course everone agrees with this. The obvious question is – why does this not apply to evolution?

  46. Kristine
    May 7, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    Jeff, it *does* apply. Biologists and botanists and zoologists spend their lives trying to figure out what’s wrong with the theory they’ve got, and make it better. (With the exception of Dawkins and his ilk, who are every bit as dogmatic as the religionists they despise. The difference is that good scientists know this, while good religious folks don’t know when the ID folks are blowing smoke.)

  47. kristine N
    May 7, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    JT–Definitely agree with you that in this age of misinformation students (and really everyone) absolutely needs to understand how to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources of information. “Expelled” is an exceptionally good example of something trying to pass itself off as a reliable source when it really isn’t.

    You know, the only people who talk about “scientific heresy” are those who are trying to forward ID. The scientists who are supposedly being oppressed and ignored for their conviction that ID is right are probably actually being ignored because they don’t do anything interesting, or they ignore evidence in trying to prove their claims. You can’t do that. You can’t ignore well-documented, accepted evidence if you want something to be taken seriously–and that goes for every scientist, not just IDers. Science is really a pretty harsh discipline. The stakes for finding something new, or for disproving a widely held theory are enormous, so people really are constantly trying to disprove everything, and really won’t believe anything you say unless you give a convincing argument. ID fails because it requires you to ignore well-documented science, and it’s boring so nobody cares about it. It’s seriously no fun to go into a problem with the attitude that “it’s too complicated, so that means someone smarter than me must have made this.” Sorry, but it’s a lot more fun to ask the question, “alright, we know this enzyme cascade is incredibly complicated–how did it arise?”

    Raymond–I promise, people are asking the same questions Behe asks, but they’re doing it from a non-ID standpoint, and because of this they have a much better chance of actually coming to an informative conclusion. As far as the punctuated equilibrium is concerned, I learned about that model, along with several others, in courses I took (and taught them, too). Other models have more evidence backing them up, but I don’t think it’s a model that’s been entirely dismissed.

  48. kristine N
    May 7, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    Kristine, we’ve got to quit posting next to each other :)

  49. Thomas Parkin
    May 7, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    “When I ask ‘Why?’ and your answer is ‘God made it that way’ it ends the discussion. ”

    Discussion around evolution, at the level most of us get, anyway, has become very much the same thing. “Evolution made it that way.” Nietzsche called God an obtuse answer, for what you’re noting. Everything and its opposite being explained simultaneously by the same thing. The question of the reality of evolution aside. If everything we are evolved into being, then evolution can be the obtuse answer to everything. Why does a human mother protect her children? We evolved that capacity. Why does a human mother throw her children off a cliff? Same thing. How much does it really say about who and what we are? If you want to know why a man is violent, you generally don’t have to look back to caveman days – you generally only have to look as far back as the man’s own father. But there is this constant stream of attempts to force evolution to mythologize our past and create stories about who we are today. Almost as though evolution has had a will and a purpose, at times. Almost as if it it has had a kind of intelligence.

    Further on down that road: “God made it that way” does still leave room to ask why He made it that way. Perhpas becasue He lovese us, perhpas because He was bored and needed toys to tinker with. “Evolution made it that way” eliminates that question. There is no why. Unless you can posit that a purely natural process can have intent. That is the aesthetic basis, I think, for why people prefer evolution, or God, as ansawers to the exclusion of the other. God as an answer does leave mystery and contigency that evolution seems to eliminate. On the other hand, if what is came about only by naturalistic processes, then either there is no meaning (an appealing answer to some), or we are completely free to create our own meanings (appealing to most others).


  50. Thomas Parkin
    May 7, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    “Sorry, but it’s a lot more fun to ask the question”

    Fun is an interesting reason to prefer one way of thinking over another. ;)

    The IDers are not only not scientists, they are a humbug.


  51. kristine N
    May 7, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    Thomas–I would disagree with your claim a scientist would say “evolution made it that way.” Sure, if you reduce scientific arguments to their most basic you might say “evolution made it that way,” just like you could say “physics says so” for why we fall down, or why the planets orbit the sun. Scientific explanations (especially those directed to other scientists, but sometimes also those directed to the public) tend to be very detailed and tend to draw on numerous previous observations and experiments, though. Sometimes too much so, I suspect.

    Fun is an interesting reason to prefer one career over another anyway ;)

  52. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    May 7, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    #42 (angry m.l.): I second the comment in #44. Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott and other militants who demand that the Darwinian synthesis not be questioned are the ones who are declaring “We have the answer, we need no more answer.” And the reason that they KNOW it is the answer is that it is the only theory that is consistent with their atheism and their commitment to materialism.

    Which brings us to #37 (Josh). You ask if a Real ID scientist aubscribes to either:

    “A. “Darwinism doesn’t explain x,y, and z phenomena. But, let’s continue to look for natural causes because that is what scientists do.”


    B. “Darwinism doesn’t explain x,y, and z phenomena. Therefore it must be by intelligent design. You see if you find a watch in the forest …”

    I frankly think that Michael Behe, for example, would not subscribe to either statement because the second sentence in each does not represent legitimate scientific reasoning.

    Let’s look at A: “But, let’s continue to look for natural causes because that is what scientists do.” Your assertion that scientists are RESTRICTED to looking ONLY for “natural causes” is invalid. Anyone who watches any of the CSI shows on TV knows that one of the most significant uses of science is to discriminate between circumstances that are due to natural, and not intentional, causes, and those that are caused by human intent. The conclusion can spell life or death for a person accused of killing someone.

    A second arena of science in which discrimination between natural (unintentional) and intentional causes is the whole purpose of the science is archeology. Is a particular interesting piece of bone or rock something that was formed wholly by an unintelligent animal, erosion, or chemistry in the ground, or was it formed by a thinking human being who intended that it be in the shape that we find it in?

    A third area in which determining human intent is key is in code breaking. We need to be able to tell the difference between random noise and a human communication. Indeed, we may need to be able to discriminate between random symbols that were intentionally inserted into a string of symbols in order to obfuscate the message, and the effective string of symbols that were meant to communicate an intelligible message to the intended recipient.

    A fourth area where the scientific search for evidence of intent is vital is in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The probability of the existence of another intelligent being(s) in the nearby universe seems high, especially if one assumes that life evolves intelligent beings through wholly random processes, and therefore must be a common phenomenon in the galaxy. This faith in the existence of other intelligent beings similar to humanity who also communicate using radio waves has led to the investment of resources into scanning radio signals received from space, in the hope that we would be able to recognize a signal that, like most of the signals we receive on TV and radio and cell phones, carries information, but originates from outside the earth and its immediate environs.

    This is analogous to the issue about whether the short linear structures on the meteorite from Mars that was found in Antarctica a decade ago (Bill Clinton’s press conference was adapted and integrated into the movie “Contact”) were caused by geological chemistry or by living cells.

    It is scientifically legitimate to argue that, for specific scientific and mathematical reasons, the most likely cause of a set of facts was intent rather than random cofnigurations of matter. At the vary least, to demonstrate logically that the modern Darwinian synthesis fails to explain facts x, y and z means that other hypotheses may now take the floor and present their cases to the audience. One point we should make is that, at least in the realm of biology, as opposed to creation of the cosmos, homo sapiens is reaching a point of sufficient understanding of how life works and how DNA governs its operation that it would not be unrealistic to have a scientist a century from now doing significant genetic engineering, sufficient to create all sorts of complex mechanisms in living things that do not currently exist. No doubt within a couple of centuries, if not sooner, our forensic scientists will be not only analyzing to identify “designer drugs” but also to identify “designer cells.” Speculation on what that capability could lead to is the theme of all sorts of popular entertainment, such as the movie “Blade Runner.” Since it is almost within reach for a woman with a PhD from Stanford to do things we now attribute to Darwinian evolution, why should it be outlandish or “unscientific” to suggest that some entity had achieved that same level of intelligence some time ago? After all, the solar system is about 5 billion years old, but the universe is about 15 billion years old. Thus, for our own solar system and our own earth, there is no way we can rule out the idea that an intelligence from another, older solar system was able to make one or more of the modifications we attribute to random mutation and differential survival for life on Earth. In the movie Expelled, to which Julie has reacted so negatively without even seeing it, Richard Dawkins is reported to state that it is a scientific hypothesis within the realm of possibility that an intelligent being from another solar system had some role in the development of life on earth.

    As for your option B, “therefore it must be by intelligent design,” the actual ID scientists that I have read would instead assert that the failure of the modern Darwinian synthesis simply opens the possibility of intent and design as one explanation. Their argument in favor of design specifically are not a leap of faith, but rather arguments that intent and purpose are, at least in some cases, the best explanations available to our own rational, human understanding.

    Stuart Kauffman and the Santa Fe Institute have offered as an alternative to Darwinian randomness the notion that properties of organization can “emerge” out of chaotic conditions because of unhderlying principles of order that are inherent in matter.

    Another idea is that there are fundamental design principles contained in our most basic genes that can be modified through random mutation to turn on or shut down entire suites of related genetic design that are in reserve within our DNA, perhaps in the massive amount of unexpressed, so-called “junk DNA” in every chromosome. Thus, many insects carry unexpressed, unimplemented genes for the design of wings, which can be turned on by minor genetic mutations. A number of LDS biologists have published research in just this field.

    MIchael Behe himself suggests that Darwinian evolution occurs at a very low level of complexity, as demonstrated in the development of sickle cell anemia and in the evolution of the malaria parasite itself. Emergent properties and inherent design principles may also play a role in a certain percentage of biological variation. The best argument for intent and purpose as the cause of a particular biological mechanism is by eliminating all other “natural” or “material” causes. The only objection at that point to the use of an intent hypothesis is that we don’t want to think about the possibility that ANY intelligent entity exists who is smarter than human beings.

    It is an irony that there is this bias in biology against the notion of a superior intelligence monkeying with our gene pool. That bias is manifested most strongly by people like Dawkins who assert that we MUST accept materialism and therefore MUST reject meddling by other intleligent beings. Yet Dawkins and his ilk ALWAYS characterize the contest between Science and Religion as being epitomized in the trial of Galileo by Cardinal Bellarmine. Dawkins and his fellow materialists insist that the principle of science is the Copernicus Principle, which progressively dethrones mankind from being at the center of the universe (as in the pagan Ptolemy’s theory of cosmology) and pushes us further and further to the edge of unimportance and non-uniqueness. Yet Dawkins steadfastly hates ot admit that the Copernican Principle means that even mankind’s intelligence cannot be a unique attribute, and that our time in the universe cannot be unique, which opens the door for other intelligences at a much earlier time taking action to meddle with Earth’s biosphere, just as mankind will surely do some day if we are given the opportunity, perhaps in hope of making a planet more earthlike and hospitable for our remote descendants. It is called “terraforming” and is the theme of many science fiction stories. Indeed, the point of some of those stories is precisely to suggest that Earth has been terraformed for that purpose, something we discover when the aliens finally show up to claim their prize.

    The Real ID scientists do not insist that their scientific tools can tell us WHO the intelligence(s) is (are). They only suggest that their scientific conclusion leaves room for us to be scientifically literate Christians, Jews or Muslims of whatever stripe, that science does NOT force us to be materialists.

    That is precisely the goal of Hugh Nibley concerning the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price. He doubted that there would ever be irrefutable and undeniable proof that would force an atheist to accept them as true, but he argued there is plenty of evidence that believers can point to and say “My belief is rational and consistent with essential known facts of history.”

    I would note one further point. Much of the underlying controversy about inelligent creation stems form the theological view that God, whoever He is, is a being that is NOT material in any way. This Greek philosophical definition of God has come to dominate Judaism, Islam and Traditional Christianity. Thus, the idea that a being without material component actually interacts with matter in such detail is per se incredible to many scientists, while to many believers it si simply another “mystery.”

    We Mormons have the advantage of undertstanding that God is a material being in a profound way, and that the material creation of the earth and its life is intimately tied into his very nature as a material being of the higherst order and intelligence. For Mormons, there is no philosophical tension between an immaterial God and a material Creation. Indeed, Mormons can argue (among themselves) that God is just as “natural” a part of the universe as WE are. From this perspective, to confine ourselves to “natural” causes for life and its development is NOT to exclude intelligent intervention and design.

  53. jeff hoyt
    May 7, 2008 at 9:01 pm


    Of course I knew it did apply. Evolutionists are candid in stating that “we have the answer” and it is evolution. They dicker about the margins, but their faith is absolute. They do not “spend their lives trying to figure out what’s wrong with the theory they’ve got” to perhaps abandon it if the evidence so leads. When evidence poses a problem to the theory the inevitable conclusion is not that the theory may be wrong, it is that the interpretation of the evidence is wrong. And make no mistake – if they did conclude that evolution was not a valid theory they would have only two choices – just shut up about it or find another career.

  54. Julie M. Smith
    May 7, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    Note to self: do not post on controversial issue and be out of the house all afternoon. When you come home, you will be too overwhelmed by the number (and length–sheesh, Raymond!) of comments to reply in depth.

    But I did read them all. I do want to say that several people have shown evidence that those on the evolutionist side (including those crazy biology teachers) are just as guilty of ignoring the distinction between proximate and ultimate causes as the IDTM people that I criticized.

  55. May 7, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    Archaeology, forensics, and SETI each operate with a large background knowledge, not only of what kind of things humans do, but of what kind of things nature does in the absence of organisms with intelligence levels approaching human. They look for the artificial, which is judged against the background of nature. ID essentially argues that what we find in nature could not have been produced by nature. Even if ID is ultimately somehow right, it is premature; in my opinion it is waaay too early to talk of all “natural” processes as having been eliminated.

    Yet Dawkins steadfastly hates to admit that the Copernican Principle means that even mankind’s intelligence cannot be a unique attribute…

    No, his point is that design cannot be used as an ultimate explanation of complexity because the designer is even more complex. In The God Delusion he specifically says that it is probable that there are other intelligent beings out there that would seem like gods to us.

  56. Ben H
    May 7, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    There are plenty of people with questionable, non-scientific motives on both sides of the evolution/ID debate. Eventually it has to come down to the strength of the evidence.

  57. May 7, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    The fundamental problem with the ID/Evolutionary debate is the assumption of ill-will and propoganda on both sides. Both sides have long stopped talking to each other (as even this thread demonstrates). Instead, they just shout/type the same things over and over again without real engagement, occasionally deciding to increase volume. You will note that most people keep a low profile on this issue and simply get their work done.

  58. May 7, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    That said,
    Ben…what would constitute evidence of ID, that is to say evidence that would exclude other explanations? For that matter, what would constitute unimpeachable evidence of random natural selection?

  59. Dan
    May 7, 2008 at 9:56 pm



    The only problem is that Darwinism doesn’t lead to fascism. Fascists may have taken some of the principles found in Darwinism and applied it in their lives, but that doesn’t mean it is one of the natural consequences of the study of evolution.

    To say that the studying of evolution leads to a fascist society is just plain bunk.

  60. Kade
    May 7, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    I think a reasonable person could argue that we owe a lot of our scientific progress to the ability to measure, identify, and describe in ever greater detail and sophistication. I guess that my problem with invoking a higher power in a science classroom, or in any scientific discussion for that matter, is how do you measure God or his contribution to the observations? I have no expertise in physical sciences, but (more in my field) I can’t imagine a prospective double-blinded randomized trial with a God variable.

  61. JimD
    May 7, 2008 at 10:56 pm

    I haven’t seen the movie but agree that the bit about fascism was overkill. But does Darwinism tend to support the social theories of Korihor?

  62. May 7, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    If you take a look at the worst excesses of certain religions, they also sometimes produce their own Korihors. Evolution does not have a monopoly, nor a provable majority, on evil.

  63. Jack
    May 7, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    ID theory is, among other things, a reaction to dogmatism in science. If science didn’t get a kick in the pants once in a while who knows but what we’d still be performing lobotomies on the clinically depressed.

    “But does Darwinism tend to support the social theories of Korihor?”

    Dunno–maybe. But it sure seems like Korihor would support the social theories of many Darwinists.

  64. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    May 7, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    Phyllis Schlafly’s column on Expelled is at .

    She says:
    “[Ben] Stein, who serves as his own narrator in the movie, is very deadpan about it all. He doesn’t try to convince the audience that Darwinism is a fraud, or that God created the world, or even that some unidentified intelligent design might have started life on Earth.
    “Stein merely shows the intolerance of the universities, the government, the courts, the grant-making foundations and the media, and their determination to suppress any mention of intelligent design. . . .
    “Stein interviewed Dr. Richard Sternberg, a biologist who lost his position at the prestigious Smithsonian Institution after he published a peer-reviewed article that mentioned intelligent design. Other academics who said they were victims of the anti-intelligent design campus police included astrobiologist Guillermo Gonzalez, denied tenure at Iowa State University, and Caroline Crocker, who lost her professorship at George Mason University. . . .
    “Stein’s message is that the attack on freedom of inquiry is anti-science, anti-American, and anti-the whole concept of learning.”

    #59 (Kade): Please note, that the neo-Darwinian synthesis, since it is applied to transformations that are believed to have taken place over eons of time, also cannot be directly tested in a randomized trial. There is a LOT of reasoning rather than direct observation.

    As I pointed out in my first post, the school boards who tried to mandate some kind of introduction of what they thought was “Intelligent Design” into public school science classes were just as misguided as those who want to punish any science teacher who mentions the criticisms of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis.

    What we need in all school situations is simple academic freedom. Allow each teacher to explain the science as they see the science. They need to ensure their students are equipped to understand the theories, including the neo-Darwinian synthesis, but there should be no effort made by any principal or school board to tell the teacher that he or she cannot say anything else about the topic. The only requirement, beyond teaching the essentials, is that the teacher also explicitly tolerate disagreement by his or her students, so long as it is articulate rather than ad hominem. Let teachers who think ID is bunk explain why they think so as they let their students disagree, and not make it part of tested material. Let those who think there is validity in the critique express themselves and tolerate dissent in the same way.

    I would hope that high school science classes would not be areas where the public controversies of the day that are based partly on science (including climate change) CANNOT be discussed by teachers or students. That would be hostile to the entire spirit of education and of scientific inquiry. But sadly, what comes out of many classrooms is rote orthodoxy rather than real training in the scientific method of observing, reasoning, and testing.

    The most important thing teachers can teach is how to think for oneself. They do that best by (a) setting an example and (b) allowing their students to practice it in the classroom. For gosh sake, teenagers are skilled at finding stuff on the internet. You cannot shield them from the fact that there are criticisms of Darwinian orthodoxy. A teacher can keep the discussion on the scientific questions rather than invoking God or denouncing God.

    Scott and the NCSE would serve their constituency much better if they produced a reading list of representative articles and books that allowed serious students to sample the full spectrum of views on the subject, rather than insisting on enforcing an orthodoxy.

    After all, on the key question of the initial creation of life, Darwin’s theory of evolution says absolutely nothing. It only kicks in when life already is able to survive and inherit genes. This giant hurdle is basically ignored with a lot of handwaving and citation to the Miller-Urey experiment, which does nothing to explain how random processes created the first living cell, with protein mechanisms, an operating cell membrane that keeps the insides in and selectively controls what goes in and out, and a full set of instructions programmed into the DNA able to guide the creation and operation of a duplicate cell. There is NO orthodox scientific answer to this question, not even a decent theory that has proven superior to others. If students are not taught this basic fact, of our ignorance about the origins of life, they are being shortchanged big time.

    #53 (Julie): The fundamental problem with most discussions of Intelligent Design is the false picture of it that most people have gleaned from the usual media. The campaign of suppression that is the target of Expelled has been very successful in limiting the public’s understanding of what Intelligent Design proposes. It is no different than the misunderstandings about Mormonism that people hold. We cannot address the issues intelligently if we are not clear on what we are talking about, including what the terms mean. I am forced to start with basics. I assumed you wanted a real discussion, not just a venting of already held opinions.

  65. Clinton Bartholomew
    May 7, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    As biologist with a Ph.D. in Cell and Developmental Biology and a Mormon I have been asked by members of my own congregation and a member of my parents ward about my thoughts on the movie Expelled. My answer has been that it is a documentary produced by the ID movement, a movement which has no scientific validity, and that the movie is massively misleading in its supposition that those who believe that God is the ultimate cause of the creation have their voices squelched. The lab space I currently occupy at Vanderbilt University has ~10 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. Two-Thirds of them are believing Christians and none of them have problems with reconciling their belief in both God and evolution. Prominent biologists such as Kenneth Miller and Francis S. Collins have written publicly about the compatibility of evolution and Christianity and how ID is both bad science and bad theology. Additionally, it is my understanding that both were interviewed for the movie Expelled but these interviews were excluded from the documentary because they disproved its main premise that scientists holding religious beliefs are persecuted by the scientific community. This should give you some hints as to the amoral tactics used by the producers of this film. For those that are interested in the content of Expelled and the “alleged” discrimination I would suggest for the misinformation replete within this documentary.

  66. Jack
    May 7, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    If your going to talk about *excesses* then you need to look at the results of atheistic socialism in the twentieth century–and then ask the question: How in hades can anyone who claims to be an atheist rationally point the finger of blame at the “delusional” theists in the name of Darwin?

  67. Dan
    May 7, 2008 at 11:45 pm


    I think that Intelligent Design has many great problems at being taken seriously by those who wish to study science. Inherent in its core values, Intelligent Design begins with the belief that whatever creation you are looking at has a creator. Science looks at it from a wholly different perspective. Irrespective of a creator, science would rather study the minutiae of how a creation works, leaving the discussion of who the creator may be to philosophy and religion. I don’t see any reason why we cannot accept that there is indeed a creator, but that we should keep that aside when trying to understand the creation itself. If I am trying to understand how a particular plant works, I don’t want to rely on the “safety net” answer that God created it so it must work. This feels like the easy way out if you study Intelligent Design. I want to know the details of photosynthesis, of chlorophyl, of the process of transformation of carbon dioxide into oxygen. I want to leave the study of the Creator to religion because we cannot scientifically study the Creator as He has not made himself readily available for rigorous study.

    I also can’t help but feel that if I rely on the Intelligent Design paradigm, I’m going to have troubles reconciling the age of the earth and of the Universe. The problem that religion brings into the study of science is that religion confines itself within certain boundaries based on the spiritual texts it relies on for “truth.” Based on the Bible, man has been on this earth for 6000 years. The earth was created in six “days”—though, of course the actual length of those days are in question. Could ID explain, or even handle, that this earth may indeed be 4.5 billion years old? Could a religion accept that kind of number? Would they not start to question the validity of their spiritual texts that they use to support their “truth?”

    I have no reconciling issues between my belief in God and what science has shown me of the world around me. But I feel that those who propone Intelligent Design are going about it the wrong way, especially with a movie like this where they take the quotes of scientists out of context and try to say that the study of science leads to fascism. But I guess it did its job, as people are talking about it.

  68. Josh Smith
    May 7, 2008 at 11:47 pm


    So I think this part of your quote gets to the heart of my ID troubles:

    “the actual ID scientists that I have read would instead assert that the failure of the modern Darwinian synthesis simply opens the possibility of intent and design as one explanation. Their argument in favor of design specifically are not a leap of faith, but rather arguments that intent and purpose are, at least in some cases, the best explanations available to our own rational, human understanding.”

    As soon as you make the step, “therefore, intelligent designer” you’re no longer doing science. It may be a true statement, I believe there is an intelligent designer, but science cannot make that step. The examples you cite of science looking for human intent are distinguishable. Really, it is a limitation of science more than anything. If you insert God into your biology, you’re done. The inquiry is done. There is nothing to add to “God did it.” It may be true, but it isn’t biology.

    Neither is ID as a place holder science. What if we say, “look, x phenomena isn’t explained, and while we’re looking for a natural explanation I’m going to assume God did it”? Sure. Write a book about it. The last chapter can be titled “We Can’t Figure This Out So God Done It.” But the book isn’t be a biology book. The biology book must continue the inquiry. It has to continue to look for the unintelligent causes. Ever learning, but never …

  69. mlu
    May 8, 2008 at 1:33 am

    Raymond, thanks for your posts. It seems to me that only very rarely do critics of ID actually respond to much of what people like Behe actually argue. In fact, their dull-witted and flatfooted attempts to dismiss him, repeating talking points readily available in a thousand places, seem a confirmation of the main point of Expelled, which has more to do with the way an orthodoxy perpetuates itself than it does with the merits of “creationism.”

  70. Dan
    May 8, 2008 at 5:51 am


    Don’t dismiss criticism of ID as mere “talking points.” The criticism could actually, you know, be accurate and all. I find this to be one of the most annoying points people make when arguing because it implies that those who use “talking points” don’t think for themselves, and I find that insulting.

  71. Left Field
    May 8, 2008 at 9:25 am

    “For that matter, what would constitute unimpeachable evidence of random natural selection?”

    “Random natural selection” is sort of like a one-story skyscraper. By its very definition, natural selection is NONrandom. That’s why it works.

  72. May 8, 2008 at 10:02 am

    Raymond, Josh, and mlu;

    Someone has to say it; Behe’s “black box” is nonsense, and was proved to be such back in 1919/1939 by H. J. Muller, a Nobel-prize winning biologist. He showed that “irreducibly complex” structures were a natural consequence of evolution. How? Say structure X is composed of A, B, and C; each necessary for function; that is, A, B, and C together can be seen as irreducibly complex now. However, in the past, the structure could have been A, B+, C, and D. B+ modified to take over the role of D, and D dropped out. Voila.

    So, Behe took something previously shown to be a natural consequence of evolutionary theory, and, uh, missed the point.

    There’s a beautiful article in the New Yorker by H. Allan Orr, “Devolution;” that explains this beautifully. I recommend reading it.

  73. May 8, 2008 at 10:05 am

    Fair enough, LF. How about “unintentional,” “non-directed” or some other such? By random, that was what I meant.

  74. May 8, 2008 at 10:07 am

    I do find statistical arguments that the way something actually is is statistically impossible (or, at least, incredibly improbable) unconvincing as evidence for something like ID.

  75. May 8, 2008 at 10:45 am

    As to #35, “Darwinism” had nothing to do with the Nazi’s slaughter of millions. Any light reading of Mein Kampf turns up gems like the following: “I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

    Martin Luther’s book “On the Jews and their Lies” (as fun as it sounds) was passed around at Nurenburg rallies.

    The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, a rather insanely anti-semitic book popular in Germany prior to WWII, and certainly something that Hitler drew from lists “Darwinism” as one of the evils that the Jews are attempting to foist on the masses to undermine society.

    There is no connection at all between Evolutionary theory and the Holocaust. None. None. None. There is a connection, however, between the long history of anti-semitism in Germany and the Holocaust.

  76. Bob
    May 8, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    #73: It’s natural selection and random mutation. To me, really good ID would have no moving parts(?)

  77. Kari
    May 8, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    “The fundamental problem with most discussions of Intelligent Design is the false picture of it that most people have gleaned from the usual media. The campaign of suppression that is the target of Expelled has been very successful in limiting the public’s understanding of what Intelligent Design proposes.”

    This statement is simply inane Raymond. It is well understood that intelligent design is the belief that the development of life was directed by God. While this is not the most technically accurate definition, it doesn’t differ too much from the definition given by the Discovery Institute, the leading organization at the forefront of the IDTM. They define ID as “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.” (1)

    While the proponents of ID will frequently avoid the use of the term God, it is understood that is exactly what they mean when they say “intelligent cause.” They like to use as much scientific language in their publications as possible, and some, like Behe, are professionals in the sciences, but that is only to add a veneer of scientific respectability. Fortunately, the scientific community has called them on it.

    There is no such “campaign of suppression” despite the assertions made in Expelled. It just isn’t there. All of the persons featured in expelled were not singled out because of their belief in ID. They suffered the consequences of poor research (or none at all), not enough published research (the old “publish or perish” conundrum, which affected Guillermo Gonzalez), or simply a breach of standard ethical behavior (in the case of Richard Sternberg, who had actually tendered his resignation months earlier).

    I find it simply incomprehensible that scientists like Francis Collins or Ken Miller, or any number of lesser known scientists who believe in God and evolution weren’t included in the movie. Why is that? Because certainly Francis Collins would not endorse such claptrap as the existence of a “campaign of suppression” within the scientific community. Why would Francis Collins not feel that he was ever suppressed because of his beliefs, but some uknown PhD at Iowa State would? One could argue it’s because Collins is so well known, but more realistically it has everything to do with the quality of research – scientific research – that they are doing. Collins’ research gets published regularly, Gonzalez really didn’t do anything new, nor did he get significant grants at ISU, which resulted in his failure to attain tenure.

    Maybe I could support ID if the proponents of ID would state that their “intelligent cause” has equal probability of being God, aliens from elsewhere in the universe, or a flying spaghetti monster. That would at least be somewhat scientific. Then they could design experiments and theories to figure out which.

    In the meantime, keep ID out of science classes and in the realm of theology where it belongs.


  78. Bob
    May 8, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    #74: Agree. If you go back as little as a year, it would be billions to one, that you would be reading me now. But if you are reading me now…. it’s 100%.
    ID lives on good design, but what does it do with bad design? The Pyramids look prefect on their outside. But inside, the Egyptians buried all their broken rocks and mistakes.

  79. jeff hoyt
    May 8, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    #65 Clinton;

    You address a point no one is making. Of course science departments have no problem with believers in God who accept evolution. In fact they like to point to them as evidence of their accepting nature. Those who “have their voices squelched” are believers in God who do not toe the evolution line and have the temerity to call themselves scientists. I am not sure anyone would even argue this point.

  80. Ron
    May 8, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    Alma’s response to Korihor is interesting and might be meaningful here. Here are some interesting points I noticed:

    1) Things witness or denote there is a Supreme Creator, not prove it. The Lord’s way is to witness to us, but we have to choose to see.
    2) “All things” denote there is a God. You have to take all things together to really see it.
    3) He cites the regularity of nature as a witness of the Creator. We take for granted that we can depend on it–and science takes regularity as an assumption, not something proven (but how could you do science without it?). (Ironically, maybe in the last days the Lord will use some irregularity of nature to get our attention.)
    4) The “joy in their hearts” as a result of the Gospel is something to take into account. Francis Collins talks about interacting with people of faith facing their deaths and seeing them draw from something beyond what he knew–he was an atheist at the time, and it spurred him to reconsider.

    Critiques about Intelligent Design often see it as another manifestation of “God of the gaps”–what we haven’t discovered yet is a mystery and therefore taken as evidence for God–so the more we discover, the smaller God gets, etc. and the natural endpoint of this thinking is that He eventually won’t be needed at all. The point is well taken, though I think there is an indication here that culturally we have come a long way to accept as reasonable a picture so far away from what might be simply obvious (like some of what Alma reminds us of).

  81. May 8, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    Intelligent design isn’t science — but it is about the philosophy of science, what counts as evidence and adequate explanation. It is about the the naturalistic assumption that drive atheistic evolution. If the latter get taught, why not the former? Why not teach about these underlying philosophical issues that drive all science? Is naturalism the only assumption that one is entitled to engage? Why should a theist buy that?

  82. Julie M. Smith
    May 8, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Blake, see #7.

  83. May 9, 2008 at 12:15 am

    Yeah, Julie, I disagree that we get beyond the philosophical assumptions in doing science. We merely endow it with unquestioned authority and refuse to explore the assumptions when that is a crucial prior issue. Perhaps you could explain to me why you believe science must proceed on the assumption of naturalism — your post here doesn’t do it. Why not be up front about how assumptions drive theories, and theories drive scientific inquiry — not the other way around?

  84. Bob
    May 9, 2008 at 1:26 am

    #83: Blake, history is full of great scientists who challenged the standing philosophical assumptions of the Church or the Greek scientists. Darwin’s thinking was and is questioned, as was Galileo’s.

  85. May 9, 2008 at 2:45 am

    Wow Blake (81, 83),

    We see more eye to eye than I would have thought. My thoughts exactly.

    Additional thoughts:

    Should ID be taught in school? It could be mentioned, but I don’t know if it deserves substantial consideration. But what SHOULD be taught is critical thinking about science, including evolutionary theory. This would include being upfront about some of its common assumptions (naturalism, materialism, abstractionism, dualism, reductionism, universalism, linear time, and so on). Of course, it might be a little daunting to go over all of this with a 13 year old. But, seriously, what is the problem with saying that there are intelligent people (and not just religious people — in fact just as many are agnostics and atheists from my experience) who challenge some of the fundamental assumptions of mainstream science, including evolutionary theory. Seriously, why would we not do this?!?! I’ll tell you why. Because scientific hegemony is about power. If we were really interested in honest scholarship and truth, we would be giving a fuller, more critical picture to our children in public schools. Or rather, we should be helping our children to think critically about this picture themselves rather than naively bowing at the altars of science.

  86. Dan
    May 9, 2008 at 6:02 am


    Just going from my experience in high school, I never had troubles reconciling my faith and science. I was in an environment where I could question everything. Did you feel you were force-fed science?

  87. NatC
    May 9, 2008 at 8:39 am

    I heard Henry Eyring, the great scientist and father of the current apostle, say on more than one occasion that he believed in intelligent design. But as far as I know — and I would like to hear from anyone who took classes from him — he did not teach that in his classroom, nor did he push it on anyone in any way. I think he believed that science should be pursued as rigorously as possible, unencumbered by baggage of any kind, religious or otherwise, and that by doing so one would ultimately be led to undertstand how God worked. He had a remarkable ability to balance his science with his faith. It sure didn’t hurt his son in any way.

  88. Kristine
    May 9, 2008 at 9:39 am

    “If we were really interested in honest scholarship and truth, we would be giving a fuller, more critical picture to our children in public schools.”

    Yes, but first we’d have to teach them to read.

    Seriously, no one’s going to argue that we shouldn’t teach kids critical thinking, but in the absence of basic competence in current scientific method(s) and a smattering of historical literacy (incl. hist. of science), kids’ (and grownups’) philosophical speculations are, at best, hollow (which is the polite way of saying vacuous). We humanities types should have learned the lesson of the Sokal hoax a little better–it’s all well and good to mount a political critique of scientific method, but such critiques are more potent if they proceed with some minimal understanding of what they’re attacking.

    (One can debate, I guess, about how to go about making sure people are able to perform foundational criticism at the same time as they’re assembling the basic building blocks of a given field, but I’d argue that secondary schools full of X-Box-raised teens are probably not the place to attempt such a sophisticated philosophical project. Maybe I’m too jaded and cynical–I’d like to hope so!)

  89. May 9, 2008 at 9:50 am

    Kristine: “philosophical speculations are, at best, hollow (which is the polite way of saying vacuous)”

    Kristine exemplifies the entire problem. We endow science with an air of authority and reality and regard our critical assessment of its assumptions and therefore of its conclusions (garbage in, garbage out) as just so much speculation and therefore as vacuous. The fact is that we ought to be teaching philosophy in high school. We’re not teaching evolution in elementary school where kids learn to read and write (nor ought we). If kids can learn about evolution and the zoological, geological, paleontological etc.basis for the theory, and indeed if we are teaching theories, then we are also teaching the kinds of critical reasoning that require teaching the kinds of philosophical distinctions about personal explanation, scientific explanation, and so forth.

    Why is it verbotten to teach that sometimes a personal explanation works as well or better than an reductive explanation based upon naturalistic causality and teach the skills to assess which is the best abductive explanation? The kicker is this: almost everyone here admits that they really believe in the personal explanation for the leaps and bounds of evolution and the ordering processes. It just seems to me less than accurate to me to insist that what we really believe is the explanation for how evolution occurs, or the cosmos is ordered, and so forth, is by divine guidance or personal explanation of some sort rather than random variation and sheer chance of natural processes. But let’s do it in the senior year and college where the kids are cognitively mature enough to reason abductively.

  90. Kristine
    May 9, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Blake, I didn’t say (and don’t believe) that “philosophical speculations” in general are vacuous, and, in fact, I probably wouldn’t call what philosophers do “speculation.” It’s the untethered opinions of people with an inadequate understanding of the body of work they want to critique that is problematic. I’m a lit. major with a physicist father, so don’t think I haven’t pretty thoroughly tested the possibilites for interdisciplinary criticism of science (to say nothing of its Freudian implications ;))!*

    I don’t think it’s verboten to teach that personal explanations have value, but personal explanations are atomizing to the point of nihilism if we can’t (also?) find methods of generalizing that will allow conversation to proceed across boundaries of personal opinion and religious imagination. We do this in philosophy and other disciplines, too, of course–we expect students to master a certain common vocabulary before we turn them loose and ask them where Hegel was mistaken. Schoenberg had to learn the scales.

    I’m inclined to agree with you that the world would be a better place if AP biology teachers worked with philosophers–I suspect you and I would come up with a fairly similar syllabus.

    (*he and I worked together on a syllabus for a course that taught both conventional optics and Goethe’s “Farbenlehre”–good times!)

  91. Bob
    May 9, 2008 at 10:21 am

    #85: For the ID backers, I think every Biology class should begin with viewing of the first 1/2hr. of the movie 2001. Then maybe some Genius by the Rev. Wright, or Wm. Jennings Bryan.
    Teach teenagers more critical thinking?! I guess you have never had any of them in your house asking WHY?, Or give you a thousand reason why you are wrong with your thinking?
    Do you really ( critically ) think your review by secular teachers, of “naturalism, materialism, abstractionism, dualism, reductionism, universalism, linear time, and so on..” going to bring teenagers to the Bible?


  92. Julie M. Smith
    May 9, 2008 at 10:43 am

    Re #83:

    Blake, I get that the current division of academic disciplines leaves a lot to be desired. But I’ve taken history and philosophy of science classes (in fact, almost decided to do a grad program in them) and I believe that there are good reasons for bracketing those questions into classes separate from Biology 301.

    That said, it might be appropriate for the first lecture in Biology 301 to include the idea that we operate under the prevailing scientific methodology here and if you are interested in questions related to whether that is a good idea or not, there’s still time to sign up for Intro to Phil of Science or Medical Ethics or whatever.

  93. May 9, 2008 at 11:05 am

    “That said, it might be appropriate for the first lecture in Biology 301 to include the idea that we operate under the prevailing scientific methodology here and if you are interested in questions related to whether that is a good idea or not, there’s still time to sign up for Intro to Phil of Science or Medical Ethics or whatever. ”

    I’m guessing this actually doesn’t need to be said, as most people who are serious students of a scientific discipline probably take this for granted. In fact, many universities require a philosophy of science course for science majors — a course that is regarded with the joy and anticipation that, e.g., theater majors often experience toward university calculus requirements. Which is all a way of saying, I don’t think too many college students are unaware of the possibility of questioning the basic postulates of science; many or most simply aren’t interested. So this becomes an argument about the need for people to eat their intellectual leafy greens, although in this case without the scientific evidence of the pragmatic benefits of compliance…

  94. Kari
    May 9, 2008 at 11:07 am

    “Why is it verbotten to teach that sometimes a personal explanation works as well or better than an reductive explanation based upon naturalistic causality and teach the skills to assess which is the best abductive explanation? – Blake (#89)

    Because if it’s not verboten we end up with people believing that homeopathy is an adequate way to treat syphilis, multiple sclerosis, septicemia, or even meningitis and encephalitis. Or that men and dinosaurs roamed the earth together. Or that Katrina was God’s personal retribution for the wickedness of New Orleans. Or epilepsy is due to demonic possession. Or our astrological signs determine our personalities. I could go on, but I’ll stop there.

    Or do you really mean, as you state, that only sometimes personal explanation works. If it is only sometimes, then who gets to decide which is the appropriate time for personal explanation to trump scientific fact or theory?

  95. May 9, 2008 at 11:33 am

    Kari: Do you even know what personal explanation is? What has that got to do with homeopathy?

  96. May 9, 2008 at 11:41 am

    Blake, might it be better to offer information, rather than simply pointing to the fact that other people might not have read the same books as you?

    The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers the following:

    “Natural explanation is provided in terms of precedent events, causal laws, or necessary conditions that invoke natural existents. Personal explanation is given “in terms of the intentional action of a rational agent” (Swinburne, 1979, 20).”

  97. Steve Evans
    May 9, 2008 at 11:51 am

    “Kari: Do you even know what personal explanation is? What has that got to do with homeopathy?”

    Not sure what kind of barn this is, but that kind of jerkitude wouldn’t even be acceptable at BCC.

  98. Julie M. Smith
    May 9, 2008 at 11:53 am

    “I’m guessing this actually doesn’t need to be said, as most people who are serious students of a scientific discipline probably take this for granted.”

    I’m guessing most serious students aren’t sitting in on the first lecture of Biology 301 :) As witnessed by my emails, by comments earlier in this thread, and by the aborted statement from the biology teachers, the epistomology issue is hazy for a lot of non-specialists. The specialists I don’t worry about.

  99. Julie M. Smith
    May 9, 2008 at 11:56 am

    I’m with Kari in not being aware that “personal explanation” had a technical meaning here and, had I made that comment, I would have appreciated a more gentle correction than Blake offered. Had I been Blake, I would have appreciated a more gentle correction than Steve offered.

    Had I been Steve, I would have put myself out of my misery long ago.

    Now that everyone is mad at *me*, I’ll close the thread since we are approaching the witching number. Good game, all.

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