Intelligent Design

Wisconsin’s War Against ID

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Here is the proposed Wisconsin bill defining science: Wisconsin_Bill. Ask yourself what the effect would be if the adjective “natural” were removed from the bill.

Approximately 15 UW-Madison faculty attended the press conference at which this bill was announced, including the following:

Professor Michael M. Cox, assistant Chair of the Department of Biochemistry at UW-Madison
Rick Amasino, Professor of Biochemistry, UW-Madison
Alan Attie, Professor and assistant chair of Biochemistry, UW-Madison
Marv Wickens, Professor of Biochemistry, UW-Madison
Elliott Sober, Professor of Philosphy, UW-Madison
Ronald Numbers, Professor, History of Science, UW-Madison
Julie Mitchell, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Mathematics, UW-Madison
Dr. David Baum, Professor of Botany, UW-Madison

For the actual press release, go here.

Note that Ron Numbers and Elliott Sober have been prominent ID critics. Ron was on the review committee that deep-sixed Baylor’s Polanyi Center (go here). And while Ron did endorse my book THE DESIGN REVOLUTION (go here), more recently he has taken to comparing ID with Nazi and Stalinist manipulation of science, as in his endorsement for Chris Mooney’s THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE:

“Politics and science have never occupied entirely separate spheres, but American politicians have rarely tried to manipulate science in the heavy-handed manner of, say, Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE provides a riveting and deeply disturbing account of how the GOP, despite its professed love of ‘sound science,’ has repeatedly supported suspect science in an effort to advance its partisan agenda.”
-Ronald L. Numbers, author of The Creationists, co-editor of The Cambridge History of Science

At Seattle Pacific University a couple of years ago, speaking to a faculty group, Numbers also compared ID proponents to Holocaust deniers.

I’ve learned that Ron Numbers played a crucial role in drafting the proposed bill. What is one to make of this? In yesterday’s press release, one reads that scientists are increasingly “outraged over the growing tide of political interference into scientific research.” Yet ironically, the response of Numbers and his colleagues at UW-Madison is to engage in their own political interference. Indeed, it is unprecedented for scholars like Sober and Numbers to leave off the academic discussion of ID and descend to political interference of the sort that they have been decrying on the other side.

I take this as a clear sign that we are winning. ID proponents can afford to take political action to promote ID. Its critics, on the other hand, look foolish when they have to take political action to quash ID. That’s because of a fundamental inequity in public school science education: Materialistic evolution already holds a de facto monopoly over public school science education. ID proponents resort to political measures only to break up that monopoly (think of ID’s political component as trust-busting). Thus, for materialistic evolution to require legislation to preserve its monopoly will in the end be seen as heavy-handed and self-serving. Accordingly, for academics with stellar reputations like Sober and Numbers to be actively supporting such political interference signifies that they are losing not only the war of ideas but also their position of cultural dominance.

Dover certainly wasn’t ID’s Waterloo. Wisconsin may well be evolution’s Waterloo.

24 Replies to “Wisconsin’s War Against ID

  1. 1
    Scott says:

    “Materialistic evolution already holds a de facto monopoly over public school science education. ID proponents resort to political measures only to break up that monopoly (think of ID’s political component as trust-busting).”

    That really about sums it up, doesn’t it? Well put.

  2. 2
    DaveScot says:

    This bill is going to die in committee.

    Stipulation 1 will fail as soon as one realizes that no theoretical science can be legally mentioned in a science classroom. No long extinct species whose only evidence of ever existing is imprints left in rocks can be discussed in a genetic context because all the DNA of these creatures, if they even had DNA in them, has been destroyed. There’s no way to test whether or not dinosaurs even utilized DNA. In effect stipulation 1 says only experimental science can be discussed and that pretty much only leaves room for that which can tested on living tissue. This not to mention the limitations placed on physics teachers who won’t be able to mention anything from theoretical physics. In the meantime, it isn’t hard to say ID is testable in principle by demonstrating in a laboratory that a flagellum can evolve without intelligent input. This could SO backfire in the anti-religion zealots faces…

    Stipulation 2 will fail because it is asking people to give up local authority and assign it to some remote bureaucracy. Majorities seldom give up local democratic control through their own volition.

  3. 3
    Karen says:

    “This could SO backfire in the anti-religion zealots faces…”

    So ID is religion, after all?

    It is in the fevered imaginations of anti-religion zealots. It’s a logical fallacy of theirs called the association fallacy. -ds

  4. 4
    johnnyb says:

    Karen —

    The anti-ID crowd is ALL about religion. Many members of the ID crowd are about religion, but it is nothing compared to the anti-ID crowd. In the Dawkins/Wilder-Smith debate, Dawkins just wanted to talk about religion, and Wilder-Smith just wanted to talk about science. In fact, it seems that all Dawkins ever wants to do these days is talk about religion.

    Behe points out that this is the same kind of opposition that happened around the Big Bang. Many academics didn’t want to go to it because it seemed to imply a need for God.

    What is Darwinism but an a priori rejection of intelligent agency? How is that not a religious position? ID is in a much better position here to be called non-religious, because it does not have any particular claim to any particular type of causation. Darwinism requires that one only posit material causes. ID can handle either one. Which one of those is making an a priori religious statement — the one who forces one conclusion or one that allows for investigation?

  5. 5
    scordova says:

    “Wisconsin may well be evolution’s Waterloo. ”

    Bill,

    The appropriate vise-strategy is to ask ID critics the following questions which will put them in an indefensible corner:

    1. Is it possible ID and/or creationism are true?

    2. Is it possible the mainstream view of origins is wrong?

    3. Are ID and/or creationism religious views?

    4. If so, is it proper to use public schools for the purpose of changing ID and/or creationist religious views?

    Whichever way they answer, I think they’re hosed. I point out the apparent reluctance of Nick Matzke and Jack Krebs to answer a similar set of questions directly. They were able to elude the vise in the free domain of the internet. The critics will not be able to elude the vise in court.

    The ID critics have said ID=religion, and thus they have made it a first amendment freedom of religion issue!

    I can imagine a lawyer now asking:
    “Do you think it’s proper to use schools to change a child’s religious beliefs about origins?”

  6. 6
    avocationist says:

    The problem with your view, SCordova, is that if science does in fact conflict with religious views, and if the teaching of various branches of human knowledge/ideas are permissible only so far as they do not conflict with religious views, then science would be suppressed. And, if we give that same respect to more than just Christian or even certain types of Christian views, it seems certain that science should conflict with some culture’s religion somewhere.

  7. 7
    John Davison says:

    I entered the University of Wisconsin at Madison in the fall of 1946. It was a hot bed of ultra-liberal radicalism then and still is now. My English teacher was a declared Communist and I, naive freshman that I was, thought she was terrific. By the time I was a junior I realized how stupid it all was. I even voted for Joe McCarthy and I have never had reason to be ashamed of it. The University of Wisconsin still remains a great institution despite the political tendencies of its faculty, some of whom I suspect of being downright subversive. I hope the FBI taps their phones just to be on the safe side.

  8. 8
    John Davison says:

    NOTHING will ever be “evolution’s Waterloo.” A past evolution is undeniable just as a present evolution is undemonstrable. I wrote a paper about it and I request it be added to the side bar so I don’t have to repeat myself.

    Davison, J.A. (1998), Evolution as a Self-limiting Process. Rivista di Biologia 91(2): 199-186.

    It can be copied from my home page http://www.uvm.edu/~jdavison

    The paper has been copied to the sidebar along with all the others on evolution I could find on your UVM homepage. -ds

  9. 9
    John Davison says:

    As Elvis Presley used to say very rapidly:

    “Thankyouverymuch.”

  10. 10

    Answering Sal Cordova’s Questions

    Sal Cordova is an ID advocate who teaches at (I think) George Mason University. He now blogs at Dembski’s place and comments there often. Lately he’s been pushing this notion that Jack Krebs and Nick Matzke refuse to answer this…

    That’s nice Ed, but you answering Sal’s questions still amounts to Jack and Nick not answering them. You understand how that works, right? 1) Jack and Nick are asked the questions and 2) Jack and Nick answer the questions. It isn’t rocket science.

  11. 11
    anteater says:

    ID potentially conflicts with the religious view of atheism. Maybe that’s why people don’t like ID.

  12. 12
    Marckus says:

    I’m a Wisconsinite, and I’d MUCH rather see the standards improved (29% on the Fordham) than this dumb bill make it to law.

    Aside from extending the reach of Big Brother, I don’t see what the big hubbub is about with respect to this proposed bill.

  13. 13
    scordova says:

    No slight on Nick or Jack, compared to the others I’ve dealt with, they’re great guys (relatively speaking).

    The point of my post was IDs critics have invested so much in equating ID with religion, equating ID with creationism, equating critcisms of Darwin with religion, that this leads to consequences which they may be finally realizing (to their horror). I felt Jack and Nick would be representative of the responses we might from other DarwinDefenders.

    Wether Ed B., Jack, Nick diplomatically steer from the question is their choice, but I’m pointing out, their reaction clues me in that their side recognizes the vulnerability, especially if this goes to court.

    My personal view is to teach truth whether or not it conflicts with religious views. A scientific consensus does not equate with truth. Darwinism does not equal truth, it is only a hypothesis. Let me point out how the vise-strategy was framed.

    The original questions:

    1. Is it possible ID and/or creationism are true?

    2. Is it possible the mainstream view of origins is wrong?

    3. Are ID and/or creationism religious views?

    4. If so, is it proper to use public schools for the purpose of changing ID and/or creationist religious views?

    1. If Nick or Jack admitted Darwinian could be true, well, what a great concession.

    2. If Nick or Jack admitted Darwinian evolution might be false, well, then they’ve just given away the store. If a Darwinist inisist it’s truth, they’ll have to justify it in a court of law if a case went to trial in Wisconsin, and boy we’d have a REAL good vise-strategy wouldn’t we if the IDists employed some first rate lawyers to get after them.

    3. This was a set up for #4.

    4. If they deny that their goal is not to change people’s religious views on origins, then it shows (in my mind anyway) they are being forthright with their real aims. They could of course say, “it’s OK to be a creationist and in the end it won’t harm science.” If they did that they would of course have affirmed ID nor creationism are harmful to science, thus contradicting everything they’ve said to date.

    Whether Jack or Nick or Ed answer, my intent was to see whether the other side ducked or evaded the question as that would indicate a weak point. My suspicions were somewhat confirmed, namely, the other side feels vulnerable to a lawsuit that would allege the establishment of a state religion, the state religion being any religion that honors Darwin and despises ID and/or creation. The vise would descend on them in multiple ways. Larry Caldwell is laying the ground work for how part of that legal arguement would be prosecuted.

    We’ll see how this will play out. But the Darwin crowd has done all it could to paint ID as religion, now they’ll have to deal with the legal consequences of effectively making ID a religion versus a scientific theory in the courts eyes.

    I note, one will probably never get a simple yes or no to this simple question:

    is it proper to use public schools for the purpose of changing ID and/or creationist religious views?

    In response to whether I would be refrain from teaching round earth, or heliocentrism, or the dangers of snakes to people who had religious vews on these issues, I’d say teach it. But trying to establish Darwinism on the same footing as gravity or the roundness of the earth in a court of law? Who knows….I mean even ruse has called Darwinism a secular religion, and we are dealing with opinions, not proven facts.

    Is it right for public schools to use opinions to destroy a kids “religious” belief? In their hearts, I think the pro-Darwin crowd wants to do exactly that, but they won’t admit to it as they know it could get their movement into hot water.

  14. 14
    scordova says:

    I missposted, I meant to say:

    “1. If Nick or Jack admitted creation or ID could be true, well, what a great concession.”

    Sorry for the mispost.

  15. 15
    valerie says:

    scordova wrote:
    “If Nick or Jack admitted creationism or ID could be true, well, what a great concession.”

    I can’t speak for Jack or Nick, but I certainly admit that ID could be true. Judge Jones did as well. An omnipotent designer could have made the world exactly as it is, complete with evidence for evolution. That, incidentally, is why we complain that ID is not falsifiable.

    “If Nick or Jack admitted Darwinian evolution might be false, well, then they’ve just given away the store.”

    It could be false. Nothing in science is known with absolute certainty. How is that “giving away the store?”

    “Whether Jack or Nick or Ed answer, my intent was to see whether the other side ducked or evaded the question as that would indicate a weak point. My suspicions were somewhat confirmed, namely, the other side feels vulnerable to a lawsuit that would allege the establishment of a state religion, the state religion being any religion that honors Darwin and despises ID and/or creation.”

    The Wisconsin bill doesn’t even mention Darwin or evolutionary theory. The only way you could get a label of “state religion” to stick would be by arguing that the pursuit of scientific truth is itself inherently religious.

    “I note, one will probably never get a simple yes or no to this simple question:
    Is it proper to use public schools for the purpose of changing ID and/or creationist religious views?”

    Here’s my simple answer: no. It is unconstitutional to teach something with the primary purpose of changing particular religious views. However, it is perfectly constitutional to teach something for secular reasons despite the fact that some students may revise their religious beliefs because of it. As you admit, we should teach heliocentrism even if it challenges the religious beliefs of some students.

    “Is it right for public schools to use opinions to destroy a kids “religious” belief? In their hearts, I think the pro-Darwin crowd wants to do exactly that, but they won’t admit to it as they know it could get their movement into hot water.”

    Evolutionary theory is much more than mere “opinion”. Speaking for myself, I want kids to learn good science. If that means they end up abandoning untenable religious beliefs, so much the better. We don’t have to want kids to maintain their religious beliefs at all costs in order for teaching evolution to be constitutional.

  16. 16
    anteater says:

    “Speaking for myself, I want kids to learn good science.”

    Darwinism is not good science, IMHO. It is a careless extrapolation.

    We should teach ID even though it challenges the religious beliefs of atheists. ID is the more rational scientific inference from the data.

  17. 17
    scordova says:

    Valerie,

    I appreciate what you have said. The Wisconsin Bill in and of itself might not be unconstitutional, but each legal battle might have an un-intended consequence.

    Even though Dover does not have jurisdiction over a place like wisonsin, it may be an informative court case none the less. The Judge said the design argument may be true, and for all the things the IDists may not have liked about the trial’s outcome, that was an important concession.

    The reason I put creationism instead of ID on the table, is that creationism, even as promoted by it’s adherants has strong religious connections. The issue then becomes, is it right for the govenment to promote something as true, that might possibly not be true? And further, can such a policy of promoting something that is possibly untrue be used when it infringes on the religious beliefs of students?

    What if a lawsuit began combing through the public statements of a pro-Darwin bills religious beleifs? It could become extremely incriminating, and further they’ll have to defend a very weak theory with little more than assertions and appeals to authority.

    Lawyer: “Do you feel creationism is a threat to science?”

    Defendant: “Absolutely. It’s a religious belief that must be stopped. I wrote on that issue several times how it’s a threat to society.”

    Lawyer: “Would you like to see measures taken to thwart the advance of creationism.”

    Defendant: “Absolutely, I said so several times in public about how creationism threatens society.”

    Lawyer: “Do you want to use public schools to help thwart creationism’s advance”

    Defendant: “No.”

    Lawyer: “But you clearly said you want to thwart creationism’s advance, did that have absolutely no bearing on your promotion of this policy?”

    Defendant: (squirms) I only want to promote good science.

    Lawyer: Would good science allow the airing of minority opinions? Clearly there have been a few minority opinions aired in peer-reviewed journals, and we have statements from several scientists to that effect.

    Defendant: sure, minority opinions could get aired

    Lawyer: So your desire to thwart creationism had no bearing on your support of suppressing minority opinions

    Defendant: (squirms)

  18. 18
    John Davison says:

    The antithesis of Darwinism is not Creationism. It is just common sense reinforced with a reasnable familiarity with the writings of some of the greatest minds of the last couple of centuries, not one of whom ever found it necessary to invoke a personal God. Both firmly entrenched camps are dead wrong.

    “The main source of the present-day conflicts between the spheres of religion and science lies in the concept of a personal God.”
    Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, 1954

    It is far worse now than it was a half century ago.

  19. 19
    valerie says:

    Salvador:

    “The issue then becomes, is it right for the govenment to promote something as true, that might possibly not be true?”

    Sure. Nothing is ever certain in science. Prior to relativity theory, it was right for the government to promote the idea that space and time were separate and absolute, as Newton thought. Now we know that Newton was wrong. Relativity theory itself is clearly false in the quantum realm, but we still teach kids about it, and rightly so.

    “And further, can such a policy of promoting something that is possibly untrue be used when it infringes on the religious beliefs of students?”

    Yes, because as Ed Brayton points out, almost every facet of science will contradict *someone’s* religious beliefs. There would be nothing left to teach in science class if we avoided ideas that might be religiously sensitive.

    “What if a lawsuit began combing through the public statements of a pro-Darwin bills religious beleifs? It could become extremely incriminating, and further they’ll have to defend a very weak theory with little more than assertions and appeals to authority.”

    The case for Darwinian theory is stronger than you acknowledge, as was demonstrated in Dover. And religious beliefs of supporters become relevant constitutionally only if the primary purpose or the primary effect of a bill is religious.

    Your cross-examination example fails for the same reason. The “Lemon Test” is the Supreme Court’s criterion for determining whether the establishment clause is violated. The Lemon Test holds that

    1) The government’s action must have a legitimate secular purpose;
    2) The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion; and
    3) The government’s action must not result in an “excessive entanglement” of the government and religion.

    Teaching evolution meets these criteria, even if some evolution proponents have strong anti-religious feelings and opinions.

    A lot of people believe that teaching evolution inhibits religion. Are their concerns somehow not valid? A reasonable argument is made that this inhibition should be balanced by including alternative evolutionary pathways which do not inhibit religion. This also establishes a secular purpose for teaching ID as follows: ID is undeniably a subject of national debate. Teaching it serves the secular purpose of children learning both sides of the debate so they may approach it an informed manner. The president of the United States has promoted that secular purpose. ID however needs to be well defined in a context outside biblical creationism lest entanglement become excessive. -ds

  20. 20
    plunge says:

    Sorry Sal, but I just don’t get it. That scientists using the scientific method agree that ANYTHING might be wrong is not a concession, and certainly not a statement you or the ID movement have much of anything to do with. You’ve basically just asked them to restate scientific method, which is _always_ provisional and subject to disproof by subsequent evidence. If you didn’t, prior to asking these questions, understand the scientific process then I can see why so might celebrate this as a concession. But in light of it, it seems rather silly. I also don’t see how #1 or #2 are have much at all to do with #4. And #4 is just another assumed misconception: that a good science education is primarily intended to change people’s religious beliefs.

    which is _always_ provisional and subject to disproof by subsequent evidence

    Darwinian dogma is a notable exception. For something to be disproven it must have been proven in the first place and the revelations of the Church of St. Charles were never confirmed. Natural selection is a myth of truly epic proportion, a story of heroes and feats that would make the Norse Gods envious, that has been patched up more times than Michael Jackson to account for its failings. Other than that of course you’re quite right. 🙂 -ds

  21. 21
    Marckus says:

    “ID is undeniably a subject of national debate. Teaching it serves the secular purpose of children learning both sides of the debate so they may approach it an informed manner.” – ds

    Yes, but “the debate” you talk of is whether or not ID is religiously motivated and scientifically sound. That is a discussion, perhaps, for a current event topic in social studies.

    Upon further introspection today, I have decided I don’t like this bill, for much the same reason that many scientists/evolutionists don’t like “Teach the controversy”: it singles out one aspect of a much broader subject for special attention. Why stop with science while not mentioning history, civics, english, reading, math, etc?

    I predict this proposed bill will be used as a discussion piece and then tabled indefinately.

  22. 22
    scordova says:

    “Yes, because as Ed Brayton points out, almost every facet of science will contradict *someone’s* religious beliefs. There would be nothing left to teach in science class if we avoided ideas that might be religiously sensitive.”

    I doubt that. We have pictures of the world being round. Students can test claims of gravitational theory and electro-magnetic theory. Any pictures of the transitionals from LUCA (last universal common ancestor) to every major Phyla? Any ideas? No

    We don’t have Nobel laureates who profess belief in a flat earth, we do have Nobel laureates who doubt Darwin. We don’t have physcians who profess belief in a flat earth, but we have 33% who doubt Darwin. This is not an insignificant amount of dissent from a knowlegeable segment of the population.

    I grow tired of hearing objections to Darwinism being equated to objections to gravity. There are serious problems with the theory, the only place where there is no controversy is among the theory’s defenders.

    Good point, Sal. The question “why is only evolution theory being targeted for criticism” is an important part of the basis that judges (Clarence Cooper, Cobb county, biology textbook sticker) are using to support decisions that criticism of neoDarwinian theory amounts to 1st amendment establishment clause violation. The simple fact of the matter is that many other scientific theories DO dispute biblical revelation but they are not being criticized because there is no plausible way to dispute them – they are strong theories backed by hard empirical data. Unguided neoDarwinian evolution is being criticized because it’s a weak historical narrative lacking critical empirical evidence and is thus easily disputed. -ds

  23. 23
    scordova says:

    Dave wrote: “ID however needs to be well defined in a context outside biblical creationism lest entanglement become excessive. -ds ”

    Agreed, but an interesting legal case happened with sternberg. He was accused of being a creationist when he is not because of his involvement with ID. It was the opinion of the special counsel that his civil rights were violated because of the intent of his attackers to violate his civil rights based on their desire to destroy creationism.

    So let’s say we have a non-evangelical agnostic who suspects ID. It would be unconstitutional for the state to implicate him as creationist and then try to wean his ID suspicions out of him based on the desire to attack creationism. That is a subtlty that I felt I needed to address.

    My point is, I think the otherside is coming to terms with the fact that cast ID and creationism as religion comes at price, and to their horror, their strawman version of ID (ID=religion) might be a more formidable weapon against them in a court of law than the real version of ID. If it can be established that these guys are promoting policies because they wish to stamp out a particular religious view (even though their premise ID=religion is incorrect), there could essentially be a “Dover in Reverse”. This could happen in a lot of places!

    My point in asking Jack and Nick was to get a sense if the otherside realizes they are vulnerable. I think they know it. It is a speculation on my part, but I think they know it. I credit them for realizing that it would not be in their sides best interest to admit they want to see the supposed religious belief in ID and/or creationism eradicated.

    One could pose that question to every major leader of the Pro-Darwin movement involved in the passing legislation, and I would bet most would offer evasive answers to the simple questions I posed.

  24. 24
    Red Reader says:

    Dr. Dembski wrote:
    “…we are winning. ID proponents can afford to take political action to promote ID. Its critics, on the other hand, look foolish when they have to take political action to quash ID.”

    I agree.

    1) Elitist issues (like the Darwinian education monopoly, Pledge of Allegience cases and other anti-theistic issues) only win in the courts. The popular vote which favors freedoms of speech and religious faith almost ALWAYS wins in the legislature. By taking the issue to the legislature, the elitists have given their opponents the home field advantage. Politicians run from voter ire like rats from a sinking ship.

    I predict some of them will never get re-elected.

    2) By taking the issue to the Legislature, they have LEGITIMIZED the idea that elected officials (like the Kansas School Board) can set educational ground rules in this area. That the debate “should be left to scientists…” is a thing of the past.

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